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Home arrow History arrow Kazak Intermediaries and Russian Rule on the Steppe, 1731-1917


Progress, Citizenship, and the Third of June System

Kazaks’ window to present their grievances about how they were being governed, in which resettlement played a crucial role, as juridically equal participants in the imperial political system, was short-lived. Stolypin’s parliamentary coup of June 3, 1907, closed it, and despite Kazaks’ spirited and creative attempts to find new means of political engagement, it remained so down to 1917. It seems unlikely that Stolypin and Nicholas II, hoping to create a more compliant Duma that would ease their top-down reforms, consciously intended to create a grievance among the empire’s Central Asian population—or, at least, that they considered the risk serious or significant. Still, it is inconceivable that the decision to exclude the steppe and Central Asia was taken totally at random. Despite the emphasis on creating a parliament more “Russian in spirit,” the manifesto that dissolved the Second Duma and called for new elections made provisions for at least the token representation of national minority groups; the exception was “those border areas of the state where the population has not attained an adequate level of citizenship, [where] elections to the State Duma must temporarily be brought to an end.”49 This is veiled, circumspect language, difficult to penetrate. Reading scholarly and administrative texts against one another, and comparing groups who received token representation with those excluded entirely, draws the veil back: Central Asia and the steppe were excluded because the combination there of pastoral mobility and Islam made the region seem both underdeveloped and threatening.

If, as the historian Paul Werth has noted, one of the consequences of the Caucasian wars was a new wave of Islamophobia in the Russian Empire, the Andijan rebellion of 1898 raised its tenor to a new level of hysteria.50 Exploring the paranoid rumor mongering that took place after the uprising, the historian Alexander Morrison has correctly noted that it “cast a very long shadow over Turkestan officialdom’s view of Islam,” sowing paranoia and hostility among administrators and settlers for years to come.51 With significant assistance from the serving orientalist Vladimir Petrovich Nalivkin, the new governor-general of Turkestan, Sergei Mikhailovich Dukhovskoi, argued in a special report, Islam v Turkestane (Islam in Turkestan), that the uprising proved the failure of the tsarist state’s noninterventionist religious policy there.52 (In correspondence with his direct superiors at the Ministry of War, he would be even blunter: Turkestan, he claimed, was the only imperial borderland where the religious affairs of inorodtsy were not under some form of supervision, with results that had now been confirmed as dangerous.)53 He recommended a program of study and active observation of Turkestani Islam and Muslims, particularly of Sufism, which seemed particularly unknown and dangerous.54

The ripple effects of this moment of panic, confirming all the worst fears of earlier Islamophobes, were significant, and not limited to Turkestan’s borders. It is true that the Dukhovskoi program did not receive the reception in St. Petersburg that he might have hoped. On one hand, the Department of Religious Affairs of Foreign Faiths under the MVD rejected both his proposals and the continuation of ignorirovanie.55 The powerful Minister of Finance Witte systematically rejected the arguments that Andijan was a symptom of a larger social ill and that any principle other than tolerance could serve as the basis of state religious policy.56 On the other hand, officials on the spot and higher up connected with the Ministry of War tended to strongly support Dukhovskoi’s view of the Andijan events. Investigators both blamed “Muslim fanaticism” for the uprising and proposed aggressive measures directed against a deeper danger, the further Islamicization of steppe Kazaks.57 High officials in the Ministry of War insisted that all governmental organs needed to clarify that they would not tolerate “that the religion confessed by the natives follows political goals.”58 These fears did not decline in the years that followed Andijan.59

Moreover, one of the most concrete products of Dukhovskoi’s brief rule in Turkestan, the Sbornik materialovpo musul’manstvu (Collection of materials on Islam), presented as facts useful for governance the most stridently anti-Islamic views available. A volume on the hajj, for example, leaned on the work of the notoriously hysterical Mikhail Alekseevich Miropiev, a missionary graduate of the Kazan' Theological Academy.60 Miropiev’s fears with respect to Islam were as deep as they were extensive. As the historian Mark Batunskii summarizes it, “he fear[ed] not only the strengthening of Islam among its eternal confessors, not only the extension of the process of Islamicization to ‘pagans,’ but also the possibility of if not the entire, of course, Russian people, then likely that vast majority of its representatives whom fate had cast to various national borderlands, going off onto a ‘false path.’”61 This was not the place to look for a dispassionate analysis of the problems Islam presented to contemporary Russian life. Beyond his role as a reference in the Sbornik, Miropiev played a visible role in the list of materials that Dukhovskoi recommended for distribution to chanceries and libraries as references.62 This list doubles as a handy reference guide to the most paranoid anti-Islamic works and thinkers of the Russian Empire, for example, Aleksandr Agronomov’s work on jihad.63 It bore the heavy stamp of the Kazan’ Theological Academy: it contained numerous issues of the Kazan'-published Missionerskiiprotivomusul'manskii sbornik (Missionary antiMuslim digest), described by the historial Robert Geraci as “consisting] of polemical articles to aid clergy in converting Muslims or persuading apostates to return to the church”; as well as translations and commentaries on the Koran by a Kazan' professor, Gordii Semenovich Sablukov, whose work a student described as “a primary source not only for comprehending Muhammadanism [sic], but also for combating it.”64 Dukhovskoi’s commitment to this particular framing meant the spread of dubiously founded fears of pan-Islamism and the implacable hostility of Islam to Orthodox Christianity around Turkestan’s administrative circles. When 25 copies of the Sbornik made their way to the governor-general of the Steppe, Maksim Antonovich Taube (also a recipient of Islam in Turkestan), such views spread there as well—Taube dutifully forwarded them to his district chiefs.65 At the broadest cultural level, it is possible to accept the argument of the historian David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye that “neither fear nor contempt dominated” imperial Russian views of Islam over the broad sweep of the nineteenth century.66 But among colonial officials, especially in this case, a fearful and contemptuous branch of tsarist orientology predominated.

The circulation of these materials, in turn, abetted the articulation of deeply obnoxious policies at the local level in the two decades that followed Andijan, even quite far from the site of the uprising. Refracted through the prism of paranoia, a mass Kazak petition of 1905 that requested equal rights of representation in the forthcoming parliament became something quite different.67 Despite the assurances of his subordinates, Semipalatinsk’s military governor, Aleksandr Semenovich Galkin, declared the petition impermissible on the grounds that “it is impossible to be sure that among the Kazaks there are not people with evil intentions, willing to, for the sake of personal profits, call forth disorders in the steppe on the basis of religious fanaticism,” in which the governor-general of the Steppe, Nikolai Nikaolevich Sukhotin, supported him.68 In this case, what Kazak subjects understood as their lawful and reasonable requests were transformed, because of administrators’ understanding of Islam, into more threatening actions than they were in reality.69 Under a still more aggressively Russocentric governor, Aleksandr Nikolaevich Troinitskii, involvement with this petition figured into the trumped-up charges that would see one important activist member of the Kazak intelligentsia, Akhmet Baitmsinov, imprisoned.70 At the same time, much- resented older policies had little chance of being changed in this environment. Fears of creeping Tatarization and Islamicization during the 1860s had led Orenburg’s governor-general, Nikolai Kryzhanovskii, to remove the steppe from the jurisdiction of the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly.71 For observant Kazaks, this represented a serious constraint on their freedom of conscience and a major grievance against the tsarist state; redressing it was a matter of first-rate importance.72 But the desired reform was never forthcoming. Kazaks were thus Muslim enough to be targets of suspicion, but not so Muslim that fears of radicalizing influences from without completely disappeared.

These were the major indignities. There were also smaller ones. Urban Muslims’ modest efforts to open reading rooms and charitable societies found insurmountable administrative obstacles.73 Semirech'e’s provincial board [obshchee prisutstvie] concerning associations repeatedly rejected the efforts of Muslims from the small city of Kopal to form a charitable society, in decisions that had only panic as their least common denominator:

The provincial board on matters concerning associations finds that the charter contains points which are completely impermissible, like, for example, on the establishment of meetings with participation of nonassociation members “for popularization” of “elective rights”, about awarding the society of the right to add ziakat to its funds, or about the right of local representatives “to accept statements or petitions from the needy,” since the realization of these points, under certain conditions, and considering the existence [pri nalichii] of article 3, which does not restrict the member of the association by title or status, nor even by religious confession, can threaten social tranquility. Therefore the board resolves to refuse to support of the charter of the Society of Kopal Muslim Progressives, as requested by its founders.74

The Muslims (predominantly Tatars, apparently) of Przheval'sk, another small city in Semirech'e, did get their library, but soon found themselves targets of spurious rumors that the library was in fact a site for political meet- ings.75 Even displays of patriotism with the outbreak of World War I were not necessarily above suspicion; as one district chief in Semipalatinsk province wrote, “In the sincerity of [local Muslims’] elevated patriotic feeling I, on the basis of my observations over the course of 17 years of police service, do not believe.”76 After the turn of the century, overblown fear of pan-Islamism, pan- Turkism, and suspicion of the loyalty of Muslim subjects were not incidental features of tsarist rule in the steppe provinces and Central Asia. It would have been difficult for a devout subject not to collide with such views in one form or another.

Despite Stolypin’s superficial commitment to a policy of religious tolerance after the Revolution of 1905 (one that always offered more to Orthodox Christians than other confessional groups), it is clear that pan-Islamic paranoia came to influence his thinking as well. Beyond the vagueness of discourse, the historian Dmitrii Arapov has identified one likely agent in Stolypin’s concrete articulation of such views, the ethnographer-turned-administrator Aleksei Nikolaevich Kharuzin, director of the Department of Religious Affairs of Foreign Faiths between 1908 and 1911.77 By 1911, Stolypin raged against the inroads that pan- Islamism had allegedly made in all parts of the empire populated by Muslims and demanded “strictly unified and systematic” action against the “onslaught of Islam.”78 Undoubtedly, some of Stolypin’s more strident rhetoric on this point should be attributed to his pragmatic shift toward conservative nationalism in the wake of the Naval Staffs crisis of 1909.79 A generic sort of Russian nationalism (informed, among other factors, by Islamophobia) was already at the core of the Third of June coup. After 1909, the hegemonic position of such ideas made a future rapprochement unlikely. All the while, the limitations of religious tolerance and the inexorable spread of exaggerated fears of political Islam at lower levels of governance militated against Muslims’ participation in politics below the imperial level, as well.

In short, to be a Muslim and a subject of the Russian Empire after the fin- de-siёcle was to be, at some level, a target of suspicion and a problem to be solved. But the largely urban Muslims of the Caucasus and Volga River basin (to say nothing of Poles and Jews, equally likely sources of antigovernmental conspiracy in imperial eyes) retained minimal representation in the Third and Fourth Dumas, a distinction of which Kazak commentators were all too aware. To fully account for the exclusion of the steppe and Central Asia from this empire-wide representative body, it is necessary to consider a second factor, views of nomadism.

This book has already dealt with the complex of stereotypes associated with pastoral nomads, in Russian thought, over the broad sweep of the nineteenth century—the dirt, the smells, the loose morals, the near-childlike trust and animal ignorance. More important than rehashing these views again is to note that they remained current after the turn of the century. This was, for the most part, not racial theorizing that held that the difference between nomads and more civilized, advanced peoples was inherent and permanent. Ample evidence seemed to suggest that Kazaks, in particular, had long-term developmental potential.80 But, in a microcosm of the Russian Empire’s fundamental problem in dealing with its inorodtsy—the constantly moving target for promotion to the ranks of ordinary subjects—they had not yet, it was thought, reached that level.81 The very policy of peasant resettlement assumed the need to raise the cultural level of the steppe and promote its more efficient use by seizing it from its inhabitants, or transforming them. Even experts affiliated with the Resettlement Administration who were relatively cautious about mass resettlement associated a host of negative traits with nomadic society. For example, P. P. Rumiantsev, who revised Veletskii’s land norms for Semirech'e, closely linked mobility and a lack of civil development in a major work, while citing Levshin heavily.82 Orest Shkapskii, a “supporter of the land rights of the Kyrgyz” who left the Semirech'e branch of the Resettlement Agency in disgrace in 1906, connected pastoralism among the Kyrgyz with the exploitation of ordinary people by elites because of the indefiniteness of land claims he associated with it.83 Meanwhile, Aziatskaia Rossiia, the Resettlement Administration’s “masterwork” and the closest thing to an official statement on the matter, described the “idleness” of pastoralist men and derided Kazakhs’ belief in the power of sorcerers.84 To drive home the point that this was, in the main, an ignorant people whose development lay long in the future, the contributor of this volume’s ethnographic sketch, I. P. Poddubnyi, borrowed words straight from the pen of the doctor and anthropologist V. D. Tronov two decades earlier: “The Kazakh stands on a low level of development, his fantasy is poor, forms are little poetic: the Kazakh thus, for example, praises [vospevaet] nature: ‘what a mountain, what a valley! In this valley one could pasture a thousand horses, on this mountain one could pasture a thousand sheep.’”85 A range of views on resettlement converged, if nothing else, on the principle that nomadism was a backward way of life, and nomads themselves rough and uncultured.

On the level of politics, beyond the occasional stridency of Turkestani and Kazak deputies in the first two Dumas, and pan-Islamist fears difficult to disentangle from the facts of ethnicity and geography, language issues likely played a role in the construction of the region’s political immaturity. Rural cantons had serious difficulty coming up with plausible candidates as electors who both satisfied their own wishes and the basic requirement of proficiency in Russian.86 In response to such concerns, administrators in Semirech'e could only underline their insistence that their subordinates “should not back down on the requirement that electors select people knowing Russian.”87 Thus, beyond the negative stereotypes associated with pastoralist lifeways, Kazaks and Central Asians found the failings of a long-neglected system of native schools laid at their feet.

During the last years of the Russian Empire, to be a Muslim was damning enough. To be a Muslim and a pastoralist was to be doubly ungovernable. There were, assuredly, other ways of thinking about both of these categories, but the conjunction lasted as long as the empire did. A later minister of internal affairs, Nikolai Alekseevich Maklakov, responded firmly to a petition to re-examine the electoral laws in 1914:

8 consider equally impossible, too, the restoration of representation in the State Duma from the population of the following provinces: Akmolinsk, Semipalatinsk, Ural'sk, Turgai, Semirech'e, Transcaspian, Samarkand, Syr-Darya, and Fergana, the multiracial [raznoplemennoe] population of which provinces cannot be yet considered, at present, sufficiently prepared for participation in the legislative work of the state, which was proven with complete clarity by the experience of elections according to the law of December 11, 1905.88

Both in failing to satisfy, or even acknowledge, what members of the Kazak intelligentsia considered to be their reasonable aspirations, and in closing what might have been a useful conduit between the Kazak population’s representatives and the upper levels of the state, such intransigence had tragic consequences. Here, as in the case of resettlement, late tsarist scholarship provided a range of answers to questions of governance. Happenstance and the competing priorities of a struggling autocracy saw the wrong ones come to the fore.

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