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Uzbekistan - Entering the Twentieth Century

Prior to the events of 1917, Russian rule had brought some industrial development in sectors directly connected with cotton. Although railroads and cotton-ginning machinery advanced, the Central Asian textile industry was slow to develop because the cotton crop was shipped to Russia for processing. As the tsarist government expanded the cultivation of cotton dramatically, it changed the balance between cotton and food production, creating some problems in food supply--although in the prerevolutionary period Central Asia remained largely self-sufficient in food. This situation was to change during the Soviet period when the Moscow government began a ruthless drive for national self-sufficiency in cotton. This policy converted almost the entire agricultural economy of Uzbekistan to cotton production, bringing a series of consequences whose negative impact still is felt today in Uzbekistan and other republics.

Russian influence was especially strong among certain young intellectuals who were the sons of the rich merchant classes. Educated in the local Muslim schools, in Russian universities, or in Istanbul, these men, who came to be known as the Jadidists, tried to learn from Russia and from modernizing movements in Istanbul and among the Tatars, and to use this knowledge to regain their country's independence. The Jadidists believed that their society, and even their religion, must be reformed and modernized for this goal to be achieved.

In 1905 the unexpected victory of a new Asiatic power in the Russo-Japanese War and the eruption of revolution in Russia raised the hopes of reform factions that Russian rule could be overturned, and a modernization program initiated, in Central Asia. The democratic reforms that Russia promised in the wake of the revolution gradually faded, however, as the tsarist government restored authoritarian rule in the decade that followed 1905. Renewed tsarist repression and the reactionary politics of the rulers of Bukhoro and Khiva forced the reformers underground or into exile. Nevertheless, some of the future leaders of Soviet Uzbekistan, including Abdur Rauf Fitrat and others, gained valuable revolutionary experience and were able to expand their ideological influence in this period.

In the summer of 1916, a number of settlements in eastern Uzbekistan were the sites of violent demonstrations against a new Russian decree canceling the Central Asians' immunity to conscription for duty in World War I. Reprisals of increasing violence ensued, and the struggle spread from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyz and Kazak territory. There, Russian confiscation of grazing land already had created animosity not present in the Uzbek population, which was concerned mainly with preserving its rights. A new epoch in Uzbek history began after the February Revolution in Russia, which triggered rapid politicisation of Turkistan society. The next opportunity for the Jadidists presented itself in 1917 with the outbreak of the February and October revolutions in Russia. In February the revolutionary events in Russia's capital, Petrograd (St. Petersburg), were quickly repeated in Tashkent, where the tsarist administration of the governor general was overthrown. In its place, a dual system was established, combining a provisional government with direct Soviet power and completely excluding the native Muslim population from power. The National Democrats consolidated around Shuroi Islamiya, a strong party created in March 1917 by the leaders of the Jadid movement – Ubaidulla Assadullakhojayev, Munavvar Kori, Makhmudhoja Behbudi and Tashpulatbek Norbutabekov. They also assisted the rise of other political associations. The position of native population was voiced at the 1st All-Turkistan Muslims’ Congress (April 1917). The delegates recognised the Provisional Government and unanimously voted for the establishment of a federal democratic republic in Russia, with self-government for all the dependencies including Turkistan.

In October 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia The National Progressivists did not accept Bolshevism and continued the struggle for independence. In November 1917 the 4th Regional Muslims’ Congress declared the establishment of Turkiston Mukhtoriyati, a national political entity which embodied the principles of a state development programme drafted by the National Democrats. As before, in no way did the delegates advocate separation from Russia. The government of Turkiston Mukhtoriyati which was elected at the Congress included both Uzbek leaders and representatives of European ethnic groups.

However, this movement was not in line with the Bolshevik policies, and in February 1918 Turkiston Mukhtoriyati was attacked and crushed. Indigenous leaders, including some of the Jadidists, attempted to set up an autonomous government in the city of Quqon in the Fergana Valley, but this attempt was quickly crushed.

Following the suppression of autonomy in Quqon, Jadidists and other loosely connected factions began what was called the Basmachi [bandit] revolt against Soviet rule. The following years were marked by the mass anti-Soviet basmachi (guerrilla) war. According to official Uzbek accounts, in the Fergana valley alone, about 500,000 men died fighting Soviet armies in 1918-1924.

In 1920 the Soviets overthrew the khans in Bukhara and Khiva, and these two states became Peoples’ Soviet Republics under the control of Soviet Russia. By 1922 the Soviets had survived the civil war and were asserting greater power over most of Central Asia.

The majority of Jadidists, including leaders such as Fitrat and Faizulla Khojayev, cast their lot with the communists. In 1920 Khojayev, who became first secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, assisted communist forces in the capture of Bukhoro and Khiva. After the amir of Bukhoro had joined the Basmachi movement, Khojayev became president of the newly established Soviet Bukhoran People's Republic. A People's Republic of Khorazm also was set up in what had been Khiva.

The Basmachi revolt eventually was crushed as the civil war in Russia ended and the communists drew away large portions of the Central Asian population with promises of local political autonomy and the potential economic autonomy of Soviet leader Vladimir I. Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP). Under these circumstances, large numbers of Central Asians joined the communist party, many gaining high positions in the government of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (Uzbek SSR), the administrative unit established in 1924 to include present-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The indigenous leaders cooperated closely with the communist government in enforcing policies designed to alter the traditional society of the region: the emancipation of women, the redistribution of land, and mass literacy campaigns.

For more than a decade, Basmachi guerrilla fighters (that name was a derogatory Slavic term that the fighters did not apply to themselves) fiercely resisted the establishment of Soviet rule in parts of Central Asia.

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Page last modified: 14-03-2013 16:54:32 ZULU