Copyright © 2011 Toletha Dixon
The rebellion started in the summer of 1916, when the Russian Empire government ended its exemption of Muslims from military service; under these circumstances, Central Asians rose in a general uprising against Russian rule. The confiscation of grazing land by the Tsarist authorities already had created animosity among the indigenous populations. The uprising resulted in a series of clashes and in massacres committed by both sides.
Emerging in the first half of the 20th century as a military, political and religious movement to fight Soviet rule established by the Bolsheviks, the revolt was accompanied by armed mutinies, terrorist acts, hostage taking, sabotage, subversive actions, blackmails, advocating of ultra-radical ideas and other weapons from the extremist arsenal. The war lasted over 16 years.
The nationalization of land which had begun in 1918 was also an important factor in the origins of the uprising. The tactics of expropriating land plots and of irrigation and drainage networks from large owners and the mass slaughter of livestock, forced collectivization, abolition of private trade, brutalities in requisitioning farm products and many other things devastated the region of Turkestan, and embittered the population of Semirechye (Seven Rivers area), the Kara-Kum, the Moyunkum Steppe, the Fergana Valley, Tien Shan, Pamir-Alay and other areas. By the spring of 1919, 1,200,000 people in the area was starving.
What I saw during that time was the worst thing a nine years old boy should not have to see...
I held my three years old sister's hand as I watched her slowly slip away as the blade from a Basmachi's sword lays stuck in her back. She had been stabbed in my mother's arm as the Basmachi's tried taking my mother for captive. I had hidden myself, but witness it all. And now I cry, angry at myself for not trying to be the man my father always taught me to be. If only she could hurry and die.
Adliyah opened her little eyes and looked up at me. I could hear the Basmachi's over the hills heading in our direction. I was afraid to pick her up and all I could do was cry and rub her hair. She then took a deep breath and closed her eyes. I did not want to leave her, but I knew I had to get to more Uzbekistanians. The gun shots around me got louder and I took off away from little sister.
As I ran, I refused to turn around. I did not want to see how close they were to me, and I did not want to see my Adliyah's body left all alone. I could see a group of Uzbekistan farmers far and began running towards them but fear stopped me at my track. Backing up slowly, I hid behind a group of large rocks because I knew that they were workers for the Basmachis. Urine poured down my legs as I could hear them coming from all sides. If my father was here, he would tell me to tough it up and quit crying. If only my Father was here.
Omeed, he named me. After his father who died a few months back of starvation, right after my father who had died from a berdan rifle. By the time I was three, my father had began to teach me to use a luger he was able to steal while the Russians and the Basmachis were busy at each other's throat. We were stuck in the middle of a war. Although my mother disagreed with my father's strategy, he relied on her with no say in the matter. He trained me day and night until my little fingers bleed and my lungs filled with black smoke. My father protected his family, but I had failed to take his place after his passing, my mother, now a slave, and my sister dead.
The period of the Arrival of the Russians was one of weakness and disruption, with continual invasions from Iran and from the north. In this period, a new group, the Russians, began to appear on the Central Asian scene. As Russian merchants began to expand into the grasslands of present-day Kazakstan, they built strong trade relations with their counterparts in Tashkent and, to some extent, in Khiva. For the Russians, this trade was not rich enough to replace the former transcontinental trade, but it made the Russians aware of the potential of Central Asia. Russian attention also was drawn by the sale of increasingly large numbers of Russian slaves to the Central Asians by Kazak and Turkmen tribes. Russians kidnapped by nomads in the border regions and Russian sailors shipwrecked on the shores of the Caspian Sea usually ended in the slave markets of Bukhoro or Khiva.
Beginning in the eighteenth century, this situation evoked increasing Russian hostility toward the Central Asian khanates. And now, I am stuck right in the middle of it. The Russians and the Basmachi's were heading right towards one another.
I could hear the beat of their horse's hoof, my heart in rhythm with them. The strength of their yells gripped my ear with agony as I lay on my stomach to hide from the skirmish that was about to begun. As blades met, and guns blast, the ground beneath me vibrated and nearly threw me into the crowd. I was now in the open; vulnerable to death. I held my breath held myself in the fetal position hoping that I could somehow hide myself, and somehow, I was a near pebble compared to the major uprising centered in the Ferghana Valley.
I could hear the Russian planes over my head. The engines were so loud, they seemed to have touched my ears. I clutched onto the gun my father had once given me but I knew I would not use it. I began to remember my family, my little sister the most; remembering her smiles when she was happy, remembering her tears when she was dying. I was all alone in a puddle of blood of detestation. My heart beating fast, my mouth no longer wet and my stomach began to ache. A light shined before me and I reached out to it. As it came closer, the darkness behind me went farther closing in as a small, black ball. The light than surrounded me and I could hear Adliyah's laughter as I could no longer hear the war.
The Soviet campaign against the Basmachi was largely successful by 1924, although some groups remained active in mountainous border regions near Afghanistan and conducted a guerrilla war until the early 1930s. The Basmachi uprising had died out in most parts of Central Asia by 1926. The Soviets benefited from a better armed and more disciplined military force; they also learned to deploy Tatar and Central Asian soldiers so the army would not appear solely Russian. Two prominent commanders, Faizal Maksum and Ibrahim Bay, continued to operate out of Afghanistan and conducted several raids into the Soviet republic of Tajikistan in 1929. Concessions encouraged defections from Basmachi ranks: The Soviets co-opted Central Asians into state institutions, reopened closed markets, Promised Land reform, granted food and tax relief, relaxed anti-Islamic measures, and generally promoted the return of stability and prosperity under the New Economic Policy reforms. Eventually, Russian cultivation of good relations with Afghanistan denied the Basmachis a cross-border refuge. The movement then largely died out. In Kyrgyzstan, the last strongholds of the Basmachi were destroyed by 1934.
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