PROBLEMS IN THE HISTORY OF RUSSIAN COLONIALISM
At the beginning of the 1950s, the idea that Russian colonialism was more progressive than the British and other colonial enterprises finally came to dominate Soviet historiography. This was an officially accepted doctrine of Kyrgyz historiography during the 1950s through the 1980s. That is why it is hardly astonishing that in 1963 Kyrgyzstan celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the «voluntary entry of Kyrgyzstan into Russia.» In accordance with this concept, the last official academic publication on Kyrgyzstan history maintained that the Russian conquest of Kyrgyz lands fulfilled a «long-standing aspiration» of the Kyrgyz with regard to their northern neighbors: «[a]head of them lay the path leading them toward a bright future in the Union, together with the brotherly Russian people within frameworks of the centralized Russian state» (Ploskih 1984, 584).
Such a whitewashing approach to Russian colonialism can be found in the works of some post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan historians, such as Ploskih and V. P. Mokrynin. In a recent textbook for universities (1998), pro-Russian historians wrote that northern Kyrgyzstan entered into Russia (meaning that several northern Kyrgyz tribes wished to be under the Russian authorities); representatives of the Kyrgyz who opposed the union with Russia were characterized as «enemies.» «A little bit longer the enemies of Russia and the Kyrgyz people did everything to destroy their union, which was put on their oath: there was internecine fighting … and killings of the supporters of pro-Russian politics» (Koichuev 1998, 136; Koichuev et al. 1994, 46-50). Other works published recently in Kyrgyzstan suggest that there was nothing «voluntary» about the subjection of the northern Kyrgyz tribes by the Russian empire. They maintain that not only the northern and southern regions of Kyrgyzstan but also the entire Turkistan region were conquered by Russian colonizers (see Kenesariev 1997b; idem 1998, 15-36; Tchoroev 1994, 101-14; Omiirbekov and Tchorotegin 1995, 100-16, 137-56; Tchorotegin and Omiirbekov 1992).
The question of the roots of Kyrgyz-Russian relations has its own peculiarity. In Soviet historiography answering this question has always involved a whitewashing of czarist Russia’s diplomacy. This approach continues in the works of Doolotbek Sapar-aliev, who researches the problem of diplomatic relations between the Kyrgyz and Russia at the end of the 18th century (Saparaliev 1991a, 1991b, 1995). Nevertheless, he has enriched the historiography by presenting a great deal of new archival material on this issue.
A new approach to these issues has been offered by Arslan Koichiev, a young historian who has researched the original Arabic-script letters addressed by the Kyrgyz biys, or lords, to the Russian administration in Siberia and Saint Petersburg in the 19th century. Before Koichiev, historians had read those letters only in Russian translation (Koichiev 1996.) He was first to maintain that the Kyrgyz biys had been persuaded to write the letters to the Russian administration not only by Russian spies and Russian and Volga Tatar merchants, but also by the northern Kazakh sultans in the 1820s (Koichiev 1994, 133-38; idem 1996, 18-19).
The study of the national-liberation movements at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries is among the main problems of the colonial period. In Soviet historiography some of these movements were termed «reactionary.» The Andijan uprising of 1898 against Russian colonialism in which the Kyrgyz were the main participants, for example, was considered in the Soviet historiography of the 1950s-80s a «reactionary,» «anti-national,» and «feudal-clerical» movement. If one wanted to justify this movement, one would have had to do so under the rubric of class thinking and by proving that its prime movers were the working people, not the exploiters, feudal lords, capitalists, and clergy. Even some contemporary historians try to describe the Andijan uprising in terms of social class: «[i]t was the first uprising of the working people of southern Kyrgyzstan against the Russian colonizers» (Chotonov 1995, 311). This view, however, is no longer hegemonic. In another monograph, the Andijan uprising is described simply as a «national movement» and «the biggest national-liberation movement of the Central Asian peoples at the end of the nineteenth century» (Omiirbekov and Tchorotegin 1995, 71).
There were tremendous national-liberation movements among Central Asian peoples in 1916, including the Kyrgyz. But research of their history was carried out under closely supervised Soviet political censorship. In Soviet Kyrgyz historiography, it was necessary to brand as «reactionary» the regions where the Kyrgyz were attempting to establish small but independent states similar to principalities under their khans and manaps. Kushbek Usonbaev (d. 1999) found himself under political pressure in the 1980s because of an unpublished monograph manuscript he wrote in which he used a lot of documentary material on the 1916 movement from the Russian colonial archives. But in the contemporary, independent period, he continued to appeal to «class mechanisms» to justify the uprising:
The representatives of the feudal aristocracy decided to use [the working people’s) dissatisfaction for their own interests. Many of them joined the insurgents. They used the people’s ignorance and backwardness in trying to seize power through rebellion. They declared Mokush, the son of the great manap Shabdan, their khan… . Soon great manaps … joined the rebels, declaring themselves the khans of the local districts» [Usenbaev 1997, 85, 100].
In the works of younger historians, such class approaches to describing 1916 have been abandoned (see Omiirbekov and Tchorotegin 1995, 178-83).
But I must stress that Usenbaev’s main works cite a large number of archival materials on this uprising, and he is the most prominent researcher of this subject in Kyrgyzstan. Some materials from his last work were contained in an unpublished monograph that was confiscated from the state-run publishing house Kyrgyzstan in 1982, after Turdakun Usubaliev, first secretary of the Kyrgyzstan Communist Party’s Central Committee, criticized it. Now his disciples have published some works on this issue (Jakypbekov 1992, 1995; Makhmutbekova 1996).