Map of Central Asian States
The Soviet rule had some striking similarities and differences to the
Russian imperial rule, and also to European colonial power. In the
1930s, there were oppositions to Soviet rule, came in the forms of
Muslim movements, pan-Turkic movements, and Jadid movements. The last
were attempts to synthesize Islam with socialism to create a national
type of communist party in these regions. The problem was that these
movements were not very organized and they were fought in the context
of Russian civil wars.
The map of Turkestan basically resembles the borders of the former
Russian empire. In the 1920s and 30s, five Soviet republics were
formed. They were co-equal members of the Soviet Union: Kazakhstan,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrghyzstan. Along these
administrative lines, we have independent states today.
There are three features in the strategies of colonialism in the Soviet empire:
- Like other colonial powers, or imperial Russia before, the
Soviets really took Central Asia and turned it into a site for
extraction of raw materials, for example cotton in Uzbekistan, oil from
Azerbaijan and mining in northern Kazakhstan. Cotton production in
Uzbekistan has dire environmental consequences, such as the shrinking
coastline of the Ural Sea. In addition, other ill effects like from
pesticides that contributed to the alarming rate of cancer in the
region. In northern Kazakhstan, there were nuclear test sites.
- Strategy of divide and conquer installed by the Soviets in the
region. The Soviets did not try to compartmentalize individual ethnic
groups like other colonial powers. Instead, they did the opposite by
dividing ethnicity and creating large minorities with an administrative
unit. The Soviet concern in the 1920s and 1930s was that there might be
a unified movement (pan-Islamic movements or pan-Turkic movements) that
would lead the various people to oppose against Soviet rule. So they
deliberately drew up these large republics with the aim of having a
dominant ethnic group, but not too dominant, to play them off one
against each other.
- The last similarity is the ideology of a superior civilization. It
was true that the Soviets wanted to sovietized the region, but they
didn’t really manage in the end. On the other hand, the Soviet
authority did not really care as long as these Central Asian regions
did not come out of line.
There was no compromise on the part of the Soviet on the issue of
religion. They saw it as a potential uniting political force. As a
result, religion was banned. The practice of Islam was banned with a
few exceptions. Mosques were destroyed.
They were some differences between Soviet colonial rule and the others.
One was the Soviets had a peculiar policy that would subsidize the
budgets of these republics to a great degree (25-50%). They did this as
part of the equalization policy. This is uncommon among other colonial
powers. On the other side, there were a great of autonomy and
unofficial networking that the Soviets could not really eradicate. A
lot of these Central Asian officials managed to graft the social
structure upon the institutions of communism. For example, allegiances
of clans, kinship network, extended families fit in very well with
collective agriculture. This is something the Soviets could not handle