CENTRAL ASIA ix. In the 20th Century



ix. In the 20th Century

Modern life encroached slowly and unevenly upon Central Asia in the 20th century. Technology brought by the Russian military and the colonial administration from Europe included advanced arms and material, as well as railroad, telegraph/telephone, and printed com­munication. These would have their impact and reflec­tion in movements for reform, but in the protectorates of Bukhara and Khiva (Ḵīva) the benefits of these innovations scarcely trickled down from the establish­ment to the general population. Czarist government policy supported the existing Central Asian religious and social institutions and, in the earliest decades, favored the most conservative side of indigenous life (Schuyler, I, pp. 168-69). Local schools expected children to read and recite passages from masterworks written in both Persian/Tajiki and Turki by classical authors. From the first year, pupils memorized selec­tions from the Koran. Parallel to the predominant Muslim system of maktabs and madrasas, starting from the 1870s Russian missionaries encouraged by the state organized a small network of so-called “Russian-­Native” schools, where they taught little groups of local boys Russian language and some secular subjects (Ostroumov, pp. 140, 173).

Continued Russian control of western Turkistan also prolonged the old and characteristic tendency in heterogeneous Central Asia toward a synthesis of people. Just five years after the turn of the century the first local press rose to challenge the hegemony of the sole news bulletin circulated up to then from Tashkent in Turki and Qazaq, the two most-used Turkic languages of the area, the governor-general’s Torkestān welāyätīnīng gäzetī (Turkistan wilayätining gäziti; 1870-1917). In the historic cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, and Kokand (Qaqan) in southern Central Asia the small newspapers and journals assembled under single covers articles in Persian/Tajiki and Turki. To the north, in Orenburg and Troitsk, the early press was in Qazaq. All employed the Arabic alphabet, making them acces­sible to Central Asian readers north and south, regard­less of ethnic subgroup (Allworth, 1965, pp. 14-15). These practices, like so many others, united the hetero­geneous population of the region.

Beside the Manḡït (Manḡīt) dynasty in Bukhara and the Qonghirat (Qonḡūrāt, Qonḡorāt) dynasty ruling Khiva, minor Central Asian participation in the governance of the state outside those protectorates immediately after 1900 mainly took two forms. District officers usually came from the indigenous population at the lower levels in the Steppe and Turkistan governor­-generalships headed by Russian commanders. Moreover, the Governor Generalship of the Steppe sent a few representatives to the Imperial Russian State Duma elected in 1906, and both parts of the region delegated men to it in 1907, though the conservative Czar Nicholas II disenfranchised the region before subsequent convenings of the State Duma (Pierce, pp. 256-­57). Partly as a consequence of this political deprivation, Central Asian reformists resorted to an array of inno­vative cultural activities in order to express the identity and will of the local population. “New method schools,” usul-e jadid mäktäbläri (oṣūl-e jadīd mäktäblärī), libraries, the press, a new theater and drama, modern philanthropic societies, and other institutions gave voice and focus to this urge.

Effective leaders of the reform drive included Mahmud Khoja Behbudiĭ (Maḥmūd Ḵᵛāja Behbūdī; 1874-1919) and Haji Muʿin b. Shukrullah (Ḥājī Moʿīn b. Šokr-Allāh) of Samarkand, Osman Khoja Polat Khoja-oghli (ʿOṯmān Ḵᵛāja Pōlād Ḵᵛāja-oḡlī; d. 1968), ʿAbdalrauf Fitrat (ʿAbd-al-Raʾūf Feṭrat; 1886-1937), and Sadriddin Aĭniĭ (Ṣadr-al-Dīn ʿAynī, q.v.; 1878-­1954) of Bukhara, ʿAshur ʿAli Zahiri (ʿĀšūr-ʿAlī Ẓahīrī) in Qoqan (Khokand, Ḵūqand), Munawwar Qari Abdurashid Khan-oghli (Monawwar Qārī ʿAbd-al-Rašīd Ḵān-oḡlī; 1880-1933), Ubaydullah Khoja Asadullah Khoja-oghli (ʿObayd-Allāh Ḵᵛāja Asad-­Allāh Ḵᵛāja-oḡlī) and Abdullah Awlaniĭ (ʿAbd-Allāh Awlānī) of Tashkent, Aliqan Bokeyqan-uli (1869-1932), Aqmet Baytursin-uli (Aḥmad Bāytursunūlī; 1873-1937), and Mīr Jaqib Duwlat-uli (Mīr Yaqīb Dawlat-ūlī; 1885-1937) of Orenburg (Allworth, 1989, pp. 175, 222). Characteristically, these men commanded three lan­guages: Arabic, Persian/Tajiki, and Turki, and sometimes Russian, Urdu, and others (idem, 1988, pp. 38­-40). They introduced into the region the first indigenous versions of modern cultural life as it was known in the contemporary Near and Middle East.

Czarist officials largely disapproved of the local movements for modernization emerging in the Turkistan and Steppe governor-generalships, but encouraged them as progressive inside the Central Asian protector­ates. When the Czarist regime collapsed in March 1917, the reformists saw an opportunity to effect beneficial changes throughout the region. Relatively small in numbers, they exerted an influence lasting beyond their two active decades upon the thinking of generations of Central Asians. Jadid-oriented governments briefly sat in Turkistan at Qoqan from December 1917 to February 1918, at Orenburg from December 1917 to spring 1918 (idem, 1989, pp. 236-37), and in Bukhara and Khiva in 1920-21. By 1924 Russian Bolshevik politicians manipulated the situation through domestic figures such as Fayzullah Khoja (Fayż-Allāh Ḵᵛāja; 1896-1938) of Bukhara in reorganizing the entire basis for the further development of modern Central Asia. The nascent People’s Conciliar Republics of Bukhara and Khiva, the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of Turkistan and Kirgizistan (i.e., Kazakhstan) disappeared amid the major redistricting effected by the Russian Bolsheviks (who soon called themselves “Communists”) throughout Central Asia in late 1924 and early 1925.

Partitioning Central Asia into monoethnic adminis­trative units for the first time in history, the Russian politicians instituted the European notion of nationality and nation in this cosmopolitan, Eastern land. Hence­forth, Tajik politicians and writers flourished only at home; Uzbek leaders no longer found a welcome in areas of Central Asia outside Uzbekistan, and the Soviet authorities used every conceivable device to dissect the former symbiotic heterogeneity into separate territorial-administrative units, each ethnically homo­geneous and bearing the eponym of the group. If they seriously tried to accomplish this, the politicians failed to a noticeable degree in the effort. Many Tajiks, especially those living around Samarqand and Bukhara, and Kazakhs found themselves inside the new borders established around Uzbekistan, and Uzbeks made up over 20 percent of the population of the Tajikistan (for Tajik) Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Tajik ASSR) established in 1925 (Lorimer, p. 64), and these discrepancies increased in ensuing years. Soviet leaders promptly began placing cultural and political emphasis upon the eponymous nationality in each Central Asian administrative unit, often encouraging friction between nationalities in the drive to segregate nationalities and dissolve integrative links between Tajiks and Uzbeks, Kirgiz and Kazakhs, and similar interactive pairs.

The Tajik SSR, from 2 January 1925, included in its southeastern reaches a Gorno-(Mountain) Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast of 64,000 km2—about 45% of the union republic’s land area—whose Pamir mountains housed small populations speaking Iranian languages and dialects also other than Tajiki (Pod’yachikh, p. 180; Allworth, 1989, pp. 67-68; Wixman, pp. 154; see xiii, below). These two administrative units remained the sole formal higher-level territorial assignments to Iranian-speaking people in Central Asia among only four in the USSR (including the North Ossetian ASSR and South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast of the Caucasus region). After the mid-20th century, Soviet authorities resettled thousands of mountain people from the high­lands into the lowlands of Tajikistan, purportedly to improve their living conditions, but in reality also to bring them more closely to Communist party ideology. That policy partially explains the slow population growth in the large Mountain-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, from 73,000 people to 128,000 between 1959 and 1979 (Itogi, 1962, p. 208; Chislennost’, p. 132; cf. ii, above).

Other Iranian-language groups inhabiting Central Asia include the Bukharan Jews concentrated mainly in Bukhara, Samarkand, Dushanbe, and cities of the Farghana (Farḡāna) valley, the 18,584 (in 1979) Baluch of Turkmenistan concentrated in the Merv Oblast, and the 15,457 Central Asian “Iranians” or Persians reported in the 1970 Soviet census as living mainly in the Samarkand and Sir Darya Oblasts of Uzbekistan (Itogi, 1973, pp. 202, 215, 217).

Although the new Tajikistan, officially proclaimed in March 1925, came into being within the borders of Uzbekistan or the Uzbek Soviet Socialist (union) Republic, by 1929 the central government separated the two and reconstituted Tajikistan as a Soviet Socialist (union) republic (Tajik SSR), the second highest level, after federative republic, of territorial-administrative status provided for in the Soviet constitution. By 1936 the array of political-administrative units established on the monoethnic principle in Central Asia seemed complete, with five union republics—for Kazakhstan, Kirgizistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbek­istan—and the Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic assigned to the Uzbek SSR. From time to time the authorities also recognized less numerous population groups by designating a number of smaller units in the region without administrative prerogatives, such as the Baluch National Village Councils in Turkmenistan, Uygur National Raion in Kazakhstan, Uygur National Public Farms in Uzbek­istan, and the like (Kolarz, pp. 297-98).

This new arrangement initiated an era of stress upon analysis as opposed to synthesis in the sphere of ethnic, cultural, and linguistic development, but not of economics or politics. The central leadership of the Com­munist party insisted that Central Asians employed in those two areas, tightly managed from Moscow, should behave as if ethnically neutral or non-ethnic, a fiction that camouflaged the direct Russian dominance of both. Membership in the Tajikistan branch of the Communist party, the only political party in that and other union republics, reflected a disproportion between numbers of Tajiks in the population and those in active politics. In 1926 Tajik Communist party members in the Tajik ASSR branch of the party numbered 368 (49.6%) in a total of 742. By 1974, when the entire membership for Tajikistan had reached 92,062, Tajiks made up 44,443 (48.3%; Kommunisticheskaya partiya, pp. 20, 77). Tajiks comprised 75% of Tajikistan’s 827,000 people in 1926 and 56.2% of 2,899,602 in 1970 (Lorimer, p. 64; Itogi, 1973, p. 295). Communist party statistics for 1986 correlated with census reports dated 1979 showed that throughout the USSR Tajiks held but 0.5% of Union-wide Communist party memberships but made up 2,897,697 (1.11%) of the entire population of the Soviet Union. Thus Tajiks, like many Soviet nationalities, lacked proportional representation in the country’s political system (“KPSS v tsifrakh,” p. 24; “Vsesoyuznaya perepis’,” p. 41). Receiving parity in membership might have added an appearance of fairness in Communist party matters, but it would not have offered greater political initiative to the Tajiks, for none of their nationality sat in the Politburo, the decision-­making political body of the Soviet Union, nor did Tajiks hold the key positions of political power in their own union republic. Both before and after the death of Joseph V. Stalin in 1953, an almost constant churning of personnel among the various posts in Tajikistan’s branch of the Communist party and in its governmental hierarchy signified little that was beneficial for the people of the country, for higher authorities made or approved all such appointments without regard to the popularity or importance of the chosen appointees for the union republic’s self-image. In Tajikistan, from May 1946 to November 1955, Babajan (Babadzhan) Ghafurov held the position of First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Tajikistan. His successor, T. Uldzhabayev, remained in the post only until April 1961, when Jabar (Dzhabar) Rasulov replaced him and remained First Secretary until 1982, when he died at 68, an age fairly typical of high-level Central Asian politicians at that time (Composition, p. 105; Hodnett and Ogareff, p. 293; Rakowska-Harmstone, pp. 190-91). To some extent in each republic officials like Rasulov formed the core of a political machine with its privileges and patronage but issued no important orders independently. Russians and other outsiders consistently held the few decisive positions (Communist party second secretary, KGB chief, and the like), despite the fact that, after 1956, higher authorities as a matter of policy selected a Communist party member of the eponymous nation­ality for the position of union republic Communist party first secretary in the major administrative units of Central Asia. One other potentially important political outlet, the Supreme Council of the Tajik SSR, first established in 1938, remained subservient to the Communist Party of Tajikistan at least until the mid­1980s, mainly offering token elections on a single­-candidate slate to symbolic status as one of several hundred deputies (300 in March 1959, for example). The unicameral Supreme Council of the Tajik SSR decided nothing of significance independently. Political authorities also selected Tajik deputies from Central Asia to the powerless bicameral Union-wide Supreme Council that met semiannually in Moscow. At the eighth convening in 1970, six Tajiks sat in the Council of the Union and another 27 in the Council of Nationalities. At that time each union republic sent 32 deputies, and each autonomous oblast sent five. Nationalities other than Tajik gained seats from Tajikistan, and Tajik deputies came also from Uzbekistan to the Union-wide Supreme Council (Istoriya III, bk. 2, pp. 216-17; Verkhovnyĭ Sovet, pp. 5-31).

Even before the first days of the Tajik ASSR and then the Tajik SSR, therefore, Tajiks by necessity largely focused upon consolidating the new ethnic identity of their group through strengthening cultural and artistic development. In the 1920s, especially former Jadids such as Sadriddin Ayniĭ, Abdalrauf Fitrat, and Abduqadir Muhitdinov (ʿAbd-al-Qāder Moḥīṭdīnov) wrote histories, compiled literary works, and functioned in cultural and social organizations of Soviet Tajikistan. In 1923, Ayniĭ published his Taʾriḵi amironi manḡitiyi Bukhoro (Tārīḵ-e amīrān-e manḡītī-e Boḵarā “History of the Manghit dynasty of Bukhara”), and in 1926 a Moscow publishing house issued his anthology of Persian and Tajiki Persian literature, (Namūna-ye adabīyāt-e tājīk 300-1343 Hejrī “Speci­mens of Tajik literature”), which was expressly aimed at consolidating the new Tajikistan identity on the foundation of Persian literature from Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Jaʿfar Rūdakī, native of a village near Bukhara (d. 329/940) to the 20th century; the sections on modern literature contain writings by Ayniĭ, Mahmud Khoja Behbudiy, Abdalrauf Fitrat, and many more (pp. 531­-43, 551-55, 598-99). He also wrote chronicles in a Turkic language (a mix between Turki and Tatar) Buḵoro inqilobi taʾriḵi učun materiallar “Materials for the history of the Bukharan revolution,” Moscow, 1926).

Ayniĭ and other writers contributed stage scenes for Tajik theater groups. Modern Tajik theatrical performances had begun in late 1917 with a presentation of Abdalrauf Fitrat’s short play, “Beggijan” (Bēgijān) based on the life of the pious, revered Mangit ruler of Bukhara, Mīr Maʿṣūm Shah Morād I (r. 1785-1800). Tajiks evidently supplied many of the actors and some playwrights for the new Jadid theater in Turkistan. As early as 1919 in Ura Toba, some teachers translated the Turki-language play “Old School and New School,” by Ḥājī Moʿīn b. Šokr-Allāh, into Tajik (at that time playwrights had not yet composed full-length plays in Tajik) and gave the first presentation of organized amateur theater for Tajiks (Nurdzhanov, pp. 21, 31). With personnel drawn from the Uzbek Theater Studio in Moscow, the working theaters of Tashkent, and the cooperation of Mannan Uygur and others from Tashkent, Tajikistan established its first official modern theater and drama in 1933. Since that time a lively stage and network of theaters, emphasizing musical drama, has taken root in the union republic. In areas heavily populated by outsiders, theaters perform in Russian, Uzbek, and sometimes other languages.

The degree of adherence to the nationality’s language gives one measure of the solidity of ethnic group identity in the Soviet Union. In 1970, according to census data, 98.2% of all Tajiks named Tajiki as their language, but by 1979 this number had dropped to 97.8%, a decline that is clearly correlated with the increased fluency in Russian: in 1970 15.4% declared themselves fluent in Russian, but in 1979 the number had increased to 29.6%. The number of Tajiks, as well as that of Kazaqs, who adhered to their mother tongue thus fell slightly below that of Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Kirgiz (Naselenie, p. 23).

The multilingual character of Tajikistan revealed itself also in its publishing. In 1970 there were 55 newspapers being printed in the union republic; of these 27 appeared in Uzbek, Tajiki and Uzbek, Russian, or Kirgiz and the remainder in Tajiki alone (Letopis’, pp. 313-18). Statistical reports revealed a significant trend in book publishing. Only 40 printed books in Persian/Tajiki had appeared in Central Asia between 1901 and 1917 to compete with manuscripts (Rypka, 1959, p. 459). In the Soviet period, book publishing houses issued many more Persian/Tajiki titles, from a mere 56 in 1927 to an impressive annual average of 433 between 1958 and 1961; after that, however, the number declined from 369 annually during 1968-71 to an average of 328 during 1978-83. The number of copies according to population figures followed a similar pattern. Circulation of books peaked at 2.1 copies annually per person during the period 1958-61. There­after, Soviet publishers provided an average of 1.8 copies per person during 1968-71 but only 1.3 during 1978-83 (Allworth, 1965, p. 36; idem, 1975, p. 444; Pechat’, 1979, pp. 20-21; 1980, pp. 22-23; 1981, pp. 24-25; 1982, pp. 24-26; 1983, pp. 24-25; 1984, pp. 24-25). These declining figures signal the rise of Russian as the language of written communication in Tajikistan. They also give evidence of another aspect of modernization: young Tajiks were increasingly attracted to media other than books. As in most parts of the world, radio, and especially television and cinema, persistently pulled audiences away from printed media and the theater, tending to draw younger generations outward toward a standardized international popular culture and expres­sion rather than inward toward the traditional heritage of their own past.


The following selective list of titles emphasizes works in English and other Euro­pean languages. Said Alim Khan, S. H. l’Émir de Boukharie, La voix de la Boukharie opprimée, Paris, 1929.

Amir Sayyid ‘Alim Khan, Amir-i Bukhara (Amīr Sayyed ʿĀlem Khan, Amīr-e Boḵārā), Tārīḵ-e ḥozn al-melal-e Boḵārā (Tarikh-i huzn al-milel-i Bukhara), Paris, [1929].

Sadriddin Äyniy/Ṣadr-al-Dīn ʿAynī, Äsäslär, Säkiz tamlik I, Tashkent, 1963.

Qisqächä tärjimäi halim/Moḵtaṣar-e tarjama-ye ḥāl-e ḵᵛodam, Tashkent, 1960.

E. Allworth, ed., Central Asia. 120 Years of Russian Rule, Durham, N.C., 1989.

Idem, Central Asian Publishing and the Rise of Nationalism, New York, 1965.

Idem, “Mainstay or Mirror of Identity. The Printed Word in Central Asia and Other Soviet Regions Today,” Revue Cana­dienne des Slavistes 2/3, 1975, pp. 436-62.

Idem, Nationalities of the Soviet East. Publications and Writing Systems, New York, 1971.

Idem, The Nationality Question in Soviet Central Asia, New York, 1973.

Idem, Soviet Asia. Bibliographies. A Compilation of Social Science and Humanities Sources on the Iranian, Mongolian, and Turkic Nationalities. With an Essay on the Soviet-Asian Controversy, New York, 1975.

Idem, “Suppressed Histories of the Jadids in Turkistan and Bukhara,” in E. von Mende, ed., Turkestan als historischer Faktor and politische Idee. Festschrift für Baymirza Hayit zu seinem 70. Geburtstag, 17. Dezember 1987, Cologne, 1988.

S. Becker, Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia­: Bukhara and Khiva, 1865-1924, Cambridge, Mass., 1968.

J. Castagne, Les Basmatchis, Paris, 1925.

The Composition of Leading Organs of the CPSU (1952-­1982), [Munich], 1982.

Chislennost’ i sostav naseleniya SSSR. Po dannym vsesoyuznoĭ perepisi naseleniya 1979 goda, Moscow, 1984.

H. Carrère d’Encausse, Islam and the Russian Empire. Reform and Revolution in Central Asia, Berkeley, 1988.

G. Hodnett and V. Ogareff, Leaders of the Soviet Republics, 1955-1972. A Guide to Posts and Occupations, Canberra, 1973.

Istoriya tadzhikskogo naroda, ed. by an editorial committee, 3 vols. in 2, Moscow, 1963-65.

Itogi vseoyuznoĭ perepisi naseleniya 1959 goda. SSSR (svodnyĭ tom), Moscow, 1962.

Itogi vsesoyuznoĭ perepisi naseleniya 1970 goda. Natsional’nyĭ sostav naseleniya SSSR, soyuznykh i avtonomnykh respublik, kraev, oblasteĭ i natsional’nykh okrugov IV, Moscow, 1973.

Kommunisticheskaya partiya Tadzhikistana v tsifrakh za 50 let (1924-1974 gg.), Dushanbe, 1977.

“KPSS v tsifrakh. Nekotorye dannye o razvitii partii v period mezhdu XXVI i XXVII s”ezdami KPSS,” Partiĭnaya zhizn’ 14, July 1986, pp. 19-25.

W. Kolarz, Russia and Her Colonies, n.p., n.d., 3rd ed., n.p., 1967.

Letopis’ periodicheskikh izdaniĭ SSSR. 1966-­1970, pt. 2, Moscow, 1975.

F. Lorimer, The Population of the Soviet Union. History and Prospects, Geneva, 1946.

Naselenie SSSR. Po dannym vsesoyuznoĭ pere­pisi naseleniya 1979 goda, Moscow, 1980.

N. Kh. Nurdzhanov, Istoriya tadzhikskogo sovetskogo teatra, 1917-1941 gg., Dushanbe, 1967.

Nizam Nurjanov, Dramai khalqii tojik (Drāmā-ye ḵalqī-e tājīk), Du­shanbe, 1985.

Pechat’ SSSR. Statisticheskiĭ sbornik v 1978 godu . . . v 1983 godu, Moscow, 1979-84.

N. P. Ostroumov, Sarty. Etnograficheskie materialy, Tash­kent, 1896.

R. Pierce, Russian Central Asia. 1867­-1917. A Study in Colonial Rule, Berkeley, 1960.

P. G. Pod’yachikh, Naselenie SSSR, Moscow, 1961.

T. Rakowska-Harmstone, Russia and Nationalism in Central Asia. The Case of Tadzhikistan, Baltimore, 1970.

J. Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit. Idem, Iranische Literaturgeschichte, Leipzig, 1959.

E. Schuyler, Turk­istan. Notes of a Journey in Russian Turkistan, Khokand, Bukhara, and Kuldja, 2 vols., New York, 1877.

Verkhovnyĭ Sovet SSSR. Vos’mogo sozyva. (Statisticheskiĭ sbornik), Moscow, 1970.

“Vsesoyuz­naya perepis’ naseleniya,” Vestnik statistiki 7, 1980.

R. Wixman, The Peoples of the USSR. An Ethno­graphic Handbook, Armonk, N.Y., 1984.

Yádnáme-­ye Jan Rypka. Collection of Articles on Persian and Tajik Literature, Prague, 1967.

(Edward Allworth)

Originally Published: December 15, 1990

Last Updated: January 1, 2000

This article is available in print.
Vol. V, Fasc. 2, pp. 207-210

Cite this entry:

Edward Allworth, “CENTRAL ASIA ix. In the 20th Century,” Encyclopædia Iranica, V/2, pp. 207-210, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/central-asia-ix (accessed on 30 December 2012).