Friday, January 31, 2020

Uzbeks Today Don’t Call Those Who Resisted Soviets ‘Basmachis;’ They Call Them ‘National Heroes,’ Rasulov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – Abdulla Rasulov, a professor at Namangan State University who received his academic training as a specialist on the 1920s and specifically the role of Tatars in Central Asia, says that Uzbeks no longer call those who resisted Soviet power “basmachis,” a derogatory term Moscow insisted on but rather “fighters for national liberation.”

            In an extensive interview with Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, the Uzbek historian describes the remarkably open intellectual life he experienced in Tatarstan in the 1980s and something of his research into the role Tatars from the Middle Volga played in the extension of Soviet power to Central Asia (

            Some Uzbeks still believe that the Tatars were used by Moscow not to provide assistance to the peoples of Turkestan but rather as part of “the colonial policy of the Bolsheviks,” Rasulov says. But one must keep in mind that the Tatars who did come to Central Asia at that time “really believed in the ideals of communism” and thought they were helping the Turkestanis.

            At the same time, the Namagan historian points out, “there were cases when the Tatars took part” in helping the peoples of Turkestan to resist Moscow. They too were fired by high ideals, at least in most cases. But the actions of all involved must be put in the context of the times, Rasulov continues.
            Perhaps his most intriguing comments concern Soviet military commander Mikhail Frunze and Tatar national communist Mirsaid Sultan-Galiyev and the preference many Central Asian leaders showed for taking Tatar women as their wives.

            Frunze, Rasuloov says, “knew well the customs, language and psychology of the Muslim population because he was a native of these places.” And there is a report that on at least one occasion, he delivered a speech to the Tatar brigade in Tatar, an action that pleased and inspired its members.

            There is also a remarkable story about the Soviet conquest of Bukhara.  Frunze’s forces were having no luck penetrating the city’s walls. He then suggested that the soldiers begin to chant “there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is His prophet.” Once that happened, the Bukharans opened the gates to them. That is how Soviet power came to the emirate!

            The Bolsheviks also employed other methods many of which were less clever and morally defensible. They made promises of safety to their opponents and then killed them a few days after they surrendered. That too is part of the history of the fight in Central Asia in which the Tatars were involved.

            Sultan-Galiyev “did a lot,” Rasulov says. “But he was the victim of Stalin’s repressive machine. Sultan-Galiyev wanted that the Turkic republics receive full status, integrate among themselves, and develop. He called for the equality of all peoples so that there wouldn’t be any national republics of second or third class. But this didn’t happen.”

            And Tatars were active players on the cultural front, not only in editing early Central Asian newspapers and journals but also as wives of party leaders. 

            Senior officials in Turkestan “preferred to marry Tatar women.” Their attractions included that they “were more independent, had their own opinioin and could speak with men as equals but never go beyond the limits.” Among the most famous of these was the mother of Chingiz Aitmatov, Nagim Abdulvaliyeva.

            Rasulov says that he is developing the field of Tatar studies in Uzbekistan. It now includes two of his students and his daughter as well as three or four other scholars.  He himself is planning to prepare a major monograph summarizing this work under the title The Tatars in Central Asia.

            Asked about his impressions of changes in Kazan since the 1980s, the Uzbek historian says that it has become “a contemporary, almost European city but that relations among people have become other than they were, market-oriented. There is not the sincerity and simplicity there was earlier.”

            Moreover, he continues, the theater is now in Russian rather than Tatar and while there are more books in Tatar available, it is far from clear whether they are being read.  But “perhaps,” he concedes, these reactions are only subjective. “I don’t know, Rasulov concludes.

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