Great Game of Central-Asian Dominance II

In a 19th century picture, the Russians attack the Uzbek city of Khiva.

Warrior Uzbek An archer of Bukhara, with a national costume Uzbekistan of the second half century.

Khiva Khanate

Also known historically as Khorezm or Khwarezm, an Islamic state in Central Eurasia, the Khiva Khanate was centered at the city of Khiva, in modern-day Uzbekistan. The khanate established its capital at Khiva as early as 1619 and was under Chinggisid rule for most of that time. In the early nineteenth century, the Inakids took power, removing the Chinggisid element. The new rulers delegated more power to city-dwellers, called Sarts. In 1717-1718, Peter the Great sent a delegation of approximately 300 men to Khiva, who were killed at the hands of the Khivan Khan Shirghazi. Russian imperial interest in the khanate increased during the middle of the nineteenth century. The Russians attacked Khiva following their earlier conquest of Bukhara (1868) and annexed the state as a protectorate in 1873. The khanate faced difficult struggles during the war of 1917-1920. In 1920, the Khivan khanate was ended and replaced by the People’s Soviet Republic of Khorezm.

Bukhara Emirate

One of the substantial Islamic states of Central Eurasia during the age of Russian imperialism. The Bukharan Emirate’s capital, the city of Bukhara, was a very old city that had long been a center of Islamic cultural and intellectual achievement. The emirate was a major political contender and ally of Russia during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. It was ruled according to Islamic law and under the leadership of an emir. In 1868, Bukhara formally recognized the superiority of the Russian Empire and, in 1873, was made a Russian protectorate but maintained its sovereignty until Bolshevik conquest in 1920. The last emir of Bukhara was Emir Muhammad Alim Khan, who continued the legacy of traditional Islamic rule. From 1800 until 1920, Bukhara was formally led by the Mangit dynasty, who took over rule from the Chinggisid rulers in the middle of the eighteenth century. See also Great Game; Russian Empire.

Russian expeditionary forces

Numerous internecine conflicts devastated the economies of the Central Asian tribal confederation and of the Bukhara, Khiva and Kokand khanates. In this environment many tribal leaders turned to outside powers for support. In the eighteenth century several Kazakh and Turkoman clans negotiated trade and political treaties with the Russian Empire. In the meantime, some Kyrgyz tribes sent a number of delegations to the British, Chinese and Russian emperors asking for their help or protection. Yet, the Russian and British were initially slow to move into the region.

The situation changed, however, by the mid-nineteenth century. St. Petersburg became increasingly interested in reaching the Central Asian market with their goods, securing land trade routes to Persia and India and halting the British advance toward Central Asia. This British-Russian race for influence in Central Asia became known as the Great Game (Hopkirk 1992). British strategists argued that the Russians might advance to Afghanistan and Persia, thereby threatening British trade and economic interests in the Middle East and in the Indian colonies. Russian strategists in turn saw great economic and military benefits in advancing into Central Asia and protecting Russia’s southern flanks from hostile British moves in case Russian-British relations turned sour. The first actions in the Central Asian region were, however, unsuccessful for both Russia and Britain. In 1840 the Russians tried to march from Orenburg to Khiva and lost nearly half their expeditionary army to severe blizzards and abnormally cold winter weather. In 1842 the British lost their entire Kabul garrison who were slaughtered on the outskirts of the city.

Yet, the Russians decided to continue their push into the region. In preparation for this further expansion, they built a new line of fortresses, establishing Akmolinsk, Kokchetav and Karkaralinsk in 1824, and Aralsk, Kazalinsk and Vernyi between 1847 and 1854.

After Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856), Tsar Alexander II (ruled 1855-1881) decided to boost morale among the general population by waging a “just” war in Central Asia. To do this, the Russian ministers started a propaganda campaign, emphasizing the need to save Russian subjects from the horrible fate of being sold in large numbers as slaves in the bazaars of Central Asia. In the early nineteenth century, a rumor was spread that between 8,000 and 60,000 slaves of Russian origin were to be found in Central Asia. Relying on massive public support, the Russian Empire made a series of decisive moves into Transoxiana between the mid-1850s and mid-1870s.

Kyrgyz tribes.

Between 1855 and 1864 the Kyrgyz tribes in the Lake Ysyk Kol valley, Chatkal River basin and some other areas negotiated a special treaty with the Russian authorities to bring them under Russian protection, a step directly counter to the interests of the Kokand Khanate. This action helped Russia establish control over significant parts of the eastern areas of Central Asia and check any further Chinese move into the region.

Kokand Khanate.

Kokand collided with the imperial Russian authorities in the early 1860s. The khan of Kokand was angered by the fact that the Kyrgyzs tribes of the Chui and Ysyk Kol valleys, whom Kokand had subjugated decades earlier, had become subjects of the Russian Empire. Kokand’s ruler, Khudoyar Khan, overestimated his military potential and waged a futile war against Russian troops. A small expeditionary Russian army led by Generals Cherniaev, Konstantin von Kaufman and Mikhail Skobelev conquered the cities of Ak-Masjid, Turkistan and Chimkent in 1864, Tashkent in 1865, and Khojand in 1866. The khan of Kokand, having experienced defeat after defeat and mass desertions by his troops, signed a peace treaty in 1869.

Bukhara Emirate.

The Emir of Bukhara, Muzzafar Khan, was alarmed by the Russian actions against the Kokand Khanate. He demanded the return of the city of Tashkent to Bukharan authorities and mobilized his troops. In response, the Russian expeditionary army attacked the Bukharan cities of Jizak and Ura Tube in 1866 and of Samarqand in 1868. The Bukharan army, untrained and equipped with outdated cannons and muskets, was defeated. Another Bukharan army, led by Muzzafar Khan himself, lost another battle before the city of Katta Qurgan. Muzzafar Khan signed a peace treaty with the Russian authorities that legitimized the Russian annexation of the territories of the Kokand and brought the Bukhara Khanate under the indirect control of the Russian Empire.

Khiva Khanate.

The Khiva Khanate witnessed the fate of the other khanates and did not present any significant resistance. In 1869 Russian troops landed on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea and organized several expeditions deep into the Karakum Desert, threatening the western frontier of the khanate. In 1873 they marched simultaneously from Orenburg and Tashkent and after short skirmishes captured the city of Khiva. In 1873 Khiva’s ruler, Muhammad Rahim Khan, signed a capitulation and peace treaty. Turkoman tribes. The independent-minded Turkoman tribes resisted and even had some success against Russian regiments below the Geok Tepe fortress in 1879, but the Russian expeditionary army defeated the Turkoman army at the Geok Tepe fortress in 1881. Peaceful treaties between the Russians and Turkomans followed, and the territory controlled by the various Turkoman tribes came under Russian control.

FURTHER READING: Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha International, 1994; Morgan, Gerald. Anglo-Russian Rivalry in Central Asia: 1810-1895. London: Frank Cass, 1981; Siegel, Jennifer. Endgame: Britain, Russia, and the Final Struggle for Central Asia. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2002; Soucek, Svat. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.