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‘Basmachi’: Turkistan National Liberation Movement 1916-1930s

By H. B. Paksoy, Modern Encyclopedia of Religions in Russia and the Soviet Union (FL: Academic International Press, 1991, Vol. 4)

The "formal" beginning of the "Basmachi" movement is usually associated with the tsarist Imperial Decree of 25 June 1916, which ordered the first non-voluntary recruitment of Central Asians into the army during the First World War. The movement was a reaction not only to conscription, but to the Russian conquest itself and the policies employed by the tsarist state in that region. Although it is primarily Russian sources and officialdom who used the term "Basmachi" --and almost exclusively to denigrate the movement-- to the Central Asians, it was an Action for National Liberation, and so referred.

Central Asia had been occupied by the tsarist armies in a long process that began with the conquest of Kazan in 1552. Its latest manifestation was the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The largest territories were taken in the second half of the 19th century when the conquest of Tashkent took place in 1865 and the Goktepe massacre of the Turkmen in 1881. Millions of Central Asians were added to the empire's population (just under 20% of the population by the 1897 Census. This is similar to the current demographic profile, due to Stalinist liquidations during which millions of Central Asians perished). It is likely that the memory of the occupation and resentment of the occupiers' repressive policies were fresh in the minds of the Central Asians in 1916. The resentment was enhanced by earlier historical memories -- the historical roots and traditions of the Central Asians include numerous large empires of their own (though in decline by the 16th century), some of which antedate the first mention of the word Rus in the chronicles. Some of those empires counted the Russians among their subjects.

Zeki Velidi Togan (1890-1970) was for over half a century a professor of history (and shared similar objectives with his contemporary colleagues Czech Thomas Masaryk and Ukrainian Michael Hrushevsky). A Central Asian himself and a principal leader of the Turkistan National Liberation Movement, Togan described the sources of the movement as follows:

"Basmachi is derived from "baskinji," meaning attacker, which was first applied to bands of brigands. During tsarist times, these bands existed when independence was lost and Russian domination began in Turkmenistan, Bashkurdistan and the Crimea. Bashkurts [in Russian language sources: "Bashkir"] called them "ayyar," by the Khorasan term. In Crimea and, borrowed from there, in Ukraine, "haydamak" was used. Among Bashkurts such heroes as Buranbay became famous; in Crimea, there was [a leader named] Halim; and in Samarkand, Namaz. These did not bother the local native population but sacked the Russians and the Russian flour- mills, distributing their booty to the population. In Ferghana, these elements were not extinct at the beginning of 1916.

.... after the proliferation of cotton planting in Ferghana [imposed by the tsarist state at the expense of cereal cultivation] the economic conditions deteriorated further. This increased brigandage. Among earlier Basmachi, as was the case in Turkey, the spiritual leader of the Uzbek and Turkmen bands was Koroglu. Basmachi of Bukhara, Samarkand, Jizzakh and Turkmen gathered at nights to read KOROGLU and other dastans [ornate oral histories]. What has the external appearance of brigandage is actuality a reflection and representation of the thoughts and spirit of a wide segment of the populace. Akchuraoglu Yusuf Bey reminds us that during the independence movements of the Serbians, the "hoduk;" the "kleft;" and "palikarya" of the Greeks comprised half nationalist revolutionaries and half brigands.

The majority and the most influential of the Basmachi groups founded after 1918 did not at all follow the Koroglu tradition, but were composed of serious village leadership and sometimes the educated. Despite that, all were labelled Basmachi. Consequently, in Turkistan, these groups were regarded as partisans; more especially representing the guerilla groups fighting against the colonial power. Nowadays, in the Uzbek and Kazakh press, one reads about Chinese, Algerian and Indian Basmachi [the references are to the respective anti-colonial movements]."

Before the 1916 Decree could be put into force by the Russians, the Central Asian leadership proceeded to take steps to prevent or delay its execution. In Samarkand, Khoja Behbudi; in Tashkent, Munevver Kari; in Khiva, Pehlivan Niyaz; in Bukhara, Osman Khoca; in Jizzakh, Kari Kamil; in Kokand, Abid Jan gathered around them the prominent personae of their localities for the purpose. Those leaders took on the historical title "Korbashi," meaning "commander of defense troops," and set about preparing the resistance. On 11 July 1916, the first mass protest meeting took place in Tashkent. Russian police fired into the crowd. The Russians arrested an additional group and summarily executing another thirty-five. The Russian settlers, who had been brought into Tashkent some thirty to forty years earlier, began looting, apparently at the instigation of the Russian police. At this, the Central Asian response stiffened. Protest meetings spread to Marghilan, Andijan and Hojend; attacks on Russian officials took place in Akkurgan, Akmesjid and Kanjagali. The population of the Jizzakh and environs destroyed the railroad at several sites, and began organizing a self defense group. The Russians responded by indiscriminate attacks on the Central Asian populations. The Turkistan National Liberation Movement had formally begun.

By the middle of August, the resistance spread to Ashkhabad and Merv, under the leadership of Juneyd Khan; to Akmola and Turgay under Abdulgaffar Bek; to Yedisu and Karakul under Shabdan Batirogullari Muhiddin and Husameddin; to the Chu basin under Ayuke oglu Kanaat Bek. Karakul was declared the center of an independent Khanate, while Yedisu was the governmental center. Their first targets were the Russian police headquarters, to acquire weapons -- their only source of supply.

Russian officialdom declared martial law in Turkistan (and the Caucasus as well), and announced a lower quota of laborers to be drafted under the 25 June decree. The new Russian statements did not change the conditions. Russian Generals Kuropotkin and Kalbovo armed the Russian settlers in Central Asia to act as additional military units to reinforce their existing and well armed regular forces. Even prisoners of war, who were being held in Russian POW camps in Central Asia, were recruited by the Russian generals as mercenaries with regular pay. Generals Ivanov and Rynov moved all their forces against Jizzakh. Fully equipped Russian regiments under General Madridov attacked the civilians of Khiva region, and according to eyewitnesses, massacred even babies in the cradle. Those who were not killed were stripped of their all possessions as retribution. After the Bolshevik revolution, it was discovered that during that short period "General Madridov had pilfered and stashed Turkmen silver jewelry in excess of 17 puds." More Russian settlers were brought in to occupy confiscated Central Asian land and homes. Contemporary reports estimated that between 25 June 1916 and October of 1917, some one and one half million Central Asians were killed by the Russian forces and settlers, with the Russian casualties numbering around three thousand. At least half of the Central Asian livestock was destroyed and an inestimable amount of personal property was looted by the Russian military forces and settlers.

The Turkistan Extraordinary Conference of December 1917 announced the formation of Autonomous Turkistan, with Kokand as its Capital. Bashkurdistan had declared territorial autonomy in January of 1918; the Tatars also took matters into hand in forming their autonomous region. Also in spring 1918, the Azerbaijan Republic and others came into being in the empire's former colonies. It seemed as if the Russian yoke was ended and freedom reigned. However, with the onset of the Bolshevik revolution, local soviets were established, again by the Russian settlers, some of whom were railroad workers. These were often headed by professional revolutionaries arriving from Moscow. Generous promises were made to the Central Asians, including indemnities for all property expropriated earlier. It proved to be a time-buying ploy. As Togan demonstrated, the soviets had no intention of allowing the much-touted "self-rule" in Central Asia, despite the rhetoric. This became clear when the Bolshevik forces burned Kokand on March 1918, and again massacred the population. The struggle not only had to continue, but also became harsher. After a final series of conferences with Lenin, Stalin and the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, Togan realized that the aims of the Bolsheviks were not different than those of their predecessors. Organizing a secret committee, Togan set about forming the basis of the united resistance, the leadership of which moved south to Samarkand and environs. A new, large-scale, coordinated stage of organizing the Turkistan National Liberation Movement commenced.

The struggle was to continue, under various methods, well into the 1930s, despite Stalin's measures and liquidations. During that period, perhaps another several million Central Asians perished in the artificially created famine, as documented in Ukrainian case. Only the relaxation of repressive measures by Moscow at the onset of the Second World War precipitated a hiatus in the movement. Moscow was once again in need of Central Asians, this time as troops to fight in yet another war. It should be noted that, almost half a million of those Central Asians thus incorporated into the Red Army defected to the Germans, solely to fight the Russians.


The Turkistan National Liberation Movement was shaped directly by the attempt of the Bolsheviks to reconquer Turkistan. It must also be seen, however, as a culmination of a long process of Russian intrusion into Central Asia as reflected in the "Eastern Question" and what Kipling dubbed the "Great Game in Asia."

The long standing "Eastern Question" entailed attempts by European powers and the Russian Empire to control, or prevent another Power from controlling, the lands of the Ottoman Empire. The "Great Game," on the other hand, was played in two adjacent arenas -- in Turkistan- Afghanistan arena, as Russian armies moved south and the British tried to keep them north of Afghanistan; and in Iran (also regarded as an approach to India) with an Anglo-Russian competition for economic concessions and political influence. The Eastern Question and the Great Game can not be separated from each other, nor from Russian policy vis a vis Europe. The confluence of Russia's European policies and its Asian expansion led to conflict in Asia with England, which was then protecting her "Jewel in the Crown" -- India. This competition, in turn, directly involved the Anglo-Russian dimension of the "Eastern Question" because England regarded the tsars' ambitions with respect to the Turkish Straits (Dardanelles and the Bosphorus) as well as Russian expansion in the Caucasus (partly at the expense of the Ottomans) as threatening to India. Russian control of the Straits would lead to Russian naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and, thus, at Suez -- one gateway to India (England had similarly regarded Napoleon's invasion of Egypt as a threat to India). Expansion in the Caucasus both weakened the Ottomans as an obstacle to Russian expansion toward the Mediterranean, and seemed to some in England as a step toward an overland invasion of India via Iran. Thus in at least some respects, the Eastern Question might be considered a part of the Great Game.

It was in the Caucasus that the Eastern Question and the Great Game were linked directly. Although the major action of the Game took place in the Turkistan-Afghanistan arena -- paving the way for the Turkistan National Liberation Movement -- it seems to have begun with Russian conquests in Caucasia. The first Russo- Iranian war (1806-13) ending with the Treaty of Gulistan (1813), the second, ending with Treaty of Turkmanchai (1828), and the Russo-Ottoman war of 1828 ending in the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) all resulted in Russian expansion south of the Caucasus mountains and thus closer to India. Perhaps more worrying for the British in 1828 were the provisions of the Turkmanchai peace -- Russian goods imported into Iran would be exempt from internal tariffs; Russian subjects would not be subject to Iranian law; only Russia could maintain a fleet on the Caspian. The latter potentially enabled Russian forces to land on the southeast Caspian shore, closer to Herat (Afghanistan), a potential stepping-stone to an invasion of India, or so the English feared.

These provisions and the presence of the Russian ambassador in Tehran made the British fear a Russian-backed Iranian move against Herat thus linking the Iranian arena to the Turkistan- Afghanistan arena. The Iranian attack on Herat came in 1837 and provoked British intervention, which led in turn to the First Afghan War. The latter resulted in the destruction of the entire British force. In 1841, the British imposed on Iran a treaty almost identical to Turkmanchai. Thus proceeded the competition for political position in the "Iranian arena," a struggle which would shift into a fight for economic concessions in the last quarter of the century.

The Russians were further spurred to expansion in Asia after their humiliating defeat in the Crimean War (1853-56). That war constituted a European victory over Russian pretensions in the eastern Mediterranean, including the tsar's claims for privileged access to the Holy Land as "protector" of the Orthodox in Ottoman domains (a position first taken by Catherine the Great in the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarja [1774]). The humiliation led the Russians to look for easier victories in Central Asia. The fragmented Central Asian states, mere remnants of former empires, proved more vulnerable targets than European rivals. Russian expansion against them began in 1864 and continued for 20 years. Military rule was imposed, Christian missionary activity strove to shape education, literature and publishing. Russian peasants were settled there, a strategically important railroad leading to the Far East was begun (entailing many Russian workers who would be fertile ground for socialist agitation, and some 200,000 Chinese laborers who were later armed by the Bolsheviks against all National Liberation Movements opposing the Bolsheviks), and natural resources were extracted. Cotton cultivation was imposed to compensate for the loss of the U.S. cotton supply in the 1860s. Russia's growing textile industry acquired an alternative source of cotton; Central Asia lost its food crops and, in the 20th century, would also lose the Aral Sea and their clean environment due to pesticide poisoning.

The Russians did not, of course, abandon their ambitions on the Ottoman frontier, and defeats there again had repercussions in Central Asia. Russian gains in the Russo-Turkish war of 1875-77 alarmed Europe, but especially Britain, who feared disruption of her lines of communication with India. The resulting Congress of Berlin (1878), hosted by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, offering himself as "an honest broker," deprived Russia of the fruits of her victories and awarded the island of Cyprus to the British, assuring British dominance in the eastern Mediterranean. Though this arrangement by Bismarck and British Prime Minister Disraeli soothed British nerves, it angered the Russians. To the Russians, expansion in Central Asia promised more certain returns on Russian "investments," and seriously damaged German-Russian relations thereby paving the way for the Franco-Russian alliance of the 1890s.

In the 1890s, the British and Russians negotiated the Russian- Afghan border, established Afghanistan as an official "buffer" under English influence in 1907 and thereby called a halt to the Great Game, at least for the time being. Perhaps Britain had been pushed to her limit and Russia knew that in a direct military conflict, victory could not be assured. Certainly both Powers feared the rise of Germany, not only in Europe and in the scramble for African colonies, but because Germany was entering the "Great Game." German interests envisioned a railroad from Berlin to Beijing, through the length of the Ottoman Empire. Due to the actual political and military conditions on the ground, the project was scaled down, and the railroad turned south towards Baghdad -- still within the Ottoman Empire. Germany would affect the Turkistan National Liberation Movement a few years later, albeit indirectly.

The Great Game also had a Far Eastern component manifested in its advances against China and a series of unequal treaties signed with Chinese rulers after 1858.

Thus the Turkistan National Liberation Movement constituted an initiative on the Great Game's "gameboard" not by the "formal" players, but by the former "pawns," who now sought to retake control of their homeland and destiny. As indicated by Togan, an indigenous leader of the Movement, the impetus and organization were internal. Leaders were local men, they were responding to decades of abuse in Turkistan by the Russian conquerors. Before long, however, the Movement would also be affected by leaders from the outside who had their own experiences with European leaders in the Eastern Question and the Great Game, and their own political agendas, which they sought to impose on Turkistan. The most prominent of these was Enver Pasha, Ottoman general and son- in-law to the Ottoman ruling family.


Before the First World War, one of the primary hotbeds of free- thinkers in the Ottoman Empire was Salonica, where the majority of "radical" publications were also located. It was there that the young officer Enver was introduced to both the national liberation movements of Eastern Europeans, and Turkism (nationalism of the Turks). Enver also apparently joined the Ittihat ve Terakki (Union and Progress) secret organization there, one of whose primary aims was to force the Sultan of the Empire to return to Constitutional Monarchy. It was also the headquarters of the Ottoman army units that marched into Istanbul under the self-proclaimed title of "Action Army" to suppress the recidivist Islamic movement of 1909, known as the 31 March incident. Staged by the madrasa (roughly, theological-scholastic school) students and their supporters, the 31 March incident involved massacres of secular troops by the scholasticists, who demanded the abolition of everything not in conformity with Shari'a (canonical law). Among the officers of the "Action Army" which suppressed that outbreak were Enver, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), and Omer Seyfettin. Enver rose through the ranks rather rapidly. He served in Germany as military attache (1909- 1911), later married a daughter of the Ottoman Sultan and became a "Son-in-law" to the Sublime Porte, the Ottoman Court. After the deposition of Abdulhamid II (ruled 1876-1909), Enver became the "first among equals" (along with Jemal and Talat) of the Union and Progress Party triumvirate ruling the Ottoman Empire.

Enver's German connection was significant with respect to the Turkistan National Liberation Movement for two reasons. First, Enver's stay in the German Empire brought him into direct contact with the products of Institutes of Oriental studies, and the Orientalist professors themselves, especially with the proponents of "Pan-Turanianism," also called "Pan-Turanism" or "Pan- Turkism." In fact, some of those scholars were also his official sponsors and hosts. To that end, the German authorities urged the Ottoman leadership to adopt "Pan-Turanian" policies and subsequently, those of the separate Pan-Islamic Movement. Second, Germany would facilitate Enver's visit to Moscow.

"Pan-Turanianism" or "Pan-Turkism," was formulated and initiated in Europe -- not in Central Asia -- about the time of the Russian occupation of Tashkent in 1865. The formulation was the brainchild of the Hungarian Orientalist and traveller Arminius Vambery, Professor of Oriental languages. The premise of this notion was that since the overwhelming majority of the Central Asians spoke (and still speak) dialects of Turkish, share the same historical origins and history, "they could form a political entity stretching from the Altai Mountains in Eastern Asia to the Bosphorus," where the capital of the Ottoman Empire was located. This pseudo-doctrine was then attributed to the Turks themselves, and the Russians and Europeans claimed it was a revival of Chinghiz Khan's conquests, a threat not only to Russia, but the whole of Western civilization. It seemed to justify any action against Central Asia, a new "crusade" in the name of self- defense.

In fact, the doctrine was not embraced in Central Asia. As it is now known, Vambery was in the service of the British government, at a time when Britain was embroiled in the Great Game. The fear of a resurgent Central Asia was echoed in Leon Cahun's history of the Turks and Mongols the year of the Franco-Russian treaty of 1894 and repeated by the Russians in popular and scholarly publications. It was not until the first decade of the 20th century that the notion was received as a "solution" by small groups of emigres from Central Asia, living in European capitals, who were working to remove the Russian colonialism. Nonetheless, it was a successful public relations ploy for its originators in their dealings with the Western public, and accusations of "Pan- Turkism" can still be heard. It should not be confused with Turks' national consciousness, their desire for cultural revival and political independence based on historical precedent. The latter, "Turkism," is nationalism, not any different than English, Irish or French varieties; or the type expressed by the other nationalities of the Ottoman Empire.

Thus the Germans' attempt to persuade the Ottoman leadership to embrace this policy before and during World War I reflects Germany's desire to make political use of such a weapon against its enemies, the Russians, by appealing to their Turkish populations. To undermine British control in Central Asia, another doctrine was revived -- Pan-Islam. The Pan-Islamic Movement was an anti-colonial political movement of the late 19th century, and must be distinguished from the "orthodox" Islamic unity of all believers, the umma. Jamal Ad-Din al-Afghani (1839- 1897) established the movement in its political form, striving to achieve the political unity of Muslims to fight against colonialism and the colonial powers. It was popular among Indian Muslims and in north Africa. However, the movement also served the colonial powers well. Painted as a reverse-Crusade -- without necessarily using the terminology, but through graphic allusions -- the Colonial powers could mobilize both Western public opinion and secret international alliances to fight the "emerging threat." The Germans, after the death of al-Afghani, sought to make that threat as real as possible for the British in India.

By the outbreak of the First World War, the Germans were utilizing both the "Pan-Turanian" and the "Pan-Islamic" rhetoric towards their own ends, from opposite theaters. When the Bolshevik Revolution took place, the Germans -- already hard pressed by the Allies -- facilitated (and, according to sources apparently instigated) Enver's and his colleagues' visit to Moscow, the second aspect of German influence on Enver. When Enver finally arrived in Moscow, he proposed to his Bolshevik hosts an Islamic Army in Central Asia to "liberate India." Such a military operation, of course, would have tied down substantial number of Allied troops in India, away from the Western theaters. Before his clandestine departure from Istanbul, Enver had dispatched a number of Ottoman officers to Central Asia -- in his own thinking, to lay the groundwork of a national liberation movement there. At that time, his former classmates and colleagues were making preparations for the Turkish War of Liberation in Asia Minor.

Enver departed from Istanbul shortly before the occupation of the Ottoman capital by the joint British, French and Italian forces in November 1918, after the Armistice. Only the end of the war opened the Straits to the Allied Fleets. Enver arrived in Berlin early in 1919; he would eventually make his way to Moscow After two tries, arriving 16 August 1920.


Before Enver, "...first Halil and Jemal Pashas arrived in Moscow [May 1920] with the aim of undertaking propaganda on behalf of 'Islamic Revolutionary Society' [now known to have been headquartered in Berlin]," writes Togan. Togan had already formed the Secret Society (certainly by 1919, perhaps several years earlier) as a basis for the Turkistan National Liberation Movement whose aim was the establishment of an independent Turkistan -- the movement was unconnected to any other. The membership of this Society was drawn both from the public and private figures, included much of the leadership from Kazakh, Uzbek, Bashkurt unions. These had been formed in 1918 when Central Asian regions declared autonomy or independence in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution. These regions were subsequently attacked by the Bolsheviks. When the northern regions fell to the Red Army in 1919, the leaders of the Bashkurt, Kazakh and some Tatar autonomy movements moved south and gathered in Samarkand, Tashkent and environs.

By spring 1919 Togan was in Moscow and heading the secret Society for the liberation of Central Asia. By spring 1920, Togan had openly broken with the Moscow Bolsheviks and moved to Central Asia to assume control of the movement. He, like some other resistance leaders, went in disguise to the Comintern-sponsored Baku Congress of the Toilers of the East (September 1920), where Russian control over the Revolution in Asia was reasserted. Enver spoke at the Congress, but went on an arms-buying trip to Germany the next month. He returned to Russia only in 1921.

Togan recorded his meetings during 1920 with Enver's colleagues:

"We spoke with Halil and Jemal during June 1920. Jemal Pasha explained his ideas and urged us to work with him. On 20 August, Jemal Pasha arrived in Tashkent. His aim was to secure the environs of Punjab and to establish an Islamic state there. He was going to prepare in Afghanistan. With 15-20 Ottoman-Turkish officers [he brought with him in his retinue], he left for Afghanistan. Jemal told the Bolsheviks that he could use the Basmachi for a campaign to overthrow the British regime in India. But the Bolsheviks did not believe him in the least. We knew all this and the real intentions of the Russians through our friends working within the Communist Central Committees of Moscow and Tashkent. The Russians thought that Jemal Pasha was actually preparing an organization to control Turkistan... and wanted to keep him between the Indian and Afghanistan borders as a last resort for their own policies."

On 25 January 1921, Central Committee of the Turkistan National Unity sent a letter to Jemal Pasha, then at Kabul, via a courier:

"...we ask that your Middle East policies be drawn so as not to sacrifice the future of this old Turkistan to plans in preparation for the deliverance of the Islamic world.... Turkistan cannot subsume its future to the as yet unknown outcome of forthcoming struggle between capitalism and socialism..."

Togan continued:

"The 'Society' [of the Turkistan National Unity] steadily worked towards its goals, despite the paucity of politically experienced personnel among its ranks. Active elements of the 'Muslim' communists were channeled into the activities of the Society. In all of the provinces, members of the Society entered into the Soviet Congresses, Communist Party meetings. Everywhere, the police (militsia) organizations and administrative organs were under the influence of the Society. The labor organizations of Bukhara, Tashkent, Samarkand and Kokand were under the influence of the members of the 'Socialist Tudeh' branch of the Society. This was a monumental success and promise for the future of the Turkistanis, who were relatively inexperienced in such matters. Although the individuals working within the government and [communist] party machinery of Khiva, Tashkent and Orenburg were not members of the Society, they were completely cooperating... Such success of the Secret Organization could not have been dreamed, for example, during 1917."

Even before the arrival of Enver in Turkistan (September 1921), Islam still exerted some political force among an increasingly small portion of the populace. By then, Islam had declined from its earlier intellectual vitality, had become conservative and closely associated with powerful individuals, as if a personal cult. The Emir (ruler) of Bukhara was one such personality. Togan states:

"...[prior to the establishment of the 'Society' in Turkistan] there were three types of Basmachi: 'Emirists,' 'somewhat Emirists,' and Anti-Emirists.' The political spectrum of the Basmachi did not end there. Jemal Pasha wished to manage the problems of Turkistan and the Basmachi from Kabul. Enver Pasha, on the other hand was conducting pro-Bolshevik 'Union of Islam' (as noted, instigated by Berlin) propaganda from Moscow. This had some effect."

The 'Society' had to eliminate the Emir, his brand of personalized religion and his supporters if they were to succeed in establishing any kind of unified mechanism to oppose the Bolsheviks. That did not prove to be easy. Togan observes:

Until the establishment of the Society, and while the Emirate of Bukhara was still in existence, the Educated Turkistanis were not in contact with the Basmachi. Basmachi units were largely based on the Kadimist Ulama [the scholasticists, not unlike those who staged the uprising in Istanbul during 1909] and the elements of the fanatics... During the 1917 Representative Council elections, the educated were on List Number Four. The ulama, opposing the educated, thus labelled them 'Dorduncu' [Fourth] and engaged in violent 'anti- Dorduncu' propaganda. As a result, the majority of the younger generation did not trust the Dorduncu during 1918-1919, particularly since the educated were also siding with the soviets. As the hopes of the educated were dashed by the Bolsheviks during 1920, they joined the ranks of the Society. The abolition of the Bukhara Emirate eliminated the reasons preventing the youth from any action. Collectively, these developments diminished the influence of the ulama on the Basmachi. The Society established contacts without any hesitation with the Basmachi in Samarkand, Khiva and Ferghana. The objective was to shape the movement into a real national movement infused with spirit, coupled with modern organization, to form military units under the command of progressive and educated individuals. To this end, educated advisors and some instructor officers were sent to them. The Emir of Bukhara regarded the Bolsheviks as 'Russia' until his last days and attempted to remain 'loyal.' The Emir had disarmed Osipov's military unit in Shehrisebz, where it had sought protection within his domains.

The Baku Congress of the Toilers of the East also had its effect on the Turkistan National Liberation Movement, increasing their resolve to fight the Bolsheviks. The Central Asians had a chance to see how Bolsheviks came prepared to the Congress, including resolutions to be made by the gathering. The Bolshevik "security" had effectively prevented the genuine Central Asian delegates from even making speeches. In other words, the outcome of the Congress appeared to have been pre-determined. While the "Society" was undertaking regular if secret political and military preparations for a free and independent Turkistan, "Enver Pasha arrived in Bukhara and sent word that he wished to speak with me" continues Togan.

"On 2 October [1921] I met him, and upon his request, provided him with the details of the circumstances, especially the status of the Society. Enver Pasha's arrival in Bukhara, especially his plans were a totally unexpected development for us. A few months ago this person was engaged in propaganda through the pamphlets of 'Union of Islam,' in connection with Jemal Pasha advocating cooperation with the Bolsheviks against imperialism. Now [he indicated that] he was not only taking a position against the Bolsheviks, but actually... planned to attack them."

The tsarist armies had earlier laid down arms and let the European conflict be acted out among the remaining participants. The Bolsheviks were in a position, after reorganizing and regrouping, to shift forces from the western front into Turkistan. On 11 August 1919, the Turkistan Front was formally established by the Bolsheviks, with a minimum of 106,000 regular troops and several generals. By September 1920, Bolsheviks consolidated their First, Fourth, Fifth armies with the Special Turkistan Army. Despite all that military force, Bolsheviks were unable to break the resolve of the Korbashi and the population of Central Asia. Special projects were needed to effect the results desired by the Bolsheviks. The "Pan" movement propaganda was the preferred solution.

Togan suggested that Enver should cross over to Afghanistan and continue his personal struggle from there, leaving the Society to continue with its own planned actions. Instead, Enver chose to take his headquarters to Eastern Bukhara to convene a congress of the Basmachi there. Vehement but polite objections from the Society's Central Committee did not affect Enver's decision. Togan wrote:

"That day I learned that this person [Enver] was a great idealist, who had not squared himself with events in life, and he had not equipped himself with the geography and the statistics of Turkistan even from the Russian and the European publications. Undoubtedly, he had decided on his actions during the twenty three days he was resident in Bukhara."

Apparently Togan was justified in his advice to Enver, for, the latter was detained by the Emirist forces upon arrival in Eastern Bukhara. Only after Enver had proclaimed himself "Commander of the Islamic Forces and Bukhara, Son-in-Law of the Caliph" etc. and began issuing edicts under those titles he was released from virtual prison. It was ironic that Enver, who had once fought against the Scholasticist Recidivists demanding Shari'a in Istanbul, should collaborate with a similar group, using religious epithets more than a dozen years later and more than a thousand miles away.

The Society decided to stay aloof, and attempted to cope with this fait accompli as best as it could. The Society was receiving the details of Enver's actions through its well ordered intelligence network. The Emirists began taking openly hostile actions against the known members and units of the Society, and even endeavored to enter into separate armistice negotiations with the Bolsheviks. The Society decided to take drastic action, even considered persuading Enver to cross over to Afghanistan by any means. Before action could be taken, Enver, the former Deputy Commander in Chief of the Armies of the Ottoman Empire, was killed in battle with the Russians. He headed a platoon-sized force, sword in hand, and was assaulting a machine-gun position.

After Enver's demise, the split caused by the Emirist ulama was not quick to heal. The Society of Turkistan National Unity continued the armed struggle against the Bolsheviks and began gaining the upper hand. Meanwhile, the Paris Peace Conference ignored Turkistan, her native population and its defenders. Unlike the independent Azerbaijan Republic (1918-1920) Delegation, which was received, if only briefly, at the Paris Peace Conference, the representatives sent to Paris by the Turkistani leadership never received formal recognition. The Turkistan National Movement not only did not receive any outside help, but was continually harassed via India and Persia. Even when the aid to the anti-Bolshevik Wrangel Armies through Crimea (via Istanbul) was being carried out, or Allied and US troops landed in Arkhangelsk to attack the Bolsheviks (1919), the Turkistanis were not even considered as allies. The old "Pan- Turk" and "Pan-Islamic" bogeymen were invoked against them. Perhaps they were still too close to India.


When the Central Committee of the Society of Turkistan National Unity realized that the end of armed struggle portion of their movement was drawing to a close, they took several actions. The first was to smuggle out capable and knowledgeable representatives of their movement, so that they could make the movement known to the world at large. A second action was to continue the political side of the movement, to attempt to save the organization and its members within the Soviet apparatus. Initially, they succeeded in doing both.

Several dozen participants in the armed struggle were smuggled out. Even if those individuals were to stay behind, they could not have been of any help to the Society. They, unlike those who did occupy government and party positions under the Bolsheviks, would have been continually and relentlessly hunted down by Moscow and its security apparatus, thus becoming a liability to the Society. Those who emigrated would serve the cause well outside, mostly from various European capitals. After the Second World War, the US finally decided to take action. Through the American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (based in New York), the Coordinating Center for the Anti- Bolshevik Struggle (Munich) was funded. Even then, the US policymakers and functionaries appeared not to have fully appreciated the Turkistan National Liberation Movement, its implications, goals, methods and organization. The US organizers continually insisted that all the representatives of those nationalities living in the USSR should gather within the Coordinating Center for the Bolshevik Struggle. While the Russian members of that Committee were held to be in charge by the US side, the Turkistani representatives were required to work under the Russians. To the Turkistani representatives, like those of other nationalities, that was unthinkable. But the US organizers either did not understand the issues on the ground, or were not well briefed, despite the well-intentioned efforts of individuals in regular contact with the emigres. The Committee did not prove to be very effectual for obvious reasons. The Moscow based counter-propaganda organizations did not encounter too many difficulties in splitting the Committee, rendering it useless for political purposes.

The second goal, saving the political organization and its membership within the Soviet state, was also accomplished in the short run. The Turkistan SSR was founded with Tashkent as its capital. The Society members were still in charge of the critical offices, or at least had influence over them. The Turkistan SSR, however, was never intended by Moscow to be a permanent division. During 1924, the Turkistan SSR was subdivided into Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkmen Republics. Later subdivisions created the Tajik and the Kirghiz SSRs, carved out of Uzbek and Kazakh SSRs respectively. Even then, the membership of the Society was not eradicated until the full force of Stalinist purges, the Great Terror, had reached Central Asia. Coming after collectivization and the famine caused by the mandatory shift to cotton cultivation, this crushing of the old leadership, which was also the educated elite in society, was the consummate attack on Central Asia, its leaders, and through their deaths, on indigenous culture and historical memory. That was the punishment meted out to Central Asians by Moscow, for wishing to decide their own fates apart from the Bolsheviks.


No comprehensive history of the Turkistan National Liberation Movement exists. There are, however, a number of works dealing with various aspects of the era. Two volumes by Z. V. Togan are among the most important: TURKILI TURKISTAN [TURKISTAN AND ITS RECENT HISTORY] (Istanbul, 1981) 2nd Latin alphabet Edition; idem, HATIRALAR [MEMOIRES] (Istanbul, 1969). These works were originally written during the 1920s, while Togan was heavily involved in organizing the Turkistan National Liberation Movement efforts in Central Asia. Portions of Togan's volumes pertinent to the topic at hand have been extracted and translated into English. See H. B. Paksoy "Basmachi Movement From Within: Memoires of Z. V. Togan," in NATIONALITIES PAPERS, 1993 (forthcoming) --from which the quotations in the text are taken. The late Togan's personal library contains additional notes and unpublished accounts by several significant Korbashi -- such as Hemrah Kul Bek and Mamur Bek-- from which he quotes in his volumes. Those papers are as yet unavailable to researchers.

Togan's reference to the KOROGLU dastan (ornate oral history) is not a passing one. Koroglu is an identifiable historical person who had led a significant socio-political movement. As far as it is documented, the account of Koroglu can be dated at least to the 16th century. The Turkmen, Azeris (both in the USSR and in the present Islamic Republic of Iran) and the Turks of the current Turkish Republic -- all of whom share common ethnic and cultural origins with the rest of the Central Asians - - are well acquainted with KOROGLU. Various fragments of this dastan have been published at least two dozen times since 1930s at various locations. Until recently, the Soviet authorities exerted extraordinary efforts to keep KOROGLU out of print within the USSR domains. However, the Central Asians re-discovered this important work and began issuing it despite official attacks upon it, both in Central Asian dialects and in Russian. Currently the Central Asian scholars are hard at work in the Academies of Sciences of the Kirghiz, Uzbek and Kazakh SSR, documenting the effects of this dastan on the history of Central Asia. A list of already published volumes, almost exclusively in the Central Asian dialects, would be too lengthy to include here. For a discussion of the dastan genre, see the entry in MERSSU. Further, H. B. Paksoy, ALPAMYSH: CENTRAL ASIAN IDENTITY UNDER RUSSIAN RULE (Hartford, CT: Association for the Advancement of Central Asian Research Monograph Series, 1989); idem, "Central Asia's New Dastans" in CENTRAL ASIAN SURVEY, Vol.6., N.1., 1987; idem, "Chora Batir: A Tatar Admonition to Future Generations" STUDIES IN COMPARATIVE COMMUNISM, Vol. XIX, Nos. 3&4, 1986.

Ali Bademci compiled and edited the written and oral memoires of a score of Korbashi, then living in the Turkish Republic, and published under the title TURKISTAN MILLI ISTIKLAL HAREKETI VE ENVER PASA 1917-1934 [NATIONAL LIBERATION MOVEMENT OF TURKISTAN AND ENVER PASHA] (Istanbul, 1975). A quantity of those individual memoires upon which Bademci draws, as he notes, were serialized in periodicals. This volume contains valuable documentation attesting to the comprehensive organization the Basmachi constructed. There are oral reports indicating further memoires are being compiled and edited with a view of publication by others. A partial list of the earlier compiled memoires include: Abdullah Recep Baysun, TURKISTAN MILLI HAREKETLERI (Istanbul, 1943); Mustafa Cokayoglu, 1917 HATIRA PARCALARI (Paris-Berlin, 1937) Husamettin Erturk, IKI DEVRIN PERDE ARKASI (Istanbul, 1969); A. Inan, "1916 Yilindaki Ayaklanma" TURK KULTURU Sayi 12, 1963; Hasan Oraltay, ALAS: TURKISTAN TURKLERININ MILLI PAROLASI (Istanbul, 1973); A. Oktay, "Turkistan Milli Muhtariyet Hukumeti" DERGI Sayi 19, 1964); Ibrahim Yarkin "Muhtar Turkistan ve Alas Orda Hukumetleri ile Basmacilik Hareketleri Hakkinda" TURK KULTURU Sayi 23, 1964; idem, "Turkistanda 1916 Isyani Hakkinda Bazi Bilgiler" TURK KULTURU Sayi 68, 1968. Bademci's volume contains a more detailed listing, including unpublished manuscripts and tape-recorded oral histories of the participants and major events. An English translation of this work would be instructive. Togan's works append full texts of the primary programs of the Turkistan National Unity organization, portions of which may be found in English in H. B. Paksoy, "Basmachi Movement From Within: Memoires of Z. V. Togan." Baymirza Hayit's ESIR TURKLER, Sekip Engineri (Tr.) (Ankara, 1966); idem, TURKISTAN IM XX JAHRHUNDERT (Darmstad, 1956) provide much detail on the Bolshevik countermeasures against the Turkistan National Liberation Movement, along with copies of official orders.

The Soviet organs have issued quite a few books on the "Basmachi," from their own particular perspective. Marie Broxup compiled a bibliography containing 205 entries, the majority of which are such works. See "The Basmachi" CENTRAL ASIAN SURVEY Vol.2, N.1., 1983. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan induced a recent interest in the Turkistan National Liberation Movement and produced additional entries to the bibliography. For preliminary updates, see H. B. Paksoy in the NATIONALITIES PAPERS. See L. Tillett THE GREAT FRIENDSHIP: SOVIET HISTORIANS ON THE NON- RUSSIAN NATIONALITIES (Chapel Hill, 1969) for an overview of "history re-writing" in the Soviet Union, to eradicate the memory of the Turkistan National Liberation Movement. A. Park's BOLSHEVISM IN TURKESTAN 1917-1927 (Columbia, 1957) makes use of large number of Soviet sources on some perspectives of the Movement.

Much has been written on the Eastern Question, from various aspects: H. Seton-Watson THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE 1801-1917 (Oxford, 1967), and for the continuation, R. Pipes FORMATION OF THE SOVIET UNION (Harvard, 1957). They complement each other and may be consulted to acquire a basic outline. The politicians of all involved nations (except the Ottomans, who were much more the target than a player) in the Great Game and the Eastern Question drew upon the knowledge of the most able Orientalists of their times. Russians imported very capable German scholars to initiate such efforts in St. Petersburg. See R. N. Frye "Oriental Studies in Russia" in RUSSIA AND ASIA, Wayne Vucinich (Ed.) (Stanford, 1972).

For the Russians, 1945 was the beginning of the redoubling of their efforts in this field. Currently, the Soviet Institutes and Academies of Sciences are continuing their work at breakneck speed on Oriental Studies. The efforts of the Russians are documented, even in English. For example, see ASIA IN SOVIET STUDIES (Moscow: USSR Academy of Sciences, 1969); FIFTY YEARS OF ORIENTAL STUDIES (Moscow: USSR Academy of Sciences, 1967). Not only had the Russians not forgotten, but, they are keenly aware that they could not afford to, and that their future is tied to the "East." German interest in Central Asian affairs continued well into the Second World War, as the advance units of the Wehrmacht reached Caucasus. See for example Reiner Olzscha and Georg Cleinow, TURKESTAN: DIE POLITISCH-HISTORIEN UND WIRTSCHAFTLICHEN PROBLEME ZENTRALASIENS (Leipzig, 1942).

The "Great Game in Asia" has been studied by E. Ingram: THE BEGINNINGS OF THE GREAT GAME IN ASIA 1828-1834 (Oxford, 1979); idem, COMMITMENT TO EMPIRE: PROPHECIES OF THE GREAT GAME IN ASIA 1797-1800 (Oxford, 1981); idem, IN DEFENSE OF BRITISH INDIA: GREAT BRITAIN IN THE MIDDLE EAST 1775-1842 (London, 1984).

Many Western and Russian authors wrote of "Pan Turanism," ostensibly a movement by Turks to establish hegemony over the world, or at least Eurasia, after its originator Arminius Vambery, in his TRAVELS IN CENTRAL ASIA (London, 1865). See his SKETCHES OF CENTRAL ASIA (London, 1868). See also C. W. Hostler, TURKISM AND THE SOVIETS (London, 1957), and the works cited by him. For documentation on Vambery's being in the pay of the British Government, see M. Kemal Oke "Professor Arminius Vambery and Anglo-Ottoman Relations 1889-1907" BULLETIN OF THE TURKISH STUDIES ASSOCIATION Vol. 9, No. 2., 1985, containing references to documents available in the Public Records Office-London. Among the "scare literature" perpetuating the "threat" of the doctrine itself, is L. Cahun's INTRODUCTION A L'HISTOIRE DE L'ASIE, TURCS, ET MONGOLS, DES ORIGINES A 1405 (Paris, 1896). The SECRET HISTORY OF THE MONGOLS, written c. 1240 A. D., however, notes, quoting Chingis: "Tangri (God) opened the gate and handed us the reins," indicating that Chingis regarded only himself ruling by divine order. See MOGOLLARIN GIZLI TARIHI [SECRET HISTORY OF THE MONGOLS] (A. Temir, Trans.) (Ankara, 1948).

Another well-known representative sample is A MANUAL ON THE TURANIANS AND PAN-TURANIANISM (H. M. Government, Naval Staff Intelligence Department: Oxford, November 1918), a work that was based on Vambery's TURKENVOLK (Leipzig, 1885). It was compiled by Sir Denison Ross, as Sir Denison later personally informed Togan. On this work, see Togan's comments in TURKILI. Earlier, writing under the pseudonym "Tekin Alp," Moiz Cohen wrote TURAN (Istanbul, 1914) had added fuel to the fire, when it appeared in German under the title TURKISMUS UND PANTURKISMUS (Weimar, 1915). It was secretly translated into English by the British Admiralty, and heightened the "Pan-Turanian phobia." That English translation THE TURKISH AND PAN-TURKISH IDEAL (London: Admiralty War Staff, Intelligence Division, 1917) was originally classified "secret," for use only within H.M. government, and is still rather difficult to see a copy of it even in the 1980s. See also J. M. Landau, PAN-TURKISM IN TURKEY: A STUDY OF IRREDENTISM (London, 1981). Landau's book is primarily concerned with the emigre aspects of "pan-Turkism."

Many studies have been made of the so-called language reforms in the USSR. Among others, see especially Z. V. Togan, TURKILI TURKISTAN; Stefan Wurm, TURKIC PEOPLES OF THE USSR: THEIR HISTORICAL BACKGROUND, THEIR LANGUAGE, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF SOVIET LINGUISTIC POLICY (Oxford, 1954); idem, THE TURKIC LANGUAGES OF CENTRAL ASIA: PROBLEMS of Planned Culture Contact (Oxford, 1954).

A biography of Enver was written by Sevket Sureyya Aydemir under the title MAKEDONYA'DAN ORTA ASYA'YA ENVER PASHA [ENVER PASHA FROM MACEDONIA TO CENTRAL ASIA] (3 vols) (Istanbul, 1970- 1972). Enver left an autobiography. It was utilized by Aydemir. There is a German translation of Enver's autobiography, located in the Sterling Library of the Yale University -- also noted by Glen Swanson "Enver Pasha: The Formative Years" MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, Vol.16, N.3., October 1980. Azade-Ayse Rorlich provides a further view of Enver in her "Fellow Travelers: Enver Pasha and the Bolshevik Government 1918-1920" in the JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY FOR ASIAN AFFAIRS, Vol. XIII (Old Series Vol 69), Part III, October 1982. Close colleagues and classmates of Enver from the Ottoman Military academy left memoires in which Enver is featured prominently. Among those, Marshal Fevzi Cakmak, General Kazim Karabekir, Ismet Inonu and Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) are notable. Approximately half of those were written at the height of Enver's success and powers.

About the Recidivist Movement of 31 March 1909, Sina Aksin's 31 MART OLAYI (Ankara, 1970) is a good compilation from primary and secondary sources. THE YOUNG TURKS: PRELUDE TO THE REVOLUTION OF 1908 (Beirut, 1965) by Ernest E. Ramsaur, Jr. contains an extensive bibliography as well as an overview of the indicated period, and the "Young Ottomans." On Jamal Ad-Din al-Afghani, see, inter alia, H. A. R. Gibb, MODERN TRENDS IN ISLAM (Chicago, 1947). A comprehensive "Pan-Islam" bibliography would prove to be a long-term undertaking in itself. See Nikki Keddie, SAYYID JAMAL AD-DIN "AL-AFGHANI:" A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY, (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1972).