Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 November 2020
The fall of the great Turkmen fortress of Gök-Tepe in 1881 took place in the full glare of international publicity, but it was preceded by over ten years of skirmishing and raiding between the Russians and the Akhal-Teke and Yomud Turkmen from the shores of the Caspian to the Köpet Dagh mountains. In 1879 the hapless General N. P. Lomakin was defeated beneath the walls of Gök-Tepe and forced to retreat, the most significant defeat inflicted on Russian arms throughout the entire history of the conquest of Central Asia. The celebrated and sadistic General M. D. Skobelev was tasked with wiping out the memory of Lomakin’s humiliation, which he did by storming the fortress and massacring 8,000 Turkmen, women and children included. Over the next four years the Russians would annex Merv and the Panjdeh oasis, arousing Persian and British alarm, before they came to an agreement both with the Qajars and with the British on drawing what would become the new southern frontier of the Empire.