Central Asia
eBook - ePub

Central Asia

A New History from the Imperial Conquests to the Present

Adeeb Khalid

Share book
  1. 464 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Central Asia

A New History from the Imperial Conquests to the Present

Adeeb Khalid

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents

About This Book

A major history of Central Asia and how it has been shaped by modern world events Central Asia is often seen as a remote and inaccessible land on the peripheries of modern history. Encompassing Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and the Xinjiang province of China, it in fact stands at the crossroads of world events. Adeeb Khalid provides the first comprehensive history of Central Asia from the mid-eighteenth century to today, shedding light on the historical forces that have shaped the region under imperial and Communist rule.Predominantly Muslim with both nomadic and settled populations, the peoples of Central Asia came under Russian and Chinese rule after the 1700s. Khalid shows how foreign conquest knit Central Asians into global exchanges of goods and ideas and forged greater connections to the wider world. He explores how the Qing and Tsarist empires dealt with ethnic heterogeneity, and compares Soviet and Chinese Communist attempts at managing national and cultural difference. He highlights the deep interconnections between the "Russian" and "Chinese" parts of Central Asia that endure to this day, and demonstrates how Xinjiang remains an integral part of Central Asia despite its fraught and traumatic relationship with contemporary China.The essential history of one of the most diverse and culturally vibrant regions on the planet, this panoramic book reveals how Central Asia has been profoundly shaped by the forces of modernity, from colonialism and social revolution to nationalism, state-led modernization, and social engineering.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Central Asia an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Central Asia by Adeeb Khalid in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in History & Central Asian History. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.




The Multiple Heritages of Central Asia

MODERN CENTRAL ASIA has been shaped by a long history of interactions between the peoples of the Eurasian steppe and those of the agrarian societies (China, India, Iran, and Europe) that ring it. For environmental reasons, the steppe—the vast zone of grassland and desert that stretches from Hungary to Korea—cannot support a dense population. Early human societies discovered that the best strategy for survival on the steppe was pastoral nomadism, in which animals (camels, sheep, cattle, and horses) provide the basis of livelihood. Nomadic groups laid claim to distinct pasturelands and followed fixed migration routes between winter and summer pastures. Over the centuries, steppe nomads interacted with neighboring sedentary societies through raiding, trading, and conquest. The domestication of the horse gave nomads mobility and a military advantage for a millennium and a half. During this period, they built a number of empires on the steppe that could dictate terms to their sedentary neighbors and occasionally conquer them outright. Nomads were a constant presence on the frontiers of agrarian societies on Eurasia’s edges, which found it almost impossible to control the vast spaces of the steppe. The agrarian empires saw nomads as barbarians and a problem to be solved. The Great Wall of China, built to keep the northern barbarians out (and Chinese peasants in), is an apt indication of this attitude. The wall is equally apt as a metaphor for the relationship between the two worlds, because it never succeeded in separating them. Instead, they remained intertwined in a symbiotic and permeable relationship. The Great Wall sat in a borderland that was a perpetual arena of interaction. Many Chinese states were founded by “barbarians” from the north or northwest, even if their foreign origins were often covered up in historical narratives. We pick up the story in the mid-eighteenth century, when this geopolitical relationship between the steppe and its neighbors began to flip as the sedentary empires on the fringes of the steppe began to first enclose and then conquer the steppe.

For a millennium and a half, the steppe was ascendant. Beginning with the Xiongnu, steppe nomads created a number of empires that extracted trading rights or tribute from their neighbors and sometimes conquered them. Such empires had several features in common. They appeared around a charismatic leader who claimed divine sanction of his sovereignty and who was therefore able to knit various tribes (political units imagined along genealogical lines) into viable confederations. The first major steppe empire was that of the Xiongnu, whom we know through the name that Chinese sources use for them. The empire lasted for well over two hundred years (third century BCE–first century CE) and featured substantial urban settlements and a ramified administration. In the western steppe, the Scythians and Sarmatians built empires about the same time. In the sixth and seventh centuries CE, a group of nomads called the Türk established another empire in what is now Mongolia. Its center was in the Orkhon valley, and it left behind runic inscriptions that are the oldest surviving texts in any Turkic language. In the eighth century, another confederation of Turkic tribes formed the Uyghur empire. (Its name was to be revived in the twentieth century as the national name for the Turkic Muslim population of Xinjiang.)
River valleys and oases, where sufficient amounts of water were available, gave rise to sedentary societies and states built on agriculture. Transoxiana and the oases of the Tarim basin were part of this agrarian world. The so-called Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex dates back to 2200–1700 BCE and was a contemporary of civilizations in Egypt, Anatolia, and the Indus valley. In 539–330 BCE, the Achaemenid empire based in the Iranian plateau extended into Transoxiana, when the region was known as Sogdiana (Sughd). Alexander the Great defeated the Achaemenids, and Sogdiana became the easternmost part of his empire. He is supposed to have founded the city of Khujand as Alexandria Eschate (“Alexandria the Furthest”). Sogdiana was an independent Greco-Bactrian state in the third century BCE before it fell to nomadic groups from the east, which eventually established the Kushan empire that expanded south into India. Zoroaster was born in Sogdiana, and Zoroastrianism had a long career in Central Asia. The Kushans adopted Buddhism, and it was through them that it traveled to China. By the first century CE, these empires were linked by long-distance trade to China, India, and Iran.
This trade is the basis of our contemporary cliché of the “Silk Road.” The term was coined in 1877 by the German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, who used it to describe the routes along which Chinese silk was exported from the Han empire (206 BCE–220 CE) to Central Asia. Since then, however, the term has expanded to cover all trade that ostensibly linked “China” to “the West” for several centuries until it was displaced by maritime trade during Europe’s Age of Discovery. This trade is supposed to have underpinned Central Asia’s economy and made its civilization viable. There is much that is problematic about this view. The most lucrative trade moved along a north-south axis, and not from east to west, nor was “the West” (that is, Europe) a significant partner in the east-west trade. Few goods and fewer people traveled from one end of the road to the other. But more significantly for our purposes, the concept of the Silk Road turns Central Asia into simply a pathway, rather than a place of interest in its own right. The Silk Road works better as a metaphor of connectivity across cultures than as a description of a concrete historical phenomenon.1 We will make little use of the term in this book.
The nomads of the steppe spoke a variety of languages belonging to the Altaic family, which includes Mongolian, Tungusic, and a host of Turkic languages. Most of the sedentary population spoke various Indo-Iranian languages, which it shared with peoples in what are now Afghanistan and Iran. Transoxiana was always a frontier zone where the two linguistic families interacted the most intensely. It was the boundary between “Iran” and “Turan,” the land of the nomads. The “Iran” here is much more expansive than the present-day nation-state of that name. Much of the action in the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), the epic poem by Abu’l Qasim Firdausi (or Ferdowsi, ca. 940–1020) commemorating the pre-Islamic Persian kings, is set not in present-day Iran but in Transoxiana. Central Asia was also heterogeneous in its religious heritage. The nomads were shamanist—that is, they believed in the ability of certain individuals to travel back and forth between the material and the spiritual worlds, either to enlist the support of various spiritual forces in pursuit of success in war or to ensure people’s health and well-being. Zoroastrianism and Buddhism were the prevalent religions among the sedentary population. In the eighth century, the Uyghurs adopted Manichaeism, and Nestorian Christianity flourished in the oasis cities of the region in the first millennium CE. The religious heritage of Central Asia was truly diverse.

In the early eighth century, Transoxiana was conquered by Arab armies belonging to the Umayyad caliphate. Islam had emerged in the oasis cities of Arabia in the early seventh century, and its adherents, also pastoral nomads, embarked on a series of astonishing conquests that brought about the demise of the Sassanid empire in Iran, beat back the Byzantine empire into Anatolia, and created an Arab state that stretched from Spain to Transoxiana by the early eighth century. The Arabs conquered Merv in 671 and Bukhara in 709 and annexed Transoxiana to their empire. The Arab conquests coincided with the greatest expansion of any Chinese dynasty until that point. The Tang controlled much of what is now Xinjiang. The two armies came face to face in 751 at the Battle of Talas (in what is now Kyrgyzstan), where Tang forces were routed and the dynasty’s westward expansion came to an end. In 750 the Umayyad dynasty was toppled by the Abbasids, a great deal of whose support came from insurgents in Iran and Transoxiana.
Conversion to Islam was a long-term process, however, and it took several generations for the majority of the sedentary, Persian-speaking population to become Muslim. Nonetheless, by the ninth century Transoxiana was solidly Muslim and had become an integral part of the Muslim world. Over the next two centuries, it produced a number of luminaries of the most fundamental importance in Islamic history. The sayings (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad soon acquired a religious authority second only to that of the Qur’an, and their collection and categorization became a major preoccupation among scholars. Sunni Muslims hold six collections to be canonical. Two of the six compilers, Abu Isma‘il al-Bukhari (810–870) and Abu ‘Isa Muhammad al-Tirmidhi (825–892), were from Transoxiana, as were the influential jurists Abu Mansur Muhammad al-Maturidi (d. ca. 944) and Burhan al-Din Abu’l Hasan al-Marghinani (d. 1197). The mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (780–850), who founded algebra (and whose name, through its Latin corruption, gives us the word “algorithm”); the astronomer Ibn Kathir al-Farghani (d. 870); the great scientist Abu Nasr al-Muhammad al-Farabi (d. ca. 950), known as “the second teacher” (after Aristotle); the rationalist philosopher Abu ‘Ali Ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna, 980–1037); and the geographer Abu Rayhan al-Beruni (973–1050)—figures of absolutely central importance in the history of Islamic civilization in its so-called classical age—were all born in the region. They were part of broader networks of travel and learning that served to make the cities of Transoxiana part of the heartland of the Muslim world. It was in this age that Bukhara and Samarqand acquired their reputation in the wider Muslim world. To a thirteenth-century historian, Bukhara was “the cupola of Islam” in the Muslim East, “like unto Baghdad” (the capital of the Abbasid caliphate), and “its environs are adorned with the brightness of the light of doctors and jurists and its surroundings embellished with the rarest of high attainments.”2
Given its vast expanse, the caliphate was always largely decentralized, and regional governors had a great deal of leeway. By the middle of the ninth century, they had begun to act as they pleased, paying only the most nominal allegiance to the caliphate. It was in this context that a certain Ismail Samani, a local governor in Transoxiana, established his own dynasty with its capital at Bukhara. Ismail received investiture from the Abbasid caliph, but he was to all intents and purposes a sovereign ruler. The Samanid dynasty that he founded presided over the rebirth of Persian as an Islamicate language. The great scholars we just encountered all wrote in Arabic (and therefore are often misidentified as Arabs), but neither they nor their compatriots ever used Arabic as a language of everyday intercourse. After the Arab conquests, Persian, the language of Transoxiana, had sunk to the level of a vernacular. The Samanids reversed this trend and raised it to a language of administration and culture. Their court patronized the creation of a new literary language, which we now call New Persian (even though today it is over a thousand years old). Written in Arabic script, with a large number of Arabic loanwords, it was Islamic in its sensibility. Its first great poet was Rudaki (858–941), but it was the Shahnameh, composed at the Samanid court, that laid the foundations of Persian as an Islamicate language of high culture.
Islam spread more slowly in the neighboring steppe. The first historical reports of large-scale conversion among the Turks date from 960, when 200,000 tents (households) are said to have embraced Islam. By the end of the tenth century, Muslim Turks had become quite common and begun to assume political power. Turkic nomads belonging to the Ghaznavid and Qarakhanid dynasties conquered Transoxiana and launched campaigns of conquest far and wide, going south into India and competing with other Muslim dynasties in eastern Iran and what is now Afghanistan. Other Turkic groups entered military service in dynasties in the Middle East and became an integral part of the political landscape in that region. Over the ensuing centuries, Turks were to found a number of dynasties in the Muslim world. The Saljuqs fought the Byzantines and opened up Anatolia to Turkic settlement, where two centuries later the Ottomans established what became a mighty world empire. Yet the Islamization of the steppe was a long drawn out process that continued into the eighteenth century. Muslim societies interacted with non-Muslims along a long religious frontier that extended from Tibet to Zungharia and beyond. The eastern oases of Turfan and Qumul were majority Buddhist as late as 1420, when a Muslim envoy to the Ming court noted “large idol-temples of superb beauty” in the two cities.3

Muslim sovereignty in Transoxiana and Altishahr was broken in the early twelfth century when the Ferghana valley and much of Altishahr were conquered by a new dynasty called the Qara Khitay. They were nomads, most likely of Tungusic speech, who had escaped from the collapse of the Liao empire in Manchuria and northeastern China in 1127. They imposed tribute on the cities and controlled the steppe for the next century, their only challenge coming from a new state in Khwarazm at the mouth of the Amu Darya. However, it was the irruption of the Mongol empire in the early thirteenth century that truly transformed Central Asia. At the dawn of the century, a certain Temüjin managed to unite all Mongol tribes behind him and launched on a series of conquests unrivaled in history. In 1206, he took the imperial title of Chinggis Khan (qa’an) and presided over a series of astonishing military campaigns that brought much of Eurasia under Mongol rule. He conquered China and Central Asia before he died in 1227. His sons continued the conquests, and at its zenith, the Mongol empire incorporated all of the steppe, Transoxiana, the Caucasus, all of Iran, and eastern Europe. Both China and Russia were part of a single imperium in the thirteenth century.
The Mongols achieved the apotheosis of nomadic empire building. Like all their predecessors, they used imperial charisma, a divine mandate, and an efficient system of military organization to achieve success. Unlike earlier nomadic empires, the Mongols conquered their sedentary neighbors and ruled them, commandeering bureaucrats from China and Iran to create systems of administration and taxation. The military campaigns were exceedingly violent, and Mongol brutality became proverbial across Eurasia, but the Mongol empire also created new connections. Historians speak of a pax Mongolica that turned most of Eurasia into a single economic zone and facilitated trade across it in an unprecedented fashion. The conquests also remade the politics of the region. They destroyed old elites and reshaped solidarities and affiliations across Eurasia. The Chinggisid family became the royal clan of all of Eurasia, and the principle that only descendants of Chinggis Khan through the male line had the right to rule was enshrined for a long time across the Mongol domains.
In the Chinggisid dispensation, sovereignty belonged to the Chinggisid family as a whole. There was no primogeniture, and all descendants of Chinggis Khan through the male line were eligible to rule and bear the title of khan. This turned out to be a built-in mechanism for instability. In his final testament, Chinggis had divided his realm into four parts (ulus) and bequeathed each of them to one of his four sons by his senior wife. The ancestral Mongol homelands and China went to his youngest son, Tolui, while Chinggis’s grandson Batu (whose father, Jochi, predeceased Chinggis) received the western steppe, with its path to Europe. Chinggis had appointed his third son, Ögedei, as his heir and the great khan, the leader of the dynasty and symbol of the unity of the empire. The empire continued to expand. Batu’s forces subdued the Slavic principalities of Kyivan Rus’ and threatened Hungary before turning back unconquered. His ulus, which came to be known as the Golden Horde, ruled over the agrarian settlements of Rus’ and the steppe north of the Black Sea. In 1258, Chinggis’s grandson Hülegü invaded the Middle East and destroyed the Abbasid caliphate, bringing all of Iran and the Fertile Crescent under Mongol rule. Another grandson, Khubilai, expanded Mongol rule into southern China, finally defeating the Song dynasty in 1279. In 1260, during his campaigns, Khubilai became the great khan. He moved the capital to Beijing and adopted a Chinese dynastic title, Yuan, for his empire. There had been several contentious struggles for the title of great khan, and after Khubilai’s death in 1294, the title lapsed. The different ulus grew apart and even came to blows.
Mongol rule reshaped Central Asia over the course of the thirteenth century. While the region escaped lightly in comparison with some other regions conquered by the Mongols, the damage to both Central Asia’s economy and its cultural traditions was still great. The older dynasties were wiped out, and the infrastructure of Islam suffered greatly. Chinggis Khan’s actions in Bukhara in 1220 were emblematic of the initial phase of Mongol conquest. Having sacked the city, he rode into the main mosque and, mounting the pulpit, exclaimed to the assembled multitudes, “The countryside is empty of fodder; fill our horses’ bellies.” Ata Malik Juvaini, a Muslim historian in Mongol employ who is our best source for these events, recounts that the Mongols “opened all the magazines in the town and began carrying off the grain. And they brought the cases in which Korans were kept out into the courtyard of the mosque, where they cast the Korans right and left and turned these cases into mangers for their horses. After which they circulated cups of wine and sent for the singing-girls of the town to sing and dance for them; while the Mongols raised their voices to the tunes of their own songs. Meanwhile, the imams, shaikhs, sayyids, doctors and scholars of the age kept watch over their horses in the stable un...

Table of contents