Otabek: The Model of Muslim Reform in Turkistan


A Young Man Suitable for the Khan’s Daughter by Qahramon Shohislamov and Kamollidin Mirzaev– all rights reserved.

In Chapter Two, Volume One, titled A Young Man Suitable for the Khan’s Daughter, Qodiriy as a Jadid writing in the pivotal years of the 1920s, illustrates his novel’s intent regarding political issues in both 19th and 20th century Central Asia. Our hero Otabek attends in Margilan one of the great institutions of civil society from Turkey to Western China, namely the gap.

Qodiry himself belonged to the Gap Gurungi. Gurungi translates from Chaghatay as “discussion.” Gap, from the verb Gapermok is its modern Uzbek equivalent. The Chaghatay Gurungi’s ideological bent was the development of a modern Uzbek language based upon Chaghatay but stripped of its Persian and Arabic loan words. Adeeb Khalid uses the term “Chagatayism” to describe the Jadid use of Chaghatay during the period of national delimination in 1924 to appropriate all of Turkistan’s sedentary peoples as Uzbek. (See Edward Allworth, Uzbek Literary Politics (Mouton and Co., London, The Hague, Paris, 1964) Adeeb Khalid, Making Uzbekistan. (Cornell University Press, Syracuse, 2016 on more detailed discussions on the Gap Gurungi)

So Otabek attends a gap and through him we gain a blue print of what constitutes modern forms of governance. We will see later in the novel and in subsequent posts, Qodiriy’s criticisms on Russian rule, but at the beginning of the novel Otabek explains to those attending that after spending time in Shamai, present day Semei or Semipalatinsk in northern Kazakhstan/ southern Russia as a trader, he feels that the Kokand Khanate was merely playing at governance. In order to gain, to use a Soviet term, parity with Imperialist Russia he would have to take aspects of that system and incorporate them into the court of the Kokand Khanate– something Otabek concedes to be a pipe dream.

We must keep in mind that Abdullah Qodiriy spent a year in Russia studying journalism at the Briusov Institute from 1924-1925 and went on to translate Gogol’s Marriage and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard from Russian into Uzbek. So western methods of governance, modern teaching methodology, curriculum development, and social reform had a profound impact on the Jadids while they traveled abroad, a notable example would be the Bukharan Jadid Abdul Rauf Fitrat’s who spent time in Europe and Istanbul.

Yet despite Qodiriy’s admiration for Russian governance as seen through the character Otabek, the Jadids did not wish to sacrifice their own Muslim identities to western culture—hence O’tkan Kunlar’s place in post-colonial literature. In the same dialogue the elders mention Umar Khan, one of the great leaders of Kokand during the Khanate’s ascendancy and expansion. So while we see an acknowledgement of great moments in Central Asian history,  yet Qodiriy evokes a collective memory of when Central Asia had capable rulers ready and able to defend their Khanate’s interests on their own terms.

Throughout the rest of the chapter Otabek illustrates to the reader the idea of social reform, namely modernizing the institution of marriage. The issue of multi- versus single marriage partners, arranged marriages, taking a spouse out of love and especially the domestic discord sown by the institution of the Kundosh, or multiple wives in a man’s home, continue as a major story line for the rest of O’tkan and eventually lead to the novel’s tragic ending.

Inevitably Otabek is a man before his time. Qodiriy himself stated that the character of Otabek represented his sensibilities as a Muslim modernist interested in societal reform and the creation of a new social space, in Qodiriy’s case, in post-Bolshevik Turkistan. The novelist attempts to capture the sense of memory and loss felt within the newly formed Uzbek CCP for a way-of-life that by 1926 had become increasingly homogenized along ideological lines. As we will see in other posts the Jadid agenda for reform and establishment of a modern Muslim polity eventually diminished in the face of the Bolsheviks’ firm control of Turkistan ,post-civil war and famine.

Sources: regarding the Jadids, see Adeeb Khalid, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform, Jadidism in Central Asia (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998) and Making Uzbekistan (Cornell Press, Ithaca, 2016). The Chagatay Gurungi has been masterfully outlined in Edward Allworth, Uzbek Literary Politics ( Mouton and Co., London, The Hague, Paris, 1964). Regarding the Kokand Khanate see both: Fredrick Starr, Ferghana Valley, The Heart of Central Asia (M.E. Sharpe, New York, 2011) and UNESCO Publishing, History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol. V (UNESCO Publishing, 2003). On Qodiriy’s views see: Habibullah Qoddiry, Otamdan Hotira (Tashkent: 2005)




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