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© Royal Society for Asian Affairs

1718 - 1895

Russian conquest of Central Asia


The partially successful conquest of Central Asia by the Russian Empire took place in the second half of the nineteenth century. The land that became Russian Turkestan and later Soviet Central Asia is now divided between Kazakhstan in the north, Uzbekistan across the center, Kyrgyzstan in the east, Tajikistan in the southeast, and Turkmenistan in the southwest. The area was called Turkestan because most of its inhabitants spoke Turkic languages with the exception of Tajikistan, which speaks an Iranian language.


Russian conquest of Central Asia Timeline




1556 Jan 1

Prologue

Orenburg, Russia

Prologue


In 1556 Russia conquered the Astrakhan Khanate on the north shore of the Caspian Sea. The surrounding area was held by the Nogai Horde.To the east of the Nogais were the Kazakhs and to the north, between the Volga and Urals, were the Bashkirs. Around this time some free Cossacks had established themselves on the Ural River. In 1602 they captured Konye-Urgench in Khivan territory. Returning laden with loot they were surrounded by the Khivans and slaughtered. A second expedition lost its way in the snow, starved, and the few survivors were enslaved by the Khivans. There seems to have been a third expedition which is ill-documented.


At the time of Peter the Great there was a major push southeast. In addition to the Irtysh expeditions above there was the disastrous 1717 attempt to conquer Khiva. Following the Russo-Persian War (1722–1723) Russia briefly occupied the west side of the Caspian Sea.


About 1734 another move was planned, which provoked the Bashkir War (1735–1740). Once Bashkiria was pacified, Russia's southeastern frontier was the Orenburg line roughly between the Urals and the Caspian Sea.


The Siberian line: By the late eighteenth century Russia held a line of forts roughly along the current Kazakhstan border, which is approximately the boundary between forest and steppe. For reference these forts (and foundation dates) were:


Guryev (1645), Uralsk (1613), Orenburg (1743), Orsk (1735). Troitsk (1743), Petropavlovsk (1753), Omsk (1716), Pavlodar (1720), Semipalitinsk (1718) Ust-Kamenogorsk (1720).


Uralsk was an old settlement of free Cossacks. Orenburg, Orsk and Troitsk were founded as a result of the Bashkir War about 1740 and this section was called the Orenburg line. Orenburg was long the base from which Russia watched and tried to control the Kazakh steppe. The four eastern forts were along the Irtysh River. After China conquered Xinjiang in 1759 both empires had a few border posts near the current border.


1718 Jan 1 - 1847

Gaining control of the Kazakh Steppe

Kazakhstan

Gaining control of the Kazakh Steppe
Ural Cossacks in skirmish with Kazakhs


Since the Kazakhs were nomads they could not be conquered in the normal sense. Instead Russian control slowly increased.


Although the Sunni Muslim Kazakhs had numerous settlements near the Kazakh-Russian border, and although they conducted frequent raids on Russian territory, the Tsardom of Russia only initiated contact with them in 1692 when Peter I met with Tauke Muhammad Khan. The Russians slowly began building trading posts along the Kazakh-Russian border over the next 20 years, gradually encroaching into Kazakh territory and displacing the locals.


Interactions intensified in 1718 during the reign of Kazakh ruler Abu'l-Khair Muhammed Khan, who initially requested the Russians to provide the Kazakh Khanate protection from the rising Dzungar Khanate to the east. Abu'l-Khair's son, Nur Ali Khan broke the alliance in 1752 and decided to wage war on Russia, while taking the help of the famous Kazakh commander Nasrullah Nauryzbai Bahadur. The rebellion against Russian encroachment went largely in vain, as the Kazakh troops were defeated on the battlefield numerous times. Nur Ali Khan then agreed to re-join Russian protection with his division of the khanate, the Junior jüz, being autonomous.


By 1781, Abu'l-Mansur Khan, who ruled the Middle jüz division of the Kazakh Khanate, also entered the sphere of Russian influence and protection. Like his predecessor Abu'l-Khair, Abu'l-Mansur also sought better protection against the Qing. He united all three of the Kazakh jüzes and helped them all gain protection under the Russian Empire. During this time, Abu'l-Mansur also made Nasrullah Nauryzbai Bahadur one of his three standard-bearers in the Kazakh army. These moves allowed the Russians to penetrate further into the Central Asian heartland and interact with other Central Asian states.


1817 Jan 1

Syr Darya

Syr Darya, Kazakhstan

Syr Darya
Syr Darya


Southward from the Siberian Line the obvious next step was a line of forts along the Syr Darya eastward from the Aral Sea. This brought Russia into conflict with the Khan of Kokand. In the early 19th century Kokand began expanding northwest from the Ferghana Valley. About 1814 they took Hazrat-i-Turkestan on the Syr Darya and around 1817 they built Ak-Mechet ('White Mosque') further downriver, as well as smaller forts on both sides of Ak-Mechet. The area was ruled by the Beg of Ak Mechet who taxed the local Kazakhs who wintered along the river and had recently driven the Karakalpaks southward. In peacetime Ak-Mechet had a garrison of 50 and Julek 40. The Khan of Khiva had a weak fort on the lower part of the river.


1839 Oct 10 - 1840 Jun

Khivan campaign of 1839

Khiva, Uzbekistan

Khivan campaign of 1839
General-adjutant Count V. A. Perovsky. Painting by Karl Briulov (1837)


Count V. A. Perovsky's winter invasion of Khiva, the first significant attempt to project Russian power deep into the populated areas of Central Asia, suffered a catastrophic failure. The expedition was proposed by Perovsky and agreed upon in St. Petersburg. It took a lot of effort to gather enough supplies and enough camels to transport them, and in one of the coldest winters in the memory of people and animals, many hardships fell. The invasion failed as almost all of the expedition's camels perished, highlighting Russia's dependence on these animals and the Kazakhs who raised and herded them. In addition to the humiliation, most of the Russian slaves, whose liberation was one of the alleged goals of the expedition, were freed and brought to Orenburg by British officers. The lesson the Russians learned from this humiliation was that long-distance expeditions didn't work. Instead, they turned to fortresses as the best means of conquering and controlling the grasslands.


Russians attacked Khiva four times. Around 1602, some free Cossacks made three raids on Khiva. In 1717, Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky attacked Khiva and was soundly defeated, only a few men escaping to tell the tale. After the Russian defeat in 1839–1840, Khiva was finally conquered by the Russians during the Khivan campaign of 1873.


1847 Jan 1 - 1864

Advance from the northeast

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Advance from the northeast
Russian troops crossing Amu Darya | ©Nikolay Karazin


The eastern end of the Kazakh steppe was called Semirechye by the Russians. South of this, along the modern Kyrgyz border, the Tien Shan mountains extend about 640 km (400 mi) to the west. Water coming down from the mountains provides irrigation for a line of towns and supports a natural caravan route. South of this mountain projection is the densely-populated Ferghana Valley ruled by the Khanate of Kokand. South of Ferghana is the Turkestan Range and then the land the ancients called Bactria. West of the northern range is the great city of Tashkent and west of the southern range is Tamerlane's old capital Samarkand.


In 1847 Kopal was founded southeast of Lake Balkash. In 1852 Russia crossed the Ili River and met Kazakh resistance and next year destroyed the Kazakh fort of Tuchubek. In 1854 they founded Fort Vernoye (Almaty) within sight of the mountains. Vernoye is about 800 km (500 mi) south of the Siberian Line. Eight years later, in 1862, Russia took Tokmak (Tokmok) and Pishpek (Bishkek). Russia placed a force at the Kastek pass to block a counterattack from Kokand. The Kokandis used a different pass, attacked an intermediate post, Kolpakovsky rushed from Kastek and completely defeated a much larger army. In 1864 Chernayev took command of the east, led 2500 men from Siberia, and captured Aulie-Ata (Taraz). Russia was now near the west end of the mountain range and about halfway between Vernoye and Ak-Mechet.


In 1851 Russia and China signed the Treaty of Kulja to regulate trade along what was becoming a new border. In 1864 they signed the Treaty of Tarbagatai which approximately established the current Chinese-Kazakh border. The Chinese thereby renounced any claims to the Kazakh steppe, to the extent that they had any.


1847 Jan 1

Slow but sure approach

Kazalinsk, Kazakhstan

Slow but sure approach


Given Perovsky's failure in 1839 Russia decided on a slow but sure approach. In 1847 Captain Schultz built Raimsk in the Syr delta. It was soon moved upriver to Kazalinsk. Both places were also called Fort Aralsk. Raiders from Khiva and Kokand attacked the local Kazakhs near the fort and were driven off by the Russians. Three sailing ships were built at Orenburg, disassembled, carried across to steppe and rebuilt. They were used to map the lake. In 1852/3 two steamers were carried in pieces from Sweden and launched on the Aral Sea. The local saxaul proving impractical, they had to be fueled with anthracite brought from the Don. At other times a steamer would tow a barge-load of saxaul and periodically stop to reload fuel. The Syr proved to be shallow, full of sand bars and difficult to navigate during the spring flood.


1847 Jan 1 - 1864

Advance from the northeast

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Advance from the northeast
Russian troops crossing Amu Darya | ©Nikolay Karazin


The eastern end of the Kazakh steppe was called Semirechye by the Russians. South of this, along the modern Kyrgyz border, the Tien Shan mountains extend about 640 km (400 mi) to the west. Water coming down from the mountains provides irrigation for a line of towns and supports a natural caravan route. South of this mountain projection is the densely-populated Ferghana Valley ruled by the Khanate of Kokand. South of Ferghana is the Turkestan Range and then the land the ancients called Bactria. West of the northern range is the great city of Tashkent and west of the southern range is Tamerlane's old capital Samarkand.


In 1847 Kopal was founded southeast of Lake Balkash. In 1852 Russia crossed the Ili River and met Kazakh resistance and next year destroyed the Kazakh fort of Tuchubek. In 1854 they founded Fort Vernoye (Almaty) within sight of the mountains. Vernoye is about 800 km (500 mi) south of the Siberian Line. Eight years later, in 1862, Russia took Tokmak (Tokmok) and Pishpek (Bishkek). Russia placed a force at the Kastek pass to block a counterattack from Kokand. The Kokandis used a different pass, attacked an intermediate post, Kolpakovsky rushed from Kastek and completely defeated a much larger army. In 1864 Chernayev took command of the east, led 2500 men from Siberia, and captured Aulie-Ata (Taraz). Russia was now near the west end of the mountain range and about halfway between Vernoye and Ak-Mechet.


In 1851 Russia and China signed the Treaty of Kulja to regulate trade along what was becoming a new border. In 1864 they signed the Treaty of Tarbagatai which approximately established the current Chinese-Kazakh border. The Chinese thereby renounced any claims to the Kazakh steppe, to the extent that they had any.


1847 Jan 1

Fall of the Kazakh Khanate

Turkistan, Kazakhstan

Fall of the Kazakh Khanate


By 1837, tensions were rising in the Kazakh steppe once again. This time, the tensions were started by Kazakh co-rulers Ğubaidullah Khan, Sher Ghazi Khan, and Kenesary Khan, all of whom were sons of Qasim Sultan and grandsons of Abu'l-Mansur Khan. They launched a rebellion against Russia. The three co-rulers wanted to restore the relative independence that was present under previous Kazakh rulers such as Abu'l-Mansur, and they sought to resist taxation by the Russians.


In 1841, the three khans obtained the help of their younger cousin Aziz id-Din Bahadur, the son of Kazakh commander Nasrullah Nauryzbai Bahadur and gathered a large troop of well-trained Kazakhs to resist the Russian army. The Kazakhs captured a number of Kokand fortresses in Kazakhstan, including their former capital of Hazrat-e-Turkistan. They decided to hide in the mountainous region near Lake Balkhash, but were taken by surprise when a Kyrgyz khan named Ormon Khan disclosed their whereabouts to Russian troops. Gubaidullah, Sher Ghazi, and Kenesary were all captured and executed by Kyrgyz defectors who had been helping the Russians. By the end of 1847, the Russian army had captured the Kazakh capitals of Hazrat-e-Turkistan and Syghanaq, abolishing the Kazakh Khanate as a whole.


1853 Aug 9

Line of Forts

Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan

Line of Forts


In the 1840s and 1850s, the Russians extended their control into the steppes, where after capturing the Khokandi fortress of Aq Masjid in 1853, they sought to fortify a new frontier along the Syr Darya River, east of the Aral Sea. The new fortresses of Raim, Kazalinsk, Karmakchi and Perovsk were islands of Russian sovereignty in a desolate landscape of salt marshes, swamps and deserts subject to extreme cold and heat. Supplying the garrison proved difficult and expensive, and the Russians became dependent on the Bukhara grain merchants and Kazakh cattle breeders and fled to the outpost in Kokand. The Syr Darya border was a fairly effective base for eavesdropping on Russian intelligence, repelling attacks from Khokand, but neither Cossacks nor peasants were convinced to settle there, and the costs of occupation far exceeded the income. By the end of the 1850s, there were calls for a withdrawal to the Orenburg front, but the usual argument - the argument of prestige - won out, and instead the best way out of this "particularly painful place" was an attack on Tashkent.


1859 Jan 1 - 1864

Up the Syr Darya

Turkistan, Kazakhstan

Up the Syr Darya


Meanwhile, Russia was advancing southeast up the Syr Darya from Ak-Mechet. In 1859, Julek was taken from Kokand. In 1861 a Russian fort was built at Julek and Yani Kurgan (Zhanakorgan) 80 km (50 mi) upriver was taken. In 1862 Chernyaev reconnoitered the river as far as Hazrat-i-Turkestan and captured the small oasis of Suzak about 105 km (65 mi) east of the river. In June 1864 Veryovkin took Hazrat-i-Turkestan from Kokand. He hastened surrender by bombarding the famous mausoleum. Two Russian columns met in the 240 km (150 mi) gap between Hazrat and Aulie-Ata, thereby completing the Syr-Darya Line.


1865 Jan 1

Fall of Tashkent

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Fall of Tashkent
Russian troops taking Tashkent in 1865


For some historians the conquest of Central Asia begins in 1865 with the fall of Tashkent to General Chernyaev. In fact this was the culmination of a series of steppe campaigns which had begun in the 1840s, but it did mark the point at which the Russian empire moved from the steppe to the settled zone of Southern Central Asia. Tashkent was Central Asia’s largest city and a major trading entrepôt, but it has long been argued that Chernyaev disobeyed orders when he captured the city.


Chernyaev’s apparent disobedience was really a product of the ambiguity of his instructions, and above all of Russian ignorance of the geography of the region, which meant the War Ministry was convinced a ‘natural frontier’ would somehow present itself when it was needed. After Aulie-Ata, Chimkent and Turkestan had fallen to Russian forces, Chernyaev was instructed to separate Tashkent from the influence of Khoqand. While not quite the daring coup de main of legend, Chernyaev’s assault was risky, and resulted in two days of fighting in the streets before he reached an accommodation with the Tashkent ‘ulama.


1866 Jan 1

War with Bukhara

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

War with Bukhara


After Tashkent’s fall General M. G. Chernyaev became the first governor of the new province of Turkestan, and immediately began lobbying to keep the city under Russian rule and to embark on further conquests. An apparent threat from Sayyid Muzaffar, Amir of Bukhara, provided him with a justification for further military action. In February 1866 Chernayev crossed the Hungry Steppe to the Bokharan fort of Jizzakh. Finding the task impossible, he withdrew to Tashkent followed by Bokharans who were soon joined by Kokandis. At this point Chernayev was recalled for insubordination and replaced by Romanovsky.


Romanovsky prepared to attack Bohkara, the Amir moved first, the two forces met on the plain of Irjar. The Bukharians scattered, losing most of their artillery, supplies and treasures and more than 1,000 killed, while the Russians lost 12 wounded. Instead of following him, Romanovsky turned east and took Khujand, thus closing the mouth of the Fergana Valley. Then he moved west and launched unauthorised assaults on Ura-Tepe and Jizzakh from Bukhara. Defeats forced Bukhara to start peace talks.


1868 Jan 1

Russians take Samarkand

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Russians take Samarkand
Russian troops taking Samarkand in 1868 | ©Nikolay Karazin


In July 1867 a new Province of Turkestan was created and placed under General von Kaufmann with its headquarters at Tashkent. The Bokharan Amir did not fully control his subjects, there were random raids and rebellions, so Kaufmann decided to hasten matters by attacking Samarkand. After he dispersed a Bokharan force Samarkand closed its gates to the Bokharan army and surrendered (May 1868). He left a garrison in Samarkand and left to deal with some outlying areas. The garrison was besieged and in great difficulty until Kaufmann returned. On June 2, 1868, in a decisive battle on the Zerabulak heights, the Russians defeated the main forces of the Bukhara Emir, losing less than 100 people, while the Bukhara army lost from 3.5 to 10,000. On 5 July 1868 a peace treaty was signed. The Khanate of Bokhara lost Samarkand and remained a semi-independent vassal until the revolution. The Khanate of Kokand had lost its western territory, was confined to the Ferghana valley and surrounding mountains and remained independent for about 10 years. According to the Bregel's Atlas, if nowhere else, in 1870 the now-vassal Khanate of Bokhara expanded east and annexed that part of Bactria enclosed by the Turkestan Range, the Pamir plateau and the Afghan border.


1868 Jun 14

Battle of Zerabulak

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Battle of Zerabulak
Battle at Zerabulak Heights | ©Nikolay Karazin


The battle on the Zerabulak heights is the decisive battle of the Russian army under the command of General Kaufman with the army of the Bukhara emir Muzaffar, which took place in June 1868, on the slopes of the Zera-tau mountain range, between Samarkand and Bukhara. It ended with the defeat of the Bukhara army, and the transition of the Bukhara Emirate to vassal dependence on the Russian Empire.


1873 Mar 11 - 1873 Jun 14

Khivan campaign of 1873

Khiva, Uzbekistan

Khivan campaign of 1873
Russians entering Khiva in 1873 | ©Nikolay Karazin


Twice before, Russia had failed to subjugate Khiva. In 1717, Prince Bekovitch-Cherkassky marched from the Caspian and fought the Khivan army. The Khivans lulled him by diplomacy, then slaughtered his entire army, leaving almost no survivors. In the Khivan campaign of 1839, Count Perovsky marched south from Orenburg. The unusually cold winter killed most of the Russian camels, forcing them to turn back.


By 1868, the Russian conquest of Turkestan had captured Tashkent and Samarkand, and gained control over the khanates of Kokand in the eastern mountains and Bukhara along the Oxus River. This left a roughly triangular area east of the Caspian, south of the and north of the Persian border. The Khanate of Khiva was at the north end of this triangle.


In December 1872 the Czar made the final decision to attack Khiva. The force would be 61 infantry companies, 26 of Cossack cavalry, 54 guns, 4 mortars and 5 rocket detachments. Khiva would be approached from five directions:


  1. General von Kaufmann, in supreme command, would march west from Tashkent and meet a second force moving south from
  2. Fort Aralsk. The two would meet in the middle of the Kyzylkum Desert at Min Bulak and move southwest to the head of the Oxus delta. Meanwhile,
  3. Veryovkin would go south from Orenburg along the west side of the Aral Sea and meet
  4. Lomakin coming directly east from the Caspian Sea while
  5. Markozov would march northeast from Krasnovodsk (later changed to Chikishlyar).


The reason for this odd plan may have been bureaucratic rivalry. The governor of Orenburg had always had primary responsibility for Central Asia. Kaufmann's newly conquered Turkestan Province had many active officers, while the Viceroy of the Caucasus had by far the most troops.


Veryovkin was at the northwest corner of the delta and Kaufmann at the south corner, but it was not until June 4 and 5 that messengers brought them into contact. Veryovkin took command of Lomakin's troops and left Kungard on May 27, taking Khojali (55 miles south) and Mangit (35 miles southeast of that). Because of some firing from the village, Mangit was burned and the inhabitants slaughtered. The Khivans made a number of attempts to stop them. By June 7 he was on the outskirts of Khiva. Two days before he had learned that Kaufmann had crossed the Oxus. On June 9 an advanced party came under heavy fire and found that they had unwittingly reached the North Gate of the city. They took a barricade and called for scaling ladders, but Veryovkin called them back, intending only a bombardment. During the engagement Veryovkin was wounded in the right eye. The bombardment began and an envoy arrived at 4 p.m. offering capitulation. Because firing from the walls did not stop the bombardment was resumed and soon parts of the city were on fire. Bombardment stopped again at 11 p.m. when a message arrived from Kaufmann saying that the Khan had surrendered. The next day some Turkmen began firing from the walls, the artillery opened up and a few lucky shots smashed the gate. Skobelev and 1,000 men rushed through and were near the Khan's place when they learned that Kaufmann was peacefully entering through the West Gate. He pulled back and waited for Kaufmann.


1875 Jan 1 - 1876

Liquidation of the Kokand Khanate

Kokand, Uzbekistan

Liquidation of the Kokand Khanate


In 1875 the Kokand Khanate rebelled against Russian rule. Kokand commanders Abdurakhman and Pulat bey seized power in the khanate and began military operations against the Russians. By July 1875 most of the Khan's army and much of his family had deserted to the rebels, so he fled to the Russians at Kojent along with a million British pounds of treasure. Kaufmann invaded the Khanate on September 1, fought several battles and entered the capital on September 10, 1875. In October he transferred command to Mikhail Skobelev. Russian troops under the command of Skobelev and Kaufmann defeated the rebels at the Battle of Makhram. In 1876, the Russians freely entered Kokand, the leaders of the rebels were executed, and the khanate was abolished. Fergana Oblast was created in its place.


1879 Sep 9

Battle of Geok Tepe (1879)

Geok Tepe, Turkmenistan

Battle of Geok Tepe (1879)
Close-quarters fighting between Russians and Turkmen at the Battle of Geok Tepe (1879) | ©Archibald Forbes


The First Battle of Geok Tepe was the main event in the 1879 Russian expedition against the Akhal Tekke Turkmens during the Russian conquest of Turkestan. Nikolai Lomakin marched 275 miles to the Geok Tepe fortress, but mismanaged the attack and was forced to retreat. The next year, this was reversed by Mikhail Skobelev in the second Battle of Geok Tepe.


1880 Dec 1 - 1881 Jan

Battle of Geok Tepe

Geok Tepe, Turkmenistan

Battle of Geok Tepe
Oil painting depicting a Russian assault on the fortress of Geok Tepe during the siege of 1880-81 | ©Nikolay Karazin


The Battle of Geok Tepe in 1881 was the main event in the 1880/81 Russian campaign to conquer the Teke Turkomans. Its effect was to give the Russian Empire control over most of what is now Turkmenistan, thereby nearly completing the Russian conquest of Central Asia.


The battle is also called Denghil-Tepe or Dangil Teppe. Sources are inconsistent, but Denghil-Tepe seems to have been the name of the fort and also the name of a small hill or tumulus in the northwest corner of the fort. Geok Tepe ('Blue Hill') seems to refer to the general area, the modern town, a nearby village and a mountain to the south. Skrine says that fort enclosed 2.6 square kilometres (1 sq mi) or more, with mud walls 5.5 m (18 ft) thick and 3 m (10 ft) high on the inside and a 1.2 m (4 ft) dry ditch on the outside, although other dimensions are given. The area was part of the Akhal Oasis where streams coming down from the Kopet Dagh support irrigation agriculture.


1884 Jan 1

The annexation of Merv

Merv, Turkmenistan

The annexation of Merv
| ©Vasily Vereshchagin


The Trans-Caspian Railway reached Kyzyl Arbat at the northwest end of the Kopet Dag in mid-September 1881. From October through December Lessar surveyed the north side of the Kopet Dag and reported that there would be no problem building a railway along it. From April 1882 he examined the country almost to Herat and reported that were no military obstacles between the Kopet Dag and Afghanistan. Nazirov or Nazir Beg went to Merv in disguise and then crossed the desert to Bukhara and Tashkent.


The irrigated area along the Kopet Dag ends east of Ashkebat. Farther east there is desert, then the small oasis of Tejent, more desert, and the much larger oasis of Merv. Merv had the great fortress of Kaushut Khan and was inhabited by Merv Tekes, who had also fought at Geok Tepe. As soon as the Russians were established in Askhabad, traders, and also spies, began moving between the Kopet Dag and Merv. Some elders from Merv went north to Petroalexandrovsk and offered a degree of submission to the Russians there. The Russians at Askhabad had to explain that both groups were part of the same empire. In February 1882 Alikhanov visited Merv and approached Makhdum Kuli Khan, who had been in command at Geok Tepe. In September Alikhanov persuaded Makhdum Kuli Khan to swear allegiance to the White Czar.


Skobelev had been replaced by Rohrberg in the spring of 1881, who was followed General Komarov in the spring of 1883. Near the end of 1883, General Komarov led 1500 men to occupy the Tejen oasis. After Komarov's occupation of Tejen, Alikhanov and Makhdum Kuli Khan went to Merv and called a meeting of elders, one threatening and the other persuading. Having no wish to repeat the slaughter at Geok Tepe, 28 elders went to Askhabad and on February 12 swore allegiance in the presence of General Komarov. A faction in Merv tried to resist but was too weak to accomplish anything. On March 16, 1884, Komarov occupied Merv. The subject Khanates of Khiva and Bukhara were now surrounded by Russian territory.


1885 Mar 30

Panjdeh incident

Serhetabat, Turkmenistan

Panjdeh incident
Panjdeh incident. Serhetabat.


The Panjdeh Incident (known in Russian historiography as the Battle of Kushka) was an armed engagement between the Emirate of Afghanistan and the Russian Empire in 1885 that led to a diplomatic crisis between the British Empire and the Russian Empire regarding the Russian expansion south-eastwards towards the Emirate of Afghanistan and the British Raj (India). After nearly completing the Russian conquest of Central Asia (Russian Turkestan), the Russians captured an Afghan border fort, threatening British interests in the area. Seeing this as a threat to India, Britain prepared for war but both sides backed down and the matter was settled diplomatically. The incident halted further Russian expansion in Asia, except for the Pamir Mountains, and resulted in the definition of the north-western border of Afghanistan.


1893 Jan 1

Pamirs occupied

Pamír, Tajikistan

Pamirs occupied


The southeast corner of Russian Turkestan was the high Pamirs which is now the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan. The high plateaus on the east are used for summer pasture. On the west side difficult gorges run down to the Panj river and Bactria. In 1871 Alexei Pavlovich Fedchenko got the Khan's permission to explore southward. He reached the Alay Valley but his escort would not permit him to go south onto the Pamir plateau. In 1876 Skobelev chased a rebel south to the Alay Valley and Kostenko went over the Kyzylart Pass and mapped the area around Karakul Lake on the northeast part of the plateau. In the next 20 years most of the area was mapped. In 1891 the Russians informed Francis Younghusband that he was on their territory and later escorted a Lieutenant Davidson out of the area ('Pamir Incident'). In 1892 a battalion of Russians under Mikhail Ionov entered the area and camped near the present Murghab, Tajikistan in the northeast. Next year they built a proper fort there (Pamirskiy Post). In 1895 their base was moved west to Khorog facing the Afghans. In 1893 the Durand Line established the Wakhan Corridor between the Russian Pamirs and British India.


1907 Jan 1

Epilogue

Central Asia

Epilogue
EpilogueEpilogue


The Great Game refers to British attempts to block Russian expansion southeast toward British India. Although there was much talk of a possible Russian invasion of India and a number of British agents and adventurers penetrated central Asia, the British did nothing serious to prevent the Russian conquest of Turkestan, with one exception. Whenever Russian agents approached Afghanistan they reacted very strongly, seeing Afghanistan as a necessary buffer state for the defense of India.


A Russian invasion of India seems improbable, but a number of British writers considered how it might be done. When little was known about the geography it was thought that they could reach Khiva and sail up the Oxus to Afghanistan. More realistically they might gain Persian support and cross northern Persia. Once in Afghanistan they would swell their armies with offers of loot and invade India. Alternatively, they might invade India and provoke a native rebellion. The goal would probably not be the conquest of India but to put pressure on the British while Russia did something more important such as taking Constantinople.


The Great Game came to an end with the demarcation of the northern Afghan border in 1886 and 1893 and the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907.


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Characters

Key Figures for Russian conquest of Central Asia



Mikhail Skobelev

Mikhail Skobelev

Russian General

Nicholas II of Russia

Nicholas II of Russia

Emperor of Russia

Ablai Khan

Ablai Khan

Khan of the Kazakh Khanate

Abul Khair Khan

Abul Khair Khan

Khan of the Junior Jüz

Alexander III of Russia

Alexander III of Russia

Emperor of Russia

Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufmann

Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufmann

Governor-General of Russian Turkestan

Ormon Khan

Ormon Khan

Khan of the Kara-Kyrgyz Khanate

Alexander II of Russia

Alexander II of Russia

Emperor of Russia

Ivan Davidovich Lazarev

Ivan Davidovich Lazarev

Imperial Russian Army General

Nasrullah Khan

Nasrullah Khan

Emir of Bukhara

Mikhail Chernyayev

Mikhail Chernyayev

Russian Major General

Vasily Perovsky

Vasily Perovsky

Imperial Russian General

Abdur Rahman Khan

Abdur Rahman Khan

Emir of Afghanistan

Nicholas I of Russia

Nicholas I of Russia

Emperor of Russia





Further Reading

Book Recommenations for Russian conquest of Central Asia



  • Bregel, Yuri. An Historical Atlas of Central Asia, 2003.
  • Brower, Daniel. Turkestan and the Fate of the Russian Empire (London) 2003
  • Curzon, G.N. Russia in Central Asia (London) 1889
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Last Updated: Wed, 28 Dec 2022 18:15:51 GMT