Reviews

O. I. Brusina has undertaken here a careful analysis of how nomadic Kazakh and Kyrgyz customary law (adat) changed in the period from 1867 to the early twentieth century.  She argues that the “internal logic” of their judiciary, specifically the “court of biys (sud biev),” was transformed within 15-20 years of introduction of Russian reforms in the Turkistan region.  The article begins by describing adat, from Russian sources (which she acknowledges can be problematic to use), in the period before the 1867 Turkistan statute, then explains the new legal-administrative system for the nomads in the region, and ends with a systematic analysis of features of the judiciary that were transformed.  Particularly strong is her explanation for why “shadow judges” emerged to take the place of traditional biys, who for all intents and purposes ceased to be taken seriously as unbiased arbiters and mediators.  It is a picture of a very dysfunctional judicial system, where nomads and semi-nomads sought multiple alternative solutions to their search for justice.  Overall, the article is nicely argued and researched.

Interestingly for this reviewer, Brusina engages several times with my book, Law and Custom in the Steppe (Curzon Press, 2001), which analyses similar transformations among Middle Horde Kazakhs administered from Omsk.  She disputes the value of my source base—identified largely as the Kazakh appeals of biy court decisions submitted through Russian administrative channels (and available in large numbers in regional archives)—because, she argues, complainants surely had ulterior motives based in kinship rivalries and other issues, and the justness or honesty of their cases cannot be assumed (I agree, frankly).  O. I. Brusina relies instead on the “dokladye zapiski” prepared by Russian bureaucratic observers of the nomads in one two-year period, 1880-82; these observations formed the basis of Girs’ valuable review of Turkistan, although apparently only 10% of their field notes are represented in the published report.  While clearly an extremely valuable resource, I am a bit uncomfortable with her assumption that these Russian observers’ conclusions (whose occasional subjectivities she acknowledges) can be trusted as any more authentic than information gleaned from the appeals by Kazakhs themselves.  If such a study had been done of the Middle Horde Kazakhs in Akmolinsk and Semipalatinsk oblast’s in the same period, it would have been very interesting to compare their conclusions.  Similarly, O. I. Brusina may, in fact, have found value in analysing Kazakh appeals of biy court decisions and the cases that evolved from them, but these are only available in local archives—for her study based on Turkistan, that would mean Almaty, Tashkent and probably Bishkek, but she did not venture outside of Moscow for her archival research.

Virginia Martin, University of Wisconsin, Madison
CER: I-3.4.C-287