The Russian Conquest of Central Asia in Persianate historiography
(University of Oxford)
One of the principal challenges facing a historian of the Russian conquest of Central Asia (ca.1830 - 1900) is dealing with the massive imbalances in the source base. Russian sources, published and archival, are enormously abundant, including the minutes and memoranda of decision-making committees, chains of correspondence regarding logistics, campaign reports and later memoirs. While their perspective is far from uniform, they rarely reflect on what it was like to be on the receiving end of Russian campaigns of conquest, or the experience of colonial subjugation. A partial corrective to this can be found in the historiography of Khiva, Bukhara and Khoqand. Some of these chronicles contain vivid accounts of battles, and laments for lost independence or the humiliation of 'the people of Islam'. While they largely reflect the perspective of clerical elites, and thus are not exactly voices 'from below', they unintentionally reveal why resistance to the Russian advance was so ineffective. This paper will examine passages from Bukharan, Khoqandi and Khivan chronicles to show how they are far more concerned with internal political struggles and score-settling than with the looming Russian threat, which appears largely as a form of external chastisement for the chroniclers' enemies.
New Approaches to the History and Historiography of Central Asia from the 17th to the 19th Century