Central Asia: Aspects of Transition

By Tom Everett-Heath | Go to book overview

1

TURKFRONT

Frunze and the development of Soviet counter-insurgency in Central Asia

Alexander Marshall


The revolt begins, 1916-19

The Russian Civil War witnessed a sudden upsurge of separatist and anarchist guerrilla movements in many parts of the old Tsarist Empire, but in few areas was one so pronounounced as in Central Asia, where groups of mounted raiders - Basmachi, to use the local term, meaning ‘bandit’ 1 - conducted a sporadic and violent struggle against the Soviet authorities for over ten years. During this period of violent civil unrest, the nascent Red Army was driven to collate and assess both its own civil war experience of high manoeuvrability (militarily and politically) and some of the practical experiences of its Tsarist predecessor to produce a formula that would enable the settlement of this territory. The methods of one man in particular - the future ‘Soviet Clausewitz’, M. V. Frunze, himself a son of settlers in Central Asia - provided the Reds with the key to achieving victory against their disorganised, yet elusive, foes. 2 This was a key that would notably elude the Soviet Army over sixty years later when it found itself fighting a similar opponent in Afghanistan. The reason for the loss of this key may lie ironically with Frunze himself, whose lasting legacy to Soviet military art was that of the ‘Unified Military Doctrine’ - a doctrine of flexibility in his own day that came to exhibit increasing intellectual rigidity under later proponents.

The crisis that arose in the Tsarist system in Central Asia in 1916 had a considerable prehistory, stretching back to the nineteenth century. Ever since the Andijan uprising of 1898, the indigenous population of Central Asia had expressed increasing dissatisfaction with a corrupt bureaucratic regime that first drove them into a cotton monoculture, with attendant economic complications, and then repeatedly and openly seemed to steal from them via the expropriation of ‘surplus lands’ to Russian settlers. This latter movement resulted in yearly famines between 1910 and 1913. 3 Fears of future rebellions led by fanatical mullahs grew and led to something of a ‘siege mentality’ amongst the Russian population - every Russian settler was issued with a Berdan rifle, 4 and administrative posts came to resemble miniature forts. 5 When, in 1916, the manpower crisis on the Eastern Front led to the call-up of the Central Asians to serve as

-5-

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Central Asia: Aspects of Transition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Turkfront 5
  • 2 - The Kokand Autonomy, 1917-18 30
  • Notes 44
  • 3 - Ethno-Territorial Claims in the Ferghana Valley During the Process of National Delimitation, 1924-7 45
  • 4 - Land and Water ‘reform’ in the 1920s 57
  • 5 - Nation Building in Turkey and Uzbekistan 80
  • 6 - Nation Building and Identity in the Kyrgyz Republic 106
  • 7 - The Use of History 132
  • 8 - Soviet Development in Central Asia 146
  • 9 - Environmental Issues in Central Asia 167
  • 11 - The Uzbek Mahalla 205
  • Notes 217
  • 12 - ‘Fundamentalism’ in Central Asia 219
  • Notes 240
  • 13 - Water 244
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 283
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