In the 19th century, the Emirate of Bukhara was one of three independent Uzbek principalities known as khanates. Ruled by the Manghit amīrs, Bukhara was the biggest and most important of the southern Central Asian polities and one of the major power centers in the wider region. To the readers of 19th-century European travelogues, Bukhara was known for the despotism of its rulers notorious for their cruelty and strange tastes. From a geopolitical point of view, the Bukharan Emirate was part of an anarchic transition space between Central and South Asia made up of half a dozen petty principalities without centralized power structures. While the bulk of the 19th- and 20th-century secondary sources stress the despotism of its amīrs and its isolation in view of the declining caravan trade on the Central Asian caravan routes, Bukhara and other urban centers such as Samarqand and Qarshi were embedded in transregional religious and trading networks. As a crossroads of commerce and an important religious center, Bukhara in particular and other Transoxanian towns as well attracted flows of goods and people from all directions and was well connected to other places and areas such as Siberia, China, India, and Persia. In the second half of the 19th century, the Emirate of Bukhara and its neighbors north of the Āmū Daryā River came into the focus of Russia. After a series of military defeats in 1868, Bukhara was turned into a Russian protectorate, which finally became a People’s Republic after the Bolshevik conquest in 1920. This political entity was absorbed into the emerging Soviet Union in 1924.
Pre-modern Central Asia saw a lot of violence and wars that had religious underpinnings or originated from genealogical claims. The colonial and Soviet reforms brought about reconsideration of cultural diversity in the logic of ethnic division. In the 20th century, reference to ethnicity became the main language of spontaneous violence escalation and explanation. With the weakening of Soviet rule, the region saw a series of heated conflicts. The most massive of them were the 1989 pogroms against Meskhi Turks in Uzbekistan and the 1990 clashes in Kyrgyzstan that took the shape of ethnic confrontation between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority. Lesser disturbances also emerged in the borderlands and in mixed-ethnicity villages.
After the collapse of the USSR, the 1990s saw an increase in social and religious violence in Central Asia. However, despite the violence being different in character, Central Asia had already gained a reputation of a very conflict-ridden region precisely in the ethnic sense. Many experts and politicians listed manifold potential ethnic conflicts about to break out in the region. In 2010, one of these predictions came true in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where a clash erupted between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. These expert assessments were also borne out by occasional conflicts over land and water arising between communities that live in the border areas.
Nevertheless, the label of ethnic conflict does not always explain the reasons for violence. The conflicts in Central Asia arise and develop as a variety of local actions, which have different sequences, logic, and motivation. These actions are performed by very different agents—people, groups, and institutes that have their own interests and dispositions. Social and political slogans sound during the events, while the line of confrontation lies between local communities and particular groups of people, not between “nations” or “ethnic groups.” The label of ethnic conflict simplifies all these entanglements; there is usually a political interest or a certain intellectual tradition behind it, which essentializes and historicizes the reasons for aggression.
The Ismailis are one of the largest Muslim minority populations of Central Asia, and they make up the second largest Shiʿi Muslim community globally. First emerging in the second half of the 8th century, the Ismaili missionary movement spread into many areas of the Islamic world in the 10th century, under the leadership of the Ismaili Fatimids caliphs in Egypt. The movement achieved astounding success in Central Asia in the 10th century, when many of the political and cultural elites of the region were converted. However, a series of repressions over the following century led to its almost complete disappearance from the metropolitan centers of Central Asia. The movement later re-emerged in the mountainous Badakhshan region of Central Asia (which encompasses the territories of present-day eastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan), where it was introduced by the renowned 11th-century Persian poet, philosopher, and Ismaili missionary Nasir-i Khusraw. Over the following centuries the Ismaili movement expanded among the populations of Badakhshan, reaching a population of over 200,000 in the 21st century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ismailis suffered a series of severe repressions, first under local Sunni Muslim rulers and later under the antireligious policies of the Soviet Union. However, in the decades since the end of the Soviet period, the Ismailis of the region have become increasingly connected with the global Ismaili community and its leadership. While many aspects of the history of Ismailism in the Badakhshan region remain obscure and unexplored, the discoveries of significant corpuses of manuscripts in private collections since the 1990s in the Badakhshan region have opened up wide possibilities for future research.
The Khojas of Kashgar name a Sufi lineage, which became a ruling dynasty in eastern Turkestan or present-day Xinjiang in western China. Founded by the Samarkandi spiritual master Ahmad Kāsānī (d. 1542), a member of the Naqshbandiyya Sufi order strongly implicated in politics, the lineage divided into two competing branches, one led by Ishāq Khoja (d. 1599) and the other by Āfāq Khoja (d. 1694). Both leaders were influential at the court in Yarkand and engaged in frequent proselytizing missions among Turkic, Mongol, Tibetan, and Chinese populations. Yet, only Āfāq Khoja and his group of followers, the Āfāqiyya, with the support of Zunghar Mongols, created a kind of theocracy whose religious capital was Kashgar, and which was based on Sufi organization, practice, and ideology. Venerated as Sufi saints (īshān), the Khojas embodied a politico-religious form of Islamic sanctity (walāya) while promoting a doctrine of mystical renunciation. Paradoxically, although the regime did not survive internecine conflicts and the Qing conquest in 1759, the Khojas of Kashgar, including the Ishāqiyya sublineage, continued to be very active in the long run. They conducted insurrections throughout the Tarim basin and created short-lived enclaves until their complete neutralization in 1866 with the forced exile of the last great Khoja, Buzurg Khān Töre (d. 1869). In Xinjiang, the Khojas have remained venerated figures of the past until now, although collective memory kept a contradictory picture of them, oscillating between holy heroes and feudal oppressors. Descendants of the exiled Khojas in eastern Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan formed communities that still preserve relics and oral as well as written traditions.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.
Modern Armenia emerged in 1918 when the Republic of Armenia was established as a sovereign state after centuries of foreign rule. However, the republic hardly survived the calamitous consequences of war. Moreover, thousands of Armenian refugees generated by the genocidal policies of the Young Turk regime ruling in Constantinople arrived in the republic. The new government lacked the resources necessary for a functioning economy and polity, and the unfolding military conflicts led to its demise and sovietization after the Bolsheviks consolidated power in Yerevan in 1921. The communist regime established a dictatorial system in Soviet Armenia, as it did across the Soviet Union; the most severe brutalities were experienced under Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. Despite the political difficulties, Soviet Armenia was an economic success in the long term, as the government under Stalin forced industrialization and urbanization. Armenians also benefited from the cultural developments of the 1950s and 1960s, stemming largely from Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s reform-oriented policies. By the 1970s, however, under the new premier, Leonid Brezhnev, Armenia’s economy had grown stagnant, and in the early 1980s, his successors, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, failed to ameliorate Armenia’s economic conditions, at which time the Soviet regime began to experience a political legitimacy crisis. In the meantime, nationalism emerged as a powerful force across the Soviet Union, and calls for secession from Moscow grew louder among the Soviet satellite nations. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s experimentation with perestroika and glasnost failed to reverse the loss of legitimacy, a situation further exacerbated in Soviet Armenia in the aftermath of the December 1988 earthquake and the escalating military conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh.
The Soviet regime finally collapsed in 1991, creating an opportunity for a second declaration of independence for Armenian sovereign statehood. While independence from the Soviet Union energized the Armenian people and gave rise to expectations concerning their economic and political well-being in post-Soviet Armenia, the country became mired in the twin crises of recovering from the earthquake and surviving a war with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was supported by Turkey, which imposed a blockade on Armenia. Since its independence, the Republic of Armenia, under the leadership of three presidents—Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Robert Kocharyan, and Serge Sargsyan—has struggled to develop its economy and infrastructure and to address its chronic problems of poverty and unemployment. The country lacks the economic and financial ingredients necessary to develop a modern, competitive productive basis for competition in global markets. Systemic corruption has obstructed efforts to improve the situation. In addition, various government agencies have engaged in violations of human rights. Efforts by nascent civil society to advance civil and political rights and democratization in general have been undermined by state policies, including gross violations of citizens’ right in time of elections. The experiences gained after 25 years of independence offer little hope for democratization and economic development.
The Uyghurs comprise a Turkic-speaking and predominantly Muslim nationality of China, with communities living in the independent republics of Central Asia that date to the 19th century, and now a global diaspora. As in the case of many national histories, the consolidation of a Uyghur nation was an early 20th-century innovation, which appropriated and revived the legacy of an earlier Uyghur people in Central Asia. This imagined past was grounded in the history of a Uyghur nomadic state and its successor principalities in Gansu and the Hami-Turfan region (known to Islamic geographers as “Uyghuristan”). From the late 19th century onward, the scholarly rediscovery of a Uyghur past in Central Asia presented an attractive civilizational narrative to Muslim intellectuals across Eurasia who were interested in forms of “Turkist” racial thinking. During the First World War, Muslim émigrés from Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan) living in Russian territory laid claim to the Uyghur legacy as part of their communal genealogy. This group of budding “Uyghurists” then took advantage of conditions created by the Russian Revolution, particularly in the 1920s, to effect a radical redefinition of the community. In the wake of 1917, Uyghurist discourse was first mobilized as a cultural rallying point for all Muslims with links to China; it was then refracted through the lens of Soviet nationalities policy and made to conform with the Stalinist template of the nation. From Soviet territory, the newly refined idea of a Uyghur nation was exported to Xinjiang through official and unofficial conduits, and in the 1930s the Uyghur identity of Xinjiang’s Muslim majority was given state recognition. Since then, Uyghur nationhood has been a pillar of Beijing’s minzu system but has also provided grounds for opposition to Beijing’s policies, which many Uyghurs feel have failed to realize the rights that should accord to them as an Uyghur nation.