What is a Khanate to do when his Russian supporters are overthrown by a revolution and he must now rely on a traitorous warlord to retain his throne? Read our article to learn about the Khivan Khanate during the Russian Revolution.

Listen to our episode or read our article below


Last week we talked about the Russian Revolution and Central Asia, but we limited it to the urban areas of Turkestan and the Bukharan Emirate. Today, we’ll be discussing how Russia’s other protectorate, the Khiva Khanate, responded to the fall of the Tsars.

Khiva Under Russian Rule 1880-1916

As we discussed in our episode on Russian colonialism, Khiva was one of the two protectorates created by Tsarist Russia as it colonized Central Asia. It was smaller than Bukhara and not as wealthy or important to Russian officials, meaning the Khan could exercise great independence on how his territory was ruled, as long as he understood his protectorate was granted to him via Russian power. Khiva had been ruled by Muhammad Rahim until his death in 1910, when his son Isfendiyar took over. Isfendiyar passed minor reforms between 1910 and 1917 including support for a state budget, tax reform, and placing all government servants on a salary. He even supported the building of a reform madrasa and encourage the spread of the new-method schools championed by the Jadids. However, many of the reforms never became law and may have been lip service to keep the Russians at bay. Isfendiyar’s true focus was on his troublesome subjects the Turkmen.

            The Turkmen had been arguing with the Khiva Khanate over land and water rights since the 1880s. In 1912, these arguments were exasperated by the Khan’s attempts to restructure the tax system which would have tripled the Turkmen’s tax burden. The Turkmen rebelled in 1912 when a rich Turkmen was killed by a Russian official for not handing over a guest who was wanted by the police (in Turkmen society a guest was entitled to protection). The Khan was able to put down that rebellion with minimal bloodshed, but the Turkmen rebelled against in 1915, this time over water rights. After Isfendiyar blocked the Turkmen’s water supply, increased taxes, and disrespected important chieftains, the Turkmen, led by Junaid Khan, attacked the capital of the khanate. The Russians finally intervened diplomatically in June, organizing a peace agreement between the Khan and the Turkmen and stationed a small Russian garrison in the capital. During the revolt, the Russian governor-general of Turkestan actually blocked arms shipped to the khan, believing that Khiva should be annexed and turned into a Russian ruled territory. It seems the governor-general believed he could use the Turkmen to achieve this end, but the officials in Russia proper were far too distracted by WWI to take advantage of these machinations and the khan kept his throne while the Turkmen were momentarily placated by Russia’s support.

Isfendiyar Khan via Wikicommons

            However, on January 10th, 1916, the Turkmen march on Khiva once more, this time egged on by Junaid Khan, a Yomut tribal leader and joined by other peoples of Khiva, angered by tax increases, the political games Isfendiyar played with water access, and general corruption of his court. The Russian troops dispersed the crowd, but they returned in February, defeating the Russians, and proclaiming himself khan. They took the city and forced Isfendiyar to pay a ransom while three of his ministers were killed and the city was raided for three days. This time the Russians responded forcefully, expelling Junaid and his troops from the city, and defeating Junaid’s forces a month later. Junaid fled into Afghanistan and the Russians established a military council to rule Khiva while retaining Isfendiyar as a puppet ruler. This military council was established on January 29th, 1917. 29 days the Romanov Empire disintegrated.

Khiva and the Russian Revolution

The February Revolution found Isfendiyar in Crimea. When he returned to Khiva in March, he was greeted by the Jadids, allied with the Russian Soviet, demanding freedom, and mass reforms. The khan accepted the Jadids demands and issued a proclamation, like the Bukharan Emir. This manifesto promised civil liberties, a constitutional regime with a Madjlis (a ruling council), a government budget, and expanded infrastructure. The Madjlis met three days later and turned their attention to implementing the Khan’s manifesto. However, the Jadids were dismissive of the Turkmen’s ancient grievances and like Isfendiyar and the Russians before them, they drove the Turkmen into revolution. The Jadids turned to the Russians for help, but their powerlessness inspired the more conservative elements of Khivan society to convince the Khan that it was in his best interest to reclaim power from the Madjlis. Isfendiyar threw the Jadids in jail and renamed himself the sole source of authority within Khiva.

            As this point the Turkestan Committee (the committee thrown together by the Russian settlers and only contained two non-Central Asian Muslims) decided the best thing to do for Khiva was to send a military commission to help Isfendiyar establish a constitutional monarchy, reinstate the Madjlis, and ensure that a Russian presence would be around to decide Khiva’s future. This proposal was sent to the Provisional Government for formal approval, but Khiva could not wait. Turkmen raids were increasing in intensity. In mid-July, a Cossack detachment was sent from Orenburg to assist the Khan. They were joined by Junaid Khan who turned against the rebelling Turkmen because they were being led by his rivals. However, discipline amongst the soldiers was low and plummeting and they were soon requisitioned to deal with the rising disgruntlement amongst the Tashkent settlers and soldiers.

Tashkent 1917 via Wikicommons

            By the time the Turkestan Committee’s proposal reached the Provisional Government, The committee had been replaced by the Tashkent Soviet (which we discussed in our last episode) and the provisional government had been replaced by the Bolsheviks

Khiva and the October Revolution

The October revolution did little to change the situation in Khiva, except it killed any attempts to force a constitutional monarchy. Isfendiyar was now depended on Junaid Khan and the Orenberg Cossacks led by Colonel Zaitsev (who refused to acknowledge Bolshevik power) to retain his ever-fragile hold on power. Isfendiyar focused on punishing the Jadids, scheduling a trial for seventeen of the Jadids currently in jail, but it is unclear if this trial ever occurred.

            In early 1918, Zaitsev, whose troops were restless, left Khiva on a foolhardy plan to attack Bolshevik forces arriving in Kokand (which we’ll get into in a future episode) and fled to Ashkhabad when his own troops switched sides. This left Isfendiyar and Junaid and the raiding Turkmen. Junaid consolidated his power by executing several Jadids and replacing the Madjlis with loyal (to Junaid) military commanders. He increased taxes on the non-Turkmen subjects while the Turkmen were trained to serve as a military force. The rebelling Turkmen slowly wore themselves out and dwindled completely when their commanders, Shammi-kel, were killed in July.

            In September 1918, Junaid raided Russian owned firms and banks in Ur-gen-ch. A Bolshevik force at Petro-Aleksandrovsk, demanded the release of Russian prisoners and the return of the money Junaid stole. He released the prisoners but refused to return the money. However, he must have been worried about the Russian’s response, for he quickly grew suspicious of Isfendiyar. Believing the Khan would turn to the Russians to rid himself of Junaid, the warlord assassinated the khan, officially taking control over Khiva (even though he would place the khan’s relative, Sayid Abdullah, on the throne for appearance’s sake). With the coup complete, Junaid turned his focus to targeting the Russians in the area-to his detriment (but that’s a story for another episode)


Russian Colonial Society in Tashkent 1865-1923 by Jeff Sahadeo

Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR by Adeeb Khalid

Russia and Central Asia: Coexistence, Conquest, Coexistence by Shoshana Keller Published by University of Toronto Press, 2019

Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia: Bukhara and Khiva, 1865-1924 by Seymour Becker, Published by RoutledgeCurzon, 2004

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