Learn the fate of Central POWs in Turkestan, what Indian Revolutionaries were doing in Tashkent, and how the British attempted to continue their Great Game spy adventures during the Russian Civil War. After all can you really claim you discussed the Russian Civil War without dedicating at least one post to spies, revolutionaries, and POWs? 

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Central Power POWs

Before the Russian Revolution, Russia was at war with the Central Powers during WWI and by 1917, had captured approximately 2.4 million prisoners from its eastern front alone. When considering all of their fronts, it is estimated they captured 8 million prisoners in total. These prisoners were held all over the Russian Empire, with a considerable number held in Siberia and Central Asia. 

            The treatment of prisoners depended on rank, ethnicity/nationality, when, where, and how they were captured, and where they were held, with the Austro-Hungarian prisoners getting the best treatment. Russia implemented several policies and initiatives meant to encourage prisoners to defect to the Russian Army. The legendary Czechoslovak Legion and Serbian Volunteer Corps were built from POWs who took up the Russian’s offer to fight the Central Powers. 

Read more: Russian Civil War: Central Power POWs, Indian Revolutionaries, and British Agents, Oh My!

            For the most part, officers were treated better than the rank and file, receiving a stipend from the Russian government while the privates and NCOs had to work to survive. It is estimated that POWs made up 20-25% of Russia’s workforce by 1917. Many prisoners even produced their own products and integrated themselves into the communities of wherever they were being held. The money allowed POWs to buy desperately needed supplies and some were even able to buy passports and a route home. For many, the freedom of movement and a chance to work was the very lifeline they needed to survive (especially if joining the workforce meant they would be moved from camps in Siberia and Central Asia to camps in western Russia). For others, though, working could be a death sentence as working and living conditions could be appalling. 

            After the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks declared all POWs free, meaning the government would no longer provide stipends, food, or housing. The POWs now joined the poor Russian workers as they tried to navigate the chaotic period that was the Russian Revolution and Civil War. For many POWs, the end of the war meant doing what it took to survive as they tried to find a way home. Some POWs joined the Communist Party and/or fought during the Russian Civil War. Others were repatriated, continued to work as cheap labor, or joined the many mercenaries/armed gangs until an opportunity to escape presented itself. 

            Repatriation was a complicated affair. At first, the Bolsheviks repatriated 200,000 POWs after signing the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, but, as the civil war dragged on, they grew reluctant to lose their workforce. The White Army refused to acknowledge the end of the war and thus didn’t repatriate POWs on principle, or, in the case of Siberia, left the POWs in the hands of the United States and Japan forces. When the camps formally dissolved in 1920, 500,000 POWs were still in Russia. Out of the 500,000, approximately 30,000 Germans and 118,000 former Austro-Hungarians eventually returned from Siberia and Central Asia. Between 1921-1922, an additional 13,000 Austro-Hungarians returned home. It is unknown how many POWs remained in Russia. 

Austo-Hungarian and German POWs in Central Asia

The prisoners of war in Siberia/Central Asia can be split into two different categories: the Austro-Hungarian/German prisoners and the Ottoman prisoners. The treatment of the two groups seemed to have varied based on location of the prisons and when/where the POWs were captured, but it becomes clear that the Russians were more invested in turning European prisoners than dealing with Ottoman prisoners. 

            By 1915, the Office of the Governor-General in Turkestan constructed several camps throughout the region, including one forty kilometers outside of Tashkent meant to hold several thousand prisoners. The people of Tashkent had mixed reactions to the influx of prisoners. Some Russian officials believed it was their sacred duty to care for fellow Slavs while others saw the POWs as a legitimate source of labor. In Tashkent, there had been a growing fear that the war would only increase the Russian’s reliance on Muslim and women laborers. Russian settlers grew annoyed at the privileges many POWs enjoyed and didn’t appreciate having a new group of laborers to compete with. 

            Most Austro-Hungarian officers were held in former soldier’s barracks, hotels, and other reconfigured buildings while the rank and file were cramped into makeshift camps. POWs were allowed to mix freely with civilians while on day leave, could walk around in their uniforms, enjoyed first access to subsidized state food, and were allowed to partake in luxury goods like preserved plums. The Tashkent branch of the All-Russian Society of the Guardianship of Slavic Prisoners adopted the Slavic POWs and offered courses on the Russian language, history, economy, and geography. They believed it was the best way to “civilize” their fellow Slavs while integrating them into Russian society.

            Yet, despite all these privileges, the Central Asian Camps were considered death camps. Many camps could only hold up to ten thousand prisoners but were forced to hold 25-35,000 prisoners. Malaria and typhus ran rampant claiming fifteen to eighty prisoners a day. There was a lack of food, clothing, and sanitary conditions in camps. The influx of prisoners strained an already precarious food situation in Central Asia, contributing to the famines we would see starting in 1916 and continuing in the 20’s. 

            When the Russian Revolution ended the war, many POWs had to choose how to survive the chaos. Some, like the Hungarian POWs held in Central Asia, supported the Russian settlers in their battle against the Central Asian Muslims. Others were forced to join the Soviets or starve. According to the Danish Red Cross delegate, A. H. Brun, and later confirmed by German prisoner/spy Gustav Krist, the Tashkent soviet leaders deliberately starved 38,000 prisoners in order to force them to join their Red Guard. Prisoners of war would make the majority of Red Guards until the mid-1920s. 

Ottoman POWs

While the Russians were mostly welcoming of the Slavic prisoners, the Ottoman POW experience was mixed. It is estimated that Russian captured 50,000 Ottoman soldiers. When they were marched or held in Muslim lands, they reported being greeted warmly and formed bonds with the locals. However, when marched through Armenian cities or villages, they were met with hostility and sometimes violence. However, some Ottoman officer memoirs report Armenians outside of the Caucasus helping Ottomans escape. 

            Overall, though there doesn’t seem to be a concerted effort to mistreat Ottomans POWs, hundreds died on their journey to the camps. They were often held in cramped, poorly ventilated train cars and exposed to the elements the entire trip. Many suffocated or succumbed to the elements. Additionally, their carts were the only ones locked from the outside and sometimes the Russians would forget about them. There are a handful of reports where the trains would arrive at their destination, but the Ottomans would be left trapped in their carts for days until someone decided to take a look and rescue the survivors. The Ottoman prisoners were also devastated by lack of sanitary facilities and disease. 

            Relations among the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman prisoners seemed to be cordial with officers teaching each other their native languages, putting together musical groups and shows, organizing newspapers and sport games, and partaking in crafts together. There seems to have been some tension between the Turkish POWs and their Arab counterparts, but it is hard to gain a true understanding how significant these tensions were. If Ottoman POWs were held in Muslim majority areas, they were allowed to attend the local mosques and Ottoman Officers wrote about partaking in fasting during Ramadan. 

            When the Bolsheviks liberated the Ottoman POWs, they quickly found common cause with the various groups of Muslim reformers, guerrillas, and conservatives. The Kokand Government and later the Musburo recruited the Ottoman prisoners as schoolteachers and as organizers of youth political groups with a Turkish twist. The clubs ranged from being the first boys scout to being strong, nationalist clubs to semi-military youth groups. Given the Ottoman POW’s background, the schools they worked in took a militaristic tone with focus on discipline and fitness. Many Ottoman prisoners didn’t believe in the Jadid’s version of Turkism but worked to survive.

            The Bolsheviks deported most of the Ottoman POWs out of Turkestan by 1920. Those who escaped the Bolsheviks found work in Bukhara, until 1922, when the Soviets asserted their control over Central Asian education by firing all of the Ottoman instructors. Just one of the many fronts the Bolsheviks and the indigenous people of Central Asia fought over as Central Asia was brought into the Soviet fold. 

Indian Revolutionaries

The efforts of Indian nationalists, revolutionaries, activists, and communists to liberate their land of British rule is beyond our current scope, but I do want to briefly discuss the role Central Asia played in uniting Indian Revolutionaries with Bolsheviks and helping to develop Indian Communist thought.

            Like Ireland and other British colonies, India’s Independence movement as we know it started in the early 1900s and grew out of decades of anti-colonial resistance and rebellions. I think there’s a common perception that the British waltzed into India and the Indians bowed down and gladly welcomed their colonists. That’s not true at all with the most famous rebellion being the Indian Rebellion or Mutiny of 1857. British Historian William Dalrymple wrote a fascinating book about the rebellion called “The Last Mughal: the Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857”. I’d also recommend Indian Summer: the Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex Von Tunzelmann which talks about the Indian Independence Movement from creation to the liberation and partition of India and Pakistan and Bangladesh.

            Again, like the cadre of Irish Volunteers led by Pearse, some members of the Indian Independence Movement looked to Britain’s enemies as allies. One such man was Mahendra Pratap, a well-known writer and revolutionary. He and a number of other revolutionaries, traveled to Germany and created the Berlin Committee, an organization for Indians fighting for India’s liberation. Pratap used German support to travel to Afghanistan as an emissary in 1915. From there he created a government-in-exile called the Provisional Government of India with Pratap as its president.

            We won’t talk too much about what was going on in Afghanistan during this episode because it’s so much and really deserves its own series of episodes, which we are currently writing, so there’s something for you to look forward to. All we need to know in the context of the Indian Liberation Movement is that in 1915, Afghanistan was a pseudo-British colony? They had fought two wars prior to 1915, but relations were somewhat friendly as long as Afghanistan walked the tightrope of neutrality that allowed Britain to dominate external affairs in return for financial support. So, when revolutionary Indians entered Afghanistan and started talking about overthrowing the British Empire, it raised more than a few eyebrows. Then the US captured a German agent and Indian revolutionary who revealed Pratap’s plans, forcing Afghanistan to disavow him. Additionally, Germany’s support was lukewarm at this point because of the world war, so Pratap’s ambitions had to be put on hold until the October Revolution of 1917.

            The Bolshevik’s firm anti-colonial stance, seemingly, made it an ideal ally for Pratap and his fellow revolutionaries. He traveled through Tashkent and to Petrograd to meet Lenin and discuss how both sides could benefit each other in their effort to end colonialism and spread communism. Initially, the Bolsheviks were keen to support the Indian revolution because they saw it as a way to weaken Britain. Given Pratap’s recent adventure in Afghanistan, it also made sense to use him and his fellow Indian Revolutionaries as emissaries to Afghanistan as a way to further threaten British interests in India. Afghanistan became even more appealing to the Bolsheviks in 1919 when the “pro”-British Emir was assassinated and placed his son, Amanullah on the throne. Amanullah would start and win the Third Anglo-Afghan War, severing any reliance Afghanistan had on British coin, creating an independent state. The Bolsheviks courted Afghanistan who once again had to walk a tightrope of benefitting from Bolshevik attention without creating a scenario for another war with Britain. Things grew tense as Amanullah supported his counterpart in Bukhara-who General Frunze was trying to overthrow in early 1920. In the end, Afghanistan signed a peace treaty with both Russia and Britain in 1921 but remained an ambiguous support of the Bukharan Emir and the Basmachi forces. Their ambiguity angered Pratap who turned from Afghanistan and relied on the Russians.

            The Indian Revolutionaries settled in Tashkent, which from 1919 onwards, was managed by Muslim reformists and Communists and their Bolshevik counterparts. One can imagine the excitement that ran through both the Indian Revolutionaries and Central Asian members of the Jadids and Communist parties as they worked together and shared the same space during this revolutionary period of time. And how exciting it must have been to take part in an effort to end colonialism, conservatism, and capitalism. As we know, the Bolshevik-Indigenous efforts at “ruling” together were complicated and full of tension and it wasn’t a peaceful utopia. But you still have the Musburo, a government body of Central Asians, working with Bolsheviks to try and re-establish law and order in Turkestan. That is more than the British or Tsarist Russia ever did.

            While in Tashkent, the Indian revolutionaries spent most of their time reading about Communism, spreading the message of Bolshevism and Indian liberation through their own networks, and training several militant organizations how to fight for Indian liberation. After helping to establish a cadre of Indian Revolutionaries in Tashkent, Pratap would travel around Asia to gather support for his evolved thinking of a Pan-Asian Province.

            The work of Indian independence was taken up by two Indian Revolutionaries: Manabendra Nath Roy and M. P. T. Acharya

M. P. T. Acharya

There were several Indian Revolutionaries in Tashkent, but the reason I want to focus on Roy and Acharya is because they represent two different approaches towards merging Indian Independence with Communism and their differences highlight why their efforts ultimately failed to liberate India.

            Acharya was born in 1887 to a Brahmin family and quickly became involved in political agitation. He was drawn to the cause of Indian Independence and studied with famous social reformer Lokmanya Tilak before being chased out of India because of his nationalistic leanings. Acharya resettled in Paris and became involved in the printing of several newspapers before traveling around the world agitating for Indian Independence. He made his way to Germany and joined the Berlin Indian Committee before being sent to Afghanistan to start laying the groundwork for an attack against British India. He then traveled to Moscow, met Lenin, and returned to Kabul in 1919 to continue the work he started with the Germans. While in Kabul he and Abdur Rabb Barq, another Indian revolutionary, founded the Indian Revolutionary Association (the IRA) and they engaged with different peoples of Kabul who also wanted independence. Even though the IRA was created with Soviet support and funds, they did not influence ideological rigidity or purity. Instead, the uniting factor was their shared hatred of the British Empire. This enabled the IRA to recruit amongst a wide range of revolutionaries and nationalists and their numbers grew.

            They relied on Afghanistan to serve as a jump pad into India, but Amanullah expelled all Indian Revolutionaries from his territory and forbad them from agitating along the Indian-Afghan border in May 1920. The IRA moved their headquarters to Tashkent, already home to several Indian revolutionaries. While in Tashkent, Acharya worked closely with his Communist counterparts and seems to have either been a member of or worked with their propaganda branch in Tashkent. He also continued recruiting military groups of Indians, Afghans, Iranians, and others to fight for the shared Bolshevik-Indian cause.

            Then Manabendra Roy arrived in Tashkent in October 1920

Manabendra Nath Roy

Roy is a colorful figure in a region of the world full of colorful characters. Born in 1887 in West Bengal, near Calcutta. Like Acharya, Roy was swept into the nationalist movement at a young age when he organized against the Bengal Partition of 1905. However, unlike Acharya, he joined the more violent groups of revolutionaries who often funded their efforts via armed robbery. Like the Irish, Roy and his conspirators turned to Germany for aid. Roy was sent to Java to welcome a Germany shipment of arms that never materialized. The British found out about the plot so it was too dangerous for Roy to return to India. He traveled first to Japan, then China, and the United States. He caught the attention of the American police and fled to Mexico where he met Communist agent, Mikhail Borodin. Together, they founded the Mexican communist party, the first Communist party outside of Russia.

            Borodin was recalled to Moscow in April 1920 and took Roy with him. Roy wrote the following about his meeting with Lenin:

“Nearly a head shorter, he tilted his red goatee almost to a horizontal position to look at my face quizzically. I was embarrassed, and did not know what to say. He helped me out with banter: “You are so young! I expected a grey-bearded wise man from the East”

Setting the East Ablaze, pg 104

            Lenin seemed to believe that Roy was a powerful leader who could help him spread Communist to the Asian world. Roy criticized Lenin’s understanding of the colonial problem, believing that Europe’s liberation lay in the liberation of their colonies. Once the colonies were freed, then communism could be brought to Europe. Communist would not come to Europe beforehand or during the liberation of the colonized world. Roy also refused to work with non-Marxist liberation movements whereas Lenin was more practical and would take whoever he could get. Once the Bolsheviks established their power, then these nationalist movements could be converted to Communism or eradicated. Lenin, seemingly impressed with Roy’s arguments, asked him to write a supplementary appendix to his own Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Question.

            Roy was sent to Tashkent to help coordinate efforts to train militant groups. According to his own autobiography, he arrived in Tashkent in two heavily-armed trains containing weapons for the Indian revolutionaries. and initially he and Acharya worked well together. Acharya had a great working relationship with soldiers and the Muslim civilians whereas Roy alienated many Muslims with his strict Communist thinking and anti-religious sentiments. Still he was able to craft a military school to train troops for his liberation of India. He, Acharya, and many other Indian Revolutionaries founded the Indian Communist Party (ICP) in 1920, but ran into difficulties during their second meeting when they discussed who could be eligible to join the ICP. Roy pushed for a strict rule that people could join only if they were not also members of a political group not under Communist control (like Acharya’s IRA for example). Roy even went so far as to withhold funds from organizations that he felt weren’t ideological pure enough-eventually destroying the IRA. Acharya would later claim:

“We are not against Communism and we do not make a distinction between a Communist revolutionary or just a revolutionary. All we object to is forcible conversion to Communism at least in the form dictated by Roy and the Comintern”

Indian Nationalists and the Soviets in Central Asia, pg 13

            That did not save him from further trouble with Roy and in 1921, he wrote to the Comintern complaining:

“With reference to the discussions now going on with regard to Indian question, from which I purposely absented myself as I am least sanguine about the results intended to be achieved by these methods and persons, I am sending you herewith a paper giving my experience with Roy and his Indian communist party during a whole year and showing how they sabotaged it in the past. It must be also pointed out that I was one of the original members of the so called Indian Communist party and was thrown out for criticizing Roy’s and his lieutenants’ methods.”

Indian Nationalists and the Soviets in Central Asia, pg 13

            To make matters worse, the British were aware of Roy and his efforts to build an army that would eventually threaten the British Raj. They tried to starve Roy of funds that were slipping into Turkestan through the porous borders and their agents worked overtime to intercept Roy’s agents and gather as much information as possible on Roy and his fellow revolutionaries. Meanwhile, Russia was having issues with its economy and internal unrest. If it was to survive, it needed to make sacrifices.

            So, in 1921, Lenin made an ideological sacrifice and signed the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement, ending the Allies’ blockade and opening Soviet Russia to trade and investment from a capitalist empire. It also put an end to any planned invasion of India. The best of Roy’s recruits were sent to Moscow for further training while the rest were left to fend for themselves. Roy would return to Moscow and continue to serve the Soviet Union until Stalin’s terror forced him to flee in 1928. After being kicked out of the Indian Communist Party and realizing he would not break Moscow’s support of Roy, Acharya left Tashkent in 1922 and traveled to Germany, continuing to fight for India’s liberation and experimenting with anarchism.

            Unfortunately, the Indian affair highlights a lot of problems the Bolsheviks had spreading their ideology and working with non-Russians. Initially, the Soviets were eager to support the Indian Revolutionaries and it seemed that the Indians and Bolsheviks could work well together. But soon ideological demands pushed people out and/or eventually led to their death as the smallest of infractions (or made up accusations) led to the firing squad. Additionally, participants were increasingly encouraged to fight amongst themselves as they struggled to maintain ideological purity and continue to enjoy Moscow’s support. This is a pattern we will see with the Bolsheviks and the Central Asian cohorts as this podcast progresses.

            Finally, something must be said about the likelihood of Roy’s efforts succeeding in the ultimate liberation of India. As I think the United States should know by now, taking a handful of disgruntled or exiled peoples, running them through military training, and then sending them back into their home countries with weapons and some money is not enough to overthrow any but the weakest of governments. While I suppose one should never say never, it should have been clear early on that the efforts of the Indian Communist’s were doomed to fail given Britain’s jealous control over India and the fact that the World War ended in 1918, allowing Britain to reposition troops as needed to answer any incursion or risk of rebellion.

British Spies

Speaking of the British, we now get to talk about British agents in Central Asia. If you’ve listened to my other episodes, you know I have lots of thoughts about the “Great Game” but for the British in the 1900s, it was an all too real competition for the survival of the Empire. So when the Bolsheviks took over and started working their way into Central Asia, the British grew worried about Afghanistan and then India. They sent a number of agents into the region and we’re going to talk about probably the most famous of the British spies working in Central Asia during the First World War.

F. M. Bailey

It’s probably impossible to discuss Britain in Central Asia without mentioning Frederick Bailey.  Born in 1882 in Lahore, Bailey had already had considerable experience in the spy game by the time WWI started. He joined the Indian Army in 1901 and spent most of his time exploring China and Tibet. During the war, he served on the Western Front and apparently fought at Gallipoli before being sent to Central Asia in 1918 to figure out what the hell was going on in Russia. He entered Tashkent as a British officer and started to meet with contacts when word reached Tashkent that the British were fighting Russian forces in Transcaspia followed by the executed of the 26 Baku commissars. Bailey did his best to explain what he couldn’t possibly know as he had lost all contact with British officers in India and Iran.

            Shortly afterwards, he learned about his upcoming arrest and went into hiding amongst friends in the city. It may have been around this time that he learned about the upcoming rising led by Osipov via his contact Paul Nazaroff, a White Russian. As we know, Osipov’s rising failed, Nazaroff barely escaped Tashkent with his life, and Bailey transformed himself into an Austrian POW. Bailey spent the next few months smuggling reports to his superiors (including information on Pratap and the Indian Revolutionary Communists). If he thought that Britain was still pushing to liberate Tashkent, his hopes were quickly squashed and he knew his only option was to get out. His best hope was to travel to Bukhara (which was still ruled by the Emir) and then make his way across the Karakum desert to the Persian border and meet up with Iranian forces in Meshed.

To escape, he joined the Cheka and then volunteered to spy on the Emir for the Bolsheviks. Trusting a Serbian contact, he fooled the Russians into hiring him, got the Bukhara job, and was also told to keep an eye out for a British Agent named F. M. Bailey who was wandering Turkestan, causing trouble. He reported back that Bailey had last been seen leaving Afghanistan towards the Ferghana. The Bolsheviks would later claim to have killed Bailey crossing the Persian frontier and gave him a full military funeral. I’m sure Bailey would later report to his superiors that the reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

He then traveled to Bukhara but was not greeted by the Emir who, according to Bailey:

“Have so far seen no member of the Bukharan government who are suspicious and are afraid to have anything to do with me. Our troops are far off and Bolsheviks are near and I suppose they are afraid of consequences if Bolsheviks hear they are helping me.”

Making Uzbekistan pg. 125

He stayed in the city for a while, gathering what intelligence he could, and maybe discussed plans for defense and rebellion with the Emir or maybe his mere presence was later trumped up by the Bolsheviks to justify their invasion of Bukhara in August 1920. Eventually Bailey received orders to leave Bukhara as soon as he could, for it was no longer safe for him. He left on the night of December 18th, 1919 and reached Iran in January 1920. He accomplished very little that was tangible, but his daring exploits and his entertaining memoir would later make him a legend within the stories of the Great Game and British spy craft.

P. T. Etherton

While Bailey was trying to escape the Bolsheviks in Tashkent, another British servant, Colonel Percy T. Etherton, was stationed in Kashgar in modern day Xinjiang, on the Russian-Chinese border. His job was to ensure that Bolshevik did not spill into Xinjiang region and upset British interests.

Etherton had served in the Australian gold-fields before riding with Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts in the Boer War and served with the Indian Army frontier regiment during WWI, before being picked for spy work. Before the war, he also explored the Pamir Mountains and spent considerable time around Kashgar and then took a detour into Mongolia and rode home via the Trans-Siberian Railway. He would write a book about his experiences called Across the Roof of the World.

Etherton was sent to Kashgar to replace the British Consul-General on June 7th 1918 with the responsibility of protecting the rights of the British-Indian subjects in Xinjiang and to ensure the Russians couldn’t find another way at harming British control in India. Etherton immediately took over the Consul-General’s spy nature and gathered what information he could about the Bolsheviks as Bailey left for his grand journey. Etherton took advantage of the Indian merchants in the region, Kyrgyz nomads who crossed the Pamir, White Russian soldiers and officers crossing to and fro, and other locals to create a network that, quote:

“The system worked well and enabled me to keep in touch with almost every house and family of note in the country, and no move of importance could be made without it being known”

Setting the East Ablaze, pg 97

Etherton and Bailey worked close together as Bailey got involved in the Osipov Uprising (it seems that Etherton tried to send him money for the rebellion) and Bailey was constantly trying to smuggle information to Etherton and vice versa. Given the technological limits of the region, it is hard to determine what actually got through the chaos that was Turkestan at this time. When he wasn’t trying to contact Bailey, he kept a close eye on whoever crossed the Russian-Xinjiang border and tracked down all of the Bolshevik’s agents in the region. He feared that the Russians would turn the region into a hotbed of sedition and rebellion. He was also on the lookout for anyone turning against the Bolsheviks and may have saved the life of White Russian Agent, Paul Nazaroff when he arrived in Kashgar after months of being on the run.

Etherton knew he couldn’t control the entire border by himself, so he pressured the Chinese government to increase their border security. The Bolsheviks pushed for China to open Bolsheviks consulates in Xinjiang and return all anti-Bolsheviks Russians to them, including the last Imperial Russian consulate in the region. Etherton used Islamophobia to stroke China’s fears over their Muslim population. He argued that if the Bolsheviks were allowed into Xinjiang they would stir up the Muslim population to rise up, similar to what was happening in Turkestan (even though we know Turkestan was far more complicated than that). Etherton also squashed any attempts to restart trade, and privately complained that without him, the Chinese would welcome the Russians with open arms. From this brief overview we can safely say that he was a bit of a bigot who engaged in xenophobia, like most British agents. And we can also say that the Chinese administrators had their own interests to protect and is it a surprise they didn’t always align with the xenophobic British agent?

The Anglo-Soviet agreement put an end to his operations in Xinjiang and he grumbly left the region in 1922. Like Bailey, it is hard to say that he truly accomplished anything beyond gathering some information (some of it highly questionable) and causing minor hindrances for the Bolsheviks. We must also consider Kashgar’s isolated nature and understand that a lot of what Etherton did was of his own initiative and he did not have the funds or support needed to create a truly effective spy network. A lot of it was Etherton grabbing who he could find and sending them into Turkestan to maybe come back with useful information. It also didn’t help that the Indian Office and the Foreign Office in London didn’t have a coordinated plan or approach when it came to Central Asia beyond: protect India. This disconnect may be why Britain’s agreement with the Soviets caught Etherton by surprise.

After Etherton left Kashgar, a subordinate would later replace him in Kashgar, denounced Etherton for cooking the financial books to hid personal expenses and even claimed that Etherton slept with prostitutes in Kashgar. An audit confirmed that he conducted financial shenanigans and was barred from working in the Indian Political Service ever again. But he could remain in military service as long as he reimbursed the government a 1000 rupees. He left the service a month later after being refused commendations for his work in Kashgar.


Prisoners of War During World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Ottoman Prisoners of War in Russia, 1914-22 by Yucel Yanikdag

Indian Revolutionaries in Central Asia by G. L. Dmitriev

Indian Nationalists’ Cooperation with Soviet Russia in Central Asia: The Case of M.P.T. Acharya by Lina Bernstein

Subversive Indian Networks in Berlin and Europe, 1914 – 1918: The History and Legacy of the Berlin Committee by Fredrik Petersson

Etherton at Kashgar: Rhetoric and Reality in the History of the “Great Game” by Daniel C. Waugh

Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia by Peter Hopkirk

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

Mission to Tashkent by F. M. Bailey

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