Reviews

Built up on a short research in the State Central Archive of Uzbekistan (Funds 38 and 904), this article provides an overview of the main steps of the reform of courts in Soviet Turkistan. The author firstly lingers over the recruitment of justices for Popular Courts after the February 1, 1919 reform of justices of the peace and of districts (okrugs). She evokes the gradual limitation of the field of competence of qazis’ and bays’ courts (Rus. sudy kaziev i biev), before tackling the consequences of their official suppression by a resolution taken on June 17, 1919 by the Council of People’s Commissars. Among these are mentioned the transformation of courts from a one-person to a collegial institution, and modifications of the procedures. The author insists however on the preservation of numerous features of qazis’ and bays’ courts, beginning with their personnel. “So that Popular Courts appeared such only in their denomination and form: If they had judges, assessors and Soviet forms of functioning, in their spirit they were all the same qazis’ and bays’ courts (99).” As a consequence, divorces for instance were not administered in accordance with the new Soviet legislation but in conformity with the shar‘. The historical narrative goes on with an evocation of the rivalries between the Popular Commissar for Justice and the Regional Executive Committees of the CP (oblispolkoms) — conflicts that remained unsolved after arbitration had been pronounced in favour of the former by the TurkTsIK on August 14, 1922. Espousing the logical categories of the official texts of the time without discussing them, the author identifies the extremely low fees of justices, and the obligation for them to exert a parallel profession (including “speculation”) as an immediate cause of the “mediocre” functioning of courts. The last paragraphs are devoted to the partial restoration (for marriage, heritage and civil affairs, as well as for land conflicts for surfaces inferior to 15 tanabs, to the condition that both parties agree on the choice of the type of court) of the qazis’ and bays’ courts, by a decision of the TurkTsIK on October 1, 1921 after the polemics of the previous years on their premature suppression. The subsistence of traditional courts was to remain, however, a characteristic of the NEP period, and they were to be definitively suppressed by 1928. Unfortunately, judicial practice in early Soviet Turkistan is most of the time seen through the lenses of Russian-language administrators, which brings to the mechanical reproduction of overall derogatory judgements (on “good” and “bad” judges) characteristic of a relation of colonial domination — beginning with the strange idea, worthy of the “Orientalist” vision denounced by Edward Said, that “every step of the Uzbek’s private life was guided by the norms of the shari‘a (101)”. No effort has been made for comparing the sources used with other ones, including those published during the last decades, or for resituating the logic at work in the texts used by the author in the context of the upheavals and conflicts of the early 1920s.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-3.4.D-296