Reviews

The result of a long and patient endeavour, this successfully ambitious book, based on an exceptionally rich assortment of unpublished (and often unvisited) documentary and narrative primary sources in Russian language from the most varied geographical origins, reconstructs the social and political dynamics in the Russian Territories of Turkistan and of the Steppe during the eventful first quarter of the twentieth century.  Recklessly composing a perfectly coherent ‘great narrative’ of the facts and events from the last decades of the colonial period to the final assessment of Soviet power in Central Asia—an exercise very few modern historians have, so far, felt self-confident enough to embark on—, the author, Professor of Eastern European History at the University of Turin, has searched to provide the international readership with new keys for a global understanding of the revolutionary process in the Muslim-peopled periphery of the Empire—the theme of previous landmark studies of his, like the memorable “Turkestan 1917: la révolution des Russes [Turkistan 1917: The Russians’ Revolution],” Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique 31/1 (1990).  Focusing his attention on the impact of the political turmoil at the centre on local social fabric and power structure, M. Buttino sheds light on the local appropriation and distortion of revolutionary ideas and mottoes by Russian circles aiming at a restoration of the colonial order in the form of an ethnic dictatorship—using famine as a means to impose new power relations, and further fuelling the claims for independence of indigenous elites.  A large part of the work is devoted to three regional cases: Tashkent (the centre of Russian might), the piedmonts of the Fergana Valley (durable sanctuaries of the Basmachi resistance), and Semireche (a nomads’ region in which famine assumed lasting dimension).  The “Russians’ revolution” is illustrated by the reorganisation of the Soviet of Tashkent and of the administration of Turkistan, and the responses to these initiatives by some leaders of the indigenous autonomist movement, in particular Tynyshbaev and Chokaev (see notably the reactions of the indigenous elites to the famine imposed upon Kazakhs and Kyrgyz).  At the same time, far from enclosing the political struggles of the time in a simplistic dialectic, the book highlights the plurality of protagonists, and illustrates the tensions within urban and rural Russians (see the illuminating subchapters on “the soviet and the bazaar”, “the city and the country”), and the rivalries between various leaders of the indigenous elites (particularly evident during the weeks preceding and following the proclamation of the Autonomy of Turkistan).  Already well-assessed by local research in Uzbekistan since Perestroika, the division of the Fergana Valley into a multiplicity of mutually concurrent local powers is studied by M. Buttino through the dissensions between the Autonomy in Kokand and the Basmachi leaders, and through the dictatorships established, respectively, in Andijan by the Armenian Dashnaksutiun party and in Jalalabad by Russian colonisers—and the ongoing negotiations between the Soviet power and the Basmachi leaders Irgash-‘Ali and Madamin Bek (an aspect indeed more rarely highlighted in recent Uzbekistani historiography).  In all, this monumental and subtle narrative offers the most complete picture to date of the revolutionary period in Central Asia.  Qualifying a sounding assertion by Adeeb Khalid on the consequences of the division of modern historical studies on Central Asia between researchers with a background in Slavic or Oriental studies, M. Buttino’s book, though exclusively based on Russian-language sources, manages to show a remarkable sensitivity to the moods and aspirations of the Muslim-background populations of Turkistan, and of the versicolour typology of its leaders—even if this approach bears the disadvantage to reduce ‘indigenous’ movements to mere answers to Russian evolutions; so doing, the author contributes to maintain under the veil of oblivion the history of vernacular political institutions and thought, and deplorably forgets about the pre-revolutionary roots and logics of durable, if dynamic, factions struggles, the wakes of which can be traced in nowadays Central Asia.  Productive comparative insights are supplied with the rich existing bibliography on the history of the Tsarist expansion in Central Asia, as well as with the now abundant literature on modern-day ethnic conflicts elsewhere in the world—allowing the author an in-depth analysis of the use of violence, the logics of ethnic cleansing and their consequences, for instance on the impact of organised famine on the regression of nomadic life in the Steppe territory, well before the launching of collectivisation.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-3.4.D-320