Intermittently Central Asia has been described by different names. Greeks and the Romans called the region Transoxiana, or the region beyond the Oxus, to the Arabs it was known as 'The land between two rivers' the Syrdarya and Amudarya, to the English it was 'Tartary'. The people of Central Asia are inheritors of long glorious and illustrious history. Much of the worlds' ancient history originated in Central Asia, for it was the birth place of the great warrior tribes, great Physicians, great Mathematicians, great Poets, illustrious Sufis who left indelible mark on the Central Asia.
Recentgeneticstudies have concluded that humans arrived in the region 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, making the region one of the oldest known sites of human habitation. While the semi-arid plains were dominated by the nomads, small city-states and sedentary agrarian societies arose in the more humid areas of Central Asia. Later the strongest ofSogdian city states of theFergana Valley rose to prominence. After the 1st century BC, these cities became home to the traders of the Silk Roadand grew wealthy from this trade. The steppe nomads were dependent on these settled people for a wide array of goods that were impossible for transient populations to produce. The nomads traded for these when they could, but because they generally did not produce goods of interest to sedentary people, the popular alternative was to carry out raids.
The Islamic Conquest
The Arab conquest of the Persian Sasanian Empire had been achieved during the seventh century by the Omayyad Caliphate centered in Damascus. The northern province of this empire, Khorasan, was used by the Arabs as a base for their invasion of Transoxiana and Tokharistan. Though the Turks were easily overrun, the Iranians could not be overcome, and this led to the birth of the first Persian dynasties in Islam. Arab conquests and direct rule came to an end by the middle of the eighth century, but the advance of Islam and Islamic culture continued, and was spread by Muslim traders who ventured as far as the river Volga. They propagated Islam more as a way of life than as a creed, and unlike Buddhism and Christianity, Islam was at that time unsupported by missionaries. This gradual spread of Islam arrested the attempt by the Chinese to absorb certain eastern regions into their fold.
The Turkish Period
The Karakhanids, a Turkish race of people established themselves in Samarkand in 999 AD, and virtually controlled the whole Transoxiana until the 12th century. This year is a historical landmark in Central Asian history because, from then, till the annexation by Russia in the 18th century, it remained under Turkish Muslims, except for two brief periods following invasions by the Karakitays (Chinese nomads of Mongolian Origin) and the Mongols. By the middle of the 12th century most of the areas now occupied by the South CARs could be described as having embraced Islam.
The main opposition to Russian expansion into Turkestan came from theBritish, who felt that Russia was growing too powerful and threatening the northwest frontiers ofBritish India. This rivalry came to be known asThe Great Game, where both powers competed to advance their own interests in the region. It did little to slow the pace of conquest north of theOxus, but did ensure thatAfghanistanremained independent as abuffer state between the two Empires.
Revolution And Revolt
During theFirst World Warthe Muslim exemption from conscription was removed by the Russians, sparking theCentral Asian Revolt of 1916. When theRussian Revolution of 1917occurred, a provisional Government ofJadid reformer met inKokand and declared Turkestan's autonomy. The main independence forces were rapidly crushed, but guerrillas known asbasmachi continued to fight the Communists until 1924.There was some threat of aRed Army invasion ofChinese Turkestan, but instead the governor agreed to cooperate with the Soviets. The creation of theRepublic of Chinain 1911 and the general turmoil in China affected its holdings in Central Asia. Eventually the region became largely independent under the control of the provincial governor. Rather than invade, theSoviet Unionestablished a network of consulates in the region and sent aid and technical advisors. By the 1930s, the governor of Xingjian's relationship with Moscow was far more important than that withNanking. In 1933, theFirst East Turkistan Republic was declared, but it was destroyed soon after with the aid of the Soviet troops. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, GovernorSheng Shicai of Xinjiang gambled and broke his links to Moscow, moving to ally himself with the Kuomintang. This led to a civil war within the region. Sheng was eventually forced to flee and the Soviet backedSecond East Turkistan Republic was formed. This state was annexed by thePeople's Republic of Chinain 1949.
Soviet And PRC Domination
In 1918 the Bolsheviks set up theTurkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and Bukhara and Khiva also became SSRs. In 1919 theConciliatory Commission for Turkestan Affairs was established, to try to improve relations between the locals and the Communists In 1920, theKirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, covering modern Kazakhstan, was set up. These borders had little to do with ethnic makeup, but the Soviets felt it important to divide the region. They saw bothPan-Turkism andPan-Islamism as threats, which dividing Turkestan would limit. Under the Soviets, the local languages and cultures were systematized and codified, and their differences clearly demarcated and encouraged. Under the Soviets the southern border was almost completely closed and all travel and trade was directed north through Russia.
In theSecond World Warseveral million refugees and hundreds of factories were moved to the relative security of Central Asia; and the region permanently became an important part of the Soviet industrial complex. Several important military facilities were also located in the region, including nuclear testing facilities and theBaikonur Cosmodrome. TheVirgin Lands Campaign, starting in 1954, was a massive Soviet agricultural resettlement program that brought more than 300,000 individuals, mostly from the Ukraine, to the northern Kazakh SSR and the Altai region of the Russian SFSR. This was a major change in the ethnicity of the region.
Much of the population of Soviet Central Asia was indifferent to the collapse of the Soviet Union, even the large Russian populations in Kazakhstan (roughly 40% of the total) andTashkent, Uzbekistan. Aid from the Kremlin had also been central to the economies of Central Asia, each of the republics receiving massive transfers of funds from Moscow. Independence largely resulted from the efforts of the small groups of nationalistic, mostly local intellectuals, and from little interest in Moscow for retaining the expensive region. While never a part of the Soviet Union, Mongolia followed a somewhat similar path. Often acting as the unofficial sixteenth Soviet republic, it shed the communist system only in 1996, but quickly ran into economic problems.
The economic performance of the region since independence has been mixed. It contains some of the largest reserves of natural resources in the world, but there are important difficulties in transporting them. Since it lies farther from the ocean than anywhere else in the world, and its southern borders lay closed for decades, the main trade routes and pipelines run through Russia. As a result, Russia still exerts more influence over the region than in any other former Soviet republics. Nevertheless, the rising energy importance of theCaspian Seaentails a great involvement in the region by the US. The former Soviet republics of the Caucasus now have their own USSpecial Envoy and inter-agency working groups. Since the late 1980s,Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan have gradually moved to centre stage in the global energy markets and are now regarded as key factors of the internationalenergy security. Azerbaijan and Kzakhstan in particular have succeeded in attracting massive foreign investment to their oil andgassectors. Russia and Kazakhstan started a closer energy co-operation in 1998. Following the ratification of bilateral treaties, Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan declared that the northern Caspian was open for business and investment as they had reached a consensus on the legal status of thebasin. Iran and Turkmenistan refused however to recognize the validity of these bilateral agreements; Iran is rejecting any bilateral agreement to divide the Caspian.
Increasingly, other powers have begun to involve themselves in Central Asia. Soon after the Central Asian states won their independenceTurkeybegan to look east, and a number of organisations are attempting to build links between the western and easternTurks.Iran, which for millennia had close links with the region, has also been working to build ties and the Central Asian states now have good relations with the Islamic Republic. One important player in the new Central Asia has beenSaudi Arabia, which has been funding the Islamic revival in the region. InTajikistanalone an estimated 500 mosques per year have been erected with Saudi money. The formerly atheistic Communist Party leaders have mostly converted to Islam. SmallIslamist groups have formed in several of the countries, but radical Islam has little history in the region; the Central Asian societies have remained largely secular and all five states enjoy good relations withIsrael.
ThePeople's Republic of Chinasees the region as an essential future source of raw materials; most Central Asian countries are members of theShanghai Cooperation Organization. This has affected Xinjiang and other parts of western China that have seen infrastructure programs building new links and also new military facilities. Chinese Central Asia has been far from the centre of that country's economic boom and the area has remained considerably poorer than the coast. China also sees a threat in the potential of the new states to support separatist movements among its own Turkic minorities.
- To be checked
- DSSC Coord14/96-97 Minor Research Project - CARs