Staunton, August 11 – Vladimir Putin’s constant insistence that it was the Bolsheviks who inserted a delayed action mine under Russia has sparked increasing interest in the realities of the last decades of the Russian Empire and the first years of Bolshevik rule. Such attention has shown that the Kremlin leader’s argument is at a minimum overdrawn.
Not only were administrative arrangements inside the Russian Empire more diverse than Putin suggests, but the Bolsheviks struggled to come up with new ones that would not only ensure their control of the borderlands but also promote the spread of the communist revolution abroad.
Nowhere was this process more complicated than in Central Asia, and a new post on a Zen.Yandex portal devoted to the history of that region bears the provocative title “Why was Tajikistan at First an Autonomy within Uzbekistan?” (zen.yandex.ru/media/centralasia/pochemu-tadjikistan-snachala-byl-avtonomiei-v-sostave-uzbekistana-60f98372765045376a917158).
The portal baldly states that “the Russian empire was complicated in its internal structure as a state.” In addition to krays and gubernias, “where most of the population was Slavic,” there were regions “where Russians were few.” Some of these were run directly from St. Petersburg; others were run by local elites. And such differences played a role in Soviet times.
Present-day Tajikistan traces its origins back to places run directly from the center because of their strategic importance and others that were run via the Khivan and Khokand statelets. Following the Russian conquest of Tashkent in 1864, the local rulers lost income, became more repressive, and sparked revolts. Russian forces intervened to suppress them.
After the Soviets took power and even before the end of the Basmachi revolt, the portal continues, Fergana Oblast where most Tajiks lived became part of the Turkestan Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic which was then made part of the RSFSR. “In essence, it was an autonomy within Russia” in Bolshevik times.
But Moscow viewed this as a “temporary” arrangement because its leaders believed that “each republic should have one official language, one capital, one system of education, a clearly defined territory and what was viewed as desirable one people.” The last arrangement was impossible in Central Asia. But the Bolsheviks did try.
In what are now parts of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the Tajiks were the dominant ethnic group in urban areas while the Uzbeks outnumbered them in rural areas. To cope with this, Moscow decided to make Tajikistan part of Uzbekistan, giving it a status much like Karakalpakstan has today.
That proved unsustainable and Tajikistan was ultimately elevated to union republic status; but even when Moscow agreed to that, it did not give Tajikistan all the lands the ethnic composition of which suggested it should have. Had it done so, Moscow’s ability to control the situation would have been compromised.
It was that failure, the portal
suggests, that is responsible for many of the tensions that continue to exist
in both now independent countries. But even more than that, this historical essay calls into question Putin's narrative and raises new questions about the future status of Karakalpakstan whose population is seeking to have its autonomy become an independent country.