Staunton, December 13 – The Siberian Bukharans, a nation which played a key role in bringing Islam to Siberia and which in the 1920s created a stir in Moscow by trying to emigrate en masse to Turkey, still exists but has not been counted in government-run censuses since World War II, Vladislav Kokoulin says.
The editor of Sibirsky arkhiv provides a glimpse into the long and complicated history of this people whose fate is one many smaller nationalities in the Russian Federation have already experienced or fear that they will given the radical assimilationist policies of the Kremlin and a reminder that the census is only an imperfect mirror of ethnic life (tayga.info/162043).
As recently as a century ago, Kokoulin says, “almost 12,000 Bukharans” lived in Siberia, the people who opened the first academic institutions and stone mosques and who included such well-known people in their ranks as Russian Turcologist Foat Valeyev and the first mullah of the mosque in Tokyo, Abdurashid Ibragimov.
By tradition, the Bukharans arrived on the shores of the Irtysh at the end of the 14th century and spread both Islam and Muslim culture among the Siberian Tatars. By the second half of the 15th century and the early 16th century, they were a well-established community; and they were reinforced by a second wave of arrivals from Bukhara after 1563.
Most of them were traders, Kokoulin says; and the tsarist government encouraged their presence, viewing them as a useful means of expanding trade with Central Asia and China at a time when there had not yet been developed direct trade ties between Russia and those regions and giving them various privileges to help them survive as a community.
Catherine the Great even recognized as an honorary trading stratum, but with time, others moved into their trading area, and the influx of Bukharans into Siberia came to an end by the middle of the 19th century and the Siberian Bukharans began to assimilate with the Siberian Tatars to whom they had brought Islam.
According to Kokulin, “Siberian Bukharan” is “a collective term for all resettlers from Central Asia, including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens and Uyghurs.” There were also some Kazakhs among them. They spoke a Turkic language but with many Persian loan words. But because of the centrality of Bukhara in their culture, they called themselves that.
After the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviets established Siberian Bukharan districts in Tyumen, Tobolsk and Tarsk regions, although after 1924, these were disbanded. Nonetheless in the 1926 census, the most comprehensive one in Russian history, 12,000 people declared themselves to be Siberian Bukharans.
But their fate as a separate people was perhaps sealed in 1924 when 300 families of Siberian Bukharans decided to try to emigrate to Turkey. They did so because they feared that the Russians among whom they lived were going to baptize them as Christians and believed that only by moving to Turkey could they escape that.
In fact, of course, the Soviets had no interest in such a trend, although in fact it happened a bit later in the 1930s when many Siberian Bukharans were in fact baptized. But despite that, the Soviet government was outraged by the plans of this small nation to leave and began to take steps to assimilate it into the Siberian Tatars.
That meant among other things not counting them separately or providing any support for their language or culture. And by the 1950s, they were a people who existed only for themselves but not as one recognized by the state.