Part Three: Globalization and Modernity

In 1428, a few years before Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” a man by the name of Abul Khayr was proclaimed khan of a loose confederation of tribes on the Dasht-i Qipchak, a large steppe in today’s Kazakhstan and Russia. Abul Khayr was related to the great Mongol conqueror Chingiz Khan through Chingiz Khan’s grandson Shiban. Being descendant from the lineage of Chingiz Khan was about to be an important part of being a ruler in Central Asia, which was a change from the Timurid period. In 1431, Abul Khayr invaded southwards crossing the Syr Darya river and capturing the city of Urgench in Khorazm.

Depiction of Abulkhayr Shaybani Abul Khayr Shaybani dressed in white; 17th century artistic depiction

In 1456, Amasanji Taiji the khan of a western Mongol confederation, who hoped to establish his own empire, attacked Moghulistan and the Kipchak steppe, forcing Abul Khayr back to Sighnaq and laying siege to his headquarters there. As a result of this defeat many Uzbek tribesmen left Abul Khayr and joined Janibeg and Girey (the famous Qazaq khans), who had just established a new khanate in what is today central Kazakhstan.

For the next few decades, the Timurids continued to rule Transoxania, then in 1500, Abul Khayr’s grandson Muhammad Shaybani put an end to Timurid rule and established the Shaybanid dynasty in what is today Uzbekistan. The name Shaybanid comes from the transformation of Shiban, the name of Chingiz Khan’s grandson, into an Arabo-Muslim nisba. A nisba is kind of like a last name in English, but it also communicates someone’s origins or profession.

By 1501, Muhammad Shaybani had crossed the Syr Darya river and taken Samarkand while fighting off the last Timurid ruler, a man by the name of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483-1530). Babur immortalized this experience in his classic autobiography the Baburnama, written in a literary language called Chaghatai, sometimes called Old Uzbek. For modern Uzbek speakers, this work, which is filled with Babur’s own original poetry, sounds sort of like how Shakespeare sounds to modern English speakers.

Map of the ShaybanidsThe Shaybanids ca. 1501


Shaybani Khan defeated the last members of Timurids in Samarkand and took over Khorazm in 1505. He started his rule from Bukhara in 1505 and started a military expedition into Khorasan against the Safavids (a dynasty ruling Persia 1501-1722).  However, his expedition was not successful and Shaybani Khan was defeated and killed by the Safavids near Merv in November 1510.

Painting of Shaybani seatedA painting of Muhammad Shaybani by the famous Persian painter Kamal ud-Din Behzad

Khorezm fell to the Savafids briefly but the region was again conquered by another group of Uzbeks from the Dashti Qipchaq led by the brothers Ilbars and Bilbars, descendants of Yadigar Khan. Yadigar Khan was a Chingizid from the line of Jochi through his third son, Shiban. Later this dynasty became known as Arabshahids (or Yadgarids) in the historical literature. Arabshahid dynasty (1511-1727) was enthroned in Khorazm during the next two centuries before the last member of the dynasty was killed by his own slaves in 1727. Urgench (Gurgench) was the historical capital of Khorazm until the beginning of the 17th century when the Amu darya (Oxus river) started to change its course leaving the city desertified. As a result, the capital was relocated to Khiva, southeast of the Khanate by Arab Muhammad Khan (1603-1621) and remained there until the end of the Khanate period.

View across rooftops in a cityA view of Khivan architecture from

During this period, Khorazm was divided into smaller appanages controlled by members of the ruling family. The senior member of the family was considered to be the khan and all other heads of the appanages were subordinate to this khan, creating political unity. The appanage system soon became a confederation of independent principalities and internal conflicts among them increased. During the second half of the 16th century, Haji Muhammad Khan (r. 1558-1602) ruled Khorazm and eliminated almost all rival branches of the dynasty. During his time, the political situation calmed and the central authority of the Khan improved. Political relations with the Bukharan Shaybanids, who were the main rival of the Khorezmian Uzbeks in Central Asia, remained tense during this century. In the 17th century, the Khanate of Khiva experienced improved central authority and relative internal political stability when compared with the previous century. Especially during Abulghazi Khan’s reign (1643-1663), basic structures of state formation were established through political reforms.

Painting of Abulghazi KhanA modern painting of Abulghazi Khan (wikicommons unaltered)

His administrative reforms aimed to contribute to the consolidation of power under the Uzbeks and state centralization.  According to the Khworezmian historian Munis, “he appointed 360 Uzbeks to official posts” in the administration of the Khanate. He also distributed the lands on both sides of the Amu Darya, from Darghan (the most eastern town of the Khanate) to the Aral region, to Uzbek groups. Moreover, Abulghazi Khan also encouraged the migration of Uzbeks from Dasht-i Qipchaq by granting irrigated land properties alongside the Amu Darya. The political reformations and economic policies of Abulghazi Khan continued during the reign of Anusha Khan (r. 1663-1685), his successor and son. Anusha Khan concentrated on the expansion of irrigational networks in the southern part of the Khanate where he built three new canals named Yarmish, Kat and Shahabad [Munis and Agahi, 48-49]. These political reforms and the allocation of newly irrigated lands among the Uzbek military aristocracy resulted in the emergence of strong and centralized military authority in Khorazm. Strong military support enabled Anusha Khan to reinforce the subjugation of borderland regions. In 1685, he conquered Samarkand and had his name read in khutbas in local mosques, where he also minted coins under his name. (A khutba is a sermon given on Fridays. Mentioning a ruler’s name in the khutba indicates that he controls that territory.) Even though this was a short-term conquest, it still had great impact on the Khivan-Bukharan rivalry, because Bukhara had always taken the dominant role until that time.

A French map of Central AsiaA French map of Central Asia from the 1730s; “Karasm” is Khorazm (US public domain accessed through wikicommons)


Shaybanids conquered and divided the region into four different appanages, according to old Inner Asian steppe culture. Kuchkonji Muhammad, the most senior member of the Chingizid royal family, was elected as the new khan. The territory was divided between the members of the four branches of the Abul-Khayrid clan, in other words, the descendants of Abul Khayr khan’s four sons.

Although the members of Abul Khayr Khan’s family were rulers of these appanages, the real power and military authority were in the hands of Uzbek amirs whose united support could determine the survival of a particular sultan or khan. According to the appanage system, the elected khan would remain in the capital city controlling the territories under his authority and the sultans of other appanages were subordinated to him while controlling their own territories independently. The Abul-Khayrids were centered around four cities: Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent and Balkh. The appanage system worked best when there was a constant external common threat, against which the appanage holders were forced to act unilaterally and an opportunity to expand their borders. Therefore, the appanage politics of the Abul-Khayrids was successful during the first half of the 16th century when Uzbeks were in constant war against the Safavids in Khorasan. However, internal conflicts began raising among these four Abul-Khayrid appanage clans during the second half of the 16th century that led to weakening of all clans. The Joni Begid clan, centered in Bukhara, gained a dominant position in these conflicts and Bukhara became the capital.

During the reign of Abd-Allah Khan (r. 1583-1598), the borders of the Bukharan Khanate expanded to Khorasan and Khorazm in the west and Kashgar in the east.

Painting of Abd-Allah KhanAbd-Allah Khan slicing melons from a late sixteenth century water-color painting. Today Bukhara is famous for having over thirty different types of melons.

However, due to internal feuds between Abd-Allah Khan and his son Abd-al-Mo’men, the internal political situation deteriorated. Abd-Allah Khan died in 1598 and his son was assassinated by resisting amirs of his father, which eventually caused the extinguishment of the whole Abul-Khayrid dynasty. The Qazaqs used this internal political crisis and invaded Transoxiana. However, the power vacuum in Central Asia was replaced immediately with another Shaybanid family, the Toqay Temurids, also known as Ashtarkhanids. The Ashtarkhanid dynasty (1598-1747) ruled the Khanate until the invasion of Nadir Shah (r. 1736-1747).

Trade and Globalization

During the period of Shaybanid and Ashtrakhanid rule, the Bukharan Khanate was at the center of a Silk Road-like trade network, which included strong trade relations with both Russia and India. The trade relations of Bukharan merchants with China grew especially in rhubarb and silver during this period [Millward, pages 178-180; Levi, pages 131-135]. Bukharan traders were active in intermediary trade between China and southwestern Asia, including Iran and India, connecting them through the Gansu (Hexi) corridor, the “artery of the Silk Road.” Starting from the 17th century, the role of the Bukharan intermediary merchants increased in the north-south direction as well. The opening of the new trade pattern stemmed from the expansion of the Russian Empire to the east and the growing economy of India after receiving the “flood” of silver from the New World. In addition to the increase in available silver, the cotton trade with Europe also increased during this period. The growth of both the fur trade in Siberia and the demand for cotton and cashmere shawls in Bukhara attracted Bukharan caravan traders who extended their network from Semipalatinsk (today in Kazakhstan) to Multan (today in Pakistan) through Kabul (in Afghanistan). Despite the growth of intermediary trade, Bukharans also offered local products to these regions as well. Locally made zandani textiles and sun-ripened fruits were highly appreciated in the north while the steppe horses of Turkestan had no rival in India.

Turkmen trader with a camelA Turkmen trader posing with his camel loaded with grain or cotton. (Library of Congress)  Turkmen were very important in the political history of the Khanate of Khiva.

A caravan of camelsA caravan of camels carrying their own food (Library of Congress)

A caravan outside SamarqandA caravan in the mountains near Samarqand (Library of Congress)

Although these photos were taken in the early 20th century, they give us a sense of what it would have been like to be a trader.

New Uzbek States in Central Asia

After the conquest of Nadir Shah in 1740, the political situation changed dramatically as the ruling dynasties lost their positions in the Bukharan and Khivan Khanates. Equipped with modern military cannons, Nadir Shah’s army easily overcame the Bukharan and Khivan armies. After conquering the Khanates, Nadir Shah supported local military leaders from the Manghit Uzbeks to rule the khanates. However, after the major contingent of the Persian military left the region, rebelling parties competed for power while also struggling against Persian rule. In Bukhara, Muhammad Rahim Ataliq, a Manghit chieftain, defeated the Uzbek rebelling parties with the help of a Persian military group. According to steppe tradition, Muhammad Rahim Ataliq could not be a legitimate khan as he was a “non-Chingizid” by lineage, however, he legitimized his title by marrying the daughter of Abul Fayz Khan, the last Chingizid khan of Bukhara. During his reign, Muhammad Rahim Khan of Bukhara had to spend most of his time struggling against rebellious Uzbek tribes, but also expanded the territories of the Khanate to include the towns of Turkestan and Tashkent. However, the Bukharan Khanate lost control of the regions to the south of the Amu Darya at this time. After the death of Muhammad Rahim Khan in 1758, the rule of Bukhara passed to his uncle Danial Biy, who could not claim the title of Khan, but referred to himself as an Amir. Since then, Bukhara was referred to as the Bukharan Amirate rather than the Bukharan Khanate. Amir Danial was the founder of the Manghit dynasty of Bukharan Amirs who ruled the Bukhara Amirate until the end of its existence in 1920.

After the conquest of Nadir Shah, the political situation deteriorated in the Khivan Khanate for some time due to internal conflicts. Manghit chieftains were quickly overturned and removed from the throne soon after Nadir Shah left the region. After a decade of conflicts among internal players, the Qungrat tribe came to power under the leadership of Muhammad Amin Inaq with the support of the grand vizier Muhammad Amin Mehter in 1762. He became the founder of the Qungrat dynasty and spent his thirty-year-long reign establishing political order and subjugating the Aral Manghits and Turkmens (from the Yomut and Chowdur tribes). He also ended the dominance of the Turkmens who interfered in Khivan political affairs by actively supporting competing Uzbek factions. During the reign of the early Qungrat rulers, Eltuzar Khan (r. 1804-1806) and Muhammad Rahim Khan (r. 1806-1825), the Khivan Khanate enacted important political and economic reforms that impacted the expansion of the agricultural economy and the military power of the Khanate. The political influence of the Khivan Khanate expanded from Northern Khurasan until the lower stream of the Syr Darya,including the territories of the Junior Horde of the Qazaqs.

Also during the 18thcentury, Abdul Karim Biy, a leader of another Uzbek tribe, the Ming, founded a third khanate, the Khanate of Khoqand, in the Ferghana Valley.

The Citadel of Khoqand (Turkestanskiy Al’bom (1865-1872): Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-DIG-ppmsca-09947-00002])

The power of the Ming tribe emerged throughout the 18th century and finally they took over the entire region by eliminating the power of the Khojas, a group of Naqshbandi Sufi leaders, who had been the former rulers of the region. Being formerly a principality of Bukhara, the Khoqand Khanate now emerged as a third independent Khanate in Central Asia. The Khoqand Khanate expanded its political power into eastern Turkistan challenging Chinese dominance in Altishahr, the region including Kashgaria and the Tarim basin.

During the first half of the 19th century, the trade and commercial relations of the Central Asian Khanates with Russia and China increased. The role of Central Asian merchants in the mediatory trade between the northern and southern trade corridors of Eurasia increased as the demand for raw materials rose after the Industrial Revolution. The expansion of the Russian and Chinese (Qing) Empires towards Central Asia during the 19th century also impacted the economic situation in the region by bringing the imperial borders closer to Central Asian cities. Orenburg and Altishahr became new exchange points where Central Asian caravans constantly exported locally produced merchandise in exchange for industrial products including cast iron, fabrics and silver bullion.

A map of Central Asia including Altishahr

The role of Orenburg increased over the course of the 19th century as the main trade point between the Russian Empire and Central Asia. The increasing demand of the Russian textile industry for raw materials, including cotton and dyes, influenced the commercialization of the agricultural economy in Central Asia, where irrigation networks expanded to support cash crop production. The rise of regional trade and commercialization of agriculture allowed the ruling dynasties of Central Asia to improve their political positions by reforming their militaries and political structures. As a result, the Uzbek Khanates expanded their territories by subjugating their respective borderland populations. The Khivan and Khoqandian Khanates both expanded their territories by subjugating borderland territories, which were occupied by pastoral nomads from the Turkman, Qirghiz, and Qazaq peoples. Bukhara already had a large territory and the Manghit rulers were mostly occupied with internal conflicts and rebellions rather than expanding their territories. Despite constant political correspondence between the Khanates, the ruling dynasties remained hostile toward each other and the hostility between Bukhara and other two khanates was especially apparent.

The hostility between the Khanates was one of the reasons behind the Russian conquest of Central Asia during the second half of the 19th century. The southward expansion of the Russian Empire continued towards Central Asia with the capture of Aq Masjid in 1853 and Tashkent in 1865.

A map of Tashkent from 1865. (Turkestanskiy Al’bom (1865-1872): Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-DIG-ppmsca-09947-00002])

The Russian conquest of the Central Asian khanates continued with the surrender of Amir Muzaffar of Bukhara in 1867 and the Khivan Khanate in 1873. The Khoqand Khanate, which was conquered and abolished in 1876, was the last Central Asian state to be conquered by the Russian Empire. [Keller, pages 96-97] The rulers of Bukhara and Khiva remained on the throne while their territories were officially announced as protectorates of the Russian Empire, which demolished their right to conduct independent foreign policy. Tashkent became the center of Tsarist Imperial administration where the Turkestan Governor-General became the highest local tsarist administrator in the region. The Bukharan and Khivan khanates remained under the direct surveillance of the political agents of the Russian Empire, who were appointed to the administration of these states. The imperial rule of Russian Turkestan continued until the revolution in 1917 when the Bolsheviks came to power. In 1924, the first ethnic based soviet Central Asian states were formed. The Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan Soviet republics were created in the territories of the former Khanates.


In the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia went through cultural and political upheaval, which brings to mind the earlier Mongol conquests, as the Russian empire invaded the region in the 1860s, and then the Soviet empire tightened its control in the 1930s. To illustrate this change, we’ll follow the lives two men, now national heroes in Uzbekistan, who both reflected on and shaped Uzbek history during this period.

The Bukharan Abdurauf Fitrat (1886-1938) was the son of a merchant. He spent four years in Istanbul from 1909 to 1913 as a student at the Medreset ül-Vâizin, where he studied a wide curriculum including Turkic history taught by Yusuf Akçura (1876-1935). During these years he participated in discussions with Ottoman reformers and Young Turks about Islam, politics, and empire, with his first writing appearing in the journal Hikmet. Even at this early stage in his intellectual journey, he advocated for modern education and modern statecraft. His experiences in the Ottoman Empire also influenced his identity as a Bukharan patriot.

Fitrat in Bukhara in 1908 (sitting in the middle between two colleagues)

In his first book, A Debate between a Bukharan Professor and a European on the Subject of New Schools, he discusses the necessity of modern education for Muslims in Bukhara.  Speaking through the voice of his European character, Fitrat warned: “Strive until you too have that which made the Christians victorious over you.” (Khalid, page 41) Putting their own ideas in the mouths of sympathetic outsiders was a common way for reformers of this period to advance their own agendas. Reformers during this period are called the Jadids, or Jadidists,after the Usul-i Jadid schools that taught the Arabic alphabet phonetically and provided the Muslim populations of the Russian Empire with western knowledge.

In his Tales of an Indian Traveler, Fitrat used the character of an Indian visitor to voice his own critique of Bukharan society. The Indian visitorlays bare the chaos of the streets, the lack of hygiene, the lack of economic planning and education, improper religious practices and other things that Fitrat disliked. The solution to this dreary situation, according to Fitrat’s criticism, was for the ruler of Bukhara to become a proper Muslim sovereign, provide modern education, public healthcare and establish a new economic policy. Up until the revolution of 1917, Fitrat had written almost entirely in Persian, but in 1917 he switched to Uzbek, a language that he hoped to reshape. At this same time, he switched from the theme of Islamic reformism to Turkism and began advancing what historian Adeeb Khalid calls “the Chaghatayist view of Central Asian history.” (Khalid, page 54) He also worked in politics as the minister for education and the head of the Council on Economic Development in the Bukharan People’s Republic (1920-1924). Interestingly, he seems to not have spoken any European languages, so his understanding of “European learning” was accessed through Turkish.

This Bukharan visionary’s live was cut short by Stalin’s guns in 1938, when he was murdered by the Soviet state.

This document was signed on October 5, 1938, accusing Fitrat of terrorism and other grievances. He was fifty-two at the time of his death.

Abdulla Qodiriy (1894-1938) was born in Tashkent. He attended a Russian-native school, where he graduated at the top of his class. After graduating, he worked as a secretary for a merchant and published his first play, which discussed the destructiveness of ignorance, in 1915. After the revolution of 1917, Qodiriy published satire and social commentary. In 1923, he became theeditor of the illustrated satirical magazine called Mushtum (“the Fist”). He particularly liked to make fun of the mullas(Islamic teachers) and eshons(Sufi devotees). During the 1920s, he wrote the first Uzbek novel called O’tgan Kunlar, which was translated into English in 2019.


Here are some cartoons from Qodiriy’s satirical magazine Mushtum (1923):