Accepted paper:

The Central Asians' Own "Great Game:" The Rivalry between Bukhara and Khoqand in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century


Kwang Tae Lee (Indiana University Bloomington)

Paper abstract:

The Khanates of Bukhara and of Khoqand became the most prominent political actors in the history of Central Asia in the nineteenth century, yet their rivalry has not received due attention partly because of the dominant discourses, such as Russian Orientalism and the "Great Game" narrative, which are essentially Eurocentric and focus mainly on the external factors of development. However, prior to the Russian expansion into the region in 1865, the politics of Central Asia was predicated upon the activities of Bukhara and Khoqand, and their clashes. After acquiring political consolidation in the Zarafshan valley and in Ferghana respectively, the Manghity dynasty in Bukhara and the Ming dynasty in Khoqand found themselves in the position that they could achieve further expansions only at the expense of each other. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, the competition led to military conflicts, which culminated in Bukhara's occupation in 1842 although Khoqand could restore its independence almost immediately. The political competition involved such important border polities such as Shahrisabz. The rivalry also became manifest in the realms of propaganda and legitimation. The both dynasties competed in wearing religious garments, manufacturing their titles, manipulating their genealogies and claiming its own superiority over the other in legitimacy. By scrutinizing indigenous sources and some diplomatic documents, this paper will map the dynamics of the Central Asian societies through the prism of the Central Asian great rivalry, uncovering the major factors that shaped the political landscape, such as tribes, religious symbols, and external powers. The paper ultimately seeks to contribute to overcoming the tendency of depending too much upon the so-called "Great Game" narrative in conceptualizing Central Asia in the nineteenth century.

panel HIS-15
Turkestan and the "Great Game"