Tuesday, July 13, 2021

1916 Revolt in Central Asia Increasingly Source of Pride There but a Touchy Subject in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 8 – One hundred and five years ago on this date, Nicholas II issued an order drafting non-Russians in Turkestan and the Steppe to work in rear units and thus make up for some of the enormous losses that the Russian Imperial Army had suffered. But that action sparked massive resistance.

            Within a little more than a week, there were major risings in Samarkand and by the end of July 1916, there were 25 more revolts there, 20 in Syr-Darya and 86 in the Fergana valley. At that point, the Turkestan military district imposed martial law given that it faced a revolt from southern Siberia to the Afghan border and from the Caspian to the Tyan-Shan mountains.

            More than 100,000 of the local population took part, and the tsarist authorities sent against them forces numbering about 30,000. Tsarist officialdom believed that the foreign enemies of Russia were behind these actions, but neither then nor later was any evidence found to support that notion.  

            Indeed, research shows, Moscow commentator Boris Sokolov says, that the rising was largely spontaneous and without any serious leadership; and those who took part without contemporary weapons of any kind. “All this,” he continues, “condemned them to defeat” as when poorly armed natives go up against well-armed colonial authorities almost always are (graniru.org/Society/History/m.282111.html).

            Also confirming that is the imbalance of deaths among those who rose, on the one hand, and those who suppressed the rising, on the other. There were tens of thousands among the first, and only a relative handful among the latter. Not surprisingly, those natives who rose also attacked Russian settlers on their land.

            But as Western scholars like Britain’s Alexander Morrison have pointed out, Sokolov notes, “the word ‘colonialism’ when applied to the policies of the tsarist and Soviet governments is de facto prohibited in present-day Russia.” Instead, the colonial policies of the tsars and commissars are held up as “models for emulation” (azattyq.org/a/u-rossii-allergiya-na-slovo-kolonializm-vosstanie-1916-goda-cherez-prizmu-politiki-i-istorii/31334649.html).

            For that reason and because 1916 represented an effort by their ancestors to defend themselves even against an overwhelmingly stronger foe, many Central Asians see the events of a century ago very differently but perhaps also a model for emulation, albeit in a very different way than the powers that be in Russia would like.

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