Regulating the Intimate: Prostitution in Russian Turkestan
Central Asian history remains a domain of elite history, for the most part. Most studies focus on elites: men who were privileged by birth, wealth, or education. Studies of people with humbler origins are few and far between. This study seeks to recover the voices and life stories of one such marginalized group: native Central Asian women, particularly those who engaged in prostitution. The challenge in writing any historical account of the social life of women in pre-revolutionary Turkestan is that women in Russian Central Asia rarely came into direct contact with the colonial state and thus left few traces in written sources. There existed a category of women, however, who were closely monitored by the authorities and were the subject of extensive documentation. Prostitution was officially regulated in the Russian Empire from 1843 on, and after the conquest of Central Asia this regulation spread to the territories controlled by the Tsarist authorities. Russian officials generated vast amounts of documentation, and their policies elicited strong and sustained responses from their Central Asian subjects. This paper focuses on the prostitution control exercised by the colonial administration in Tsarist Central Asia and the interplay between colonial authorities and local societies. Using the case of five years long attempts by the Russian colonial administration to close down two brothels, I aim to illustrate interrelation between colonisers and colonised, limits of colonial power and the struggle to define marriage, female freedom and its limits both by the brothel keepers and the Russian officers. My research relies mostly on documents in the Central State Archive of Uzbekistan, located in Tashkent. By reading extensive amount of primary material deposited in this vast collection of colonial records of Russian Turkestan against the grain, I intend to highlight the aspects of social life under the Russian rule in late modern Central Asia which were largely neglected.
Turkestan and the "Great Game"