Evelyn Roy

The Revolution in Central Asia—The Struggle for Power in Holy Bokhara, pt. I

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 6, July 1924, No. 7, pp. 403-410.
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

There are two aspects of the Bokharan Revolution of 1920 which resulted in the declaration of a People’s Soviet Republic—one is national, the other international. It is the latter which makes this event significant for the man in the street, who in all probability has never heard of Bokhara the Holy, except as a name for expensive rugs adorning the houses of the rich; nor of its Amir, once rejoicing in the title of “Commander of the Faithful,” and venerated by the Moslems of lands other than his own as second in sanctity only to the one-time Caliph of Constantinople. Had it not been for the immense international significance of this national revolution in Bokhara, the latter might have occurred in 1917 instead of 1920, almost simultaneously with that of the November Revolution in Russia, and might have accomplished its purpose with very little fighting or bloodshed, and almost no loss of life—for the whole population of Bokhara, except for the thin upper strata of corrupt nobles and clergy surrounding the court of the Amir, were unanimous in their desire for freedom.

Unfortunately, however, for the Young Bokharans who formed the vanguard of the revolutionary people, and for the oppressed and exploited masses who aspired to emancipation from their earthly miseries more ardently than for the promised delights of Mohammed’s Paradise, the enslavement of Turkesthan had proved essential to the interests of two of the world’s Great Powers whose rival imperialism had come face to face in Central Asia. One after another, all the five Khanates of Turkesthan—Tashkent, Khokand, Bokhara, Merv and Khiva—had surrendered their sovereignty to the advancing armies of the Russian Tsar in their projected march on India; while from the south and east, the outposts of British Imperialism responded to this advance by the rape of Baluchisthan and the subvention of Afghanisthan and Persia. The disintegration of Russian Imperialism by internal revolution brought about a momentary cessation of this struggle for power in Central Asia—a struggle destined to recommence again almost immediately when the contagion of revolutionary ideas spread eastward as well as westward, and the desire for national freedom on the part of native populations long suppressed saw at last an opportunity to express itself.

The Russian Revolution of November, 1917, with its proclamation to the various peoples and races that went to make up the former Russian Empire that henceforth they would enjoy equality and sovereignty, with the right of free self-determination, met with an immediate response on the part of all the Russian Asiatic dependencies which had groaned under Tsarist tutelage, and had tried vainly through their several revolutionary parties to win a modicum of freedom from the tyrannous exactions of the Khans and Mullahs (kings and priests) who were backed up by the Imperial armies of the former Russian state. From March to November of 1917, the months that separated the bourgeois republic of Kerensky from the rise of the Bolsheviks to power, these nationalist revolutionary movements in the Central Asiatic provinces gained more and more headway, though still controlled by the old machinery of repression. The victory of the Second Revolution in European Russia was followed almost immediately by the declaration of a Soviet Republic from Tashkent, the capital of Turkesthan. What had been the very heart of patriarchal autocracy became threatened by an inundation of the reddest of revolutionary ideas. The disintegration of Tsardom spelt the ultimate collapse of the Khanates and Emirates of Central Asia, with all their centuries of incalculable corruption, oppression and vice. The advance of the victorious revolution threatened to undermine the feudal monarchies of Persia and Afghanisthan. With a whole ancient world tottering to its fall, the revolution with its message of emancipation would be carried to the very gates of India! British Imperialism, the triumphant survivor of its once deadly rival, felt itself newly menaced, and henceforth became the most inveterate foe of the Revolution in Central Asia—became the backbone and foundation of the counterrevolution.

Those who read the daily papers without pausing to consider the hidden meaning of nine-tenths of what is published as mere “news,” may remember having seen published in the world Press in June of 1923 an “Appeal from the Amir of Bokhara” against Bolshevik oppression, addressed to the governments of Great Britain, Japan, China, the United States, Turkey, Persia and to the League of Nations. This “Appeal” was given unusual prominence in most of the great London organs of capitalist opinion, and leading articles were written to add weight to the document itself, which aimed to expose Bolshevik barbarities in Central Asia. The cause of the victimised Amir was warmly espoused by these worthies—just as recently that of the deposed Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid and of his successor, the ex-Caliph of Islam, Abdul Mejid, has been similarly defended against the energetic action of the Angora Government. When the European Press begins with such unanimity to defend a lost cause so ardently, it is well to look below the surface and try to discover the reason thereof. The “Appeal” set forth in extremely vivid and picturesque language the “low and abominable character” of Bolshevik policy in Central Asia, which had abolished the independent governments of the Bashkirs and the Usbecks, “flooding the entire country with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Mussulmans”—“the Red Army bought and sold each others’ wives and daughters, scoffing at the tears of their victims.” The culmination of this devastation and oppression of Turkesthan by the Bolshevik forces was reached in the bombardment of Bokhara, whereby “one-third of the population was lost, mosques destroyed, the inhabitants (including the Amir) forced to flee and a government organised, calling itself the Independent Republic of Bokhara.”

Such in brief is the context of this pathetic appeal to the civilised world to come to the rescue of the deposed Commander of the Faithful, so iniquitously robbed of his throne and driven forth from his kingdom. The world, particularly the Mussulman world, may have felt some acute twinges of indignation at this fresh instance of Bolshevik enormities, but, oddly enough, the League of Nations did not equip and send forth a band of holy crusaders to do battle in the cause of righteousness, and the Amir remains in exile in the court of his brother-potentate, the Amir of Afghanisthan, who kindly gave him shelter. The Bokharan People’s Soviet Republic remains in power and continues to maintain the closest relations with the. Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, to which it is federated. Nearly a year has rolled by since the launching of that forgotten Appeal, and though recent items in the world Press would have us believe that a new attempt is being made on the part of Russian White Guards and native bandits to upset the status quo in Central Asia, we may take it that this is but another indication of the fact that the struggle for power in that remote but important region of the earth is not yet ended, and that in spite of reports to the contrary, the Bolsheviks are holding their own.

So much having been said on the international aspect of the Bokharan Revolution, a few facts may be cited which throw new light on the national side of the struggle, which resulted in the establishment of a republic in 1920. What were the conditions that led up to this revolt, and how came it to be successful in the end?

The Bokharan Revolutionary movement had existed since the end of the nineteenth century, as a natural result of the intolerable conditions which prevailed under the combined oppression of the Russian and Bokharan autocracies. Open rebellion had been prevented by the armies of the Tsar, which were placed at the disposal of the Amir. The government of the latter, nominally independent, was in reality a protectorate of Russia, which kept a Resident Agent there to exercise control. Railways and telegraphs, built by the Tsar’s government, were entirely controlled by the latter, and Russian garrisons maintained respect for the real power behind the Amir’s throne. This theocratic potentate, regarded by the Moslems of Central Asia and neighbouring countries as the embodiment of powers not only earthly, but divine, was held in superstitious veneration by the Moslem world, and the fame of Bokhara el Sharif as a centre of Islamic culture attracted pilgrims and students from all the Mussulman countries. Such international prestige in no way lightened the burden which official robbery, corruption and vice imposed upon the Amir’s immediate subjects. This despot regarded Bokhara as his own personal estate, and the government income, wrung from the labour of the people, as his pocket-money. Over one-half the national income was given over forthwith to himself and the Mullahs and Begs (clergy and nobles). The wealth extracted from the miserable populace was squandered in the licentious pleasures of the court and harem, and in maintaining the dignity of the Amir in neighbouring capitals. One of his pleasure-palaces in the Russian Caucasus has now been turned into a rest-house for convalescent workers, who to-day enjoy the luxury which was wrung from the sweat and blood of the Bokharan peasant and handicraftsman. It is one of the minor conquests of the Russian Revolution.

Political suppression naturally accompanied these economic exactions, which were a constant provocation to revolt on the part of the masses. The Amir’s power was absolute; the rights of the people nil. Those who were brave or rash enough to urge for reform were either imprisoned, tortured and executed or massacred outright. These patriarcho-feudal rights of the Bokharan ruler were protected by the rifles of the Tsar, and the fact that he was a mere puppet of the Russian autocracy increased the hatred of his own people against him. This feeling was shared even by some of the younger priests, drawn from the ranks of the people. Large numbers of Mullahs joined the Bokharan secret revolutionary organisations, one Mullah Ikram being a prominent leader. The Shiahite massacre of 1909, directed against the Bokharan Government for giving the biggest posts to the Shiah sect of Moslems, and repressed by the Tsarist troops, was organised by another priest, Mullah Bachi. But the real centre of discontent lay in the exploited peasant masses, whom exorbitant taxation has reduced to the direst poverty. Not a year passed by without its peasant riot or rebellion, put down with the utmost cruelty.

There was little opportunity for a strictly nationalist movement to develop in a country where no chance was given for a native bourgeoisie to evolve. Russian capital ruled uncontrolled, enjoying every guarantee, while native capital had none. After the construction of the Trans-Caspian Railway, an immense trade developed between Central Asia and Batoum on the Black Sea, to which a branch railway ran, connecting it with the Trans-Caspian. For one hundred and fifty miles, this Central Asian railway line traverses the territory of Bokhara, resulting in a great stimulation of trade. A certain number of Bokharan intelligentsia, educated in Russia and imbibing the ideas of the revolutionary movement there, constituted the nucleus of the Young Bokharan Party, which together with the discontented elements among the priests and trading class agitated for the granting of constitutional rights and the limitation of the power of the Amir. After the Russian Revolution of 1905, which had its echoes in Bokhara as well, all the revolutionary parties and factions united into one central organisation known henceforth as Mlada Bukharsi.

(To be concluded)



(Translation from the original)

In the name of God Powerful and Almighty, I, the humble Mahmed Taghi-Beg, son of the Premier of the Government of Bokhara, have prepared myself for the solving of the Peace of Bokhara, Amir-Ali-Khan, Shadow of God, who was compelled because of the aggression of the Russian and Bokharan Bolshevist Parties, to leave the country and flee to Afghanisthan, and who is at present under the protection and surveillance of the Afghan Government. Also in the name of all Moslems; of the Court of the Islamic nobility of those localities, and of the merchants and landowners and individuals of Bokharan nationality, for the regaining of our Holy Lands, we conclude a semi-official Treaty with the Military Attaché Consul-General of the great State of England, plenipotentiary to Meshed, which is one of the regions of Persia.

In every way, before beginning the struggle for the conquest of Bokhara and the liberation of these territories from the hands of the Russian and Bokharan revolutionaries, to acquire and strengthen the friendship, to begin a review in the Council of the Holy National Assembly (may Allah be pleased), and also in International Conferences, after raising the question of the defence of the defeated rights of the weak Bokharan nation, and of liberating its dear lands from the hands of the conquerors and enrolling it as one of the defenceless States of the world. And also a request on the part of the defenceless Bokhara to the Council of the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers of the great ruler of England, that through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to demand one representative from Bokhara, in order to receive a voice at International Conferences.

In order that, at the sessions of the Court of the English State and for the discussion of any questions pertaining to the Bokharan nation, and for reports at the Conferences of other Powers—we present one semi-official Treaty, in order to rise for the conquest of the State of Bokhara; and the Bokharan nation preparing itself to move into Bokhara, and after attaining its aims, the nation of Bokhara is ready to support all plans and wishes of the English Government with regard to Turkesthan, and to render moral, material and armed assistance and, like other nations, to submit completely to (national?) orders of the great State. And the other condition is, that all expenditures during the time of war must be made by England, upon the condition that one of the true representatives of Bokhara should enter this Commission.

(1) The Government of Bokhara will accept all expenses necessary for the liberation of Bokhara from the hands of the Bolsheviks from the Official Commission empowered by the English Government.

(2) For all expenses, the Government of Bokhara is ready to give away to the English any choice place, without discussion, for use for an indefinite time.

(3) The Government of Bokhara is ready, during the time of the reconquest of Bokhara and her liberation from the hands of the Russians, to accept all orders and counsels, without any refusals, up to the time of final peace in Bokhara.

(4) I, Mahmed-Taghi-Beg, son of the Prime Minister of Bokhara, have the plenary power to conclude such a semi-official Treaty with the British representative in Meshed, and ask among other things, that the English Government enter into negotiations with Afghanisthan and first receive permission for his departure, and in case of failure to receive this permission, then the support of the English Government for the nation of Bokhara must pass either through the son of the Amir of Bokhara, or with the aid of some members of the Court of these localities.

(5) The Government of Great Britain knows that during the stay of the Russians in Turkesthan, they had been the cause of the war, and having semi-officially taken away Samarcand from the Amir of Bokhara at the time of the conclusion of the Treaty between Russia and Bokhara, Samarcand was included by the Russians in their territory, and Katta-Kurgan declared as the boundary of the State. Consequently, after the reconquest, Samarcand should be as before included in the territory of the State of Bokhara.

(6) The Government of Bokhara is ready to accept all expenses incurred by the English, with expenses for all kinds of wars and military armaments up to the conquest of the territories of Bokhara and Samarcand, upon presentation of a bill by aforesaid Commission.

(7) The Government of Bokhara takes upon itself the obligation, after the reconquest of Bokhara, during thirty years to leave the military rule of the British, and after thirty years, the military chiefs and commanders shall be British, while all armies shall be composed of the nationals of Bokhara.

(8) The Government of Bokhara pledges itself, after concluding the Treaty with England, to make no treaties with any one else, except in case when the English give their permission.

(9) The Government of Bokhara is ready to cease all friendship with the Afghans and Persians and Turks and Khivans and to be exclusively under the control of the Government of Great Britain.

(10) The Government of Bokhara pledges itself not to bring its wares on the European market and not to trade in them, without the permission of the English.

(11) The Government of Bokhara is ready to transfer the telegraph, posts customs, and internal and external transit into the hands of British supervisors. Telegraph, post and customs will be in English hands.

(12) The Government of Bokhara will leave up to a certain time, to the plenipotentiaries of England, all ministerial institutions for the carrying out of order inside and outside the country.

(13) The Government of Bokhara undertakes the obligation to receive no representative of Russia or any other European power or of other governments in general, without the permission of England.

(14) The Government of Bokhara will send the best sons of the nation nowhere else but to England for study, and all the students of Bokhara in Great Britain will be cared for in moral and material way, by the British.

(15) The Government of Bokhara presents to Great Britain all internal revenues arising from mines, subsoil, and running rivers from which profits can arise.

(16) The Government of Bokhara may circulate no money out of the British coins, excepting that part of the gold which will be placed in the Bank of Bokhara under the control of the internal Government.

(17) The Government of Bokhara buys in England the machinery for the erection and running of factories; in some cases where it will be to a greater advantage, it has the right to purchase them from other governments.

(18) The Government of Bokhara will receive and bring over military equipment for a time from England, but later, upon the decision of the Government, may erect in its country factories for war-supplies, without prohibition by Great Britain.

These eighteen points, in the semi-official form of a Treaty, are concluded between the Governments with the aid of the Major Attaché of the Consulate of the Government of Great Britain in Meshed. The nation and the Government of Bokhara hope that England will pay some attention, if only for the sake of friendship, and in a brief time before the International Conference will make clear that it supports the Government of Bokhara and will remove this pernicious Russian force and liberate our defenceless and unhappy nation.

And if England should find some deficiencies contained in the eighteen points of this Treaty, the Government of Bokhara promises to accept all propositions of the National Assembly. Also, if in this Treaty contained in these eighteen points, which is presented to the Consul-General and to the Major-Attaché, the Government of Bokhara or the Bokharan nation should desire to introduce some changes, Great Britain shall, without taking offence change the Treaty and replace the disputed paragraphs.

I, on my side, Mahmed-Taghi-Beg, son of Bashi-Beg, the Prime Minister of Bokhara, conclude with the permission of Amir-Ali-Khan ,as well as in the name of the entire nation of Bokhara, this Treaty in Meshed with the Consul General and the Major-Attaché of the British Government for the friendship of the two States, in the hope that what shall be necessary will be done to achieve the liberation of Bokhara.

If this Treaty should have deficiencies, let know, in order to change it.


Khed. . . . (Signatures of copyists, translators, &c.)
Year 1341 (Arabian style)
Month Djanzadnal Akhir.



1.  When the existence of this agreement was announced in the Isveztia, in June of last year, the British Foreign Office issued the following official statement: “There is not the least foundation for a statement published in Moscow that Great Britain has concluded an agreement with the anti-Soviet Emirs of Turkesthan by which she would accept a protectorate in that region.” There is, however, no question as to the authenticity of the document published above, which was signed in December, 1922, by Mr. Prideaux, as representative of the British Consul. The India Office may, however, have refused to ratify the Treaty.—EDITOR, THE LABOUR MONTHLY.