This rich and very carefully edited volume is the outcome of the homonymous conference held in 2002 at the Martin Luther University of Halle – Wittenberg. The conference’s basic idea was to bring together researchers on colonialism in two different areas, Bengal and Central Asia, “in order to stimulate a comparison between these two regions and the ways in which they perceived their British and Russian colonisers (the Editors’ preface, p. 7).” The volume aims at becoming an invitation for further discussion of this still non investigated subject. The idea itself of the project has evolved from a longer-term project called Zerrspiegel (‘Distorting Mirror’) carried out at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Martin Luther University under the direction of Jürgen Paul and Beate Eschment, and funded by the Volkswagen Foundation—the role of which must still once be underlined in the support of durable innovation in Central Eurasian studies. In a substantial introductory article (“Intercultural Perception in Colonial Circumstances: Introductory Remarks,” 9-27), Hans Harder brings the attention of the reader on the reason for the choice of Bengal as an element of comparison with Central Asia: This region has the longest documented tradition of conscious reflection on colonialism worldwide. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, by contrast, no such unbroken debate on colonialism exists—for obvious political reasons linked with the very nature of the Soviet system, at least from the mid-1930s to a short parenthesis during the Thaw, and till Perestroika. The author goes further stressing the main object of the present volume: to explore intercultural perception in colonial circumstances on the basis of written historical and literary documents. In terms of the tripartite structure of coloniser, colonised elite, and subaltern that is suggested by Subaltern Studies, it is mostly the second group that is dealt with by the varied articles—viz., “the group that was in possession of a distinct voice already prior to colonialism, or came into its possession as a result of it; and their position in that contact zone not only made their encounter with the coloniser more direct, but also invariably tempered their portrayal of the coloniser (19)”.
The volume is subdivided into three parts: Central Asian / Caucasian perceptions of the Russians, Bengali perceptions of Britain, and related cases of cross-cultural perceptions. The present review will focus on the first and third parts. The first article of part one (MustafayevShahin, “The Diaries of Yusif Vezir Chemenzeminli: An Azerbaijani Intellectual in the Process of Acculturation,” 31-46, ill.; reviewed in infra 239) analyses the diary (1907-9) of the Azerbaijani intellectual and writer Yusif Vezir Chemenzeminli, recording its author’s admiration and appropriation of high Russian culture as well as bewilderment at instances of his exclusion from Russian society on account of his being a ‘Tatar’. Another diary, or semi-public travelogue, by the Georgian writer and military officer Grigol Orbeliani (1831-2) is the subject of the following article (Reisner Oliver, “Grigol Orbeliani Discovering Russia: A Travel Account by a Member of the Georgian Upper Class from 1831-1832,” 47-62, ill.; reviewed in infra 249). Very much like Chemenzeminli, Orbeliani is an example of an intellectual for whom Russia became coterminous with enlightenment and high culture. He represents a Georgian upper class that spontaneously tended towards rapid Russification, and saw the best remedy for lost glories in a close alliance with Russia. Olga Yastrebova (“The Bukharian Emir Abd al-Ahad’s Voyage from Bukhara to St. Petersburg,” 63-74, ill., reviewed in infra 315) investigates the journey of the Emir of Bukhara ‘Abd al-Ahad (r. 1885-1910) to St. Petersburg in 1892-3. The Emir’s visit is documented both in his personal diary, marked by a keen interest in varied aspects of Russian official culture and institutions, and in the Russian press, that bears testimony of the eagerness of the Russian side to spread knowledge on Central Asia. The conquest of Khiva (1873) is analysed through a complete edition of a poem in Chaghatay by Shayda’i on the fall of the Khanate (Erkinov Aftandil, “The Conquest of Khiva (1873) from a Poet’s Point of View (Shaydâ’î),” 91-115; reviewed in infra 292). The poet attributes this lapse to a general lack of true faith: His xenology is simple, the encounters between the people of Khiva and the Russians being seen in terms of a conflict between Muslims and infidels. Another important aspect of cultural encounters in Central Asia is dealt with by Bakhtiiar Babadzhanov (“Russian Colonial Power in Central Asia as Seen by Local Muslim Intellectuals,” 75-90; reviewed in infra 283) examines Islamic experts decrees (fatwas), statements of different intellectuals, as well as newspapers coverage regarding the conduct to be adopted towards the Christian Russian colonisers in the former Khanate of Kokand. Whilst the modernists stressed the prospect of profiting from the Russians, the ‘ulama’s stance remained fundamentally ambivalent, a majority of them rejecting the induced innovations as unlawful.
Part three explores related issues of cross-cultural perception. Adeeb Khalid’s article also provides a connecting link between Great Britain and Russia as well as Central Asia and India (Khalid Adeeb, “Visions of India in Central Asian Modernism: The Work of ‘Abd ar-Ra’ûf Fitrat,” 253-74; review in infra 299). The author analyses the impact of the nineteenth and early-twentieth-centuries developments in Indian Islam on Central Asia. During the 1910s and early 1920s, the writings by the Bukharan modernist writer Fitrat shifted from an economic criticism of colonialism to a civilisational one—the approach to European science becoming to assimilate it in order to turn it against Europe. Aleksandr Matveev, in an article that stands in close connection with those of Yastrebova and Erkinov (“Perceptions of Central Asia by Russian Society: the Conquest of Khiva as Presented by Russian Periodicals,” 275-98; reviewed in infra 303), investigates the way the Russian Khiva campaign of 1873 was covered by contemporary Russian periodicals—the image of an unfriendly slave-trading power facilitating Russia’s self-conception as a civiliser. Similar material forms the basis of the article by Volker Adam on the “Ottoman Perception of Muslim Life in Russia and Central Asia” (299-310; review in infra 204). The author shows how this perception could be influnced by the writings of Muslim modernist émigré publicists from European Russia, who strongly criticised the efforts of Russification threatening the life-style of Muslims in various parts of Russia, whilst targetting certain aspects of Muslim society in Russia and Central Asia as ‘reactionary elements’. Another study in cross-perception involving Central Asia is Laura Newby’s analysis of Qing Chinese representations (“Lines of Vision: Qing Representations of the Turkic Muslim Peoples of Xinjiang,” 339-56; reviewed in infra 348). Character descriptions, with dominant traits such as wantonness, lethargy, cowardice, etc., mirror what L. Newby calls the coloniser’s ‘classic’ model of labelling colonial subjects. On the basis of various sources, Rudi Matthee (“Between Sympathy and Enmity: Nineteenth-Century Iranian Views of the British and the Russians,” 311-38) analyses both popular and official Qajar Iranian perceptions of Britain and Russia. If British individuals in Iran are portrayed in an ambivalent light, in Iranian perceptions of the Russians, on the contrary, negative images of Christian fanatics seem to have been dominant. In general, however, pragmatic resignation led to a form of unstable clientelisme shifting between the British and the Russians—as revealed by recent innovative studies in Iran itself: see for instance infra 304 the review of the book by Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh.