Based on an extensive utilisation of Russia’s and Central Asia’s (mainly Uzbekistan’s) public archive collections, on late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century local and regional Russian publications and iconographic documents, as well as on a use, though more limited, (cf. p. xvii) of vernacular chronicles written during the same period of time, the present book endeavours to cast light on the perceptions by Russia’s colonial regime in Turkistan and central administration of what was happening in Central Asia between 1868 and 1910 ― the local records widely investigated by the author proving “essential in revealing the limitations of the colonial regime (p. xxx).” An Assistant Professor of Imperial History at the University of Liverpool, Alexander S. Morrison has chosen Samarqand as a relevant point for comparison of Russian rule in Turkistan with British India. Noticing that the confrontation between the Russian and British Empires did generate a substantial comparative literature, he assesses the impact of the British challenge and model in the works by authors as different as Lt.-Gen. Terentiev, General Annenkov, officer and traveller A. E. Snesarev, and Senator Count K. K. Pahlen, to say nothing of Francis Skrine and Eugene Schuyler on the British side.
The introductory chapter on the situation in Bukhara and Kokand before and in the first decades of the Russian conquest and occupation insists on a first substantial difference between Russian dominance and British rule: Whence in India the local revenues paid for a vast army of largely native troops, “which made Britain a world power on land as well as on sea without straining the home exchequer (p. 31),” the entire garrison of 30,000 to 50,000 troops in Turkistan was Russian, maintained at a cost of roughly three million roubles a year from the Imperial Treasury in the 1870s ― an expensive course prompted partly by the counter-example of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The author also insists on the derogatory representation of Islam, perceived as essentially dangerous by Russian soldiers and administrators arriving to Turkistan, and on the role of this collective representation in the promotion of the ignorirovanie policy under Governor-General von Kaufman. The destiny of waqfs (Islamic mortmain deeds) is shortly evoked, through the fiscal exemption of those existing and the submission to usual levies of those created after the mid-1880s.
After an elliptic evocation of the respective administration systems and titles ranks of Bukhara and Kokand, A. S. Morrison develops on the recruitment of local tax officials by the Russian administration. A special subchapter on the amlakdars casts a crude light on the lack of precision of the academic tradition on them and on their association with the khwaja sacred lineages in pre-modern Central Asia. The same confusion is observed over the nature of landownership in general before and after the publication of the Girs Commission report and the implementation of its reforms from 1886 onwards. The author suggests, in particular, the difficulty to assess a general rule for the amlakdars’ property rights as landlords, and he observes that absence of Russia’s systematic resort to these sacred lineages, contrary to what the British did in Sindh, for instance. Wondering about why the Russians feel it so necessary to undermine the existing landholding élites of Turkistan, the author invokes the progressive eclipse of rural aristocracy in Russia herself and its replacement by a professionalised bureaucracy (121) ― reminding the expropriation of the Polish aristocracy implemented by von Kaufman as the Governor of Vilna during his brief tenure there in 1865-7.
Another explanation given for von Kaufman’s undermining of the positions of the amlakdars is his consideration of the Muslim élite of Turkistan to be fanatical. A. S. Morrison remembers that in common with many other officers in Turkistan von Kaufman had also cut his teeth fighting in the Caucasus, in a war that brought about “a sea change in the Imperial policy of trying to co-opt local élites (123).” The wider outcome of this change of direction was the 1867 ukaz forbidding the awarding of medals and other privileges to the leaders of inorodtsy tribes. However, if Russian rule should be cemented only through Russian settlement and the undermining of Islam among the natives, both elements were lacking till the 1900s and, as a result, Russia’s methods sometimes resembled those of the British, even with a temporary character. In all, A. S. Morrison successfully demonstrates that, while they were succeeding in ousting the beks and amlakdars from political authority, Russia’s colonial administration in Central Asia handled religious élites with excessive caution and did little actively to undermine Islam. The native administration that they created and the judicial power of the qadis were deeply corrupt and they exploited Russian power to build up their own authority.
If mutual rapprochement (sblizhenie) between the conqueror and the conquered was the ultimate goal of the colonisers, through the enlightenment of the population and the spread of the Russian language, they failed. Eloquently qualifying Russian rule in Turkistan “a regime of inadvertently benevolent neglect (291),” the author insists on the fact that lack of resources and fear of Muslim reaction brought the Turkistan authorities to do little to encourage productive change. At the same time, A. S. Morrison shows that the very inefficiencies of revenue collection, characterised by the payment of bribes to an aver-growing class of middlemen, protected the peasantry against many of the state’s demands ― making Russian rule in Samarqand “less effective but more human that what was to follow after 1917.” The positions of Russia’s administration on issues like sblizhenie or the promotion of ideas of citizenship (through local elected institutions, notably) are introduced as unequivocal, without attention for the diverse visions of varied administrations (beginning with, respectively, the ministry of Finances and the Army). On the rapid evolution of the content of group denominations like sart, tajik, or uzbek, the decisive contributions of nineteenth-century vernacular Persian and Turkic sources are neglected. The destinies of the early-twentieth-century education reform movement are dealt with only superficially (calling “cosmetic” ) the adoption of the class level organisation and classrooms with a common blackboard for school teaching widely suggests that the issues at stake have not been grasped). Interestingly and representatively, the little amount of vernacular sources utilised on this subject (a translation of Fitrat’s arch-famous Munazara) are taken at first degree, without taking into account the debt of Bukhara’s intelligentsia to the late-nineteenth-century Tatar travel literature (to Muhammad-Zahir Bigi’s Mawara’ al-Nahrga sayahat, in particular: on this work, see Central Eurasian Reader 1 , review No. 571) for the self-derogatory representation of Bukhara. So sensitive to the inter-text as far as Russian sources are concerned, the author shows less scrupulous in the handling of vernacular, often self-derogatory discourse. This is even more regrettable that more material for comparison with parallels rhetoric developments in India could have considerably enriched and deepen the philosophical dimension of this otherwise well-written and genuinely captivating book.