Events that took place in Central Asia from 1918 to 1931 in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution–the fall of the White Army, the defeat of nationalist and Muslim movements, and the establishment of Soviet rule with the cruelty and violence peculiar to “socialism”–caused the mass emigration of people of various cultural traditions and national and political orientations.
The problems of Turkmen, Tajik, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz emigres, who abandoned their native lands in the first period of Soviet dominance, have never been subjected to any particular study; whereas, the details of Russian emigration are well known. There is no thorough research devoted solely to the political and social aspects of Central Asian emigration.
In Soviet books about the history of the October Revolution and the Civil War, Central Asian emigration is described as a foreign influenced, counter-revolutionary action, directly connected with world imperialism and obeying its commands. Highly hostile official attitudes on the problem of emigration made impossible any objective study of the reasons for emigrant dispersion, as well as determination of the number, nationality and social composition of the emigres.
Western historians, on the other hand, have paid considerable attention to the fortunes of Central Asian emigres in foreign countries. Thus, A. Shalinsky (USA) defended a doctor of letters dissertation in June 1979 at the anthropology department of Harvard University. Aitchen Wu, O. Lattimore, Eden Naby and M. N. Shahrani devoted their research papers to the history of Central Asian emigration in the first third of the 20th century. Issues such as revolution and Central Asian emigration, and its influence on the history of neighboring countries, are under consideration in a number of books by Afghan and Pakistani authors, including M. Ghubo, Kh. Khalili and others.
Recognizing the positive contribution made by Western and non-Western researchers in the study of Central Asian emigration, it is worth mentioning, nevertheless, that it would have had greater impact if these scholars could have consulted first hand the scientific literature and documents in the Soviet archives.
The history of emigration is not an isolated phenomenon. It is an integral part of the history of Central Asia, for both Soviet and non-Soviet territory. That until now there is not any objective research on the social and political history of Central Asian emigration is accounted for by the strong “West-East” confrontation that resulted in the isolated investigations mentioned above, all subject to political and ideological pressure (especially in the USSR). In such circumstances it was impossible to carry on any scientific dialogue. Taking into consideration new political realities, such as the disintegration of the USSR, the relaxation of tension between West and East, and the collapse of communist theory, Central Asian and Western scientists now have a unique opportunity to carry on an equal dialogue aimed at the enrichment of historical knowledge.
The study of the Central Asian emigration is important for several reasons. Firstly, it will help to give a clear view of the establishment of Soviet rule in the Muslim regions of the empire, and to describe a contemporaneous resistance movement, called the Basmachi Movement. Secondly, the Revolution of 1917, followed by mass emigration, had a profound effect in neighboring Central Asian countries: China, India, Afghanistan and Iran; and defined in many respects their future course. The degree and the nature of this influence is not yet completely understood. Thirdly, the history of that period has much in common with the events that are taking place in modern Central Asia now, for example, the disintegration of the USSR and the difficult process of the founding of independent states from its constituent parts.
The birth of the Soviet Empire and its disintegration 70 years later were followed by identical political and social phenomena. These are nationalist and Muslim movements, emigration, and pre-frontier problems. Such problems intensify political instability and affect not only the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), but also foreign countries. One more phenomenon that became obvious in recent years is that political independence and confessional freedom in former Soviet Central Asia rallied multi-national Muslim emigres scattered all over the world. They are anxious to identify themselves in religious and ethnic terms with their compatriots who are founding their own states on the ruins of the USSR. A number of communities of Central Asian emigres in Europe, America and Asia are intensifying activities based on their ethnic identity.
How will these processes develop in the future? It is not easy to answer today.
This paper is devoted to the political and social history of Central Asian emigration to Afghanistan from 1920-1931 (the so called “first wave” of emigration). In it, for the first time, first-hand documents and materials from the KGB (Committee of Government Security) archives of Uzbekistan are used. Thus, for example, the investigatory evidence from the case of the counter-revolutionary movement in Bukhara led by Ibrahim Bek throws a new light on the life of emigres abroad. In addition to these materials, the author referred also to documents from the Communist Party, state and military archives of the USSR. The author expresses his sincere gratitude to his German colleague, Dr. R. Eisener, for being given the opportunity to study the materials from the India Office Library and Records, and to Tajik Afghanist S. Shokhumorov who made materials from the National Archives of Afghanistan available. I would like to express my special gratitude to Michael Weeks of the George Washington University, who has been correcting my English and typing drafts of the manuscript.
REVOLUTION OR WAR?
The overthrow of tsarism and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in October 1917 put an end to debates about whether the Central Asian countries were predisposed or not to a socialist system. From that moment, pragmatic revolutionaries, headed by Lenin and Trotsky supposed the revolution to be a permanent, non-stop process of civil wars inside Russia and foreign conflicts outside its frontiers.
In 1919 the Turkkommissiia was formed. It was the representative authority of the Russian Communist Party in Central Asia. At one of its meetings, held in Moscow on September 3, 1919, the Turkkommissiia adopted a document defining the policy of the Soviet state in regard to countries neighboring Turkestan. This document states, in part:
1. The policy in Turkestan and in the neighboring countries will face two tasks of paramount importance. The first task is to render assistance in waging revolutionary movements in the Asian countries neighboring Turkestan. The second task is to exploit Turkestan economically.
2. The revolutionary wars in India and Iran will be of great significance for Soviet Russia, as they will create the blind alley for Entente forces and will quicken the withdrawal of their troops from Russian borders. They also rank highly in the process of development of world revolution, as a main link in it. Turkestan, from this point of view, would be turned into the fortress of the revolts and revolutionary wars in the Eastern countries.
V.I. Lenin in the first years of the Soviet rule did not take the problem of Central Asia too seriously. “It is ridiculous and even more than ridiculous if you imagine that Turkestan is more important than the center.” That is how he wired, with irritation, the chairman of the Turkkommissiia in Tashkent.
Only in 1919 did the People’s Commissar on Military Activities, L.D. Trotsky, concentrate the attention of the Bolshevik leaders on the East, because of the great success of the Red Army in Siberia. Revolutionary troops marched into the wide steppe of “Russian Turkestan” after the collapse of Kolchak’s White Army. Trotsky looked favorably on this as an advancement of the Revolution in the regions southeast of Russia: “The international situation is developing so that the way to Paris and London passes via the towns of Afghanistan, Punjab, and Bengal.”
The task of revolutionizing the former Russian semi-colony–the Bukharan emirate–was put on the agenda. Bukhara could open the way to Afghanistan and India. The commander of Turkfront (the Red forces in Turkestan), M.V. Frunze, was entrusted with the task and Trotsky gave him “exclusively” wide supreme powers. Frunze was a model Bolshevik, pragmatic and free of the romantic revolutionary illusions peculiar to some leaders of the Comintern who still believed that revolution was a broad political action with the participation of the multi-million public masses. The failure of the “revolutionary movement” in Persia, Azerbaijan, Turkestan and Khiva dashed all hope of mass, native participation in the forthcoming “revolutionary war.” This Frunze admitted: “Our attempts to form military forces on the basis of native population are doomed to failure and I am sure that in the near future we should not count on them.” The Revolutionary Army needed to be “reinforced by revolutionary spirited Russians, mainly from the Central Russian provinces” in order to capture Bukhara by storm. This is what Turkfront suggested.
Later on, impressed by the lessons of the Khiva and Bukharan “revolution”, Lenin and Trotsky would condemn the attempts at artificial establishment of revolutionary situations. But in 1919-1920 it seemed as if the Bolsheviks made war against everyone. Planning the military seizure of Bukhara, Frunze wrote to the Chief Commander of Russian troops in June 1920. He suggested “that he transfer the scene of military actions and battles into Afghan territory.” For that purpose the Afghan Revolutionary “Party” was quickly formed in Tashkent in case this plan should be implemented successfully. Deputy Chairman of Turkkommissia V. V. Kuibyshev set the following tasks for the Afghan Revolutionary Party: to eliminate the existing despotic “system and to inaugurate a People’s Soviet Republic.” All this was proposed under the guise of “friendly” relations between Lenin and Amir Amanullah! Revolution in Central Asia and the way of its realization were based on the unleashing of war in order to capture territory and to ruin legitimate systems of government and their leaders.
In the forthcoming revolutionary action, Bukharans and Afghans were supposed to be passive. Moreover, Frunze, three months before his invasion, expected to have a long fight against the tribes inhabiting eastern Bukhara.
FALL OF BUKHARA
The Bukharan Army, being small and badly trained, no matter how persistently it fought, suffered great losses and could not resist the Red Army attacks. The Reds took Bukhara by storm. On September 1, 1920, Emir Sayyid Alimkhan issued an order for evacuation, and, evading confrontation with the Red Army, retreated to the east.
The first impulse of the overthrown regime was that of self-protection. Having arrived in Dushanbe, the centre of eastern Bukhara, Alimkhan made efforts to organize the population for a fight against the revolutionary army forces. In this resistance movement he counted greatly on assistance from abroad. On October 21, 1920, he appealed to his “brother” king, George V of Great Britain. This appeal was sent with the Bukharan delegation to the British Consul-General in Kashgar (Chinese Turkestan). It was translated into English there and then sent to Delhi.
I hope that in this hour of need Your Majesty will extend to me your kindness and favour and send me from your High Government by way of friendly assistance £100,000 English as a State Loan, also 20,000 rifles with ammunition and 30 guns with ammunition and 10 aeroplanes with necessary equipment. These things may kindly be dispatched to me quickly with my above mentioned officials, and this will make me happy. As to sending me assistance from Your side, you know best how to deal with and fight the Russians, but I shall be very grateful if 2000 armed soldiers can be sent to me quick via Quzatgin [Qarategin – K.A]. This will strengthen the bonds of friendship and give expression of our alliance.
This was an entreaty for assistance. It gave the British formal grounds for invasion, but this did not happen. No assistance followed. Britain of course was alarmed by the Red Army invasion of Bukhara. The appearance of the Revolutionary Guards and troops in Darvoz and the Pamir suggested the approach of the Bolshevik front to the edge of the British Empire. This could strengthen the Bolshevik’s position in that region and could contribute to the further realization of the idea of world revolution in the East. But Britain abstained from direct interference in the Bukharan problem. “The extinction of Bokhara as an anti-Bolshevik unit passively friendly to the British . . . (and) the strengthening of the pro-Russian party in Afghanistan” caused the British to assume “that the Afghans would prefer an understanding with Britain to one with Russia.” Willing to help Bukhara, Britain could not do so because the way of assistance lay via Afghanistan. That Britain, under the pressure of circumstances, could not give military help to the insurrectional movement in Central Asia does not mean that it did nothing to neutralize Bolshevik activity. Its diplomacy, secret service, and powerful intelligence office waged a latent, but intense and persistent, struggle to save its Empire.
The entreaty of Alimkhan for assistance caused some discussions in Delhi and London. But soon, English officials, having noticed the “oriental hyperbole” and “tone of naivety” of the letter, put it far back on the archive shelf. Thus, Alimkhan failed in getting the extra support and help from abroad.
At the end of February 1921, when the unit of the Red Army approached Dushanbe, the former emir made an urgent decision to flee. He gave up the last hope of getting British help when he learned of the strengthening of the Soviet forces in the Pamir mountains. Moreover, snowfalls blocked the way to India through the passes. Alimkhan had nothing to do but to count on the hospitality of another “brother” — the Afghan emir, Amanullah. On March 4, 1921, he and his suite crossed the Afghan frontier in the Choubek passage (now the Moscow region of Khatlon velayat of Tajikistan) to abandon the “blessed” Bukhara forever. He was in exile in Kabul for the rest his life. Several times Alimkhan appealed to the English Ambassador in Kabul for permission to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca via India, but failed to receive a positive reply.
New efforts to join the Bukharan Emirate to Soviet Russia had been developing for more than five years. The local feudals and clergy aroused national hatred, religious fanaticism and hostility against Russian settlers. They organized armed bands or formations of mujaheds (fighters for the faith) to wage a holy war (jihad) against the Russians and their supporters. A very few revolutionary minded activists from the local population were loyal to the Soviet insurgency and cooperated with the Red Army. Those few were supported by people who wished to avoid the aggravation, bloodshed, and battles against the superior forces of the adversary.
But the majority of the population reacted in another way. Revolutionary war, waged by Bolsheviks in Turkestan and Bukhara, caused mass emigration. Nomadic cattle-breeders, who roamed from place to place, fled because they were afraid of military execution, arrests, repressions and organized pillage. They drove the cattle away and destroyed all stores. Some refugees went to the mountains, others emigrated. But all refugees united under the Moslem tradition of “mohajer”, meaning the followers of the prophet Muhammad who escape from religious and confessional persecution.
The overwhelming majority of the emigres left Turkestan and Bukhara when Soviet power was established there in 1920-1922. Later on, in 1925-1926, the Red Army together with the government of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic waged two “urgent great campaigns aimed at the elimination of basmachi.” The mujaheds and their supporters suffered great losses.
One of the most promising heros of the Muslim resistance movement was Ibrahim Bek, a Laqay from the Dushanbe area of Eastern Bukhara. He had a local reputation as a horseman and champion at the popular game of “buzkashi.” He was 26 years old when Alimkhan fled to Afghanistan before the Soviet onslaught. Responding to the religious and feudal leaders’ call for jihad against the infidels, Ibrahim Bek formed his own band of Laqay tribesmen in 1921, thus launching his political and military career. In spring 1926, the mujaheds of Eastern Bukhara and their leader, Ibrahim Bek, made desperate but vain attempts to withstand the greater forces. Ibrahim Bek describes his situation at the time:
It was senseless to remain further on Soviet territory, as there were not enough means, people, ammunition. I was in a tight corner. The only way out was to cross the frontier and to flee to Afghanistan. I did so with 50 armed djigits [fellows].
On the night of June 21, 1926, he crossed the border at the same place that Sayyid Alimkhan had crossed five years earlier.
Soon after Alimkhan, Ibrahim Bek with his mujadheds fled to Afghanistan. In the first half of the 1920s, thousands of Central Asian emigrants also rushed to Afghanistan settling along the northern border from Badakhshan in the east to Herat in the west. Junayd Khan, from the central Karakum, resided in Herat and ruled over all Turkmen emigres in the Herat-Maimana area. Further to the east, the territory of Andkhoy-Shibargan-Akhcha was inhabited by those coming from the southern Karakum (Charjouy, Takhtabazar, Kerky, Kushka). They came from the Ersari Turkmen tribe (Gunem, Qara-Bekeul and Ulug-Tepe kinship groups) and also from the Saryk tribe (Terzeki kinship group). Almost all of them and their leaders emigrated. Even in those families and tribes which emigrated partially, the majority of bays (rich cattle-breeders), and official clergy abandoned their native land.
In the first half of the 1920s, Kerkinskii okrug in the Turkmen Republic was almost depopulated. In the period 1922-1925, 11,371 families abandoned this okrug (only 13 thousand families remained in it). The fact is that it was easy to cross the frontier in the 20s-30s. It was absolutely open with Turkmen people living on both sides. Not only families and tribes with flocks and herds would pass, but even the army corps could cross without hindrance the long land border between Zulfigar and Bosagha. Almost all the families of astrakhan and other breeders left southern Karakum. But they continued to graze the flocks in Soviet territory, as there were not enough pastures in Afghanistan. The supply of fodder and forage stores could last only three to four months in Afghanistan. The rest of the time the cattle were sent to the pasturable areas on the Soviet side of the frontier. Nevertheless, cattle breeding in Afghanistan became a more profitable business than in Soviet Turkmenia. The difference was in the prices and taxes, and the majority of Turkmen herders preferred to stay in Afghanistan. Along with cattle-breeding, the famous Turkmen carpet-weaving also moved to Afghanistan, because people were afraid of repression, economic deterioration and ruin.
But the Turkmen people in Afghanistan did not hurry to adopt Afghan citizenship. On the one hand the emigres feared they would lose permission to pasture the herds in Soviet south Karakum while, on the other hand, they hoped that the Soviets would fall and they would return to their native land.
Meanwhile, Turkmen emigres evaded any discussion of Afghan citizenship and paid bribes to persistent officials. Once in 1928, the representatives of the Soviet government met two emigre bays in Karakum. They asked the emigres about their citizenship. One of them answered that he was a citizen of Russian Emperor Nicholas II, and the other answered that he was a citizen of the Bukharan emir.
The small Afghan town of Andkhoy became the centee of Turkmen emigration. In the middle of the 1920s, it grew to a large city. From 1917-1922 more than 30 thousand families moved there for permanent residence. In general, at the beginning of 1926, Turkmen emigres from Karakum and eastern Bukhara constituted 42,580 families (an average family consisting of 5.3 members). They settled in northwestern Afghanistan. That is 225,305 persons overall.
The chief authority among the Turkmen emigrants was Ishan Khalifa. He belonged to the Sufi order of Islam known as Naqshbandiyya. Ishan Khalifa was widely respected, not only among Turkmen but also among Uzbek emigrants. The Turkmen emigres were well-armed. They had nearly 10 thousand rounds of ammunition in their hands. Skillful artisans produced cartridges for various types of weapons, and even bolts for Russian rifles.
As to the Uzbek emigres, they were fewer in number. They came from half-nomadic Uzbek tribes, such as Laqay, Dourmen, Qatagan, Qongrat, Qarluq, Taz, and Kazaq, and moved to Afghanistan in the first half of the 1920s. For example, the population of Fakhrabadskii tuman (region) in the beginning of 1920 was 35-36 thousand people, with Laqays the greatest in number. (This tuman is several miles to the south of Dushanbe.) According to the account of a Tajik government commission, 12 thousand Laqays fled to Afghanistan (that is 32-33% of the whole population), and 10.5 thousand (28-29%) perished in the violent inauguration of Soviet rule. In 1926 there were only 14,162 persons in Fakhrabad (37-38% of the pre-revolutionary number). Among them were 13,285 Laqays, 887 Qarluqs and Tajiks.
The most respected persons among the Bukharan Uzbeks were Sayyidbek Inak Kalon (Taghaybek), the uncle of Sayyid Alimkhan, and Abdulmumin Ishan. They kept in touch with the former emir and Turkmen leader Ishan Khalifa. The Uzbeks could form an armed band of several thousand people.
Tajik emigres, in contrast to Turkmen and Uzbeks, were very few in number. For example, in Farkhorskii tuman of Kulob, five thousand families migrated to Afghanistan, with 150 families being Tajik. This was accounted for by the fact that Tajiks had a settled way of life (all of them were farmers), but Uzbeks and Turkmen were nomadic and semi-nomadic. The only Tajik property was the cultivated piece of land, which was impossible to take along in emigrating. The Tajiks had the third largest number of emigres after Turkmen and Uzbeks. In the pre-frontier area of north Afghanistan (not bordering on Turkmen tribal areas), in Rustak, Khanabad, and Imam Sahib, the breakdown of emigre households was the following:
4.5 thousand Uzbek households
3.7 thousand Tajik households
1.3 thousand Kyrgyz households
0.5 thousand Turkmen households.
|Nationality||Origin||Number of families||Average number per family||Number of Emigres|
|Tajiks, Uzbeks and others (Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Arabs)||Hisor,
POPULATION IN CENTRAL ASIA
(given in thousands)
|Bukhara||2500 – 3000||2030 – 2682||2221|
|Khiva||550 – 800||607 – 640||504|
|Total Number||14,579 – 15,329||12,953 – 13,638||14,712|
1Marco Buttino, “Study of the Economic Crises and Depopulation in Turkestan, 1917-1920,” Central Asian Survey Vol. IX (1990), No. 4, p. 69.
It is worth mentioning that in the establishment of Soviet rule in Bukhara, Tajiks fled not only to Afghanistan, but also to the remote mountainous regions of eastern Bukhara–Qarategin, and Darvoz–which were inhabited only by Tajiks. The Soviets moved into this area in the summer 1923 with a large scale military attack by the Red Army. Later the exiles organized a revolt in Badakhshani Darvoz, a border territory with Afghanistan. After the failure of this revolt, 250 Tajiks escaped abroad.
It is necessary to remember that the “nationality” of this or that group of emigres is not always defined in the historical, original source materials. It was evidently difficult to do so as the ethnic map of Turkestan and Bukhara was very vague. Central Asia, a multi-ethnic area, shared a common Islamic culture where two classical written languages (Persian and to a lesser extent “Chaghatay Turk”) were used to bypass the variety of the dialects in use among the people. According to the information given by the revolutionary committee of the government of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (TASSR), 44 thousand families, or 206,800 people (with the average number of members in a family being 4.7 persons) abandoned eastern Bukhara by the end of 1926. This constituted 25% of the general population, and 33% of all families in Tajikistan. The overwhelming majority of emigres were from Qurghonteppa, Kulob, and Hissor velayats. Only one-half of the total population was left in Qurghonteppa region. Forty-nine completely abandoned and deserted kishlaks (villages) were found in Qurghonteppa by the governmental commission. Fields, gardens, and melon fields were weed-grown, and fallow, their beauty lost. Homes and other structures were destroyed and ruined, “duvals” (fences made of clay) were leveled to the ground.
The Tajiks fled not only from the territory of Tajikistan, but also abandoned the region of Surkhan-Darya in Uzbekistan. In the early 1920s, 40 thousand Tajiks and Uzbeks moved from Surkhan-Darya to Afghanistan. Among these emigrants were also Kyrgyz, with 1300 families from Qarategin and Vakhsh valley, and over 1000 Kyrgyz people from eastern Pamir passing over the border to Afghan Badakhshan and Qataghan in the first half of the 1920s.
The statistical information in Table I was obtained mainly through field research inquiry, carried out by government officials, reconnaisance offices, and the political body of Turkestani front and Chief Political Board (GPU – secret service). The information indicates that the peak of the emigration wave was in 1926 (all figures being approximate). The actual number of emigrants is probably rather higher than noted. Small emigrant settlements were also established in Kabul, Peshawar (India), Mashhad (Persia) and in some other towns of Afghanistan, India and Iran.
Statistical research done by Soviets in Central Asia in 1922, 1924, and 1926 concludes: “Depopulation as the result of emigration characterizes the whole region. But the greatest emigration was from Tajikistan’s pre-frontier territory.” Western scholars share this opinion.
According to Table II, the Bukharan emirate and Turkestan experienced the largest depopulation (1 million or so). As we cited in Table I, half of them emigrated mainly from pre-frontier territory of eastern Bukhara. This information is confirmed by the Soviet statistics. The total population of Tajikistan (Hisor, Qurghonteppa, Kulob, Gharm, Istravshan, Panjakent, Badakhshan) constituted 1,374,685 people in 1917 according to the Central Statistic Board (CSU) of Central Asia. But the census of population in 1926 within the same borders recorded 831,180 people. The population in Tajikistan from 1917-1926 declined by 543,505 people. This number includes not only emigres but those killed in battle, and those dying from starvation, sickness and disease.
Why should Afghanistan serve as a shelter for those who fled the Soviet advance? There are several answers: geographical location, open frontier free of troops, and historical and ethnic identity; but the strongest factor was religion. The fact is that after the fall of the Turkish caliphate in 1918, Afghanistan, in accordance with Muslim tradition, became for the refugees the heart of “Dar-ul-Islam.” That is why it also gave shelter to 20 thousand Indian Muslim refugees (the Hijrat movement). Therefore, Amanullah, as ruler of a “pure” Muslim country, had to admit co-religionists from neighboring countries.
Britain was very much alarmed by the influence of the Russian Revolution of 1917 on the nationalist movements in Asia. It wanted to escape the Russian danger by conducting a “closed door” policy toward Central Asia. Strict passport regulations at the borders prevented anyone who dealt with the Bolsheviks from entering India. Officials on the board of foreign and political affairs exercised control over all roads and ways to India and registered each person crossing the frontier. The British Minister in Kabul, F. Humphrys, wrote in April 1923:
Central Asian refugees can be divided into three classes:
a) Emissaries of anti-Bolshevik parties, anxious to lay their case before the world and Great Britain in particular;
b) Genuine refugees merely anxious to escape from the miseries of their own country and with no political object in view. Some of these being mindful of British generosity to Mensheviks in the past hope for similar favours for themselves;
c) Bolshevik agents in disguise and possibly masquerading as a) or b).
Emigres represented all the classes of Bukhara and Turkestan. Among them were the emir, officials, feudals, bays, merchants, clergy, handcrafters, and the poor from villages and remote regions. Though emigres themselves were far from the center of politics, emigration as a phenomenon had a political essence. Central Asian emigration was a protest against the violent breaking down of traditional and religious standards and nations by the imposed system.
The Afghan government arranged for the majority of emigrants to settle in the pre-frontier territory. Emigrants could have their own piece of land. The poor sold wood and charcoal. They paid the same taxes as Afghan people did. But emigrants did not serve in the military, nor did they have to educate their children at local schools. Neither were they persecuted for violating new laws, issued by Amanullah Khan, prohibiting polygamy and kalym (ransom for the bride). The Afghan government tried to grant citizenship to the Bukharan people, but they refused to adopt it. They did not support the reforms introduced by the Kabul government, and, as well, they hoped to return to their motherland, through an expected uprising of the emirate.
The Afghan ruling regime welcomed the refugees and rendered them moral and financial support, but it refused to help them in their struggle against the Soviets, as a matter of principle. The reformer, Amanullah Khan, was not interested in an uprising of the conservative, pro-English Bukharan emir’s regime. If the Muslim resistance movement (basmachi) had been supported in Central Asia it could have spread to the left bank of Amu Darya (Oxus) and could have had unpredictable and unfavorable consequences for Afghanistan. On the other hand, military assistance to the basmachi revolt could have broken relations with Soviet Russia, and Afghanistan could have been deprived of financial and military help.
The policy of non-interference in the events in Central Asia provoked anger among the clergy and opposition to Amanullah Khan’s regime. Afghan writer and scientist Kh. Khalili (1905-1978) observed:
The people thought that the Afghanistan government, being deceived by the Soviet State, forgot its primary political and religious duty — to defend brother Muslims in neighboring countries. Disregarding the interests of the Islamic World, Afghanistan strengthened its relations with the Soviet State. . . Counteraction against Russia was regarded as a counteraction against the independence of Afghanistan.
The Afghan government believed that Russia was the only friend to the East, while London oppressors its only enemy.
Despite the official policy of Kabul, some Afghan volunteers, headed by Muslim religious figures (e.g. Mavlavi Abulhai from Panjsher), were sent to eastern Bukhara in spring 1922. Their task was to help the Turkish general Enver Pasha in the armed revolt against the Soviets. One hundred forty Afghan volunteers fought in Enver’s band, according to the commander of Bukharan troops, N.E. Kakurin.
At the same time, the Afghan Minister of War, General Mohammad Nadir Khan (the future king), was sent to the northern provinces to head the army. He met there the former president of the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic, Usman Khojaev. He also kept in touch by correspondence with Enver. Without official sanction, he sent weapons and ammunition to the other bank of the river. After the defeat of Enver, and an official warning from the Soviets, the Afghans returned within their borders in summer 1922. Nadir Khan was denounced for his cooperation with Enver, and was appointed as minister to Paris.
Mavlavi Abulhai was conferred the title of sheikh-ul-Islam by Enver. When he returned to Afghanistan he was arrested and imprisoned in Khanabad. This incident did not undermine the friendly relations between Kabul and Moscow in the 1920s.
In general, nationalist and Muslim movements in Central Asia, along with emigration, destabilized the situation in Afghanistan, and intensified the conflict between Amanullah’s regime and the opposition. The fortune of Bukharan and Turkestani refugees was closely connected with the events in Afghanistan, while they lived there.
THE WAR IN EXILE
Afghan writer Khalili in his Ayor-e as Khuroson (Daring Fellow from Khurasan) notes that Habibullah, future emir of Afghanistan, was a Tajik from Kuhdoman (near Kabul). For hours he had listened to the stories told by emigres about the invasion by the Red Army and the fall of “Noble” Bukhara, and the cruel murder of peaceful Muslims, and he wanted to help them. Khalili says that Habibullah, or Bachai Saqqao (that is literally “the son of the water-carrier” in Tajik), met with the exiled emir in Kabul in 1921 and told him, “on the day of the jihad in Bukhara, call me.” This occurred very soon thereafter. Clergy from the northern provinces of Afghanistan, which were ethnically identical to Bukhara, began to form and organize bands. Habibullah and Muslim cleric Abulhai went to the northern bank of the Amu Darya and Enver’s army joined them there. The Turkish general conferred honors on Habibullah for his courage and bravery.
Khalili probably imagined the participation of the future Afghan emir in the Muslim movement in Central Asia, but his supposition is not inconsistent with the historical situation in Afghanistan and Soviet Central Asia at that period of time.
In autumn 1928 a rebellion was started by the Afghan Shinwari tribe in the east, and the Tajik peasantry of Kuhistan and Kuhdoman in the north almost simultaneously unleashed a revolt. The leader of the peasant band was Habibullah. Amanullah’s government lost popular support, and on January 4, 1929 resigned.
The rebels occupied Kabul and on January 19, Bachai Saqqao was proclaimed emir of Afghanistan. The first thing Habibullah did when he came to power was call for the fight to liberate Bukhara, and also promised to bring a Muslim “sacred” object, the Sandal Gates, from India to Kabul. The population of the northern provinces welcomed the policy of the new emir.
Evidently the new emir enjoyed recognition and great prestige among many people in the north — in Herat, Maimana, and Balkh. Alimkhan, who had lived in exile for years in his Kabul residence, was very glad to learn about the Amanullah’s overthrow and the elevation of his old friend Bachai Saqqao. Ibrahim Bek (who emigrated to Kabul in 1926) observed that Bachai Saqqao, as emir, met with Alimkhan and that they had warm talks. Later on Ibrahim Bek himself met with the new emir. “I had not been there for a long time. I only greeted him according to Muslim custom.”
As Khalili mentioned, it had been neither the first nor the last encounter of the two heros of the Muslim movement in Central Asia. They met had in Dushanbe in 1922 for the first time. Their destinies had much in common. Both were illiterates, came from very ordinary backgrounds, and had criminal pasts. They always headed the people’s revolts because of their outstanding personal qualities, such as strength of will, bravery and courage. Both enjoyed great support among the populace and the clergy. The end of their careers was also the same. One of them, having been a ruler, was executed. The other preferred active struggle against the adversary rather than emigrant idleness, but soon he was captured (or in another version, surrendered) and was shot in an OGPU isolation ward in Tashkent. Opinions of these two men range from pure admiration to severe condemnation.
Let us look back to the time when Bachai Saqqao came to power and granted all the Central Aisan emigrants carte blanche. From then on, they were free to move within the country as they liked. One emigre leader, Fuzail Maqsum (a Tajik from Qarategin) moved with five or six of his men from Kabul north to Badakhshan. From there, with a small band of emigres, he crossed into Soviet territory and tried to undermine Soviet power. Later on he was defeated by the Red Army. Maqsum returned with nine men to Afghan Badakhshan and then to Mazar-i Sharif to join Sayyid Hussein (Minister of War in Bachai Saqqao’s government.)
Maqsum shared the impressions of his raid in the following way: “I wanted to do my duty, but the people of Qarategin acted against me and I had nothing to do but to escape.”
The Turkmen leader, Junayd Khan, was also active. In June 1928 he broke down the opposition of the Iranian frontier troops and crossed the Soviet-Iranian boarder. He wanted to go to Afghanistan via Iran. Evading confrontation with the Persian and the Afghan armies, Junayd moved to Herat province. Very soon Junayd decided to support Bachai Saqqao and wrote a letter to this effect to Alimkhan.
The situation in Afghanistan became uncontrollable. Foreign consulates and missions were leaving Kabul. Ibrahim Bek also wanted to leave the Afghan capital. The former Afghan ambassador to Moscow, Ghulam Nabi Khan, at the head of an armed group of several hundred Turkmen and Hazaras, crossed the frontier and fought with Saqqao supporters. Bachai Saqqao suggested Ibrahim Bek go north with his followers and organize armed formations from among the emigres to render military assistance to Sayyid Hussein. On the instructions of the new emir, Ibrahim Bek with his 50 Laqays started for the north right away. At the beginning of May 1929, Ghulam Nabi Khan attacked Mazar-i Sharif and occupied it.
Mazar-i Sharif and Herat played a major role in Amanullah’s regime. Weapons, planes, and other help were sent via these towns from the USSR. That was why Ghulam Nabi Khan, with the help of the Soviets, attacked Mazar-i Sharif. The position of Habibullah Bachai Saqqao in the north became insecure, and grew worse. Sayyid Hussein insisted on intensifying military activities to defend Bachai Saqqao’s government. He discussed this with Ibrahim Bek. Following tradition and the Shari’a laws (prohibiting the murder of any Moslem without special permission for it, or “fatwa”), Ibrahim Bek convened a council of elders with the participation of Turkmen, Qongrat, and Dourmen emigres. The tribes decided to back Habibullah. An organized, armed formation of 400 Turkmen, 400 Uzbek Qongrats, and 100 Uzbek Laqays was at the disposal of Sayyid Hussein.
In Ibrahim Bek’s words, at that time in Afghanistan absolute confusion reigned everywhere. Soon Ghulam Nabi Khan left Mazar-i Sharif and crossed over to Termez (USSR). Khalili believes that Amanullah asked him to do so, not wanting Russian interference in Afghan problems. (Nabi Khan’s army came back to Afghanistan after the overthrow of Bachai Saqqao in December 1929.)
Did emigres fight to defend the new emir? Ibrahim Bek recalls the defense of Dehdadi fortress against a Hazara armed group. After a six hour battle, the Hazaras retreated.
There is another question: Did Ibrahim Bek plan to take advantage of the anarchy in Afghanistan and invade Soviet territory as F. Maqsum had done? Later on Ibrahim Bek himself confessed to the Soviet interrogator: “(When Habibullah was in power) I had a strong desire to fight against you.” What prevented Ibrahim Bek from doing so? The fact is that the Mojaheds, in addition to their service to the Bukharan Emir, protected the peaceful emigres, their villages, families, and homes. The Mojaheds could not abandon them in a strange country to fend for themselves.
By the autumn of 1929 the situation in the northern province of Qataghan (now Qunduz) was confused beyond all limits. Ibrahim Bek recalls that it was difficult to say who governed the province, though officially it was ruled by Bachai Saqqao. One kishlak would attack another in a quick raid, settling accounts with it.
The failure of centralized power led to the disintegration of Afghanistan. A strong ring of absolutism (called “internal imperialism” by L. Dupree) had held many tribes and other communities in one nation-state, and suddenly this ring broke. It resulted in total anarchy, and Afghanistan faced national calamity. The northern population gave warm support to the new regime. This aroused anger and provoked nationalist sentiments among the southern Afghan population. Foreign policy, as conducted by Bachai Saqqao, was a failure. The British minister had left Kabul in February 1929, the first bad omen for Bachai Saqqao. His adversaries used this fact to their advantage. Nadir Khan arrived in India from France. On March 22, while meeting (a jirgah) with the representatives of the southern and eastern tribes, he questioned the legality of Bachai Saqqao’s government. Nadir Khan and Shah Wali Khan, supported by the tribes, attacked the Saqqoists. On October 13, Bachai Saqqao and his followers tried to escape from the Afghan capital under the blows of the army of another brother, Shah Mahmud Khan. On October 15, Nadir Khan entered the capital. On November 2, 1929, Habibullah, the only Tajik to become the Afghan emir, was executed. Ibrahim Bek learned this news when he was in Aliabad kishlak where the Laqay emigres had settled. The new Afghan government laid down an ultimatum to the Laqays–to give up their weapons and to surrender two followers of Bachai Saqqao who had been given shelter in the emigres’ camp. Ibrahim refused to do this.
The first half of 1930 passed in confrontations. In June 1930, a sudden and sensational event took place which is not mentioned in any available Soviet sources: the Red Army invaded northern Afghanistan. Meeting no Afghan resistance, they made punitive raids on two villages where emigrants had settled–Aliabad and Aq Teppa. Ibrahim Bek and the Laqays deliberately avoided conflict with the Reds. Having destroyed the half-deserted kishlaks, the Red troops went back to Soviet territory in a day. After this withdrawal, Ibrahim Bek received a letter. In it Alimkhan, on behalf of the new Emir of Afghanistan, Nadir Khan, called him to Kabul. If Ibrahim Bek refused to come to the new emir, Alimkhan assured him he would break off all relations with him. Ibrahim wrote in reply:
You ordered me to wage a struggle against the Soviet power for seven years. But I was fighting by my own forces and money. You have been promising me all kinds of help, but, unfortunately, I did not receive any. This resulted in defeat. Can I expect any help from Alimkhan? No, I would not go to Kabul. If padishah allows me to stay with my people in Afghanistan, I shall lead a peaceful way of life and run a farm.
So, no way back. Refusing to obey Alimkhan and Nadir Khan, Ibrahim Bek put himself and his followers at risk. They became illegal. The Afghan government was not inclined to forgive some emigrants their sympathy for the Saqqoists. Military forces were sent to the northern provinces to punish them. These were not government troops but armed Pushtun tribesmen. Ibrahim Bek learned that:
Nadir Khan would not compensate them (the Pushtuns) for the dead and wounded in battle. But for those few who would remain alive, pillage was allowed. They could dispose of property and all emigrants’ things. They could take whatever they liked to. This armed group was not supplied with provisions. They plundered and captured everything. That’s why the village population was on my side, they supported me, and I attacked the Afghan raiders successfully.
In 1930-1931, an Afghan mullah, Miyeshoh-Khairhoh from Imam-Sahib, in his letter to Nadir Khan gave the same evaluation of this Afghan Pushtun band acting in the north. It is interesting to note that though the author of the letter hated Ibrahim Bek (“damned be the father of this great swine”), nevertheless, he denounced the pillage and plunder done by the Pushtuns.
The people’s life was endangered. Wazir, Masoud, and Jadran (Pushtuns tribes) did not do any shooting, they only plundered. . . They attacked in raids the whole Qatagan, half of Badakhshan and robbed thousands of rupees, but yet, they were not satisfied. They rushed into dwellings of ordinary people, ruined their houses, plundered things and property. They lost shame and forgot about God. They roamed from kishlak to kishlak destroying them. People were afraid of death and abandoned their lands.
At the end of this letter the author addresses Nadir Khan:
For God’s sake, ask someone from the Wazir or other tribes if they did any good? What did they do except damage and harm? Tell them to stop damaging. Is not God’s mercy and Padishah’s generosity enough for them? Shame on them. Let there be peace between Uzbeks and others.
This extract helps to clarify the real impulse behind Ibrahim Bek’s behavior. There are various interpretations of it in the available literature. For example, it is asserted that he was moved by personal ambition. It is said that he wanted to take advantage of the difficult situation in Afghanistan, and to found an “Uzbek-Tajik” state in the northern part of the country which gave him a shelter. He longed to rule over this imagined country. One of the former Soviet intelligence officers called Ibrahim Bek a “Napoleon from Laqay.” Some books claim that Ibrahim Bek, like other basmachi leaders, was a puppet in the hands of hidden, shadowy forces (the British, Alimkhan, Afghan reactionaries and others).
It would seem that the truth lies elsewhere. Ibrahim Bek had never been a politician. The Bukharan emigres in Afghanistan protected everything that was dear to their hearts and what was endangered — their families, backgrounds, and tribes.
So the Laqay war in northern Afghanistan continued. In autumn 1930, defense minister Shah Mahmud Khan crossed over the pass and attacked the emigrants. Here Ibrahim Bek applied his customary experience and tactics gained in the fight against the Soviet Army in Bukhara. He evaded large scale confrontations. His actions consisted for the most part of quick raids where surprise was used to effect. The raids were carried out by extremely mobile horsemen, who as soon as the attack had been made, escaped. For example, in Hazarbagh, a group of 200 horsemen attacked 500 Afghans with two pieces of ordinance and machine guns. After a short battle, the Afghans retreated leaving all their weapons. Afghan Uzbeks and Tajiks, because of ethnic identity, helped the emigres in their struggle against the Pushtuns. They formed 25 groups out of 2500 men. Local populations supplied them with provision. The Qatagan Uzbek tribe rendered the most essential assistance to the emigres. Ibrahim Bek guessed that “they hated Afghans because 60 years ago they violently subdued the Uzbeks.”
New emigrant bands joined the military action. In Afghan Badakhshan, the son of a former ruler of Darvoz, Ghulom Hassan, formed a band. His goal was to unite Afghan and Soviet Darvoz. (Before the Russian-British demarkation of 1895, Darvoz was one undivided region.) In March 1931, the Afghan Darvoz people seized power. On May 5, a band of 58 men crossed over to the Soviet side and in a number of raids attacked the Soviets. Some local men joined this band, and the total number of guerrillas grew to 80. This band was later crushed by the Red Army.
In Qatagan, the battle of the Laqays against a more numerous adversary continued. The losses of the emigres came to 70 men, while the loss among the Afghans amounted to 2-2.5 thousand men.
At the same time, other leaders such as Kuganbek, Mulla Kholdor, and Mulla Jura Dahan, moved in the direction of Rustak. They occupied Yangi Qala and Julcha, beseiged the Rustak garrison in the fortress, and gained access to weapons. Local Uzbeks and Tajiks joined Ibrahim Bek in Banghi village. The joint band consisted of 1500 horsemen. A force of Mangal Pushtun tribes was attacked and crushed. The Afghans withdrew. Ibrahim’s band, pursuing them, rushed into Khanabad from different directions. Ibrahim Bek recalled with pleasure that, “the turmoil was enormous.”
In February 1931, the war was winding down. Shah Mahmud Khan sent a large group of soldiers to fight against the emigres concentrated in Aktyube. Ibrahim Bek was severely ill at the time. He sent his young leader Utanbek with a force of Qongrats and Dourmens to engage Shah Mahmud’s troops. They occupied positions not far from the Afghans and started shooting. During the engagement, the emigrants’ families were able to escape to the mountains.
At the end of February Ibrahim Bek received a letter from Ishan Khalifa, the leader of the Turkmen emigres and the main authority among all Central Asian emigres, stating that it had become too difficult to remain in Afghanistan and they would rather go to Iran. Recalled Ibrahim Bek:
I replied to him that wherever we go, we would have to give up our ammunition, and the best direction for us was the Soviet side. There is our native land, we should return weapons to the Soviet power. The Turkmen emigres rejected this proposal.
I had a strong desire to go back to Soviet territory by that time, but before that I had to do away with the Afghans who followed hard on my heels.
Little by little emigrant families moved to the Choubek passage. Armed groups protected their way. The Soviets were warned that the emigres were approaching their frontier and wanted to cross over it and pass into Soviet territory. The frontier guards set their terms. Emigres could pass to the Soviet side if they gave up all ammunition and returned it to the Red Army. Some guns were returned. On the morning of March 30, 1931, the families of the emigres tried to cross to the Soviet bank of the river. The Afghans were firing on them from their side of the river. Many women and children drowned. More than five thousand people managed to get to Soviet territory (one thousand families), but the number of those who tried was twice as great. The frontier troops and OGPU interned the refugees and sent them along Qurghonteppa-Yangibazar-Qaratagh route.
The remnant bands left on the Afghan side, after various confrontations, also crossed the frontier to the Soviet side. Fleeing before the Afghans in that April, they crossed at the same Choubek passage as the emigrant families two weeks prior–the same route that the former emir, Alimkhan, had used ten years earlier to flee the Soviets. It was also at this same passage that the band of Ibrahim Bek crossed the border, exchanging fire with Soviet frontier guards. After a short battle the frontier guard retreated. Soon after, there appeared three planes with red stars. After carrying out several raids on Ibrahim’s fighters, they disappeared. Ten emigres were killed. The majority that got across the border were Laqays by origin. They belonged to the kinship groups of Ishankhoja (Ibrahim Bek’s branch), Badrakli, Turtul, and Bayram. Tajiks from Ghazimalik (near Dushanbe) and Afghan Tajiks, who had been supporters of Bachai Saqqao, also crossed the frontier. Later on, armed Uzbeks, Qongrats, Qatagans and Tajiks did so as well.
The Soviet leadership determined to interpret Ibrahim Bek’s escape from Afghanistan with his band as a British and reactionary Afghan trick, aimed at the organization of revolt against Soviet authority in Tajikistan. A modern Tajik scholar, M. Irkaev, expresses the official point of view:
British imperialists worked out the plan and prompted Nadir Khan to pretend that the Afghan government had pursued the basmachi bands on Afghan territory for the world public opinon to believe. The Communist Party and government of the Republic discovered these intentions of the basmachi in time. They issued an order for the Red Army to isolate basmachi families from the bands and to convey them to Shahrinau.
The “premeditated, worked out Soviet plan” consisted of the quick evacuation of the emigre families and the mobilization of the people to fight against the armed bands. The Soviet goal was to defeat and to discredit the basmachi movement, and put an end to it. Ibrahim Bek was called a “British agent” and a campaign was waged against him. This served as an excuse for extreme, violent measures aimed at strengthening the ruling, repressive regime in the country. Of course, the Soviets were not interested in a peaceful end of the battle against the basmachi and foreign counter-revolution. The return of weapons was ignored, and Ibrahim Bek’s note was not considered.
The official statement runs that Ibrahim Bek was captured by local guards and OGPU in June 23, 1931. The next day, he and his followers were sent to Tashkent to the special department of Central Asian Military Okrug (OO SAVO).
In connection with the prosecution of Ibrahim Bek, the so-called judicial investigation was carried on while the fabrication of the official version continued. He was charged with Article 58 of the Criminal Code of the Uzbek SSR (that is, “armed rebellion and invasion with counter-revolutionary purpose of the Soviet territory”), with Article 59 (“counter-revolutionary contacts with foreign states”), and article 60 (“rendering assistance to world bourgeoisie”). The identical articles under numbers 58-2, 58-4, were included in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Millions of Soviet citizens, charged under these articles, were tried and unjustly convicted in the 30s.
At the end of the investigation, Ibrahim Bek “pleaded quietly” and regretted the “crimes done.” In the course of the investigation, at its end, and in the verdict, there were some allegations which were not confirmed by evidence. For example, Ibrahim Bek and other basmachi leaders were accused of dealing with Britain. That was an unproven and groundless accusation, which speaks to the falsification of judicial investigation materials by the Soviet Justice Body. The investigation was concluded on April 13, 1932. His fifteen companions in arms and relatives were shot on August 10, and Ibrahim himself was executed on August 31, 1932.
This is how one, but unfortunately not the last, episode of Central Asian emigration ended.
Of what is the emigration of the Moslem population from Bukhara and Turkestan an example?
In the first instance, it was a political phenomenon. Emigration was an active protest against revolutionary war, waged by the Bolsheviks in Central Asia. Their goal was to annex the former colony of Tsarist Russia. The territorial location of Turkestan and Bukhara made them an attractive acquisition for Soviet Russia. Turkestan occupied an important position from a military, strategic and political point of view. The Bolsheviks planned for it to serve as “a fortress of revolutionary wars in the East.” Revolutionary war, nevertheless, faced the resistance of mujaheds in Central Asia, with the greatest resistance coming from Bukhara.
The Red Cavalry attack on the feudal East was stopped near the banks of the Amu Darya and the foothills of the Hindu Kush. The fire of revolutionary war faded and went out. It did not spread into the neighboring countries–Afghanistan, India, China, or Iran.
Afghanistan admitted many Central Asian emigres because of the factor of ethnic and religious identity. Ammanullah Khan feared the Central Asian mujaheds since they supported conservatism and spoke favorably of the pan-Islamic movement, which opposed his regime. At least indirectly they brought about the downfall of Ammanullah the reformer.
The history of Central Asian emigration is an integral part of the general history of Central Asia. It confirms once more that there is mutual attraction among Muslim peoples residing on both sides of the southern frontiers of the former USSR.
Certainly, nationalist and confessional issues had not yet dominated regional political interests and geopolitical forces. But, these issues were emerging with varying intensity. Islam and ethnic identity constitute unifying factors, especially in Central Asia where frontiers are artificial and not grounded ethnographically. These factors had enhanced impact in a situation of political destabilization and weakening centralized power on both sides of the Amu River. Such a situation existed in the USSR in the early 1920s and in Afghanistan at the end of that decade and the beginning of the 1930s.
In the beginning of the 1990s, government authority collapsed and civil wars struck Tajikistan and Afghanistan simultaneously. The frontier between these two countries again became a maelstrom of regional instability producing a greatly increased movement of refugees.
Central Asia Monitor, No.4, No.5, (1994) 28-32 and 16-27. by Kamol Abdullaev