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Article

Ethnic Conflict in Modern Central Asia  

Sergey Abashin

Pre-modern Central Asia saw a lot of violence and wars that had religious underpinnings or originated from genealogical claims. The colonial and Soviet reforms brought about reconsideration of cultural diversity in the logic of ethnic division. In the 20th century, reference to ethnicity became the main language of spontaneous violence escalation and explanation. With the weakening of Soviet rule, the region saw a series of heated conflicts. The most massive of them were the 1989 pogroms against Meskhi Turks in Uzbekistan and the 1990 clashes in Kyrgyzstan that took the shape of ethnic confrontation between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority. Lesser disturbances also emerged in the borderlands and in mixed-ethnicity villages. After the collapse of the USSR, the 1990s saw an increase in social and religious violence in Central Asia. However, despite the violence being different in character, Central Asia had already gained a reputation of a very conflict-ridden region precisely in the ethnic sense. Many experts and politicians listed manifold potential ethnic conflicts about to break out in the region. In 2010, one of these predictions came true in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where a clash erupted between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. These expert assessments were also borne out by occasional conflicts over land and water arising between communities that live in the border areas. Nevertheless, the label of ethnic conflict does not always explain the reasons for violence. The conflicts in Central Asia arise and develop as a variety of local actions, which have different sequences, logic, and motivation. These actions are performed by very different agents—people, groups, and institutes that have their own interests and dispositions. Social and political slogans sound during the events, while the line of confrontation lies between local communities and particular groups of people, not between “nations” or “ethnic groups.” The label of ethnic conflict simplifies all these entanglements; there is usually a political interest or a certain intellectual tradition behind it, which essentializes and historicizes the reasons for aggression.

Article

Constructing Nations in Soviet Central Asia  

Adeeb Khalid

The political map of Soviet Central Asia was radically transformed in 1924. The three existing republics of Turkestan, Bukhara, and Khorezm were dissolved and replaced by a series of republics that each bore the name of a national group. This so-called national-territorial delimitation was initiated by Moscow but carried out by Central Asian cadres. The process moved quite fast and was completed in a matter of months. Yet, this process of creating new republics was neither the beginning, nor the end of nation construction in Central Asia. Nation construction is an ongoing process that cannot be conflated with merely the creation of new boundaries. The idea of the nation had arrived in Central Asia well before the revolution. Central Asian intellectuals had begun to reimagine their communities as nations. The Russian revolution of 1917 transformed the limits of the possible as it heightened national mobilization. Multiple national projects were underway in 1924, and these informed the positions different parties took in the debates of that year, which tended to be quite acrimonious. While authorities in Moscow had to approve the decisions, the debates were driven by Central Asian cadres. The creation of the republics nationalize territory in Soviet Central Asia, but it did not in itself produce fully formed nations. That was a long process facilitated by the existence of the republics and the “passportization” of national identity by the Soviet state. The breakup of the Soviet Union provided another impetus to nation building, as the post-Soviet states have used nationhood as the core of their legitimacy.

Article

Central Asia in the Soviet Command Economy  

Isaac Scarborough

The five republics of Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—spent the majority of the 20th century as part of the USSR and the Soviet command economy. Over this period, their economies grew significantly, as did the standard of living enjoyed by their populations. At the same time, the Soviet command economy, along with its particular application in Central Asia, created both significant barriers and long-term economic damage in the region. Local salaries and access to goods remained far below the Soviet average; agricultural production took precedence over industrialization and modernization; the combination of expansionist planning and resource extraction meant that over decades little was done to change the system even as ecological disaster loomed. When the Soviet command economy receded in 1991, it left an ambiguous detritus, one remembered as violently forced and perhaps unwanted.

Article

Developing Afghanistan since 1950  

Robert Rakove

While the story of Afghan development long antedates the Cold War era, the US-Soviet struggle accelerated it and accorded it global significance. Washington, and Moscow, among other actors, financed an array of ambitious modernization projects throughout Afghanistan. Afghan elites, especially Prime Minister (later, President) Mohammed Daoud Khan, consciously stoked the competition. Americans commenced a sizable irrigation and hydroelectric project in the Helmand Valley and subsequently committed to modernize Afghan aviation. The Soviets constructed myriad projects, ranging from the high-altitude Salang Pass tunnel to the Kabul Airport. After years of isolation, Afghanistan enjoyed a surfeit of attention from its industrialized patrons. Yet development programs often proved to be ill conceived, even counterproductive. The Helmand Valley project had ecologically disastrous consequences, while Kabul’s efforts to finance costly projects sparked unrest, even the occasional revolt. Frustration at unfulfilled promises led to increased upheaval within the capital, culminating in the overthrow of two governments in the 1970s. Yet the accelerated efforts of Afghan Marxists, reluctantly backed by the Soviet Union, brought calamity: a national revolt that led to decades of conflict within Afghanistan.

Article

Modern Uzbekistan  

Adeeb Khalid

Uzbekistan was created in 1924 as a result of the so-called national-territorial delimitation of Soviet Central Asia. Although created in the context of the implementation of the Soviet policy of granting territorial autonomy to different nationalities in the Soviet multinational state, Uzbekistan was in many ways the embodiment of a national idea of the Central Asian intelligentsia. For the first sixty-seven years of its existence, Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union. It experienced the massive transformations unleashed by the Soviet regime in the realms of politics, society, and culture (the establishment of a command economy, collectivization, an assault on Islam, forced unveiling) that reshaped society in significant ways. Purges in the 1930s removed from the scene all actors with any experience of public life before the consolidation of Soviet power and installed new political and cultural elites in their place. The Second World War was in many ways a watershed. Participation in the war integrated Uzbekistan and its citizens into the Soviet Union. The postwar period saw increased investment in the republic and the achievement of mass education and universal literacy. The postwar era also saw the consolidation of Uzbek political elites at the helm of the republic as well as the crystallization of an Uzbek national identity, the work of the Uzbek Soviet intelligentsia. Yet, Uzbekistan’s primary duty to the Soviet economy remained that of producing as much cotton as possible. Production quotas kept on increasing (by the early 1980s, the hope was to produce 6 million tons of raw cotton annually) and the cotton monoculture meant that the Uzbek population remained primarily rural and socially conservative. A complex gender regime emerged in which women had legal equality, access to education, and high rates of participation in the labor market, but were also the guardians of national tradition. The later Soviet period also witnessed high rates of population growth that doubled the ethnic Uzbek population between 1959 and 1979. By the early 1980s, the high costs of the cotton monoculture were becoming obvious. An anti-corruption campaign directed from Moscow antagonized both the Uzbek party elite and the general population, just as Mikhail Gorbachev began the series of reforms that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In this turbulent period, the Uzbek party elite refashioned itself as the champion of the Uzbek nation and emerged in control of the state as Uzbekistan became independent. The independent Uzbek state has sought its legitimacy by its claim to serve the interests of the Uzbek nation. It works on the basis of an Uzbek national identity that had predated the Soviet Union but had crystallized during it. Now, after independence, that identity can be articulated without the constraints placed on national expression during the Soviet period. There remain significant continuities with the Soviet period in terms of basic assumptions about politics and society, and they are the most clearly visible in the state’s fraught relationship with Islam.

Article

The Soviet Legacy in Central Asian Politics and Society  

Vincent Artman

To trace the Soviet legacy in Central Asia is to trace the contours of a complex, multifaceted, and in many ways unfinished process. Between the advent of Russian imperial rule in the late 19th century and the collapse of Soviet power in 1991, the dynastic monarchies and nomadic federations of Central Asia were subdued, and the region was refashioned first into a European settler colony and then into industrialized national republics. Everything from political geography and institutions, economic patterns, urban patterns, and normative identities were indelibly shaped by the Soviet experience. Despite the legacies of the Soviet period, however, each of the states of Central Asia has also followed its own distinct trajectory since 1991, complicating the search for a coherent regional narrative. All of the post-Soviet states of Central Asia share certain common political, economic, and cultural “inheritances,” but their divergent histories since 1991 highlight not only the enduring significance of this shared patrimony, but also their remarkably different responses and trajectories since 1991.

Article

Nomads and the State in Soviet Kazakhstan  

Niccolò Pianciola

After the military conquest of the Kazakh Steppe in 1920, Russian and Kazakh Bolsheviks implemented policies of hard decolonization (1921–1922): tens of thousands of Slavic settlers were expropriated and land was distributed to nomads. During the period of 1923–1927, soft decolonization prevailed: Kazakhstan was created as an ethnonational administrative region and agricultural immigration was prohibited. Kazakhs were given priority in access to land and water and they were included in the state and party administrations. No sedentarization plans were drafted. With the Soviet economic policy turn of 1928, Kazakhstan became the object of plans for expansion of grain cultivation (to this end, peasant colonization from Russia was made legal again) and of industrialization. Moscow lunched an offensive in order both to subjugate and to incorporate Kazakh society: Kazakh pastoral elites and former Tsarist administrators were expropriated and deported; and young Kazakh men were drafted into the Red Army for the first time. In 1929, plans for the total sedentarization of Kazakh nomadic pastoralists were suddenly proclaimed, then rapidly became of secondary concern as they were merged with the total collectivization drive. Policies toward nomadic pastoralists were dependent and auxiliary to grain production policies from 1928 to early 1930. Then, from late 1930 to 1932, Kazakh livestock was requisitioned in order to feed Moscow, Leningrad, and the army, as the Soviet peasants had slaughtered their animals during collectivization. Procurements turned an ongoing starvation crisis into a calamitous famine that killed one-third of the Kazakhs. When no livestock were left, procurements were discontinued in Kazakhstan. Private ownership of animals and pastoral nomadic ways were explicitly allowed again. Kazakh mobile pastoralism had been transformed: pastoral routes were shortened; pastoralists were a smaller share of the population; and their work was organized within state and collective farms. The famine turned the Kazakhs into a minority in Kazakhstan and forced them into Soviet state institutions.

Article

The Uyghurs: Making a Nation  

David Brophy

The Uyghurs comprise a Turkic-speaking and predominantly Muslim nationality of China, with communities living in the independent republics of Central Asia that date to the 19th century, and now a global diaspora. As in the case of many national histories, the consolidation of a Uyghur nation was an early 20th-century innovation, which appropriated and revived the legacy of an earlier Uyghur people in Central Asia. This imagined past was grounded in the history of a Uyghur nomadic state and its successor principalities in Gansu and the Hami-Turfan region (known to Islamic geographers as “Uyghuristan”). From the late 19th century onward, the scholarly rediscovery of a Uyghur past in Central Asia presented an attractive civilizational narrative to Muslim intellectuals across Eurasia who were interested in forms of “Turkist” racial thinking. During the First World War, Muslim émigrés from Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan) living in Russian territory laid claim to the Uyghur legacy as part of their communal genealogy. This group of budding “Uyghurists” then took advantage of conditions created by the Russian Revolution, particularly in the 1920s, to effect a radical redefinition of the community. In the wake of 1917, Uyghurist discourse was first mobilized as a cultural rallying point for all Muslims with links to China; it was then refracted through the lens of Soviet nationalities policy and made to conform with the Stalinist template of the nation. From Soviet territory, the newly refined idea of a Uyghur nation was exported to Xinjiang through official and unofficial conduits, and in the 1930s the Uyghur identity of Xinjiang’s Muslim majority was given state recognition. Since then, Uyghur nationhood has been a pillar of Beijing’s minzu system but has also provided grounds for opposition to Beijing’s policies, which many Uyghurs feel have failed to realize the rights that should accord to them as an Uyghur nation.

Article

The Shifting Commercial Economy of Post-Soviet Central Asia  

Regine Spector and Aisalkyn Botoeva

Since 1991, commerce and trade in Central Asia have changed significantly. Prior to 1991, Soviet Central Asia had been incorporated into centralized production, distribution, and retail networks, and regional borders were formally closed to many outside products and exchanges. Upon independence in 1991, these integrated production, distribution, and supply chains collapsed, and the new Central Asian countries—to varying degrees—liberalized their economies and opened their borders to flows of goods and people. Domestic manufacturing and production slowed dramatically. Citizens of these countries initially turned to barter and trade of basic consumer goods as a survival strategy to feed themselves and their families in the midst of evaporating wages and disappearing jobs. While traders forged regional and global trading networks connecting local villages and cities in Central Asia with manufacturing and re-export hubs in China, India, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, among other places, over time, the new post-Soviet elite gained ownership and control over lucrative bazaar land, cargo companies, airline agencies, and other logistics nodes. Soviet-era roads and railways initially dominated trade networks; later, airline routes and new land-based infrastructure built through intergovernment agreements and international development projects afforded new commercial possibilities. China became one of the central nodes in trade networks for consumer goods and has invested significantly into building regional infrastructure, while Russia has remained an important supplier of hydrocarbon and other commodities. Amid these changes, self-understandings of trade have shifted; for example, as Soviet-era stigmas against trade have receded, religious-based and other moralities condoning trade have ascended. While commercial activity was a significant survival strategy and served as a launch pad for other businesses in the region, trade and commerce patterns have been subject to financial crises, political upheavals, and border closures in the 1990s and 2000s, and in 2020, to a global pandemic, illuminating the precarity of reliance on trade and commerce in contexts that do not otherwise have robust state-based social support mechanisms.

Article

China’s Pursuit of Modernity  

Kent Deng

China’s history in the past one hundred to two hundred years has been full of dramas, changes, progresses, and setbacks. This article navigates China’s trial-and-error process regarding accepting incoming Western technology, trade practices, institutions, and ideology/cosmology, things that were genuinely attractive to the Chinese elite but were at the same time largely incompatible with China’s own age-old, well-entrenched, and highly functional traditions. This set the stage for a difficult birth for modernity in China in comparison with neighboring Japan, for example, despite the fact that most ideas of learning from the West originated in China before traveling to Japan. The more progressive party inside the Chinese establishment was made of enlightened individuals who understood the costs and benefits associated with learning from the advanced West. The real challenge came from the question of how to reduce the cost and thus tip the balance in favor of accepting good things from the West. Given that Qing China had a small and cheap Confucian state that commanded only a tiny proportion of China’s wealth, to build a larger state from within became the precondition for China to learn from the West, a point that has only recently been recognized with the rise of the progressive California School and the decline of the groundless Oriental Despotism Hypothesis. It has become clear that much depended on China’s domestic conditions and internal timing, rather than external persuasion accompanied with an increasing degree of political violence that stemmed from Western military supremacy. It is thus not surprising that the 1839–1840 Opium War merely woke China up while the 1850 empire-wide social unrest started to change China from within. What followed was a combination of state rebuilding and economic modernization with or without external threat, a national obsession that continued until Deng Xiaoping’s reforms after 1980.

Article

Post-Soviet Koreans  

Matteo Fumagalli

Korean communities have lived in the territory of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and successor states for over 150 years. The history of the post-Soviet Koreans has been shaped by multiple transnational mobilities, including a dispersal across a wide territory. As of 2021, two-thirds of approximately half a million post-Soviet Koreans are settled in Central Asia, primarily in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; one-third is in Russia, and a growing community of several tens of thousands is working and residing in South Korea. The ethnonym subsumes three distinct sets of sub-ethnic communities. The largest group includes the Koryo Saram (i.e., the descendants of those who migrated from the northern part of the Korean Peninsula to the Russian Empire from the second half of the 19th century onward). Most were deported to Central Asia in 1937. The second much smaller group includes the Sakhalin Koreans. Originally from the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, they had migrated to the southern part of Sakhalin Island (then under Japanese colonial rule) between 1939 and 1945. In addition, some students and contract workers from North Korea decided to remain on Soviet territory, where they had moved between 1946 and 1949, instead of returning to their country of origin. Despite some commonalities across these groups, the notion of Soviet and post-Soviet Koreans bundles together peoples of different origins, patterns of settlement, identities, and even the type and density of links to the Korean Peninsula. The collapse of the Soviet Union and greater engagement by South Korea in the following decades ushered in an era of significant challenges and opportunities for post-Soviet Koreans. It also brought about new mobilities and revealed growing inter-generational differences in terms of language and broader cultural loss, maintenance or erosion of group boundaries, and degrees of integration into local societies. Traditionally, scholarship has focused on the 1937 deportations, the different historical geographies of the group, and evolving conceptions of home and homeland. In the opening decades of the 21st century, scholars have also explored issues of status, citizenship, and subjecthood in the evolving imperial formations straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, and have highlighted intra-group heterogeneity and the hyphenization of identities in the contemporary period.

Article

Modern Georgia  

Adrian Brisku

Arguably, an account of modern Georgia is one about the country’s emergence as a political nation (independent republic and nation-state) in the region of the Caucasus—geographically straddled in between the Eurasian landmass—and the challenges of redefining, developing, and preserving itself. It is also about how it was forged under and often against its powerful neighbors, most notably the tsarist Soviet and Russian state, and about its equally uneven interactions with other neighboring nations and nationalities within its political borders. And while one cannot put a precise date on the cultural and political processes as to when this modern Georgia emerged, the late 19th century is that period when people within the two tsarist governorates of Tbilisi and Kutaisi interacted more intensively among themselves, but also within the imperial cultural and political centers of St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as beyond the imperial confines, in Central and Western European capitals. This in turn—following impactful events: the 1861 tsarist Emancipation of Serfs, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, the First World War, the February and October Revolutions of 1917, the brief making of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (1918)—led to a diffusion of and reaction to political, economic, and cultural ideas from European and imperial metropoles that on May 26, 1918, culminated with the establishment, for the first time, of Georgia as a nation-state: the Georgian Democratic Republic. A social democratic nation-state in its political content, the political life of this first republic was cut short on February 25, 1921, by the Red Army of a re-emerging Russian (Soviet) state. In the ensuing seventy years in the Soviet Union—initially, from 1922 to 1936, as a constitutive republic of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and then as a separate Soviet Socialist Republic until the implosion of the union in 1991—the republic and its society experienced the effects of the making and unmaking of the Soviet Marxist-Leninist modernization project. Especially impactful for the republic and its society was the period of the 1930s and 1940s under the hyper-centralized rule of the Georgian-born Soviet Communist Party leader Joseph V. Stalin: a period marked by implementation of a centrally planned economic model and political purges as well as a consolidation of the nation’s ethnocultural and territorial makeup. Also important was the late Soviet period, particularly that under the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whereby thanks to the economic and political reforms undertaken in the later 1980s, calls for the recovering of the republic’s political independence were intensified and ultimately realized. This happened on April 9, 1991—with the first Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, declaring the independence of the Republic of Georgia before the Soviet Union’s dissolution on December 26, 1991—and its international recognition would come easily and fast. But what would prove difficult and slow, from the outset, was building a European-style nation-state—meaning a liberal democratic order based on the rule of law and a market society—as was the case in the brief presidency of Gamsakhurdia (1991–1992). The latter’s term was marred by an ethnopolitical war in the South Ossetian region and brought to an end by a civil war fought in the capital city of Tbilisi and the Megrelian region. It continued to be difficult during the long and interrupted presidency of the former Georgian Communist Party boss, Eduard Shevardnadze (1995–2003)—the 1995 Constitution established a semi-presidential system of government—in which an ethnopolitical war with Abkhazia started and ended (1992–1993), state institutions stabilized, and a pro-Euro-Atlantic as opposed to a pro-Russian foreign policy was articulated, but state corruption also thrived. A European-style republic appeared closer during the full-term “hyper-presidency” of the Western-educated president Mikheil Saakashvili (2004–2013), marked by concrete steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration (NATO membership and EU partnership/toward membership) and a distancing from Russia as well as top-down neoliberal domestic reforms. But the republic was scarred by a war with Russia in August 2008 and a growing authoritarianism at home. It remains so despite a shift, since 2013, from a presidential to a parliamentary republic with the last directly elected president being the first woman president, Salome Zurabishvili (2018–). Since 2012, the Georgian Dream Party—established by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili (prime minister, 2012–2013)—governs the republic by pursuing Western-oriented domestic reforms, EU and NATO integration, and a nonconfrontational position against Russia. The latter continues to undermine the country’s territorial integrity, having recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence in 2008 and maintaining its military bases there.

Article

Ottoman-Russian Relations  

Adrian Brisku

Four-centuries-long encounters between the Ottoman Empire and the Grand Duchy of Muscovy/Russian Empire point to complex relations that have been triggered and defined mostly by territorial, trade disputes, and wars, and maintained by diplomatic rivalry and occasional military alliances. Starting as friendly encounters during Sultan Bayezid II reign at the beginning of the 16th century, these relations, essentially and persistently asymmetrical, reveal an initial and long Ottoman dominance over the Muscovy/Russian side; one that lasted from the early 16th to the late 18th century—whereby the two sides shared no direct borders, traded and did not fight each other until the late 17th century—followed by a late 18th-century and mid-19th-century Russian ascendency. This ascendency was achieved largely thanks to the military reform that Tsar/Emperor Peter the Great undertook, namely, the establishment of a standing and professional army and consequentially due to the many wars that Russia won throughout the 19th century; the decisive ones being those fought during the reign of Empress Catherine the Great. The mid-19th century and the early 20th century—which witnessed the implosion of the Russian Empire due to the Bolshevik Revolution and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France—was a long period that saw few and brief military alliances, contested trade relations and yet continued wars. It was ultimately marred by an Ottoman drive to counterbalance Russia’s dominance, while the latter sought to preserve it, by involving other European powers (British and French)—the most crucial moment being the British, French, and Ottoman armies defeating the Russian one in the Crimean War (1853–1856)—transforming their bilateral interactions into multilateral but unsustainable relations.

Article

Surrender of Japan’s Empire: Japanese Historiographical Issue  

Yukiko Koshiro

A process of evolution is apparent in Japanese scholarship on Japan’s respective defeats in the Sino-Japanese War, the Pacific War, and the Soviet-Japanese War in 1945. By tracing scholars’ conflicting interpretations of Japan’s defeat and surrender in these wars, one can demonstrate Japan’s continuing difficulty in achieving an all-inclusive meaning of its unconditional surrender to the Allied powers. Additionally, new areas of study contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the end of Japan’s empire.