When a prestigious journal such as the Annales, which gave its name to the Annales school of social history, has a special issue devoted to Central Asia, one is justified in expecting the highest possible standards and maybe a distinctive social-historical approach. This issue certainly delivers on the promise of some very distinguished research, albeit with a slight preponderance not of social history, but of religious studies and literature (in the broadest sense). The Central Asia of this volume is for the most part Islamic: Afghanistan, Xinjiang, and the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan area for which Scott Levi has recently revived the useful term Turan. Some articles range as far a field as Mamluk Egypt and Northwest China in light of their Central Asian affiliations. In time, the coverage runs from the prehistory to the most contemporary developments.
Two articles cover the pre-Islamic period, that of Frantz Grenet summarising the archaeological history of Samarqand (“Maracanda/Samarkand, une métropole pré-mongole: Sources écrites et archéologie,” 1043-67) , and Étienne de la Vaissière & Éric Trombert on the Soghdians in China (“Des Chinois et des Hu: Migrations et intégration des Iraniens orientaux en milieu chinois durant le haut Moyen Âge,” 931-69). Both are masterful syntheses that together give form an unusually accessible introduction to the latest scholarship on the Soghdians. The article of Jürgen Paul of Halle University (“Perspectives nomades: État et structures militaires,” 1069-93) is a broad survey, very much in the style of Owen Lattimore, Denis Sinor, Joseph Fletcher, and John Masson Smith. He analyses state building among the nomads through the interaction of the army, whether tribal levy or professional guard, and the distribution of booty and/or taxation. Such general surveys, taking all Central Asian nomads as fundamentally alike, certainly have their use, particularly in the kind of comparative seminar “Statehood and the Military” where the earliest version was presented. Perhaps at this point, however, what we need more at this point is more detailed research into the differences between the many Central Asian nomadic polities.
Denise Aigle of the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes explores not such impersonal power dynamics but rather the cultural meanings ascribed to institutions in her “Loi mongole vs. loi islamique: Entre mythe et réalité,” 971-96. She surveys the successive beliefs, first in the medieval Middle East, and then among European scholars, about the supposed law code of Genghis Khan, yasa. The core is an analysis, strikingly timely today, of the confrontation between Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) and the Mongols under Ghazan Khan (r. 1295-1304), ruler of the now Islamised Mongol Il-Khanate. Although he had become a Muslim, for Ibn Taymiyya Ghazan Khan’s continued adherence to the yasa was a legacy of the Mongols’ idolatrous past and rendered his Islam null and void. Yet as Denise Aigle subtle analysis shows, the variety of meanings attributed to the yasa in the Middle East was hardly exhausted by Ibn Taymiyya’s furious polemic. The yasa emerges from her analysis not as an institution, but primarily as a cultural signifier, standing for either the continuity or the discontinuity of Islam with the Mongol past. As the “Silk Road” becomes a tired cliché, Maria Szuppe of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique gives us a worthy replacement in the form of a “Poets’ Road.” In her article on “Circulation des lettrés et cercles littéraires: Entre Asie Centrale, Iran et Inde du Nord (xve–xviiie siècles),” 997-1018, she takes up the genre of tadhkira or collection of literary biographies to paint an insightful picture of the modes of cultural production in the post-Mongol states of Turan (Central Asia), Iran, and Hindustan. Ruled by rival dynasties, all of Turco-Mongol origin, the three kingdoms were crisscrossed by writers who eagerly exchanged poetry either in writing or in person. The very dynasts themselves encouraged this interchange, for reasons of both prestige and genuine literary sympathy.
Masami Hamada (Kyoto University) examines medieval Islamic religious practice in his “Le pouvoir des lieux saints dans le Turkestan oriental,” 1019-40. He opens with a discussion of how Islamic saints’ tombs are discovered through dreams or the insight of a holy man, and then discusses such tombs in Eastern Turkistan (today’s Xinjiang). Perhaps the most interesting passages are his description of the on-going “discovery” today by ostensibly scientific means of the tombs of the “saints” of Uighur national pride. Despite taking place in the twentieth century, Stéphane A. Dudoignon’s story of “Les ‘tribulations’ du juge Ziya’: Histoire et mémoire du cliéntélisme politique à Boukhara (1968-1929),” pp. 1095-35, is palpably of the same pious and literary milieu explored by Szuppe and Hamada. Dudoignon, of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, has mined the rich body of biographical literature in early twentieth-century Turkistan to deepen our understanding of his place within the Bukharan world. Three articles on modern politics round out the issue. Dru C. Gladney of Pomona College summarises the Islamicisation of the Hui and the ethnicisation of the Uighurs. Bakhtiyar Babadjanov (“Islam et activisme politique: Le cas ouzbek,” 1139-56) sets forth a fascinating taxonomy of the religious movements roiling the post-Communist Islamic revival in Uzbekistan. Lastly, Olivier Roy (“De la stabilité de l’Etat en Afghanistan,” 1183-1202) expertly demolishes the stereotypical picture of Afghanistan’s “instability” and “tribal” dissidence, and demonstrates on the contrary the rooting of all Afghanistan’s warring ideologies in the bosom of the state. It is a bravura conclusion to a truly first-rate collection of articles on Central Asia.