Bloody Clouds over Tashkent

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Bloody Clouds over Tashkent by Qahramon Islamov and Kamolidin Mirzaev–all rights reserved.

Beginning in Chapter Two of O’tkan Kunlar, A Young Man Suitable for the Khan’s Daughter, we first hear mention of one of the primary villains depicted throughout Volume One of the novel, Azizbek Parvonchi. Placed by Musulmanqul, young Khudayar Khan’s regent, into the position as Hakim of Tashkent, Azizbek’s character represents the socio-cultural tensions that run throughout the novel, namely the issues of endemic corruption and factional rivalries weakening the Kokand Khanate.

Azizbek was in fact an historical character. He was appointed as Hakim of Tashkent in 1846 enjoying Qipchak support through Musulmanqul’s faction in Khudayar Khan’s court. Sources state that one of the primary sources of civil discontent throughout the Khanate but especially in Tashkent was over-taxation of the local population. One could easily chalk this off to simple greed but much deeper motivations for over-taxation were at play in nineteenth century Turkistan. As Paul Georg Geiss clearly states, when, in the case of Azizbek, a Hakim of a municipality was appointed they often strategically placed their own relatives into positions of authority. Increase in taxes often accounted for not only their personal wealth, that could shift according to the vicissitudes of court life, but to continue funding the network of tribal and familial associations placed into power. In fact, a ruler’s power was often contingent on their ability to provide wealth for those within their group. Hence security for a ruler was what we call “the self licking ice cream cone”: he taxes because he must appease the constituency, both patron and tribal group, that put him into power and bolsters his rule. As long as he provides taxes and troops to the Khan, the Khan is happy. As long as his tribal group continues to prosper they support his rule with troops and other forms of support.

In the case of Azizbek as depicted by Qodiriy, we have an especially egregious example of overreach in regards to taxation. Azizbek was appointed Hakim over a population already bereft of funds through over-taxation. Perhaps through hubris, or simply survival for being assigned to rule a population disposed toward unrest, he led a rebellion against Khudayar Khan in 1847 ostensibly, ironically, to protest against Qipchaq influence in Khudyar Khan’s court and the onerous taxes placed against Tashkent’s population.

As mentioned above Khudayar Khan’s court was riven with internecine disputes. Sedentary groups opposed the rise of the nomadic factions that placed Khudayar Khan on the throne; nomadic tribal groups fought against other tribal groupings in order to wrest power from a weak ruler. Again Geiss makes a salient point: The Kokand Khanate was established far later than the Emirate of Bukhara. The Ming tribesmen who controlled the throne notably spurned any real or imagined claim to Chinggisid lineage — aspiring rulers almost always married someone of Chinggisid blood in order to obtain Chinggis Khan’s Turkic-Mongol bone fides– therefore eschewing an important marker of credibility among Central Asian populations. So, because of the marked presence of tribal groups in the Ferghana Valley and their active presence in court politics and a new paradigm for rule, those who held power within the borders of the Kokand Khanate did not hold the traditional awe and respect for those on the throne in Kokand.

Accordingly, Khudayar Khan came to power through the support of Musulmanqul and his Qipchaq tribal factions. In the chapter Bloody Clouds over Tashkent then we see Khudayar Khan with his military leader Nur Muhammad Qushbegi, also a Qipchaq, attempt to wrest power from Azizbek and regain control of Tashkent, only to be pushed back through superior tactics and firepower in Chapter 15, Tashkent under Siege. Subsequently, in Chapters 16, Azizbek, 18, Announcement, and 21, Revolution, we witness events turn against the victorious Azizbek as he hypocritically announces an onerous increase in taxes in order to refill his coffers after an extended conflict.

Qodiriy does take the liberty of an historical novelist by not informing the reader that the hero, Nur Muhammad Qushbegi, that eventually regains Tashkent through the help of Otabek’s father, Yusufbek Hajji, represented one of Musulmanqul’s Qipchaq rivals and at one point was guilty of over-taxation of the region under his control, namely Qurama. So one is left to wonder if Qodiriy engages in selective memory in order to move along the narrative.

We will see in Volumes Two and Three of the novel the tensions between Qipchaq and sedentary elites play out to tragic ends. Until then, the tale of the rise and fall of Azizbek provides an excellent backdrop to one of the more salient themes of O’tkan Kunlar and one of the more tragic moments in Central Asian history.

Many thanks to Uzbek author Hamid Ismailov for his commentary on Azizbek. Also on the historical Azizbek see Shodman Vohidov and Rahbar Khalikova’s work on Khulosat Ul-Akhval or Circumstances of Life by Abu Ubaidullah Tashkenti in Moziydan Sado, 2009 2.42. Text taken from ( Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences no 2084). See Paul Georg Geiss, Pre-Tsarist and Tsarist Central Asia, Communal Commitment and Political Order in Change (Routledge Curzon, London, 2003) On Nur Muhammad Qushbegi see: Timur K. Beisembiev, The Life of Alimqul (Routledge, New York, 2003)

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