“The question of the evaluation of the nature of the national movements is by no means a narrow academic or scientific question, of concern only to historian-specialists. This ques­tion is of great political importance, a question of principle, of ideology, closely tied to the question of Communist training of our cadres, of our Soviet people.. . . The correct Marxist-Leninist evaluation of the nature of the national movements, a correct understanding of what happened in the past (particularly, in the territories of Central Asia and Kazakhstan) can facilitate an even greater strengthening of the friendship among the peoples of the U.S.S.R.—one of the basic motive forces of the Soviet state, one of the most important sources of the might and invincibility of the U.S.S.R.” A. V. Piaskovskii’s concluding remarks to the Second Tashkent Conference of Historians (Materialy nauchnoi sessii, posviashchennoi istorii Srednei Azii i Kaz­akhstan v dooktiabr'skii period [Tashkent, 1955], p. 372).

Among the hundreds of historical events that had to be re-examined and reinterpreted as a result of the new line on the friendship of Soviet peoples, no single subject was so troublesome as the proper classification of dozens of resistance movements and revolts in Central Asia during the tsarist period. The Bolshevik view of history dictates that every event of the past must be cat­egorized as either progressive or reactionary within the framework of the Marxist laws of historical development. Before 1940 the question of the revolts was simple: all revolts against Russian colonialism had been regarded as progressive. But by the early 1950’s several criteria for evaluating revolts had been imposed on the historian, and all previous interpretations that ignored them were considered naive, one-sided, and un-Marxist. The historian now had to examine the internal class struggle in the society, the nature of the leadership, the goals of the movement, the involve­ment of “foreign enemies.” And there was the hidden factor, which was seldom explicitly discussed, but was all important: to what extent was the revolt aimed against Russians? The historian was also obliged to employ empirical evidence with selectivity. Move­ments involving large numbers of people were not necessarily a reflection of the wishes of the masses: the masses might be misled; leaders who had been regarded as democratic might be proved to be representatives of the feudal class; the character of a movement might change from one time to another or from one locale to another.

Pouring the Central Asian revolts into the new party-manu­factured molds proved to be a very difficult task. Movements that had been simple became extremely complex; very few of them could be placed in the progressive or reactionary category with­out qualifications. The task was complicated further by the fact that party pronouncements were not specific and detailed enough to cover all situations. It was left to the historians to apply general guidelines to many specific events, each having a different com­bination of the determinants.

As of early 1951 the guidelines on the interpretation of revolts were still sketchy. Pravda had spoken authoritatively on only two of them, pronouncing Kenesary’s movement reactionary and Isatai Taimanov’s progressive. Two others (Batyr Srym and Dzhank- hozhi) had been treated in monographs with less than complete clarity, but the reviews and subsequent discussion offered some direction.[1] Some conclusions could be drawn from the Shamil discussion.[2] But this information, taken together, could hardly provide all the answers, and the historians held four large con­ferences on the nature of the revolts between 1951-54, but did not arrive at interpretations that could win general acceptance until the end of the decade.

One of the first attempts to apply the new views to other revolts was made by Iakunin, in the April, 1951, issue of Voprosy istorii.[3]  Confining himself to Kazakh revolts, Iakunin analyzed them largely in relation to their leadership and goals. He classified eleven re­volts, finding two to be national liberation movements and all the others reactionary, mostly feudal-monarchal. The two progressive movements were the same ones that had passed the test earlier— Srym and Isatai (he did not mention the Dzhankhozhi movement). But Iakunin did not provide clear answers that would facilitate the evaluation of other revolts.[4] Although he claimed to be basing his arguments primarily on the class background of the leaders and their goals, it must have been clear to those reading between the lines that the prime consideration was whether a given movement was separatist, and whether it was aimed against Russians. These views were put forth only in a roundabout way. Without excep­tion Iakunin indicated that struggles against states other than Rus­sia were progressive. To take one example, he noted that “the struggle of the Kazakh and Kirgiz peoples against the Dzhungar Kalmyks in the eighteenth century and against the aggression of feudal China and the Central Asian khanates in the nineteenth century was a progressive struggle for independence.” He was careful to point out that the progressive revolts of Srym and Isatai were directed mainly against feudal khans and sultans, and only secondarily against “the colonial policy of Russian tsarism.” On the other hand, resistance to the Russians was a singularly reactionary feature, as indicated by the verdict against a revolt of the 1880’s: “It was carried out under the reactionary slogan of gazavat (a holy war against ‘infidels,’ that is Russians).”


In March, 1951, a large conference was held at the Central Asian State University on “the character of the national movements in Central Asia and Kazakhstan in the colonial period.”[5] The meet­ing apparently was intended to give guidance to many historians who were engaged in rewriting the histories of individual republics. The main report was given by Professor I. K. Dodonov, who was a co-editor of the history of Kazakhstan then in progress. Dodonov discussed more revolts than Iakunin, and was in general agreement with him, with one exception, the revolt in the Andizhan Valley in 1898.[6] This revolt had always been regarded as progressive before publication of the Pravda article, but it was clear from Dodonov’s cautious approach and carefully reasoned statements that it had slipped into the doubtful column. His discussion illus­trated the complexities of the problem. In his view the revolt was unquestionably a popular movement, aimed against tsarist colonialism and local feudal leaders. At the same time, reactionary leaders and religious forces “had tried to use this movement in then- own interests.” The movement followed the gazavat slogan, but according to Dodonov, who carefully used Lenin’s exact words, such a manifestation was really “the religious cloak of the revolt.” Thus the revolt obviously possessed contradictory characteristics; the question was, Which theme should be considered dominant? Dodonov’s view was that the popular nature of the revolt was the overriding consideration; since it had had mass support throughout, he pronounced it a national liberation movement.

Dodonov’s interpretation was challenged in the discussion that followed. Later the departments sponsoring the conference passed a resolution emphasizing the progressive features of annexation and referring without further clarification to “the reactionary essence of the feudal-nationalist Andizhan revolt of 1898.”[7] Dodonov had made the same error to which Pankratova and her colleagues had confessed earlier: the evaluation of a revolt as a national liberation movement because it had received mass support. At the same time he and his colleagues must have contemplated a fact that was never aired at the conference or in the resolution: it was well known that the revolt was aimed primarily against Russian rule.

Dodonov’s error proved to be instructive for other historians, notably the resilient Gafurov, who, like everybody else, had pro­nounced the Andizhan revolt progressive in his history of the Tadzhiks. In the second edition of the work Gafurov dwelt at length on the reactionary religious goals of the leaders of the revolt, specifically noting that his eyes had been opened by the discussion on Shamil. Not only had the main leader of the revolt, Dukchi Ishan, wanted to found a regime based on reactionary Sufism, he had also been supported by “numerous agents of the Afghan Emir” and “British imperialism,” and had waged a holy war directed “not only against tsarist officials, but against Russians in general.”[8] Gafurov followed this confession of error with an article on the revolt in Voprosy istorii.[9] His “glaring political error,” he said, had resulted from his failure to detect the antagonism between the masses and their reactionary leader. His new interpre­tation of events was a carbon copy of the Pravda pronouncement on the role of the masses in the Kenesary movement. The people had followed a reactionary leader momentarily, but had deserted him when they became aware of his aims. One of the most im­portant reasons for their change of heart was the growing realiza­tion that the movement was aimed against the Russian people.


Gafurov’s article apparently tied the ribbons on the Andi­zhan revolt of 1898. But other revolts were far too complicated to be dispensed with so easily. This was conspicuously apparent in the case of the large revolt in Central Asia in 1916, on which Voprosy istorii launched a discussion early in 1953. This revolt, the largest and most widespread rebellion against the Russian Empire, had always been considered progressive. Indeed it was regarded as the most glorious of insurrections, a curtain raiser to the October Revolution in the colonies. But the new criteria for evaluation of revolts made this one extremely controversial, and the debate about it dominated three subsequent conferences of historians.

Since a proper evaluation of the Revolt of 1916 became the piece de resistance for Soviet historians, a brief sketch of their previous thinking about it is in order. There was general agreement at all times among them that the revolt had been a mass movement, and that the immediate cause of the revolt had been a tsarist mo­bilization order which brought a series of smoldering grievances to flame. Beyond these points, nearly every feature of the revolt was subjected to criticism at one point or another. There were several particularly sensitive points:

  1. Causes. In the old view the excesses of tsarist colonialism were foremost, but by the early 1950’s, such factors, though not denied, were subordinated to the activities of “foreign agents” and the ambitions of reactionary leaders.
  2. Leadership. Many of the leaders were of feudal or clerical origin. In the earlier view, it was possible for a popular movement to have such leadership, but this was no longer compatible with the party line.
  3. Ideology. There could be no doubt of the religious nature of the movement in many areas, including the reactionary gazavat. This was no problem for earlier Soviet writers, but was now a factor to be weighed heavily on the side of reaction.
  4. Goals. There had been general agreement that the rebels wanted independence. Such an interpretation was now vulnerable on two points: it accented separatism from the incipient Soviet family, and it meant in practice that the Central Asian peoples would have to ally themselves with a foreign power to maintain their independence or be “swallowed up” by another colonial pow­er. Such an interpretation now smacked of Pan-Islam, Pan-Turk- ism, Pan-Iranism, or even Pan-Afghanism.
  5. Relations of Rebels with Russian Settlers. In the old view there was no problem involved in armed clashes between rebels and ordinary Russian people, and early accounts were plentiful, from eyewitnesses and documents. The concept of the friendship of peoples demanded that some explanation be given which would deny large-scale clashes between non-Russian and Russian workers.

As if this complex of problems were not complicated enough, there were two other subjects that were currently receiving close attention by Soviet historians and could not be ignored. With the deepening of the Cold War, Soviet scholars had been delving into the intrigues of the “British imperialists” in Central Asia. What was their role in the events of 1916? There was also a growing emphasis on Bolshevik leadership before the Revolution. Historians were obliged to look closely for Bolsheviks in the 1916 revolt and to establish a continuity between it and the Bolshevik triumph of the following year.

The earliest Soviet interpretation of these events, by a Bolshevik eyewitness, G. I. Broido, held that tsarist officials deliberately pro­voked the rebellion in order to have an excuse to exterminate the natives and seize their land. This view was generally upheld by T. Ryskulov, who, in an article published in 1924, added that the land thus seized would serve as a place d'armes for further Russian penetration into Persia, China, and Afghanistan. This provocation theory was denounced by A. V. Shestakov two years later. He pointed out that such a move by the tsarist government, at a time when Russia had her back to the wall in World War I, would have been absurd. But Shestakov did not destroy Broido’s theory of provocation altogether. He charged that Broido had merely drawn too broad a generalization; he had witnessed tsarist forces goading the peaceful Kirgiz into revolt and had assumed that this occurred all over Turkestan.[10]

There was also considerable disagreement among early Soviet writers on the role of the native aristocracy (manaps) in the revolt. One complicating factor was the absence of centralized leadership; the revolt was led by a variety of local leaders, and in some cases seemed to be almost without leadership. Some historians, includ­ing Shestakov, concluded that the manaps led the rebels in many areas, while others held that the native upper classes supported the tsarist regime. A report on the revolt among the Kirgiz by a tsarist official had stated that “in almost every volost the leaders of the revolt were the volost starshinas [native elders].”[11] But this interpretation, which fouled the clean class lines demanded by the new directives, had to be re-examined.

The most delicate question of all was the relationship of the natives with the Russian people living there and with the Bolshe­viks in particular. Early Soviet writers found no evidence of co­operation between Russian workers and the natives, but tended to put the bulk of the Central Asians on one side and the Russians on the other. The last Governor General of Turkestan, General A. N. Kuropatkin, had stated in a report that “during the past thirty years, we have not drawn any closer to, but farther away from the native population. The result of this has been distur­bances over the provision of labor, bloodshed, havoc, mutual hos­tility and mutual lack of confidence.” He also complained about the appropriation of nearly two million dessiatins of pasture land by Russians in the three years preceding the revolt, which con­tributed to native grievances. This view was supported in a Soviet study of 1931 by A. Alkin, who concluded that Russian settlers were to a great extent responsible for the unrest leading to the rebellion.[12] Soviet works of the middle 1930’s upheld the view that lines were clearly drawn on the basis of nationality, rather than class, with the exception that some of the native aristocracy had sided with Russia.[13] The idea of Bolshevik participation and leadership seems to have been entirely of later vintage, though one Soviet work suggested an interesting variation on the theme of the future: that one of the positive gains of the revolt was the contact of some of its native leaders with the Russian proletariat and the Bolsheviks as a result of their deportation to Russia.[14]

As late as the fall of 1951 Voprosy istorii published an article on the Turkmen phase of the revolt that reiterated many of these themes, clearly out of line with the Bagirov view, which had been stated more than a year earlier. Iu. Tarasov, of the Institute of History of the Turkmen Academy of Sciences, drew heavily on the documents on Russian-Turkmen relations, published in 1946, and already under fire. Quoting from one of these documents, Tarasov related the events of the night of October 6, 1916, when the rebels, “armed with rifles, revolvers, swords, axes, knives, sticks and stones, moved into the town of Tedzhen for the purpose of destroying not only all the officials of the Russian government, but the whole Russian population.”[15] Not content to let this contemporary ac­count speak for itself, Tarasov added insult to injury on the ques­tion of Russian-Turkmen relations: “All the hatred which the daik-hane [native peasants] harbored against the colonial regime was directed, under the influence of reactionary leaders, against the Russians as a whole, not distinguishing between the tsarist admin­istrators and the rest of the Russian population.”

It was true that Tarasov offered an extenuating circumstance: the rebels were misled by reactionary leaders. But the hostility and violence were still there, and could hardly he laid to leaders alone. No less devastating for the new interpretation were Tara­sov’s views on related matters. He maintained that the rebels had no revolutionary aims and “no contact with the Bolsheviks.” He even held that the movement in Turkmenia “prevented the estab­lishment of a single front between the workers of Turkmenistan and the Russian working class; the movement was anti-Russian.”

Tarasov’s article must have given the supporters of the new line on the friendship of peoples considerable discomfort. The views could not be dismissed as those of one heretical writer, since Tarasov had meticulously drawn his information from authentic sources—tsarist archives and documentary collections published by the Bolsheviks themselves. This article, which was condemned later, probably would not have been published in the embattled journal except for the fact that it placed a major emphasis on some welcome themes—the role of “foreign agents” and the reactionary role of some of the revolt’s leaders.[16] It was to correct such views as those presented by Tarasov on Russian-Turkmen relations that increased pressure was brought on historians to find a “scientific Marxist-Leninist” interpretation of the events of 1916 in Central Asia.

On the eve of the Frunze Conference (March, 1953), which was to take up the 1916 revolt, Voprosy istorii published another article on the revolt, in which the whole question was viewed in an entirely new light from that of previous Soviet historians, in­cluding Tarasov. The authors of this article, Iakunin and О. K. Kuliev, a historian of the Turkmen Academy of Sciences, continued to see discontent with tsarist colonial policies as a major cause of the revolt, but offered a whole series of contributory causes which had received little or no attention earlier.[17] They claimed that the Bolsheviks had been at work in Central Asia since 1905 organizing workers, calling strikes, and forging an alliance of working people of different nationalities. They produced the names of two genuine proletarian leaders in the Kazakh revolt: an unknown Bolshevik, Alibii Dzhangildin, and a poor peasant and Bolshevik to be, Aman- gel'dy Imanov. Iakunin and Kuliev emphasized the common struggle of the Russian and Central Asian workers, and denied any large- scale fighting between these groups. Such violence was darkly hinted at, but was attributed to outside agitators—German, Turk­ish, British, and even American agents, who were all eager to gain a foothold in Central Asia at the expense of Russia. It seems not to have been important to the authors that the British were allied with Russia at the time.



The three-day Frunze Conference on “the character of the national movements of Kirgizia” was attended by about 250 schol­ars.[18] The main report, given by A. V. Piaskovskii, of the Institute of History in Moscow, set the general tone of the conference. Piaskovskii emphasized the progressive significance of annexation, noting that the struggle against tsarism in no way contradicted the concept of the friendship of peoples, since this was a mutual struggle of the popular masses against their common enemy. Failure to appreciate this fact accounted for many past errors in the works of the historians of Kirgizia, who were called on to re-evaluate the revolts as a first important step to the writing of a new history of Kirgizia (then in progress).

In the second paper K. Usenbaev, of the Kirgiz Institute of History, Language, and Literature, showed what a creative applica­tion of Marxist-Leninist principles could do for the evaluation of the Kirgiz revolts of 1873-74 and 1875-76. The first, according to the speaker, was totally progressive: it was spontaneous, with mass participation, and directed against the Khan of Kokand. The rebels looked to Russia for aid and welcomed Russian intervention. “Feu­dal elements tried to suppress the spontaneous mass people’s move­ment, in order to strengthen their class position,” but they were unsuccessful. Rut the rebellion of 1875-76 was something else again. “Reactionary, feudal-clerical elements played a leading role in the leadership of this rebellion.” They were “dissatisfied with the growing influence of Russia,” now in control of three-fourths of the territory of the former Kokand khanate. Russian influence was opposed by “the powerful Kirgiz, Uzbek and other feudal lords, by military and bureaucratic aristocracy of Kokand, by the Moslem priesthood.” The movement was accompanied by “a gazavat against Russia and against Russians. . . . Anglo-Turkish agents took part in the organization of the rebellion.” How reactionary can a revolt be?[19]

Unfortunately for the cause, not all revolts were so simple, as was evident when the Kirgiz phase of the 1916 revolt came up for discussion. A. G. Zimma, a professor at the Kirgiz State University, resorted to the technique of dissection. The revolt had started as a spontaneous uprising of Kirgiz workers against tsarist exploitation, but complications soon set in. “The spontaneous movement of the masses, lacking proletarian leadership, was usurped in some places by feudal-clerical elements.” In some areas these reactionary lead­ers changed the direction of the revolt away from “a national liberational struggle, and directed it to the detriment of the revolution­ary movement. . . . Representatives of the exploiting aristocracy set the more backward elements of the native population against the Russian people, striving to kindle hatred between peoples.” In other places German-Turkish agents, as well as the manaps, tried to capture leadership of the revolt. None of this, however, dimin­ished in any way the growing friendship of the Kirgiz and Russian peoples. Zimina declined to put a label on the 1916 revolt as a whole.

In his concluding remarks to the conference A. L. Sidorov re­minded the participants of their unfinished business. He “empha­sized the necessity of studying the history of the 1916 revolt in Central Asia in its inseparable relationships with the general eco­nomic, social and political situation in Russia in that period.”[20]


Shortly after the Frunze Conference, a large meeting was called at Ashkhabad for the purpose of evaluating the 1916 revolt in Turkmenia, where fighting had been especially fierce and historians had been unusually stubborn in holding their old views that it was an uprising against Russians in general. The Ashkhabad Conference, which met under the shadow of another meeting of the Central Committee of the Turkmen party on May 29-30, 1953, was ap­parently not reported in the press. But some of the details can be pieced together from references to the session by Turkmen his­torians at a subsequent conference. It was a large meeting, called by the Learned Council of the Institute of History of the Turk­men Academy of Sciences jointly with the Turkmen branch of the Institute of Marx-Engels-Lenin. Representatives were present from the Academy of Sciences in Moscow and the other Central Asian republics. After vigorous debate, the conference agreed to a rather contrived interpretation of the revolt in four key areas. Part of the resolution of that meeting was read into the record of the later Tashkent Conference by a Turkmen historian. It stated that the revolt in Turkmenia had been overwhelmingly spontane­ous, popular, and progressive, but with some exceptions: “In cer­tain, predominantly backward areas of Turkmenistan, where patri­archal-feudal relations were firmly preserved, the feudal-clerical aristocracy, closely tied to agents of foreign intelligence, were able to organize reactionary uprisings, into which the backward ranks of the peasantry were partially drawn. Such was the armed uprising at Giurgen and the attack on Tedzhen on the night of October 5-6, 1916. However, these provoked uprisings did not win the support of the working masses of these areas.”

Turkmen historians did not swallow this flimsy bill of goods easily. This was made quite clear by the irascible Tarasov, who, in the course of a lively argument at the later conference, stated that Turkmen historians had held two previous discussions on the subject, in May, 1951, and April, 1952, and had agreed, with only two dissenting votes, that these same revolts were “progressive, national liberational, revolutionary.”[21] It is clear that the new interpretation was wrested from the same historians at the Ashkha­bad Conference with the help of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, the visitors from Moscow, and possibly the knowledge that the Central Committee of the Turkmen Party was meeting in another part of the city.

The new nearness to and dependence on the Russian elder brother, authoritatively set down for the Caucasus by Bagirov in his last article, which appeared shortly before the Frunze Confer­ence, was quickly applied to the Central Asian younger brothers. Its emphasis was laid on heavily at Frunze, particularly in the main address of Piaskovskii and in the concluding remarks. Two articles appearing in the central-party and historical journals that summer broadened the discussion and suggested new kinds of supporting evidence which would be prominent in the subsequent discussion.

A. Niiazov, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Uzbek Communist party, was the author of an article titled “In the Fra­ternal Family of Peoples of the Soviet Union,” which appeared in Kommunist,[22] As Bagirov’s counterpart in Central Asia, Niiazov was apparently trying to emulate him in the pages of the same journal. He fell far short, however, producing a “me too” state­ment which lacked the Bagirov dramatic touch and merely ex­tended the interpretation to the Central Asian peoples. He gave expansive thanks to the Russians for their economic and cultural influences, but fell short of the Bagirov line by dwelling almost entirely on the Soviet period—a theme that was hardly new. Like Bagirov, he condemned the “gross ideological distortions and na­tionalist errors” of local historians. The bill of particulars against them indicated the peculiarities of Central Asian history. In ad­dition to factors common to the Caucasus (failure to study class contradictions within movements, and incorrect evaluations of them) Uzbek historians had idealized despots of the Middle Ages and customs of the feudal past. Unlike Bagirov, who blamed scholars exclusively for the state of affairs, Niiazov acknowledged that “na­tionalist distortions occurred primarily because the republic’s lead­ing Party organizations underestimated the importance of ideolog­ical work.”

Voprosy istorii’s contribution to this theme was a long article by a troika of authors titled “On the Question of the Significance of the Annexation of Central Asia to Russia.”[23] This article, based on a rich array of sources, including tsarist historians, documentary collections, and little-known monographs, was undoubtedly intended to broaden the range of discussion of relationships between the peoples. Using V. V. Barthol'd as their authority, they claimed that Soviet historians had badly underestimated the depth of the his­toric ties. Trade between Rus and Central Asia existed “possibly even earlier” than trade on the Baltic-Black Sea routes. Normal development of this trade had been broken off by the Tatar in­vasions, but had been solidly re-established in the sixteenth century. During the century before Russian annexation, the peoples of Cen­tral Asia had suffered from feudal warfare and the threat of foreign domination, which were attended by economic and cultural decline. But the coming of the Russians had turned the tide, and as a result of stable government, security, the introduction of capitalism, and the intense interest of many Russian experts in the area, Central Asia had made remarkable gains during the tsarist period. Lenin and Stalin had recognized this phenomenon, and so had many Central Asian and Russian intellectuals, who were mentioned. Only Soviet historians, it appeared, had failed to give a correct appraisal of this historic event, and the article called on them to correct their past errors.

Though it espoused Russian’s cultural mission as completely as Bagirov had, this article signaled a significant retreat from his extreme views on the nature of Russian acquisition of territory: “The annexation of the peoples of Central Asia to Russia was far from a singular process. In some cases it was accomplished by means of conquest, and in others it proceeded in a peaceful way (the annexation of the Kazakh hordes, Northern Kirgizia, the Turk­mens of the Caspian area and Murgrab, and part of the Karakalpak people, etc., was accomplished by peaceful means). Therefore to characterize annexation as conquest without grounds would be in­accurate.”

Having put the term conquest (zavoevanie) back into play, the authors quickly softened its implications. In the Central Asian khanates, the only areas they indicated to have been annexed by conquest, they emphasized the internal chaos, economic stagnation, and the British threat, rapping hard the authors of the History of the Peoples of Uzbekistan (Vol. II, 1947) for idealizing the govern­ment leaders of the khanates and implying that those states had some future independent of Russian influence. In sum, they ad­mitted that the territories had been conquered by Russian arms, but they considered the conquest entirely justified.


The climax of the discussion was reached in the Joint Scien­tific Conference on the History of Central Asia and Kazakhstan in the Pre-October Period, which was held in Tashkent between Jan­uary 30 and February 6, 1954. It was a large conference, whose published proceedings (lacking several speeches) run to nearly six-hundred pages.[24] The conference was sponsored by the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences jointly with the Academies of Science of the Central Asian republics, and was attended by delegations of his­torians from Moscow, Leningrad, the Central Asian republics, Azer- baidzhan, and interestingly enough, two troublesome autonomous republics—the Tatar and Dagestan A.S.S.R.’s. There were also present a number of teachers in higher schools, party and Soviet officials, students, writers, and journalists. There were five major topics for discussion, all of which were important to the rewriting of the history of Central Asia to party standards. They were (1) the nature of patriarchal-feudal relations among the nomads of Central Asia, (2) “the reactionary nature and treacherous role of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism,” (3) the formation of bourgeois nations in Central Asia, (4) the character of the revolt of 1916, and (5) the problem of periodization of the history of Central Asia.

The extent to which this conference was cut and dried can be ascertained by a comparison of an article published in the Tashkent newspaper, Pravda vostoka, two weeks before the conference and the final resolution of the conference itself.[25] On point after point the party newspaper indicated the errors in the old interpretations and the general fines of the new interpretations the scholars would publish as their “conclusions” after a week of “debate.” There was no denial—either in the article or in the conference—that the inter­pretations sought were to be helpful in the solution of current political problems, usually stated euphemistically as the “further strengthening of the friendship of peoples.” Pravda vostoka pointed out tliat the first two volumes of the history of Uzbekistan (1947 and 1950) contained harmful views on these questions and that a proper evaluation of them would aid enormously in the writing of the new history of the republic, which was then in progress. But the fact that the Uzbek party organ published the general conclu­sions of the conference in advance does not mean that the proceed­ings were uninteresting or unimaginative. It was up to the scholars to verify in detail what had been suggested in broad outline, and in doing so there was some vociferous wrangling that was not registered in the final resolution.

By far the most interesting question on the agenda was the 1916 revolt. Pravda vostoka had stated that it was a complex move­ment, that it was overwhelmingly progressive, but had reactionary “feudal-clerical” leadership in some areas (five were specified). His­torians were enjoined not to “embellish” these manifestations, but, in effect, to show that they were exceptions, and to elaborate on the work of feudal class interests, clerical elements, and “foreign intel­ligence agents.” This is exactly what came out of the conference, but not before very vigorous and revealing debate. Kh. T. Tursunov, an Uzbek historian, read a long paper on the general char­acter of the revolt, after which four other speakers called attention to local characteristics in different areas. In the subsequent discus­sion, two of the eleven speakers sharply disagreed with the pre­vailing view that the revolt was progressive with a few minor reactionary pockets. The first dissenter was T. N. Kolesnikova, identified only as a kandidat of historical science. She saw two kinds of movements in the local uprisings of 1916: the vosstanie, a rebellion with some degree of leadership and program, and the vohwnie, a riot or disturbance without leadership or aims, and without organized military action. She maintained that the vosstanie part of the 1916 revolt was reactionary; in a long recitation of events she found the leaders to be feudal, clerical, German or Turkish agents, Pan-Islamists, or Pan-Turkists, but nowhere was there a genuine proletarian leader working for the good of the masses. As for the volnenie, she claimed that by its very nature it was neither progressive nor revolutionary, but merely an agitation against constituted government—in this case the Russian govern­ment, which was the only hope in the long run for the Central Asian peoples. Thus, in either case, the uprisings must be considered reactionary: “In the speech [of Tursunov] the events of 1916 were considered revolutionary, a national liberation mass movement. The speaker idealized these events. It must be stated plainly that the vosstaniia were reactionary. The popular volneniia, in a strictly scientific sense, cannot be regarded as either revolutionary or of a national liberation character.”

Kolesnikova coupled this appraisal of the uprisings with some simple logic. Accepting fully what had been said about the pro­gressiveness of annexation and association with Russians, she rea­soned that the 1916 revolt must also be considered reactionary because it had the effect of bringing an end to this happy state of affairs. “Progressiveness is to be found not in revolts, but in the annexation of Turkestan to Russia, in new economic relations, in the development of proletarian ideology, which smashed the hopes of the Pan-Islamists, Pan-Turkists and Pan-Iranians.” The leaders of the revolt were consciously trying to weaken Russia, the source of progress, and to weaken or dissolve ties with the Russian people. In all cases the uprisings tended to disrupt orderly processes of growth, as well as the economic and cultural benefits transmitted by the Russians. “The revolt,” Kolesnikova concluded, “brought great harm to the working masses.”[26]

In essence the argument was whether the Turkmen uprisings tipped the scales on the reactionary or progressive side. The dominant forces at Tashkent held that the reactionary manifestations in Turkmenia should be regarded as exceptions, thus aligning the Turkmen phase of the 1916 revolt with the larger rebellion, which had been declared progressive. Kolesnikova’s view that the reac­tionary uprisings were more characteristic of the larger movement was argued even more pointedly by Tarasov, who charged that proponents of the new interpretation had resorted to falsification to give their case some foundation. Tarasov recalled that the Ashkha­bad Conference had agreed on the reactionary character of upris­ings in four areas, “that is to say, in reality, all the uprisings that took place on the territory of Turkmenia.” He charged that Piaskovskii and Kuliev, who had made reports on the Turk­men phase of the revolt, had seized upon other minor disturbances, and had magnified their significance in order to make the events in Turkmenia predominantly progressive. Piaskovskii and Kuliev had admitted that most of the Turkmen uprisings were reactionary, but had “added to their reports two falsified ‘revolutionary’ revolts in Turkmenia, at Serakhs and Atrek, and, incorrectly evaluating them, contrasted them to the revolts in the Khiva Khanate, Tedzhen and Giurgen. On this basis the joint scholarly council [at Ashkha­bad] reached a decision on the national liberation, progressive character of all the revolts of 1916 in Turkmenia.”

What about these two “revolutionary” revolts, as Tarasov called them? His listeners must have noted that he drew his arguments straight from tsarist archives, not bothering with tangential Lenin and Stalin observations, with which the conference abounded. On the Serakhs case Tarasov quoted three documents. The first two, from tsarist officials, reported that bands of thieves were stealing cattle and raiding caravans, taking advantage of the unsettled situation. Reference was made to particularly heavy raids on the nights of October 1 and 2, 1916 (precisely the dates of the organiza­tion of the Piaskovskii-Kuliev national liberation movement). The third document was the most convincing. It was an excerpt from an affadavit made by the leader, one Kurban Durdy Essenov, under questioning by tsarist officials. On the night in question Kurban reported that he and about a hundred others attacked the Russian garrison at Serakhs, firing about fifty shots in the course of two hours. After he had been caught he admitted that he had been going on pilfering raids regularly for three months. Tarasov ob­served that “it is difficult to see, as leaders of a revolutionary move­ment, these ringleaders of bands of thieves, who acknowledged at the time of their questioning their raids and violence, shamelessly carried out against their comrades.” As to the Atrek revolt, Tarasov charged that Piaskovskii and Kuliev had lifted it out of its setting and changed its character. It was in reality a part of the general reactionary movement of the Krasnovodsk area, led by the starshina Mergen, who was admitted by all to be a reactionary. Here the thin line seems to have been between Tarasov’s view that Mergen actually led the movement and the prevailing view that he “tried to use” the revolt for his own ends. The early volneniia in Turk­menia, according to Tarasov, were potentially progressive, but were soon captured and held by reactionary leadership. The Turk­men phase of the 1916 revolt, taken as a whole, could only be characterized as reactionary. “All the leaders of the armed uprisings in Turkmenia in 1916 were enemies not only of the Turkmen people, but of the Russian people as well.”

The intensity of Tarasov’s rebuttal is pointed up by his frequent use of terminology usually reserved for the denunciation of bour­geois historians. Referring to the “pseudo-scientific, unobjective conclusion on the evaluation of the revolts in Turkmenia,” he de­clared that “it was devoid of logic and sound thinking.” Three times he specifically charged his two colleagues with falsification, and indicated that all the others had followed them without ques­tion: “Piaskovskii and Kuliev, by the method of plain falsification, succeeded in persuading the members of the joint Learned Council of the existence in Turkmenia in 1916 of even more revolutionary revolts in contrast to their reactionary revolts in Tedzhen and Giurgen. ... By using all means, including falsification, to prove their untrue views, they bring harm to historical science.”[27]

The accused historians apparently made no detailed reply to Tarasov and Kolesnikova. Kuliev, who in an earlier speech, had referred to the Serakhs event as the work of “a hundred young Turkmens, members of a workers’ circle,” made no further state­ment for the record.[28] Piaskovskii dealt with his differences with the pair of critics at some length, but offered no new facts. Their error, he said, was that they “put everything together into one common heap and do not trouble themselves with a detailed exam­ination of the course of the revolt in each separate area.”[29] This was, of course, precisely the charge Tarasov had placed against him. The final resolution of the conference generalized on the whole movement, which it characterized as progressive, with local reactionary manifestations, noting in passing that some historians considered all the revolts as reactionary, while others regarded all as progressive without exception. “The conference considers both of these points of view to be erroneous,” the resolution added.

The minority reports of Kolesnikova and Tarasov not only rep­resented a stubborn adherence to facts, but in a real sense they were a boomerang response to the party’s emphasis. Both speakers re­ferred repeatedly to the progressive advantages the Central Asian peoples enjoyed after annexation and to the meddling of foreign agents. The revolts inevitably brought about an alienation from the Russian people and worked to the advantage of the imperialists. There was even a hint in Kolesnikova’s statement that opposition to orderly, stable government, particularly in times of war, was a treasonable activity and ipso facto reactionary. In this sense the two were plus royaliste que le roi.[30]

No such fireworks were heard in the other sessions of the con­ference, but since all the meetings touched in some way on the new interpretation, a brief summary of them will be included here. One of the subjects, “The Reactionary Nature and Treacherous Role of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism,” was apparently thought to be beyond need of debate. The conference heard a long lecture on the subject by Gafurov, and let it go at that. In this speech Gafurov was wearing his other hat as Secretary of the Central Committee of the Tadzhik party, revealing clearly the political motivation behind the conference.[31] His frequent references to the dark schemes of the imperialists (including Americans) in Central Asia before the Revolution and his warnings about the current dangers lurking on the border were unmistakable evidences of the connections between historical interpretations and contemporary political problems. His audience received his evaluation of the problem against a background of Soviet headlines on an “aggressive bloc” being formed in the Middle East, Iraqi-Turkish talks, U.S. pressure on Jordon and Syria, a Turkish-Pakistani treaty, and Pakis­tani negotiations in Washington.

On the question of patriarchal-feudal relations in Central Asia, the conference issued several pronouncements apparently intended to facilitate its analysis within the framework of Marxism-Leninism. In the conference resolution it was declared that there were no special cases, as some historians had stated, but that these complex societies were fully explicable by the laws of historical develop­ment. Feudal relations were said to have been based on land (not cattle), and the contention of some Soviet historians that nomads could not rise above the primitive stage of development was re­jected.

The questions of the formation of bourgeois nations and period­ization afforded new opportunities for extending the progressiveness of annexation. It was the decision of the conference that in the short period between annexation and the Revolution, there was not sufficient time for bourgeois nations to be formed. This process was telescoped by the Revolution, which brought about the formation of socialist nations. In any event the introduction of “capitalist relations” into Central Asia represented an economic leap for the peoples. In the session on periodization the idea that Central Asia was historically more backward than the West and that it had been locked in a long period of “universal feudalism” was rejected. The periodization of Central Asian history according to dynasties (the error of Uzbek historians) was rejected; the group declared that Central Asia’s periodization fell within the general scope of that of the other peoples of the U.S.S.R. This finding, according to the resolution of the conference, would facilitate the production of general histories of the republics from a Marxist viewpoint.

A week after the conference Pravda vostoka published a long report on its proceedings. It glossed all differences of opinion and expressed satisfaction with the meeting, which had made a “con­siderable contribution to the study of the history of the peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan . . . [and] helped to strengthen creative cooperation between scholars of the brotherly republics of the Soviet Union. . . .”[32] In March the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences heard a report on the conference and passed a resolution calling for further strengthening of work on Central Asian history through the cooperation of numerous research in­stitutes which were “to give systematic consultative help to the scholars of Central Asia.” The institutes were to draw up detailed and coordinated plans of work, and were to speed up the publica­tion of documentary collections. The resolution called for further research and elaboration of some questions, but did not include the 1916 revolt, which was not apparently considered to be correctly evaluated.[33]

The impact of the second Tashkent Conference can be seen in the new history of the Uzbeks, which began to appear the follow­ing year.[34] This is especially noticeable in the history of the modem period up to the Revolution, when contrasted with the 1947 account, which had been the object of so much criticism. The earlier collec­tive, headed by Bakhrushin, had represented tsarist expansion into Central Asia as typical conquest for economic and military gains, and had not even given lip service to the progressive consequences of annexation. Economic and cultural advances, when acknowledged, were said to have been for the benefit of the Russians living there.[35] Nothing was said about a growing friendship of peoples; it was actually denied by references to separate settlements of Russians and Uzbeks in the cities.[36] All revolts were considered to be pro­gressive and of the national liberation type, including the Andizhan Revolt of 1898. On the 1916 revolt this history quoted an official document stating that in the Dzhizak area the revolt was considered by “all honorable natives to be a holy war against the Russians.”[37] There were no Bolshevik heroes, and no German, Turkish, or British villains. By contrast the post-Tashkent history of the Uzbeks con­tains long passages on the economic and cultural growth under the influence of the Russian people. The Andizhan Revolt, discussed in the 1947 edition to the length of eight pages, is reduced to five paragraphs, and is of “a deeply reactionary, anti-popular character,” organized mainly by the “Kokand aristocracy and the clergy,” with a program of “Pan-Islamic propaganda.” One of the leaders is said to have received two letters from the Sultan, offering the movement his blessing and support.[38] The 1916 revolt is dissected a dozen ways, with the Dzhizak area receiving lengthy explanation as a popular vosstanie that fell under the leadership of “feudal-clerical elements” so darkly reactionary that the term miatezh (mutiny) is employed from this point on in the course of the uprising. When the revolt was in its early national liberation phase, the fighting was directed against the native aristocracy (a full-page illustration shows Uzbek workers of Margelan in the act of killing two officials in native garb); in its later phase, however, it became a “separatist national movement” directed against Russians.[39]

But the Dzhizak revolt was an exception. Most of the Uzbek uprisings were progressive, and were regarded as a prelude to the great October Revolution. In one revolt, three Uzbeks who would soon become Bolsheviks held positions of leadership, and their names were listed in the history.[40] This new history of the Uzbeks indicated that the interpretation of the Central Asian revolts had been squared with the concept of the friendship of peoples.


[1] The publication of Viatkin’s Batyr Snjm, with only minor retractions by the author, in an edition of 15,000 in the Kazakh language in 1951 was an indication of its general acceptance.

[2] It was apparently hoped that the Bagirov article on Shamil would be enlightening. Fifteen thousand copies were published in pamphlet form in Alma-Ata in 1951 in the Kazakh language. See Knizhnaia letopis', No. 31327, 1951-

[3] A. Iakunin, “K voprosy ob otsenke kharaktera natsional'nykh dvizhenii 30-4okh godov XIX v. v Kazakhstan©,” VI, No. 4, 1951, pp. 55-64.

[4] The careful reader of the journal had another reason to take lakunin’s word lightly, even though he had just spoken in Pravda. He was criticized in the leading editorial in the same issue of Voprosy istorii which published his article for regarding some Kazakh leaders of 1905 as revolutionary, when in reality they were “bourgeois nationalists, striving to separate Kazakhstan from Russia and make an alliance with Turkey and Iran . . .” (p. 10). Ob­viously, Iakunin was not always to be trusted in his evaluation of Kazakh leaders.

[5] A. Zevelev and Sh. Abdullaev, “Diskussiia о kharaktere natsional'nykh dvizhenii v Srednei Azii i Kazakhstane v kolonial'nyi period,” VI, No. 9, 1951, pp. 173-78. Baymirza Hayit believes that this meeting was heavily packed with Russians. Among the 374 participants, he finds only forty-seven names that appear to be native to Central Asia. See Baymirza Hayit, “Turkestan as an Example of Soviet Colonialism,” Studies On the Soviet Union, I (1961), No. 2, 78-95.

[6] Although Iakunin’s article appeared after this meeting, it had probably already been written, so the two historians were making their interpretations independently.

[7] A. Zevelev and Sh. Abdullaev, “Diskussiia,” p. 178. This direct refu­tation of Dodonov’s evaluation of the 1898 revolt in the report of the meeting was an early indication that the new Kazakh history on which he was working was in trouble. It was abandoned at the “prospectus” stage the following year.

[8] B. G. Gafurov, Istoriia tadzhikskogo naroda v kratkom izlozhenii (2nd ed., Moscow, 1952), pp. 421-23.

[9] B. Gafurov, “Ob andizbanskom ‘vosstanie’ 1898 goda," V/, No. 2, 1953, pp. 50-61.

[10] These views are summarized by Edward D. Sokol in The Revolt of 1916 in Russian Central Asia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1954), pp. 167-72. Unfortunately this study was published on the eve of the most intensive Soviet reappraisal of the revolt, but the author was able to antici­pate much of the new line from leading statements in earlier articles.

[11] Vosstanie 1916 g. v Kirgizstane. Dokumenty i materialy, ed. T. Ryskulov (Moscow, 1937), p. 112. The editor of this volume challenged this statement as “a clear distortion of fact” but went on to say that the starshinas had led the revolt “only in certain cases.”

[12] “Central Asia and the Russian People” [unsigned], Central Asian Re­view [hereafter cited as CAR], I (1953), No. 3, 1-8.

[13] This is especially strong in S. D. Asfendiarov’s National’no-osvoboditeV- noe vosstanie 1916 goda v Kasakhstane (Alma-Ata, 1936), in which the Kazakhs are said to have been worse off with the coming of Russian capital­ism, and the few natives who cooperated with the conquerors are character­ized as collaborators trained by the Russians (pp, 15-19, 35-37). See also Z. D. Kastel'skaia, Vosstanie 1916 v Uzbekistane (Tashkent, 1937) and the preface of Vosstanie 1916 g. о Kirgizstane, ed. Ryskulov.

[14] S. Brainin and S. Shafiro, Vosstanie kazakhov semirech'ia v 1916 godu (Alma-Ata-Moscow, 1936), pp. 90-104, as cited in Sokol, The Revolt of 1916, p. 170.

[15] Iu, Tarasov, “O kharaktere dvizheniia 1916 v Turkmenii,” VI, No. 9, 1951, pp. 111-17. The documents referred to here are in Revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie v TurJcmenii (1908-1917) (Ashkhabad-Moseow, 1946).

[16] At the beginning of Tarasov’s article the editors of the journal attached one of their curious notes of disclaimer: “In placing the article of Iu. Tarasov under discussion, the editors consider that the questions contained in it need further examination.”

[17] A. F. Iakunin and О. K. Kuliev, “Vosstanie 1916 goda v Srednei Azii,” VI, N0. 3, 1953, PP. 33-49

[18] “Nauchnaia konferentsiia о kharaktere natsional'nykh dvizhenii v Kirgizii vo vtoroi polovine XlX-nachale XX veke,” VI, No. 7, 1953, pp. 172-74.

[19] Judging from the brief abstract of Usenbaev’s paper published in Voprosty istorii, it seems the author omitted elements in both revolts that might have complicated his all-or-nothing interpretation. He said nothing about leadership in the first revolt, and nothing about the attitude of the masses in the second. In effect the first was leaderless, while the second consisted exclusively of leaders.

[20] During the Ninth Plenum of the Union of Kirgiz Writers, which met a month later, a plea was made for a relaxation of the harsh criticism of Kirgiz writers for their idealization of the events of the Central Asian revolt. The report indicates that the Kirgiz writers had displayed real national pride in giving accounts of the period, including a novel full of “bourgeois nationalist, pan-Islamie and pan-Turkic” ideas, a heroic poem about a manap, and an idealization of the Basmaehi counter-revolutionaries who fought off the Bol­sheviks for years after the Revolution. See the summary in CAR, I (1953), No. 1, 43-45

[21] See below, Note 24.

[22] A. Niiazov, “V bratskoi sem'e narodov Sovetskogo Soiuza,” Kommunist, No. 8, 1953, pp. 25-39; condensed translation in CDSP, V, No. 25, 9-10.

[23] I. S. Braginskii, S. Radzhabov, and V. A. Romodin, “K voprosu о znachenii prisoedineniia Srednei Azii к Rossii,” VI, No. 8, 1953, pp. 21-40.

[24] Materialy nauchnoi sessii, posviashchennoi istorii Srednei Azii i Kazakh- stana v'skii period (Tashkent, 1955). My discussion of the earlier Ashkahbad conference is pieced together from references in this volume, pp. 320, 402; the excerpt from the resolution is on page 328.

[25] Pravda vostoka, January 16, 1954; summarized in CAR, II (1954), No. 4, 308-11. The resolution is in Materialy nauchnoi sesstt, pp. 581-86.

[26] Materialy nauchnoi sessii, pp. 342-56. Kolesnikova’s minority report was accompanied by a footnote in the published report stating that she was unable to stay to the end of the meeting, and that her observations were being published from her manuscript. One cannot help wondering whether she might have softened her remarks if she had been able to ascertain the drift of the meeting. It is evident, in any case, that she knew the contents of Tursunov’s report, and that other participants had read her statement, since they answered it in later discussion

[27] Ibid., pp. 402-5

[28] Ibid., p. 325

[29] Ibid., p. 372

[30] At the end of this session the main speaker, Tursunov, undertook to answer the questions of participants. The tone of the three questions that were asked suggests that some people were trying to trap the speaker: (1) What had Lenin and Stalin said about the revolt of 1916? Tursunov said that “specific statements of V. I. Lenin . . . are not known to us and went on for four paragraphs to reveal that they had said nothing directly on the sub­ject but had made other statements that were applicable. This may have been a slam at speakers who had drawn so heavily on Lenin and Stalin in recent articles and in speeches to the conference (in the key article of Iakunin and Kuliev in Voprosy istarii, twenty-eight of the fifty-four footnote references were to Lenin and Stalin), (a) What was the relationship of the Russian people to the revolt? Tursunov replied that this question had been “studied very poorly by our historians” but that some eye-witnesses who had reported to the Frunze meeting the previous year recalled that “the Russian people had regarded sympathetically the revolt of the Kirgiz people.” The whole question needed deep study from the archives. (3) What was the character of the Karakalpak revolt in the Sarybiisk and Chimbae regions? Replying that “materials on this question have not as yet been studied from all sides,” the speaker immediately turned to a general discussion of local revolts elsewhere. This was the last question he replied to.

[31] Gafurov’s speech was not published in the proceedings of the con­ference. The Central Asian Review compiled a summary of it from the Central Asian press (CAR, II [1954], N°. 4, 308-10).

[32] Pravda vostoka, February 12, 1954; complete translation in CDSP,

VI, No. 7, 7-8

[33] “Ob itogakh ob"edinennoi nauchnoi sessu, posviashchennm rstom narodov Srednei Azii i Kazakhstana,” VAN SSSR, No. 5, 1954, pp. 60-61; reported in Pravda, March 25, 1954

[34] Istoriia uzbekskoi SSR, ed. S. P. Tolstov, R. N. Nabiev, la. G. Guliamov, and V. A. Shishkin (Tashkent, 1955), Vol. I, Part 1; ibid., ed. M. G. Vakhabov, V. Ia. Nepomnin, and T. N. Kary-Niiazov (Tashkent, 1956), Vol. I, Part 2.

[35] Istoriia narodov Uzbekistana, ed. S. V. Bakhrushin, V. Ia. Nepomnin. and V. A. Shishkin (Tashkent, 1947), II, 352-56

[36] Ibid., p. 350.

[37] Ibid., p. 433.

[38] Istoriia uzbekskoi SSR, ed. Vakhabov, Nepomnin, and Kary-Niiazov (1956), I, Part 2, 99-100.

[39] Ibid., pp. 388-91.

[40] Ibid., p. 398.


CHAPTER 9, from


The Soviet Historians on Non-Russian Nationalities

By Lowell Tillett

The University of North Carolina Press, 1969