Chapter 4: Muslim Politics (upto 1920) in Former Soviet Union

There was widespread political consciousness among the Russian Muslims as a result of the renaissance initiated by 'Jadid' movement. Upto 1905 the Muslim Leaders were working carefully and cautiously, because political activity was very dangerous and risky under the autocracy of the Tsar. By the revolution of 1905, Tsar was compelled to leave his absolute power and fundamental political and social rights of people were established. Parliament (Duma) was consequently established and major matters of the country were decided in the Duma. Before this revolution, the Muslim leaders showed at least apparent obedience to the Tsar. At that time their main demand was to ensure equal social, political and economic rights with the Russians. But the Russo-Japan War of 1905 [1. This war started in 1904.] caused many changes in the situation. The Russo-Japan war had a great psychological impact. In this war for the first time an European force was defeated by an Asian state. After this war movement for independence and freedom began in different colonies in Asia. Political movements became easier due to the free and moderate environment which was established as a result of the revolution of 1905.

Establishment of first Muslim political party was initiated in Tataristan, the Muslim majority region of Volga-Ural. Famous Pan-Islamic leader Abdur Rashid Ibrahim led political organisation. In 1904 he made some secret meetings with Muslim leaders and workers of different opinion. After successful completion of primary organizational preparations through secret meetings, the first Muslim congress was held in August 1905 in Nighny-Novogord [2. An industrial town of Volga region.]. As there was no government permission this congress was also arranged secretly. The moderators of the meeting were Ismail Bogamprinski of Crimea, Ali Mordan Be Topchibashi [3. Ali Mordan Bey (1862-1934) was an eminent lawyer of Baku. Was elected as a member of the Duma. Led the delegation team of Azerbaijan in the peace conference of Versailles in 1919 after the cessation of 1st world war.] of Azerbaijan and Yousuf Oglu a Volgan-Tatar. From this panel from different regions of Russia this can be easily understood that the meeting was widely representative of all corners of Muslim Russia. Congress demanded equal rights of Muslim people with the Russians. Congress also agreed to create a Muslim political party named 'Ittefaqul Muslimin [4. Ittefaqul Muslimin means Muslim united front.]' including Muslims of all sectors and regions of Russia. In 1906 second Muslim conference was held in Saint-Petersburg [5. The former capital of Russia (Later termed Leningrad)]. More than a hundred representative from Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Crimea and Volga participated in the congress. The congress decided to cooperate with the 'Constitutional Democratic Party' of Russia. That party believed in democratic type of government and from that view they had similarity of opinion with most of the democratic leaders of Muslim congress. Moreover it seemed to Muslim leaders that Constitutional Democratic party was more sympathetic to the demands of Muslims. Third Muslim congress was held in Nighny-Novogord in 1906 with prior permission from the government. In this congress the establishment of 'Ittefaqul Muslimin' was declared according to the resolution of first congress. But few leftist Muslim did not join Ittefaqul Muslimin as it supported Constitutional Democratic Party instead of Marxist Social Democratic Party.

Besides this all Russia based Ittefaqul Muslimin, some other political organizations of Muslims were formed locally in different parts of Russia. ' Young Bukharan' was formed in Bukhara of Turkistan and 'Young Khivan' in Khiva under the leadership of Jadids. They demanded economic and social reform and they also protested against the autocracy of Russian and local administrators. They were highly influenced by Pan-Islamic thinking. These parties played a revolutionary role in Turkistan. After the 'October revolution' many leaders of Jadid movement (like Abdur Rouf Fitrat and Munwar Kari) played important role in Soviet administrative system. The nationalist Kazakh Muslims established a political institution named'Alam-Orda' in 1912 under the leadership of Ali Khan [6. Ali Khan(1869-1932) was the governor general of the Steppe region of Kazakhstan. He was the elected member of the 1st and 2nd Duma.] and Ahmad Baitursun [7. Ahmad Baitursun (1873-1937) was a prominent poet.]. They were preparing to organize the political institution from 1905. They were under the influence of Tatarian thinkers of Volga and were in favour of co-operation with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Russia. Among the demands of Alam-Orda were to establish equal rights with the Russians, and to stop settlement of Russians in Kazakhstan. The party named Musawat(equity) was established in Azerbaijan in 1911 under the leadership of Muhammad Amin Rasuljada [8. Amin Rasuljada(1884-1954) was a prominent writer and publisher. He went to Iran in 1908 and published the paper named 'Irane-Nao' from there. In 1910 he went to Turkey and joined in the Pan-Turk movement. In 1913 he returned to Russia and became the President of Musawat party in 1917. When independent Azerbaijan state was declared in 1918, he became the President of it. He left the country after the fall of independent Azerbaijan. Died in Turkey in 1954.]. This party was influenced by Azeri nationalism. Actually due to competition with the Armenians the Azeri Muslims were more politically conscious from long time back. From 1904 Turkish people of Caucasus were being made politically conscious by the influence of different newspapers and periodicals, of them 'Haiat', 'Irshad' and 'Tarakki' were important. The Azeris ultimately became orthodox nationalists due to continuous competition with the Armenians and Russian tilt towards them(Armenians).

Several pro-socialist party and institutions were established in the Central Asia before 1917 as a result of expansion of socialist thinking from Russia or Europe. Psychologically only the labourers of industrialized Baku [9. Capital City of Azerbaijan.] and the newly educated people were prone to accept socialism as their political ideology and actually they participated in the formation of different socialist parties. Under the leadership of Abdur Rashid Mehedi(1880-1912) a socialist organization was established in Crimea named 'Young Tatar' in 1906. This party was highly influenced by the thinking of Socialist Revolutionary Party. But Abdur Rashid Mehedi himself was simultaneously an orthodox nationalist. His main thinking was to remove autocracy of the Tsar and economic lordship of Russia from Crimea. He raised the demand of land reform and redistribution of land to the farmers. Among the socialist organizations of Kazakhstan the name of 'Usjhuz' can be mentioned. They were not so much influenced by Marxism of Russian socialists rather the Usjhuz was also influenced by Pan-Islamism. This party was preaching the policy of armed revolution against Russian autocracy.

A Marxist socialist study circle formed in Azerbaijan in 1904. They worked under the leadership of Russian Social Democratic Party. In 1905 this study circle was converted into 'Muslim Social Democratic Party'. This party was more known as 'Himmat Party'. They took up socialist manifesto. They used to propagate the thoughts of class struggle and internationalism and attacked reactionary ideas. But there was also the influence of Turkic nationalism and Pan-Turkism on them. In Kazan of Volga region one socialist organization was formed on the basis of Bolshevic ideology. The name of the organization was 'Ural Chilar' and it was controlled by the Bolshevic unit of Russian Social Democratic Party.

Until February 1917 the influence of socialism on Russian Muslims was not significant. Of the different socialist organizations, all excluding 'Himmat' and 'Uralchilar' were socialist by name only. Though they took up many working class demand like land and social reform, policies of Russian Socialist Parties but at the same time there were influence of nationalism, Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism on them. From this it can be clearly inferred that they did not actually believe in Marxist philosophy. Even the socialist influence of the Himmat's and Uralchilar was not so deep rooted. One of the founder leader of Himmat Mr. Amin Rasuljada later left Himmat and joined Pan-Turkish party Musawat. Though most of the leaders of Himmat led Azerbaijan government and Communist party after the establishment of Communist Soviet Union, yet they were not accepted as reliable or faithful by the Central government. The Communist government in the cleansing operation of 1938 gave death sentence to most of them. Most of the leaders of UralChilar joined Menoshevic group and army after 1917 and fought against Communist Soviet government. In this connection the name of Ahmatov, Omer Teregulov and Galimean Saifuddin can be mentioned. From this discussion it can be inferred that a small portion of Muslim community was influenced by Marxism before 1917. Actually socialism expanded in Muslim Community after the establishment of Communist Soviet administration.

In 1914 first world war began. Russia with France and Britain were engaged in war against Germany. At the end of this war Stolipin [10. Stolipin was appointed as the Prime Minister of Russia in 1906.] and other pro-kingship leaders planned a new revolution to reverse the effects of the revolution of 1905. To remove the democratic reforms Stolipin started operation on political parties with violence. As a result it became difficult for the political parties to continue open activities. Political parties went underground and continued to re-organize them secretly. As a result of first world war there was severe economic crisis in Russia. Inflation caused several times increase of cost of living but the salary of the labourer remained the same. As a result unrest arose among the labourers. The war continued for years without any sign of ending. Russian army was defeated in different war fields. Russia had no more economic strength to continue war. Anti-war sentiment and agitation broke out among people and soldiers. The situation took a final shape in February 1917. There occurred a nationwide general strike demanding the cessation of war, establishment of peace and resignation of the Tsar. On 27th February the army joined with the revolutionary people. The Tsar was forced to resign. Democratic interim government took position after resignation of Tsar. In the revolution of February 1917 the Constitutional Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party (Bolshevic and Menshevic) and Socialist Revolutionary Party played an important role.

The interim government faced serious crisis and a lot of problems. The most important question was whether to continue war or to establish peace. Then there were need to establish law and order, to rebuild economy and to meet the needs and demands of the minority population. Meanwhile Russian Social Democratic Party raised several demands to the interim government without giving them any chance to reorganize the economy. Among these demands were to stop war, to handover lands to the peasants and to abolish bureaucracy, police and army and give power to the local 'Soviets' [11. The term 'Soviet' means council or committee. After the revolution of 1917 many Soviets of farmers, Labourers and military were formed in Russia.].

The ultimate aim of the Bolshevics was to direct Russia towards socialism by movement and without giving any chance to the interim government to get settled firmly [12. Manzoorul Ahsan; Rush Biplober Itihash (in Bengali).]. Because without the meeting of a legislative assembly it was impossible for the interim government to take decision about most of these demands. But the main leaders of interim government including Miliucov and Krenosky took several wrong decision which ultimately agitated minority nations (mainly Muslims) against interim government. The interim government failed to realize the anti-war sentiment of the people. In spite of inability to continue war, the government decided to continue the war due to pressure from Britain and France. This decision created a serious unrest and agitation among people. One main objective of the war was to capture Istanbul the centre of 'Khilafat'. Due to this reason and also due to failure of the interim government to declare any policy for the minority nations, the Muslims became displeased with the government. They got mentally prepared to support anyone instead of interim government who showed interest towards their needs and demands.

After the revolution of February the Muslim leaders were able to realize the indefinite future of Russia and its Muslim people. So they began to organize more strongly the political institutions that were developed before 1917. There activity was facilitated by the withdrawal of ban on political activity after the revolution. The nationalist Muslim leaders who were influenced by Pan-Turk and Pan-Islamism led these activities. A branch of 'Ittefaqul Muslimin' the central Muslim organization of Russia was opened in Crimea in 1906. For that reason no regional nationalist organization grew there. But the activity of Ittefaqul Muslimin was stopped due to oppression made by Stolipin. So there was no political significance of Ittefaqul Muslimin after 1914. The Tatars of Crimea called a conference in March 1917 to re-organize them after the revolution of February. On 23rd march the conference selected an executive committee to consider political future of Crimea. In July of that year, a political party of the Muslims was formed named 'Milli Firka' by uniting Muslim executive committee and other organizations. Milli- Firka mainly fought to achieve self autonomy and political rights for Crimea. Osman Akokorakli, Ahmad Ojanbasly and Hasan Mabri Ayaz were the main leaders of 'Milli Firka'. In Kazakhstan in 1917 the ' Alam Orda' political organization took the form of a complete political party. 'Alam Orda' was highly influenced by the democratic thinking of constitutional democrats and socialist thinking of socialist revolutionaries. In July 1917 Alas-Orda raised the demand of autonomy of Kazakhstan. Meanwhile the Jadid leaders of Turkistan(rest of Central Asia excluding Kazakhstan) called a conference on march 1917 in Tashkent. The conference appointed a committee named Turkistan Muslim Markaji Shura (Turkistan Central Council of Muslims). In that conference after detailed discussion on political situation it was decided to make a federation between autonomous Turkistan and Russia. After this in the month of April the Jadid leaders formed a political party named Shura Islamia. Observing the colonial attitude of Tashkent Soviet, leaders of the Jadid and all other Muslim organizations joined in Shura Islamia by forgetting and minimizing internal conflicts between them. Thus the Muslims arose as third power after the representative of interim government(Turkistan committee) and Tashkent Soviet. In 1917 the modern educated Muslims of North Caucasus organized two conferences in Bladicavcaz. They made a Muslim political party named 'Shoyuz Gorsik Nordov. Their objective was to achieve autonomy under Russian federation. But the most influential movement of North Caucasus was pro-Nokshbandian Sufi movement. The followers of this movement was known as 'Murids'. They had a glorious history of struggle against Russia. They fought against Russian colonialism for more than a hundred years under the leadership of Imam Mansur and Imam Shamil. After the revolution of February the Murids organized under the leadership of Imam Nazimuddin Gotskinsky. Their aim was to establish a state in North Caucasus based on Islamic ideology. In South Caucasus Pan-Turk nationalist Musawat party and socialist Himmat party organized them more strongly. Besides Turk federalist party merged with Musawat party in June 1917. Musawat and its associates were fighting for autonomy within Russia and did not demanded for separate state before 1918. The active political role of Ittefaqul Muslimin in Volga region was ended in 1904. After the revolution of February nationalist Muslim leaders established an organization named 'Muslim Committee'. The branch of this organization was established in different towns of Volga region. On the other side the local Muslim socialist leaders established another organization named 'Muslim Socialist Committee'. The Socialist Comity of Kazan played an important role later. Mollah Noor Wahid of Kazan committee became a reliable person of Bolshevic party after October revolution and he got many important responsibilities.

In this situation a group of Muslim thinkers understood the necessity to form an all Russia based Muslim political party to keep the rights of Muslim nation. With this objective Muslim members of fourth Duma met in a conference in Petrogard(once upon a time St. Petersburg) on 15th march 1917. The conference set up a Bureau under the leadership of Caucasian Muslim leader Ahmad Besalikov. The responsibility of the Bureau was to arrange a conference with participation of Muslims of all sectors and all parts of Russia. The conference also withdrew support of Muslims from all political parties of Russia because Muslim people and leaders had no confidence on those parties. By the activity of Bureau first Muslim congress after revolution was held in Moscow on 1st May 1917 with participation of 900 Muslim representatives. In that conference leaders of all organizations and opinions including nationalists, Pan-Turks, Pan-Islamists and socialists participated. Conference called to form Muslim army in every region of Russia. Conference also decided to reorganize the entire educational system according to the model of Gamprinski. It also decided to establish an Islamic board independent from Russian government to take decision about the Islamic affairs in Ufa and Volga. Conference also took resolution in favour of aquisition of property of big land lords. But in spite of wide consensus and great enthusiasm, the conference failed to take an uniform political decision. The conference was divided on whether the Muslim people want unitary government with cultural freedom of the Muslim regions or political autonomy with federal type of government. The Volgan Tatars were in favour of Unitary type of government with cultural freedom. Other Muslims were in favour of federal type of government. Upto that time the Muslim people and leaders did not raise the demand of separate Muslim state. Finally the conference decided in favour of federal type of government. Conference established a Central Muslim organization named "Milli Shura", with responsibility to co-ordinate Muslim political activity all over Russia. The central office of Milli Shura was established in Moscow and Ahmad Salikov was elected as president. The centre of executive committee of Milli Shura was in Petrograd.

Second all Russian Muslim conference was held in Kazan in July 1917. In that conference according to the resolution of first conference a military council( Harbi Shura) was formed to establish a Muslim Army. A national Muslim board based on Ufa named Milli-Idara was also formed. Conference also decided to form another national council for Muslims which was formed in November 1917 named 'Millat Majlish". But before the development of any Muslim political or military organization capable to face political crisis the Bolschevics were able to organize socialist revolution in October 1917. The main reasons behind the success of October revolution was some wrong actions of the interim government. Those wrong acts (discussed previously) of interim government inspired Bolshevics to plan a revolution under the leadership of Lenin. In his 'April' thesis [13. April Thesis; V.I Lenin.] Lenin showed that in the first step of revolution the power had gone to the democrats and bourgeoisie but it will finally go to the labourers and peasants in the next step of revolution. So the Bolshevics did not support the interim government and raised demands to give power to the local Soviets[14. Manzoorul Ahsan; Rush Biplober Itihash (History of Russian Revolution) page 93.]. But it was impossible for the interim government to give absolute power to the local Soviets according to the demands of Bolshevics because it would ultimately break the central power and every region would take the form of separate state. The Soviets were under the Menoshevics and Socialist Revolutionary Party at the time of revolution of February. But Bolshevics were able to increase their influence in the local Soviets by mass movements. They also made organizations in armed forces. At last Lenin decided to uproot the democratic government by armed revolution. On 10th October 1917 the central committee of Bolshevic Party decided to begin revolution and complete its processes very swiftly[15. Manzoorul Ahsan; Rush Biplober Itihash (History of Russian Revolution) page 93.]. A bureau was formed under the leadership of Lenin for the planning of revolution. Preparation for revolution was going on throughout the country. Revolutionary military committee was formed by the participation of trade union, armed forces and political workers to lead armed revolutionary process in Petrograd, the capital of Russia. Bolshevic operation against the interim government began at 5p.m on 24th October. The revolutionary force took possession of ten bridges [16. The Petrograd city is situated on the bank of the river Neva. Ten bridges used to keep communication between different parts of the city.] of the capital city. Within the night all important centres of the capital came under the control of revolutionaries. In the morning of 25th October Lenin declared that interim government has been thrown out from position. The socialist revolutionaries arrested the leaders of interim government after capturing their headquarter. Thus the process of establishment of democracy was ended and socialism was established. Its now difficult to comment what would happened if there was no socialist revolution in Russia. Probably democracy and free economy like those of Europe may have developed.

The revolution of October was mainly organized by the activity of Russians. The role of Muslim leaders in this revolution was not significant. After this revolution Muslim majority areas faced a new situation. In all Muslim regions Russian backed local Soviets took possession of power in favour of revolutionary socialist government. On the other hand Muslim political organizations like Milli Shura and Milli Idara were also working beside Soviets. The military forces of Harbi Shura were also working in Muslim regions beside Red Army. After October revolution Muslim regions tried to achieve independence and declared independent government one after another. Turkistan declared independence in November 1917. The capital of this new state was Kokond. Soviet government sent army against this government in January 1918. The soldiers of Tashkhent Soviet attacked Kokond and after serious battle took possession of the capital. The city was destroyed extensively. The leaders of Turkistan government fled and joined with the Basmakis. At the same time independence of Kazakhstan was declared by Alas-Orda party. But the main cities of Kazakhstan were captured by Red army within February 1918. At last the Red army captured Alma Ata the capital city of Kazakhstan on 3rd march 1918.

The national government of Bashkhiria was established in Oren burg in December 1917 under the leadership of Ahmad Jaki Walid [17. Prominent historian and public leader of Bashkhir. Was the chief of the independent government of Bashkhiria. Went to Turkey after the fall of the government of Bashkhir, later became the professor of history in the University of Istanbul.]. Later in February 1918 a joint Tatar-Bashkhir conference was held which decided to establish a joint Tatar-Bashkhir state. The new state was named Idel-Ural. But the Kazan Soviet suddenly arrested most of the nationalist leaders on 27th February. Bashkhir fled government and Idel-Ural government remained unimplemented. The Muslim leaders of Crimea formed a government in November 1917. The centre and parliament of this government was in Simpherpthul. The Savastapal Soviet sent Army against this government. On 14th January Red army captured Simpharphul and most Tatar leaders took shelter in Crimea. Soviet government sent Red army in March to capture Azerbaijan. After a serious battle the Bolshevics captured Azerbaijan. A number of three thousand Muslim soldiers died in this war [18. Richard Pipes; The Formation of Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism. page-200]. Then the Bolshevics established Baku Commune. Most of the nationalist Muslim leaders left Baku and went to more western Kirovabad. There they established an independent Azerbaijan government in may 1918. Soviet government failed to capture North Caucasus(Dagestan), Khiva Khanat and Bukhara Amirat before the onset of civil war. The peoples of North Caucasus were able to maintain their independence under the leadership of Imam Nazmuddin. Peoples of Khiva and Bukhara successfully resisted the attack of Tashkent Soviet.

Civil war broke out in Russia on 25th may 1918. Members of Chekoslovak army imprisoned by Russia during world war rebelled suddenly while they were being transported to Bladivostok. The rebel army captured the main cities situated on the trans-Siberian railway. The Cossacks of Ural and Oren burg replaced local Soviets and took power. At the same time the Menshevik and other members of the Parliament which was sacked by the Bolsheviks united in Samara and formed an interim government. They asked the people to depose the Bolsheviks from power. The nationalist Muslim leaders, the governments and institutions of whom were dismissed by Bolshevik Soviet government, began to fight against Bolsheviks in favour of new government. Within august 1917 the Bolsheviks lost their power from whole of the South East Russia. The Muslim leaders took the opportunity of civil war and several independent Muslim states emerged in different pats of Russia. Within the month of May four independent states were formed in Caucasus region two of them( Georgia and Armenia) were Christian dominant. Other two( Azerbaijan and North Caucasus) were Muslim. Amin Rasulzada was elected as the President of Azerbaijan. Haider Bama [19. Haider Bammate(1890-1965) born in the North Caucasus. Got Ph.D degree in law from Leningrad University. Was a sincere practitioner of Islamic ideology. Got excellence in Arabic language and Islamic studies. Went to France in 1921 after the fall of independent North Caucasus. From there he published the paper 'The Caucasus' by which he tried to create sentiment in favour of freedom of North Caucasus. He wrote a book named, 'The Caucasus Problem'. He got the citizenship of Afganistan by king Amanullah as a reward for his contribution towards Muslim people. He died in Paris on 31st march 1965.] was elected the Prime minister and the Foreign minister of North Caucasus. North Caucasus signed a friendship treaty with Turkey. Ahmad Jaki Walid who went in hiding in mountain region after the fall of the government of Bashkhir, returned at this time and re-established national government of Bashkhir in August 1918. Using the opportunity of the civil war Alas-Orda party of Kazakhstan declared two independent governments; one each in East and West Kazakhstan. Dost Muhammad and Ali Bukaikhan were the chiefs of governments of West and East Kazakhstan respectively. But the power of these two Kazakh governments was limited within the rural areas only. Most of the towns were under the control of Bolsheviks or anti- Bolshevik interim government [20. G. Park; Bolshevism in Turkistan: Columbia University Press, 1957.]. The Turkistan government recaptured their power in Kokond. The Soviet government of Crimea was deposed by the Crimean army. In November 1918 after the withdrawal of Crimean army from Crimea, a new Muslim nationalist government was formed in Crimea under the leadership of Milli Firka Party.

Thus within only one year of Bolshevik revolution Soviet government lost control over all Muslim majority regions. Though it became easier for the counter revolution of Menshevik and other parties, yet the deeper cause behind this was the will of Muslim people to achieve political and cultural sovereignty. They were not prepared to act any more as the tools of political parties of Russia. They felt the necessity to establish their states, independent from Russia. But according to G. Safarov and other modern historians of Russia the colonial attitude of local Soviets and Russian Communist leaders were responsible for this [21. G. Safarov; The Colonial Revolution: The Case of Turkistan, Moscow.]. But ultimately all these Muslim states failed to maintain their independence. Their army was not so organized, their administrative experience was limited. Moreover these new states had poor connection and co-operation between them. On the other hand anti-Bolshevik interim government's Muslim policy was also not good for Muslims. They were not ready to accept any demand for Muslim autonomy. In this situation the Bolsheviks took a realistic nationalist policy to attract the support of Muslims. So Bashkhir and Kazakhstan went in favour of Bolshevik Soviet. General Denikin [22. General Denikin was a renowned general against the Bolshevic Soviet.] deposed the independent government of Crimea in June 1919. The Bolshavics captured Crimea from the anti-revolutionaries in October 1920. The fall of independent Azerbaijan took place in April 1920. North Caucasus went under Bolshevik control in 1919. Thus the struggle for independence of Russian Muslims failed at least for the time being. ( However many of them became again independent in the 90's of 20th century.)