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This epilogue examines the ways in which the conquest established the contours of the Russian colonial regime, and some of the – often incomplete – transformations this would bring over the decades before 1914. It brings together certain themes which have run throughout the book – sovereignty, Great Power prestige, violence, camels – and summarises how these manifested themselves during different episodes of the conquest. It also compares the conquest with other periods of military violence in Central Asia – the Revolution and Civil War, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
After Tashkent’s fall General M. G. Chernyaev became the first governor of the new province of Turkestan, and immediately began lobbying to keep the city under Russian rule and to embark on further conquests. An apparent threat from Sayyid Muzaffar, Amir of Bukhara, provided him with a justification for further military action, but he retreated before the fortified town of Jizzakh and was recalled shortly afterwards. His successor, General D. I. Romanovskii, defeated the Bukharan forces at the Battle of Irjar, and then launched unauthorised assaults on Khujand and Jizzakh, adding further to Russian territory. After a brief lull, during which Turkestan was made a Governor-Generalship under General K. P. von Kaufman, war with Bukhara broke out again in 1868. Von Kaufman’s forces defeated Amir Sayyid Muzaffar’s army at Chupan-Ata, outside Samarkand, and at the Zirabulak heights. After the Russian garrison in the Samarkand fortress had been besieged and relieved, the whole of the upper Zarafshan valley was annexed to Russia and the Bukharan Emirate’s remaining territory became a Russian protectorate. Von Kaufman realised that in order to have a stable relationship with Bukhara he would need to strengthen the Amir’s authority, which he did by crushing the independent city-state of Shahrisabz and handing it over to Bukharan rule.
The historiography of the Russian conquest has been blighted by a number of persistent myths about Russian motivations. Chief amongst these are the so-called ‘Great Game’ with the British in India, and the ‘Cotton Canard’, which suggests that Central Asia was conquered to provide a source of raw cotton and a captive market for Russian industry. Neither of these arguments stands up to closer scrutiny – the ‘Great Game’ is a product of Anglo-Indian paranoia which tells us nothing about Russian motives, while the ‘Cotton Canard’ is a Soviet orthodoxy derived from Lenin’s writings rather than from evidence. What the sources reveal instead is a contingent, messy process with no overall strategic or economic purpose. The Russian Empire’s military and diplomatic elite took a series of ad-hoc decisions that were often driven by very local factors, and prioritised short-term military security and relations with Central Asian states and peoples. What we do see running through these decisions is the need to maintain Great Power prestige, a resentment of Central Asian ‘insolence’, and mutually incomprehensible understandings of sovereignty. An overview of Russian military technology and tactics concludes that logistics were the most crucial factor in Central Asian campaigns – this puts the focus on camels and those who bred and managed them.
The Khanate of Khiva had a long history of cocking a snook at Russian authority. From the massacre of Bekovich-Cherkassky’s expedition in 1717 to the failure of Perovskii’s winter invasion in 1839–40, Khiva seemed the embodiment of ‘Asiatic insolence’ and intransigence. Turkestan Governor-General von Kaufman was determined to wipe out the memories of these early defeats and secure his own legacy as a great military leader. Easily securing consent from St Petersburg and brushing aside Khivan attempts to find a diplomatic solution, in 1873 he launched the most elaborate of all the Russian campaigns of conquest, with four different columns setting out from Krasnovodsk, Mangishlaq, Orenburg and Turkestan. Of these, the Krasnovodsk column ran out of water in the middle of the Qara-Qum desert and had to turn back. The Turkestan column, led by von Kaufman himself, almost met a similar fate in the Qizil-Qum, and was saved only by the skill of its Qazaq guides. Most of the fighting was done by the Orenburg and Manghishlaq columns, which reached the city of Khiva ahead of von Kaufman, who instructed them to wait until he arrived and could enter in triumph – with farcical consequences. The campaign ended on a grim note with the notorious massacre of the Yomud Turkmen by Russian forces, ostensibly designed to secure the internal authority of the Khivan Khan, Muhammad Rahim II, now a Russian puppet like his counterpart in Bukhara.
The Russian conquest of Central Asia was perhaps the nineteenth century's most dramatic and successful example of European imperial expansion, adding 1.5 million square miles and at least 6 million people - most of them Muslims - to the Tsar's domains. Alexander Morrison provides the first comprehensive military and diplomatic history of the conquest to be published for over a hundred years. From the earliest conflicts on the steppe frontier in the 1830s to the annexation of the Pamirs in the early 1900s, he gives a detailed account of the logistics and operational history of Russian wars against Khoqand, Bukhara and Khiva, the capture of Tashkent and Samarkand, and the bloody subjection of the Turkmen, as well as Russian diplomatic relations with China, Persia and the British Empire. Based on archival research in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and India, memoirs and Islamic chronicles, this book explains how Russia conquered a colonial empire in Central Asia, with consequences that still resonate today.
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