Book Review for Making Uzbekistan by Adeeb Khalid

Rating: 5/5

Pros:

  • A comprehensive exploration into the creation of Uzbekistan and its neighboring states
  • A long overdue overview of an often-neglected region of the world
  • Well-researched and detail heavy but still easy to read

Cons:

  • Need to know a little about the region before reading
  • Is VERY detail heavy and needs to be reread to catch everything
  • Would have liked more info on the military campaigns waged by the Soviets

I picked up this book because I am fascinated with the Jadid Reformers (and that’s because of Hamid Ismailov’s book The Devils’ Dance. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it now). Adeeb Khalid is a master scholar who has written numerous articles on the Jadids, and all of his research comes together in this book in a masterful and comprehensive overview of the creation of Uzbekistan.

This is a fantastic book written about a time and region that is often ignored, focusing the narrative on the indigenous people of what is now known as Central Asia. This book discusses the formation of Uzbekistan and its neighboring states during the 1920s. It provides a brief overview of Tsarist policies in what is now known as Central Asia and how that led up to the explosive 1916 Uprising (the Irish historian in me felt a thrill when I realized that Easter Rising occurred in April and the Central Asian Uprising occurred in July/August and for surprisingly similar reasons-colonial offenses and forced conscription). Khalid then spends the rest of the book following the path of the Jadids as they attempt to use the Russian Revolution, the Civil War, and then the Bolshevik’s rise to power to implement their own modern reforms.

 

Khalid does a fantastic job introducing us to the many Jadids, many of who I had never heard of and I’m sure are unfamiliar to many people outside of the Central Asia. He also stresses that the Jadids shouldn’t be thought of as anti-Islamic or a fifth column set up by the British to undermine Russia’s control over the region. The Jadids were reformers who believed that Muslim society could be modernized but were never explicitly against Islam. They were against the ‘corruption’ of Islam and blamed it on the emir and the ulama. It was fascinating to watch Khalid map out how the Jadid’s philosophy changed over time and I truly enjoyed Khalid taking the time explore Fitrat’s intellectual growth. As someone who has been trying to understand Islam on Islam’s terms (not western, Christian terms), it was fascinating to be introduced to this rich dialogue that the Jadids were part of regarding the evolving nature of Islam (which seems to have originated in the Ottoman Empire and was driven by not being Persian). I really want to read Fitrat’s play Shaytonning tangriga isyoni (which Khalid translates as Satan’s Revolt Against God), so just need to learn how to read Uzbek.

 

Khalid brief discussed the civil war waging around the Jadids, but I would have liked if he took some time to discuss the military campaigns that overthrew the Emir of Khiva and the Emir of Bukhara as well as what was going on with the White Army in Kazakhstan. And I wished he spent a little more time on the Basmachi, since they were the exact opposite of the Jadids, but also understand his decision. This book covers so much to begin with, throwing that in there would have made it unwieldy. Still, I wanted to know more.

 

After the Bolsheviks and Jadids overthrow the emirs, Khalid delves deep into the many different policy reforms and that can be slow reading or require one to reread certain sections to fully follow what happened and when, but that isn’t a complaint as much as a little warning. I enjoyed the in depth analysis, but it’s also a lot and may not be as easy to follow if one is not already aware of some of Uzbekistan’s history/the Islamic debates that were taking place at the time. But it’s also important because Central Asia was an interesting case where the Bolsheviks allowed semi-independent action amongst the local elites they put in power to shape their region. The Jadids never had any military or political power until the Bolsheviks intervened and Khalid does a great job navigating those fraught and complex waters. It’s not a hundred percent colonialism and yet the Bolsheviks never truly respected their Central Asian counterparts nor did they ever plan on giving them full autonomy. And yet within the many restrictions the Bolsheviks put on them, the Jadids were able to completely reshape their society and today many of them are seen as national heroes.

 

The book ends with Stalin implemented his great terror in the region, murdering thousands of Central Asians, including most of the Jadids, and replacing them and their policies with Soviet approved bureaucrats and further straightjacketing Central Asian political and economic growth.

 

Overall, this is a fascinating and much needed book that requires multiple readings because it covers so much. I cannot fully recommend it to someone who knows nothing about the region but would highly recommend it to anyone who has a basic understanding and wants to know more. Would also recommend it to anyone interested in Russian/Soviet colonialism and/or increase in the development of Islam and Muslim thought during the 1920s.

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