I recently finished Hamid Ismailov’s book the Devils’ Dance, which is about Abdulla Qodiriy’s last days in a Soviet prison and the book he was working on before his arrest. The book mentions several Uzbek writers who I was unfamiliar with, so I decided to do a little research. This was what I was able to find out.
First World War and Central Asia
Before we can discuss the three writers, we must understand the world they lived in. All three men lived during the painful and dangerous period between the end of the Victorian Era and the beginning of the Edwardian Era. They also lived through one of the century’s greatest disasters: the First World War and then the Bolshevik Revolution.
Nationalism had been on the rise all over the world during the decades that preceded the First World War, and Central Asia was no different. When World War I occurred, many in Central Asia thought they could gain their independence. This hope was increased by the Bolshevik Revolution and the disintegration of Tsarist Russia.
After the Tsar was overthrown, both the White and Soviet Russians tried to court the Central Asian provinces, wanting to keep control over these regions. The Whites, however, shot themselves in the foot by treating the Central Asians with great haughtiness, seeing no reason why they should change their policy to their old colonies. The Soviets, instead, lied to Central Asia, promising to respect their need for autonomy and independence. Obviously, many people in Central Asia supported and fought with the Reds. Once the Soviets defeat the Reds and solidified their control over Russia, they turned to Central Asia and purged the region of anyone who they perceived to be a threat. They then split Central Asia into unnaturally created states, utilizing tribal hatreds and rivalries to keep the region under control, and ignored any attempt at nationalist or independence. Instead, they exploit Central Asia’s peoples and natural resources.
While the world was torn apart and Central Asia had to fight for its identity, men like Qodiriy, Cho‘lpon, and Fitrat, fought an intellectual war, creating a canon of Uzbek literature that included novels, poetry, short stories, and plays. Many of these works of art spoke to the need to modernize Central Asia to achieve self-rule. This belief became known as the Jadid movement. The movement was created in the mid nineteenth century and fought to reform ancient customs and lives. They looked to the Ottoman and Russian Empires for inspiration and, initially, believed the Bolshevik Revolution would usher a new age for Russia and Central Asia.
To learn more about World War I, and how it affected Central Asia, check out the YouTube Channel: The Great War.
Abdulla Qodiriy was born in 1894 in Tashkent, modern day Uzbekistan. He is
considered to be one of the three great Central Asian reformers-the other two being Abdulrauf Fitrat and Cho‘lpon. Qodiriy was a highly intelligent man, studied journalism at the Briusov Institute in Moscow, and was fluent in Turkic, Persian, Arabic, and Russian. Qodiriy was a starch Jadidist.
His most famous novel, O’tgan Kunlar (Days Gone By) not only created the standard that all Uzbek books would later be compared to, it also argued for the modernization of Central Asia, attacking old customs such as having multiple wives and the Bacha (dancing boys). His novel also captured the torment, humor, and every day life of the common man/woman of Central Asia. While his work was an intelligently written, sophisticated critique of his society, it was also a moving preservation of his homeland.
To learn more about O’tgan Kunlar, check out the Uzbek Modernist. It is a website dedicated to help a Western audience understand and explore the O’tgan Kunlar
Qodiriy was arrested in 1926, most likely because he made fun of the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in the journal Mushtum (the Fist). He had served as its editor, but after he was released from jail, he became a translator instead. He translated Gogol’s Marriage and Anton Chekhov’s the Cherry Orchard into Uzbekistan. He kept writing throughout the 1930s and became a delegate to the Uzbekistan Writer’s Union.
He traveled to the collective farms of Uzbekistan and wrote his book Obid Ketman. It was attacked as being anti-Soviet and nationalistic and he was arrested again in 1937. He was executed with many other Uzbeks in October 1938. He was the first of the murdered to be rehabilitated in 1956 and his influence continues to be felt in Uzbek literature and national consciousness.
Abdurauf Fitrat was born in Bukhara in 1886. He was originally educated in a
madrasa, but also traveled throughout the world, including Turkey, India, and Moscow and St. Petersburg. Because of this, he was comfortable with many languages, including Persian and Tajik. In fact, many of his works were written either in Persian, Tajik, or a form of Turkish. While his birthplace makes him a beloved literary figure in Uzbekistan, his literary work and his study of languages makes him a renowned innovator of the Tajik language.
Initially, Fitrat was a strong Muslim and resisted by the Jadid movement. However, his mentor Mahmudkhodja Behbudiy convinced him to join the movement he became one of its preeminent leaders, often criticizing the imams, mullahs, and emir.
While in Istanbul, Fitrat was introduced to several other reform movements, allowing him to understand modernization as more then ‘turning Western’. He became the leader of the Jadids in Istanbul and wrote several pieces demanding reforms in social and cultural aspects of Central Asia.
When World War I broke out, Fitrat returned to Central Asia and became leader of the Jadid Movement in Bukhara. He also wrote a reformist agenda with Munawwar Qari Abdurrashidkhan ogli, another Jadidst, that would become the basis of the jadid’s political agenda. This brought him to the attention of Tsarist police as well as religious leaders and he was forced to flee to Tashkent, where he worked for the Afghani consulate and organized the intellectuals found there. Between 1917 and 1919, Fitrat determined that the British were the true enemies of Muslims and Central Asia and, so, he supported the Soviets.
He joined the Communist Party of Bukhara from 1918-1924 to win his country its independence. In 1920, the Russian army led Mikhail Frunze overthrew the Emir of Bukhara and Fitrat joined the new Soviet government. He served as its foreign minister (1922), minister of education (1923), and deputy chairman of the council for work of the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic. He focused on improving education and language development, while continuing to hope for a free Bukhara.
In 1923, he published the book Qiyomat (the Last Judgment), in which he wrote about the Bolshevik’s inadequate and ignorant rule of Central Asia. He, along with the head of the government Fayzulla Khodzhayev, tried to ally with Turkey and Afghanistan to secure Bukhara’s freedom, but their efforts ended in failure. The Soviets took control in Bukhara and Fitrat was expulsed to Moscow in June 1923.
While in Moscow, Fitrat wrote a series of allegories criticizing the Soviet government. He also focused on teaching, working at the Ivan Lazarevich Lazarev Institute for Oriental languages in Moscow and the Institute for Oriental Studies at Petrograd University. He would return to Tashkent and Samarkand in 1924 and continued to teach while also serving on the Academic Council of the Uzbek SSR.
However, as a historian of literature, he stuck to his beliefs and criticized many Soviet theories such as the theory of national cultures in the supra-ethnic structure of Central Asia. He also disagreed with segregating Soviet Central Asia along ethnic lines and promoting Chagataian literature (Chagataiism was a form of nationalism). In 1932 he wrote his late play, To’lqin (the Wave) which protested censorship. He would be arrested in 1937 and murdered in 1938, most likely during the same mass execution that claimed both Qodiriy and Cho‘lpon.
Cho‘lpon, whose full name is Abdulhamid Sulaymon o’g’li Yunusov, was born in
1893 in Andijan Turkestan. He was a poet, playwright, novelist, and translator and was the first person to translate Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the Uzbek language. He is Uzbek’s most famous of poets and one of the first authors to introduce realism into Uzbek literature.
Cho‘lpon was first educated in a madrasa before enrolling in a Russian elementary school for non-Russians. From there he would become an editor-in-chief of the newspaper, TurkROSTA and worked on the editorial board for a series of publications such a Ishtirokiyun Qizil bayroq (the Red Flag), Turkiston (Turkestan), Buxoro axbori (Bukhara News), and Darhon.
He published his first poems in 1922 and his novel, Night and Day, is one Uzbekistan’s most famous novels. In it, he criticizes Soviet colonialism and the hypocrisy and collusion of jaded reformists and Muslim clerics. He was also the first Uzbek playwright and he spent several years in Moscow in a drama studio to train Uzbek actors. He is credited with introducing realism into Uzbek literature, translated Pushkin and Gorky into Uzbek, and wrote about the Uzbek national character. Like Qodiriy, his work was more then skewering the Soviet, Tsarist, and Emir governments. It was about preserving a Central Asia that was disappearing, while also inspiring a better future.
Also like Qodiriy and Fitrat, his work caught the eye of the Soviet authorities who wrote a vicious smear campaign against him before arresting him in 1937. He was murdered in 1938, most likely alongside Qodiriy and Fitrat.
Qodiriy attribution: By The original uploader was Shuri*83 at Uzbek Wikipedia. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Fitrat attribution: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Cho’lpon attribution: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons