The Kashgar Question: St Petersburg, Tashkent and Yakub Beg
David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye
This paper examines Imperial Russian policy vis-à-vis Yakub Beg's insurgent regime in Kashgaria from 1865 to 1877. It focuses on debates within the Russian administration about how to contain Yakub Beg. Local military commanders in Tashkent and other frontier garrisons advocated an aggressive policy, which resulted in the occupation of the Ili Valley northeast of Kashgaria in 1871. More cautious officials in the imperial capital, however, feared alienating their Chinese neighbour. Further complicating matters were British efforts to establish Kashgaria as a buffer against the perceived tsarist threat to India. By examining relevant Russian and Uzbek archival sources, my basic objective is to determine to what extent local generals drove St Petersburg's relations with Kashgaria under Yakub Beg's rule. I argue that, much as during tsarism's drive into western Turkestan during the reign of Tsar Alexander II (r 1855-1881), decision making in St Petersburg regarding Yakub Beg was muddled by the contradictory impulses of imperial expansion and the desire to avoid military confrontations in the wake of the Crimean War. The Kashgar question was particularly sensitive. During much of its existence, the insurgent regime posed a very real threat to Russia's own ambitions in Central Asia. There was still some hard fighting to impose tsarist rule over Western Turkestan. At the same time, it was not implausible that Yakub Beg's summons to jihad might well find a sympathetic response among the tsar's new Muslim subjects. Therefore, until his defeat became increasingly likely, there were sound reasons for maintaining a modus vivendi with Yakub Beg. But since the days of Peter the Great, Russia had enjoyed relatively peaceful relations with the Middle Kingdom, which it was loath to jeopardise. I conclude that, despite its setbacks during the nineteenth century, China was far too big to offend by appearing to be too friendly with its insurgents. The Kashgar question was a dilemma that proved beyond the capabilities of the tsar's generals and diplomats. Ultimately, it could only be solved by forces entirely outside of their control. This is part of my research for a book, "Russia's Great Game: The Struggle for mastery in Central Asia," which studies the diplomacy of tsarist expansion in greater Turkestan, Mongolia and Tibet.
Turkestan and the "Great Game"