Small Wars Journal

The Basmachi: Factors Behind the Rise and Fall of an Islamic Insurgency in Central Asia

Sat, 03/05/2011 - 10:37am
The Basmachi: Factors Behind the Rise and Fall of an Islamic Insurgency in Central Asia

by Boris Kogan

Download the Full Article: The Basmachi: Factors Behind the Rise and Fall of an Islamic Insurgency in Central Asia

Abstract. This paper delivers a short overview of the Basmachi insurgency in Soviet Central Asia, a conflict which spanned a quarter of a century (1918-approximately 1943) and the territory of a half-dozen of today's countries, foreshadowing many future Islamic insurgencies including those in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Western China, Iraq and Chechnya. The "Basmachestvo" involved prolonged full-spectrum warfare fought by a fragmented insurgency with multiple centers of gravity against a multiethnic empire, whose ideology the insurgents perceived as a threat to their identity and way of life. The subject has been largely opaque to Western historians due to several reasons, including the remote and inaccessible theater of warfare (Soviet Central Asia having been denied to Western journalists and diplomats in the timeframe discussed,) the suppression of accounts failing to adhere to the official narrative by the Soviet Union and purges of those who participated on both sides of the insurgency and remained in the Soviet Union after the conflict's conclusion. Thus, a conflict with a high degree of relevance to the present-day international situation has been forgotten or ignored. This paper attempts to begin to remedy this situation.

Download the Full Article: The Basmachi: Factors Behind the Rise and Fall of an Islamic Insurgency in Central Asia

SSG Boris Kogan is currently serving in the Washington Army National Guard while completing his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Washington, Seattle. He previously served on active duty as a Special Operations Team Alpha leader. He was awarded the Jim & Anna Hyonjoo Lint Scholarship by the Lint Center for National Security Studies in August 2010.

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Fri, 10/04/2013 - 8:38pm

In reply to by shnurki

I tried to recreate this, but the document opens fine for me. Check your pd settings.

The link to the pdf doesn't appear to work; please fix! Thank you!

Jane Gaffney (not verified)

Wed, 07/06/2011 - 9:24pm

In his excellent article on this fascinating but little known episode in history, Boris Kogan made a few points that need further elaboration:

First, Cemal Pasha and Enver Pasha, [along with Talaat Pasha, the third member of the ruling triumvirate that led the Ottomans to defeat in WWI] fled immediately to Europe from what was still the Ottoman Empire. However, an Ottoman court sentenced all three to death in absentia for the crimes they had committed during the war. Talaat was tracked down in Germany and killed in revenge by an Armenian survivor.

Meanwhile, Ataturk, still an army officer, had returned from the war and quietly departed for Ankara, where he began fomenting what was to become Turkeys successful War of Independence against the European powers occupying large swathes of Anatolia. Thus, he played NO role in the fate of either Cemal or Enver. Later, however, Ataturk did nix Envers efforts to return to Turkey.

The ambitions of both Cemal and Enver with regard to a pan-Turkic or pan-Islamic nation also need a bit of explanation. Both were ardent secularists, one could even say anti-religious, and were also Free Masons. This was quite consistent with the ideological orientation of their fellow Young Turks who came to power in 1909 via a coup against the last powerful sultan, Abdul Hamid, and ruled until the end of WWI. They were also enamored with the idea of ethno-nationalism sweeping across the world at the time, an attitude that had a very negative effect on the other ethnic groups within what had been a multi-ethnic Empire.

For the two Pashas, "Islamic," like "Turkic" referred to identity groups to which they belonged. Cemal and Enver were against any traditional Muslim leaders or even religious reformers having any say in governance or interfering with needed institutional modernization. It was only Enver that was involved with the Basmachis. Because traditional leaders, like the Emir of Bukhara, and conservative [Qadimi] or reformist [Jadidi] Muslim movements were the only forces on the scene, Enver worked with them in the hopes of eliminating their reactionary influence later. It was an ethnic Armenian Red Army officer who killed Enver.

Cemal was elsewhere, however, training the Afghan army. He eventually headed to Tbilisi, where he, too, was killed by an Armenian.

Jack Stalone (not verified)

Fri, 03/25/2011 - 12:23pm

Interesting read.