Chapter 2: Russian Conquest of Central Asia and its Effect

Islam expanded in Central Asia in the eighth century. Ibn Muslim, the Arab governor of Khorasan was first able to include a large portion of Central Asia within Muslim Khilafat. Whole of Central Asia except North Kazakhstan became part of Muslim Khilafat before the end of eighth century. Expansion of Arabic language took place with the advancement of Islam. In course of time Arabic became the literary, scientific and administrative language of this area.

Reign of Samani family was established in Central Asia in the 9th and 10th century. Iran and Central Asia was under Samani rule with his main centre in Bukhara. At this time Persian language spread in this area and famous Persian poet Ferdousi wrote his immortal epic 'Shahanama'. Education, science and technology got a new dimension from this region in the eighth and the ninth century. Ibn Musa Al Khorejimi developed Algebraic branch of Mathematics. The term 'Algebra' was derived from his renowned book 'Al-Jabar'. Besides this he had contribution in Geography, Astrology and History. The greatest physician of the millennium Abu Ali Ibn Sina wrote 'Kanun' the famous text book of medicine in the 12th century. After its translation into Latin, Kanun was accepted as the text book of medicine in the western countries for the next six hundred years. Abu Nasr Al Farabi wrote several important books on Philosophy. He also had many research work on Philosophy. Another contemporary scholar was Al-Biruni. 'Tawarikh-e-Hind' written by Al-Biruni is still regarded as a very important book on History.

At the end of 10th century, after the fall of Samani empire, by the efforts of Sobuktogin and Bogra Khan, the rule of Gazni and Karakhani family respectively was established in Central Asia. But these two forces were defeated by the rising force of Seljuk family in the 11th century. The Seljuk's ruled Central Asia upto the first part of the thirteenth century. After the fall of Seljuk empire large Kharejim empire rose making its centre in Kharejim. Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Central Asia were under Seljuk rule. But this large empire was destroyed by non-Muslim Mongol leader Chengis Khan. This Mongol force destroyed many educational institutes, libraries, towns and this destruction was a great casualty for culture and heritage. Later the successors of Chengis Khan accepted Islam and made Turkish language their own language. World famous hero Taimur Lung was also a Mongol by origin. In the fourteenth century after many struggles Taimur Lung was able to establish a great empire extended from India to Volga and from Syria to China. Hirat was the centre of this empire.

The successors of Taimur family became weaker at the beginning of 15th century. After this upto the occupation of Central Asia by Russia there was no unitary rule of any family in Central Asia. After the fall of Taimurid empire, there arose three states in the southern part of Central Asia. These were Amirat of Bukhara, Khanat of Kokond and Khanat of Khiva. In the Northern part of Central Asia, four main tribes of Kazakhstan, Ulu-jhuz, Orta-jhuj. Kishi-jhuj and Bukai-jhuj ruled independently.

A powerful Tatar state was established in Crimea in the 14th Century. This state was able to maintain its independence until the invasion of Russia. Like this, three independent Tatar Khanat were ruling in Volga-Ural region. These were Kazan, Astrakhan and Bashkhir Khanat. There was no ruling central power in the North Caucasus before the invasion of Russia. But the Muslims of Dagestan were fighting unitedly under the leadership of Imam Shamil to achieve independence from Russia.

Russia started to invade the Muslim regions in the 16th century. During the time of Tsar Ivan (Ivan the Terrible), operation against Muslims of Volga began. In 1522 Russia captured Kazan, the capital city of Kazan Khanat and destroyed it. Thus a Muslim region came under Russian empire for the first time. Tsar's army captured the Astrakhan Khanat of lower Volga in 1554. Siberian Muslim state Sibir came under Russian empire in 1598.

The Russians extended their hand towards Asia after around a hundred year in the 18th century. Form 1822 to 1848 all four tribal states of Kazakhstan were taken under control of Russia. However before this these four tribal states wanted Russian cooperation and help against the attack of Jungarians from the East and Kalmicks from the West. But taking this opportunity, instead of helping them, Russia captured Kazakhstan.

Taking advantage of internal conflict, Russia occupied Crimean Tatar state in 1782 and also planned to capture North Caucasus. Russia forced different Muslim populations from the plain lands of North Caucasus to the mountains of North Caucasus by the help of Russian Cossaks [The English term 'Cossack' evolved from the term Quzzak. It means he who works in favour of others. Those who left South-East Russia to save themselves from the brutality of land lords of Russia were termed 'Cossack'. They used to work as a defence force for Russian Government to save the South-East part of the empire.]. But Russia faced great obstacle in the mountain of Caucasus. The Muslims of Caucasus continued their resistance from 1784 to 1877. Among the leaders who led the Muslims against Russian occupation and aggression, the name of Imam Shamil is most important. After the defeat of Caucasian resistance force in 1877, Russia was able to incorporate North Caucasus within its empire. In the beginning of 19th century, Russian army took possession of Azerbaijan of south Caucasus from Persia. (Iran)

Finally Turkistan (the southern part of Central Asia) came under the control of Russia. The frontier town of Kokond Khanat was captured first in 1855. In 1865 Tashkhent was captured. Russians attacked Bukhara Amirat in 1867 and Samarkhand was brought within the rule of Russian empire in 1868. Bukhara Amirat was left as a vassal state by an agreement. Khiva was occupied by Russia in 1873. By an imposed agreement, the Administrator of Khiva was compelled to agree that he was an obedient servant of Russian Emperor and should not keep relation with any other state other than Russia Khiva was given the status of a vassal state. After the fall of the capital of Kokond Khanat, this Khanat was included within Russian empire. It was named as Fargana province. After this only Turkmen region remained free. This region was situated on the south-west side of Central Asia extended between Amudaria river to Kaspian sea. Russia captured this region between 1874 to 1884. [Devendra Kaushik, Central Asia in Modern Times, Page 87.]

There is a controversy and difference of opinion among the historians and Russlogists regarding the justification of Russian occupation of these Muslim regions. Modern (pro-Soviet) writers argue that expansion of Russian empire was a dynamic and progressive step. It was for this occupation by Russia that capitalism expanded in these regions which ultimately initiated class struggle. This created fertile field for expansion of socialism. The Muslims had the scope for contact with the socialists. Thus, they argued, by the expansion of Russian empire establishment of socialism became possible in those region [Devendra Kaushik, Central Asia in Modern Times, Page 48, 88.].

But the history writers immediately after the revolution of October 1917 described Russian invasion and occupation as a colonial step [Devendra Kaushik, Central Asia in Modern Times, Page 82.]. They considered all movements against Tsar as freedom movement [P.G. Galuzo, Turkistan Koloniya, Tashkent 1935.]. Western writer Richard Pipes [Richard Pipes, The Formation of Soviet Union, Harvard University Press.] and Sheton Watson [Seton Watson, The new Imperialism, London 1964.] also criticized Russian invasion. Pipes described the explanation of modern Soviet writers supporting the invasion of Russia as a measure to support colonialism directly. According to Alexander Bennigsen, the opinion of Russian historian on this issue changed several times after 1920. However, all Muslim writers are of the same opinion that Russian occupation was equivalent to expansionism and colonialism and the resistance of Muslims was the symbol of Muslim nationalism and a glorious chapter of their history [Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, Page 218.].

It is not justified to make a difference between Russian expansion and other colonial expansions. If Russian expansion in regarded justified and progressive, then the expansion of Britain in South Asian subcontinent, and of France in Indo-China are also progressive. A nation can take modern thought and technology from another nation without being captured by them. Many states became modernized without becoming colony of another state. In this connection the name of Japan, Iran and Turkey can be mentioned. It is also not justified to say that to become a socialist state, it is essential to be colonised by Russia.

Russian invasion had important impact on political, social and cultural fields in Muslim regions. The Muslim rulers were the initial targets of the Russian invasion because Russian leaders thought the Muslim rulers as the key enemy and obstacle to Russian aggression. It was for this reason that the Russians acquired the properties of Muslim landlords, thus destroying their economic power.

At the beginning of Russian aggression, the policy of converting Muslims forcefully to Christianity was followed. During the time of Tsar Ivan, a group of converted Tatars were formed by such a policy. This policy was withheld during the rule of three Romanov Tsars. But this was revived during the reign of Tsar Peter. Between the period of 1738 to 1755 in Kazan region 418 out of 536 Mosques were closed. State acquired the Waqf properties [Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, Page 218.]. Preaching of Islam was declared as a crime which was liable to death penalty.

These policies created serious unrest among the Muslims. During the period of Catherine the second, this policy against Islam was stopped. Permission was given to build new Mosques. But during the rule of Alexander, the second, again the policy of converting Muslims to Christianity by propagation and education was revived. In this process some Tatars who have been converted previously were used as propagators. By this process, they converted three to four hundred thousands of Turk-Tatars to Christianity. But of them, the number of converted Muslims were not more than one hundred thousand. Others were followers of different ancient religions. For this aggressive policy, Tatar Muslims left the country in large numbers to Barhkhiria, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. This issue created a long lasting hatred towards Russia and Russians among the Muslim people.

Russian victory had a tremendous effect on the population balance of Muslim regions. A large number of Russian began to settle in Muslim regions. Russians settled in all parts of Muslim regions. Russian settlement in Crimea, the plain lands of North Caucasus, Tatar region of Volga-Ural and steppe of Kazakhstan are to be mentioned specially. The Muslims of the plain lands of Caucasus were compelled to move towards high lands due to the pressure created by increased numbers of Russian settlers. After the occupation of Crimea by Russia in 1783, the migration of Muslims from there to Turkey continued until 1893 because the most fertile lands of them were being occupied by Russian and Ukrainian settlers. Thus during the reign of Tsars (before the revolution of 1917). Muslims of the plain lands of North Caucasus, Crimea and Volga-Ural became minority population in their own lands. Russians and Ukrainians began to settle in Kazakhstan from 1891. Within 1914, more than a million Russian and Ukrainian made settlement there.

A conflict between original Muslims and new settlers in the Muslims regions started. Local people and their leaders never agreed to this settlement because it was creating enormous economic pressure on them. The best lands of Kazakhs were going under the control of new settlers. With the cooperation of the Russian-backed administration and government employees.

From these events Russian colonialism and settlement became a common issue for all Muslim political movements and activities. After the revolution in 1917 Muslim leaders called an all Russia Muslim conference in the May of that year. One of the main demands in that conference was to stop Russian settlement in Muslim regions and to return the acquired properties [Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, Page 68.]. But the government led by Krenosky did not give any importance to these demands. So Muslim peoples themselves initiated struggle against new settlements. There was serious blood sheding in the North Caucasus, Baskhiria and Kazakh steppe regions which further worsened the relation between the Russians and the Muslims [Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, Page 69.]. Of the different issues which created difference of opinion between Russian communists and Muslim communists, the main issue was the expansion of Russian and European settlement in Muslim region [Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, Page 153. * The term 'Muslim Communist' is used in this book to differentiate those communists who were born in Muslim family from Russian Communists. However, the analysis of juridical correctness of this term is not within jurisdiction of this book.].

Expansion of Russian settlement was continued even after the Communist revolution of 1917. The Muslim population of five states of Central Asia which were 78% in 1926 became 55% in 1965. Though even now the Muslims are majority as a whole in the Central Asia, yet in the meantime they have become minority in some states. The Muslim population of Kazakhstan was 35% in 1959. But this was 78%, 80% and 82% respectively in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (where massive settlement was not possible). Muslim population of Kirghizia is 60%. In most of the large cities and towns the Russian and Europeans are the majority. There were 57% European in Tashkent, 64% in Ashakhabad, 82% in Alma Ata and 84% in the Frunze. (Russians are emigrating after the independence of Muslim states as a result of breakdown of Soviet Union.)

It is the common practice of every colonialist state to make the economy of its colony dependent on the colonial power. So the Russian government made Central Asia a source for supply of raw materials for its industries. As a result, the Central Asia never became the competitor of Russia in any way. According to Lenin, Central Asia was direct colony of Russia [V.I. Lenin, collected works Vol-22, Page 338.]. For this, the cultivation of cotton was favoured instead of essential items like, rice or wheat. The Director of land administration of Turkistan wrote in 1913, every 'pud' [Unit of Weight of Turkistan at that period.] of rice of Turkistan was the competitor to that of Russia and Siberia but every 'Pud' of cotton was competitor to that of America. So cultivation of cotton in this region should be encouraged even if there arose any need to import crops [Istoriya Narodov Uzbekistan Vol. II, Page 261.]. But though the main agricultural product of Central Asia became cotton, no cotton industry was developed there. Cotton industries were set up in the central parts of Russia. The Russian rulers did not allow development of any main industry in Muslim region, they only permitted establishment of few raw material processing plants. Few industries like separation of cotton from its seeds, wool purification, extraction of oil from oil seed and preparation of soap developed at this time.

To connect Central Asia with Russia 3377 Kilometre of rail road was made for military and economic purpose. Samarkhand was joined through railway to Tashkent and Andizan. This railway connection between Central Asia and Europe had great impact on future development of this area.

There were some reforms in the field of education at the time of the Tsars. Upto the end of 19th Century ancient Madrasha (School) system of education was the only system of education in the Muslim areas. But this Madrasha system failed to maintain its impact with newer advancements in Science and technology. In 1870 first Russian system school was established in Samarkhand. Christianity was taught in these schools with modern education. But as there was no scope to teach Islam in these schools, so these institutions failed to achieve public support. Later new types of schools were established where Russian teachers taught modern education and Muslim teachers taught about local language, culture and Islam.

These institutions became popular and a new modern educated class of people emerged in Muslim regions. Later a new educational system arose in Russia by the efforts of 'Jadid' [The activity of 'Jadids will be discussed in detail in the third Chapter of this book.] Thinkers which was a successful combination of modern science and Islamic education. That educational system ultimately became the general education system for whole of the Muslim Russia. [Istoriya Narodov Uzbekistan Vol. II, Page 48, 88.]


  1. [Will be discussed later.]
  2. [Ahmed Ozenbashly, Tatar Hijretlery (Tatar Emigration), Simferpol, 1925.]