Reviews

This book describes the Russian colonial society from the end of the conquest till the institution of the Soviet power (i.e., well before the territory delimitation of 1924), on the basis of numerous archive sources—in Moscow (RGASPI, GARF), in the Central State Archive of Uzbekistan, and local collections (Tashkent City’s Archives)—and of the press published in Tashkent and Moscow.  Giving a lot of details on “everyday life” in Russian and vernacular Tashkent, the book more largely aims at a wider understanding of the very nature of Russia’s imperial power.  Focusing on Tashkent, the author analyses how the new colonial power established “visible signs” of its sovereignty (construction of its past, monuments, ceremonies), and evokes the promotion of its “civilising mission” through the creation of scholarly societies.  The “other side” of Russian imperial power is also evoked, through the interactions between the two parts, Russian and ‘Asian’, of Tashkent.

Centred on the history of the town and of its population, the book permits us to understand a large range of political, economic, social, religious and ethnic interactions between centre and periphery, between the city and the countryside, as well as between the town itself and its varied populations.  The author also deals with symbolic images:  After the conquest, Tashkent became a “centrepiece for the imperial official civilising and modernising missions in Asia,” its official representation oscillating between philanthropy and nationalism (evocation of the “pure” European city set up by Governor-General von Kaufman).  These images contrast with representations of Tashkent as the seat of “Central Asian laziness” and of “danger”, of the Russian lower classes’ decadence (in alcoholism).  However, even if the territory of Turkistan experienced a durable policy of “disinterest (ignorirovanie)” towards its native populations, even if Tashkent faced the mutual segregation of its vernacular and Russian populations, the social boundaries often remained porous.  For instance, after anti-cholera measures when taken in 1892, and followed by riots, the imperial policy in the city and region was marked by significant change.  As to the city’s and region’s economic growth from the early 1890s onwards, it generated an afflux of new residents, contributed to the formation of a new-brand lower-class, the nucleus of a future proletariat—peasants as a tool for colonisation plans, railway workers, exiled peoples.  These reorganisations were followed by the Revolution of 1905, which reinforced in Tashkent progressive currents and the claims for legal equality among Central Asian intellectuals as well as Russian liberal forces.  The wwi period corresponds with a critical point in the relationship between Russia and Central Asia, with upheaval of 1916 and a number of uprisings immediately linked with growing food shortages.  The author’s interest in food supply provides many keys for understanding the nature of the relationship between Russia and the Central Asian peoples, its ambiguity and fluctuation.  The hopes raised by the October Revolution were short-lived, after the Red Army repressed Autonomy of Kokand on an initiative of the Russian-dominated Soviet of Tashkent.  The first years of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Republic, the work of the TurkCommission (Turkkommissia) are analysed through the prism of the struggle for power between the Soviet of Tashkent and the different political forces in action, whether Russian or vernacular.

In all, this book provides a captivating political, social and economic depiction of Russian Turkistan from its conquest to the eve of the ethno-territorial demarcation of Central Asia and the formation of the Uzbek SSR.  The ups and downs of the relationship between the centre and the periphery, as well as the political struggle within the territory, notably between the native and Russian populations, sheds light on the conditions and logics that led to the formation of the modern Uzbek nation-state.  To the author’s eyes, after the October Revolution the relation between the “coloniser” and the “colonised” remained the same as during the Tsarist period:  “Ideas and practices of European, white, colonial superiority trumped socialist internationalism and liberation,” as Russian continued to concentrate in their hands the bulk of the political, administrative and military strength.  The Russian Imperial domination had been removed by a Russian Soviet one.

Cloé Drieu, French Institute of Central Asian Studies, Tashkent – Paris
CER: I-3.4.C-309