Home History Kazak Intermediaries and Russian Rule on the Steppe, 1731-1917
This book develops its argument in six chapters. Chapter 1 familiarizes readers with the geography and environment of the steppe and the basics of nomadic society. If this is a common approach to academic histories of Central Asia, though, this chapter forces readers to see the steppe as tsarist administrators would have before 1845; it familiarizes them with the administrators’ assumptions as well as the significant gaps in their knowledge of the region.50 The efforts to close these gaps by two institutions, the General Staff and the Imperial Russian Geographical Society (IRGO), are the subject of the following chapter, which treats the writing of the Provisional Statute of 1868 as a case study concerning the effectiveness of those efforts.
The Provisional Statute was, by design, open to modification, an experimental document produced in the context of acknowledged ignorance of local conditions. This, in turn, created especially propitious conditions for local actors to influence the way that they were ruled. Thus chapter 3 is a case study of a different sort—a biographical study of the ethnographer and educator Ibrai Altyn- sarin (1841-1888). It introduces the concept of “repertoires of governance” to explain both the options and the limitations that Altynsarin’s engagement with tsarist knowledge production and administration entailed.51 Chapter 4 further treats Kazaks’ engagement with the civilizing mission of the Russian Empire, specifically its claim to represent a more scientifically and technologically advanced civilization, through the work of the aqin (bard) Abai Kunanbaev and the pages of Kirgizskaia stepnaia gazeta (KSG). It demonstrates that, even as some Kazak intermediaries accepted these civilizing claims, local experiences and experimentation were vital to their articulation in practice.
The question of peasant colonization, from the 1870s on, shaped the decision space that Altynsarin and other intermediaries could operate in. Once the tsarist state committed to such a policy (after 1896), there was no more room for debate. The final two chapters of the book explore this dynamic from two different angles. The first focuses on a series of statistical research expeditions to the region and the use (and misuse) of their data. Ultimately, such statistical data provided what seemed to be a scientific basis for peasant colonization, without harming the interests of Kazaks who remained nomadic.52 From the perspective of expropriated Kazaks, however, this was an illusion. The last chapter, thus, explores the ideas behind Kazaks’ (and other Central Asians’) economic and political estrangement from the Russian Empire and their attempts to claim a role for themselves, and defend their interests, within the space of discussion and debate in which they had previously operated.
The failure of imperialism that the Central Asian revolt of 1916 represented had two layers: of the way the tsarist state had chosen to know the steppe, on one hand, and of relations with the intermediaries it had cultivated for decades, on the other. This book shows both why this failure came to be and why Russian and Kazak observers alike might not have expected it to occur.
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