The Russian Revolution and Central Asia-1917

Introduction

Did you ever wonder how the Russian Revolution affected Central Asia? This episode discusses how the various political factions in Central Asia-the Jadids, Alash Orda, the Ulama, and the Russian Settlers-responded to the fall of the Tsar and the rise of the Bolsheviks.

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When we last discussed Central Asia, they were in the midst of the 1916 Revolt, which is now seen as the harbinger of the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil Wars. Today we’ll discuss how the Russian Revolution affected Central Asia.

Russian Revolution in Russia

February Revolution

1917 is an odd year for Russia, because it’s a period were militarily-things were beginning to look up, but socially and politically, things were at their lowest. Even though Russia had seen its greatest military victory in 1916 (one that cost them an estimated 3 million killed, wounded, or taken prisoner) and it was correcting its production issues, it was still facing a massive supply crisis because of an overstrained and broken transport system. This meant shortages of food, fuel, and basic household goods, rapid inflation, and corruption within the government and its military suppliers. Most fatal of all was the complete lack of trust everyone had in the Russian government. Governmental officials were either unacceptably incompetent or German spies and traitors. Even the staunchly monarchist General Aleksei Brusilov admitted that “Russia could not win the war with its present system of government.” (Figes) Everyone agreed that Russia was on the brink of a great catastrophe, but no one could have predicted it would have been at the hands of women tired of queuing for bread.

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Episode 25-The Russian Revolution and Central Asia

Did you ever wonder how the Russian Revolution affected Central Asia? This episode discusses how the various political factions in Central Asia-the Jadids, Alash Orda, the Ulama, and the Russian Settlers-responded to the fall of the Tsar and the rise of the Bolsheviks.

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Episode 22-the Central Asian Revolt of 1916

In this episode we discussed the Central Asian Revolt of 1916. Sparked by decades old administrative issues, the Russian settler’s “redistribution” of land and resources, and the Tsarist’s decision to conscription indigenous peoples (who up until that point that had been exemption of conscription), the revolution overtook most of Turkestan and lasted into 1917. In this episode we focus specifically on the actions that took part in Jizzakh (where the revolt began) and the Kazakh and Kyrgyz Steppes (where it morphed into a fight for existence).

Transcript coming

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Episode 18-Interview With Jesse Alexander

We are excited to talk to Jesse Alexander, host of the YouTube History Documentary the Great War. We discussed how asymmetrical warfare developed during the immediate interwar period, following World War I, as well as his newest project, Rhineland 45, which he is currently crowdfunding.

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Thoughts on African Kaiser and handling colonialism

African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918 by Robert Gaudi, Berkley, 2017

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while. I read African Kaiser by Robert Gaudi last year and, while it was an easy and enjoyable read, there was an element that didn’t sit right with me. Lettow-Vorbeck fought with Africans during WWI, but I think Gaudi stresses this ‘progressive’ mindset more than he should, making it far more positive than it really was.

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Treaty of Versailles

Last week, I attended a fantastic given by Michael S. Neiberg at the Pritzker Military Museum and library about his latest book the Treaty of Versailles: a Concise History (which I also read) and I thought I’d write about the experience.

Mr. Neiberg modeled the structure of his lecture on the structure of his book, starting with a breakdown on how complicated of a situation the Big Three were facing when they drafted the treaty, America’s role in the treaty, and ending by focusing on an interesting, but often overlooked aspect of the Treaty: the case of Shandong. He wrapped his lecture up by quickly assessing the impact of the Treaty of Versailles immediately after it was written and the decades that followed.

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Book Review: Syria: An Outline History

Syria: An Outline History by John D. Granger

4/5

This is a well-written book about a large swath of land in what is now known as the Middle East. Even though there is a modern-day equivalent of Syria, it is a small portion of what had been Syria until roughly the 20th century. The borders of Syria have changed frequently through various waves of invasion and conquest. It seems that the borders have been contested so much over history, that Grainger felt the need to defend where he placed the borders and the complications that arose from that decision. Syria has never been united either politically, ethnically, or religiously, making it a potentially unwieldy and overwhelming topic to write on or study. Grainger shows himself to be a master historian by knowing exactly how much detail is needed without overwhelming anyone. He also knows how to take incredibly complicated scenarios and bring an amazing sense of clarity.

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Book Review: A Peace to End all Peace

A Peace to End All Peace: the Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. Published by Owl Books 2001

4/5

This is one of those books that everyone reads for a foundational knowledge about the Middle Eastern policy during WWI. It is a well-researched and well written book that is an easy and quick read, packed with a ton of information. Like one of my other favorite books: Dreadnaught written by Robert K. Massie, this book focuses on the British war efforts. However, unlike Dreadnaught, this book only focuses on the British war effort. Fromkin writes in the preface, that that was intentional, and while it provides a focused narrative, it doesn’t capture all the nuisances of the Middle Eastern theater. It also obfuscates the role Russia played in shaping the war effort. It also doesn’t make much of an effort to explain the Turkish policy. This is a good book to start if one wants an entry point into the mess that is WWI’s Middle Eastern Front, but it needs to be read along with other books to provide a more holistic and in depth understanding of the war.

That being said, Fromkin does a fantastic job highlighting the inefficiency and stupidity behind the British war efforts. They entered the region without a clear plan on what they wanted from the region and once their forces were trapped in the Middle East, they had no idea how to win or what winning entailed. The War Office, under Kitchener, wanted to create a hands on empire while others wanted a loose confederacy of British states, ruled by locals, but modeled on British officers. Then there were others, like T. E Lawrence one could argue, who took advantage of a situation they were thrust into to their own benefit, altering a region in ways they couldn’t understand.

The British launched the Gallipoli campaign because they were terrified of Russia being pushed out of the war by the Turkish and because they underestimated the Turkish war effort. They thought it would be an easy victory that could distract from the disaster that was the western front. McMeekin, author of The Ottoman Endgame, does a fantastic job describing the true role Russia played in the Gallipoli campaign, while Fromkin only touched upon it. McMeekin also spend far more time explaining the role Russia played in constructing the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Read my review of The Ottoman Endgame here

Fromkin, however, provides the necessary analysis of the interpersonal politics of the British war effort. Like Massie, Fromkin understand people and psychology, and does an indepth analysis of the officers who surrounded Kitchener, the Indian Office, and the War Department as well as the mercurial nature of men like Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George. Fromkin also does a decent job balancing the many countries involved in the war, dedicating times to small offenses such as Dunsterforce campaign in Central Asia while keeping the bigger picture in view. He even took time to briefly explain what was going on in the British home front to explain some of the policy decisions the British made.

To learn more about the Dunsterforce campaign, watch this Great War episode

Overall, while the book only focuses on the British perspective, it is a great and indepth overview, providing a good foundation to a very conflicting and confusing front. But it needs to be supplemented with other books.

Book Review: The Ottoman Endgame

The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Sean McMeekin. Published by Penguin Books, 2016

5/5

This is a well written, well researched study of the military situation of the Ottoman Empire before and during the First World War. It provides a refreshing perspective, focusing on the Ottomans themselves, as oppose to the powers that destroyed their empire. It takes the time to review the situation in the Balkans and highlighting the Ottoman’s desperation as the British cooled on them and Russia licked its lips, eying its territory. The only country willing to offer a friendly hand was Germany and thus the Ottoman’s fate was sealed. By siding with Germany, they turned themselves against those who had once protected their land (the British, in their everlasting Great Game against Russia).

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Thoughts on World War I

Yesterday, I was going to write a blog post about the 100th year anniversary of the WWI armistice and of Poland’s independence, but I couldn’t find the right words. I wanted to celebrate with Poland (lord knows they deserve it), while also properly reflecting on the war that killed 7 million civilians and 10 million military personal, shattered three empires, and created a decade of instability and civil wars, culminating in the Second Word War.

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Qodiriy, Fitrat, and Cho‘lpon

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.

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Book Review: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille

The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille by George Thenault. Published in 2009 by Bibliolife

I’m sure one can imagine my excitement when I saw this memoir in my local military library. George Thenault was the French commander of the Lafayette Escadrille from the very beginning to the moment it was swallowed by the American Expeditionary Force and turned into the 103d Aero Squadron. The memoir was originally written in 1919 and became a global success, ensuring that Thenault would spend eleven years in the United States, serving as a military attaché. I had always wondered how Thenault and his second in command Lt. de Laage de Meux had felt about their American pilots and the memoir did not disappoint.

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