Bukhara: Empire of Russia

Mohammed Alim Khan, Prokudin-Gorskii, The Emir of Bukhara

Background & Context

The Russian Empire was the largest country on Earth and with it contained many cultures and ethnicities within. In this post, I will be looking at the region known as Bukhara, which is modern day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Freeze, in chapter 8 Revolutionary Russia: National Minorities, states that “Like Austria-Hungary, Russia was truly a multinational empire…”(Freeze 256). Bukhara was a city-state located in Central Asia and was a predominantly Muslim area and was ruled by a Muslim Emir. This was a sharp contrast to the Russian Orthodoxy that many of the Russian people followed and it was because of the Orthodoxy that the Tsar had absolute power. The Emir of Bukhara ruled with absolute authority, like the Tsar, however his power was limited to the city of Bukhara. In particular, I will be looking at the last Emir of Bukhara, Mohammed Alim Khan, and what his rule did to impact this area in the Russian Empire.

One of the reasons that I chose this photo is because I found it very eye catching because the Emir has a very flamboyant outfit on. Also, the more I looked into it, the more I became interested in figuring out what must have been going on in Russia during this time and how the Emir of Bukhara would fit into all this.

Religion and the Emir in Early 20th Century Russia

As stated previously, the main religion in Russia was Christian Orthodoxy and Islam was a heavily suppressed religion in Russia. Most of the areas that the Russians had conquered in the 19th century had been predominantly Muslim areas with Bukhara being one of them. The Caucasus Mountains also contained a substantial Muslim population, mainly with the Chechen ethnic group. The Russian government during the Empire sought to clear many of Muslim peoples out of their homelands and replace them with ethnically Russian people. Muslim warriors from many of these Islamic nations were recruited into the Russian Empire’s military in order to keep the Muslim people in check. The Russians forced out many Muslims from their homes and either forced them out of Russia entirely or were sent to the far reaches of the Empire. This shows that throughout history the Muslim population of Russia has been oppressed by the central government and shows why in the late 1990s the First Chechen War is fought.

The Emir of Bukhara holds absolute power within the Emirate and is the supreme authority on all matters. Bukhara was an autonomous state in the Russian Empire, having only been conquered in the mid 19th century. The Emir, Alim Khan, was initially seen as a potential reformer for the emirate, however, this was quickly changed by his conservative clergymen who sought to keep the traditions that Bukhara had always had. Thus, the Emir kept his absolute power that allowed him to have palaces and ornate outfits like the one he is wearing in the picture above. Another interesting note about the Emir is that he was the last living descendant of Genghis Khan that still held land, showing how much the Mongol influence in Russia had diminished.

The Emir’s Shir-Budun Palace in a Country Grove, Prokudin-Gorskii

The palace of the Emir, shown above, demonstrates the power that the Emir possessed while also showing the influence that Russian architecture had on this Islamic area with the brightly painted exterior keeps this blend of the two cultures. According to the World Digital Library, the corner towers are the only aspect of the palace that are native to the culture of Bukhara which again shows the influence that Russians wished to exert on their Muslim subjects.

In the Country Palace of the Bukhara Emir, Prokudin-Gorskii

Inside the palace of the Emir, we can see how ornate and wealthy the throne room looks. To look at the throne, it is plated in what looks like solid gold and is elevated above the rest of the room, symbolizing that the Emir’s power is higher than any other authority in Bukhara. The chandeliers are shown to also look rich and the entire room is highly decorated with bright colors and with the pillars and walls all elaborately decorated with stripes or other decorations. The throne room shows the European influence that was had by the Emir was very pervasive and important.

With all of this being said, it is important to note that the Emir was eventually overthrown in 1920 by the Bolsheviks and forced to leave the country. After this, all religion in Russia was suppressed by the Soviet Union continuing a trend of oppression for the Muslim peoples of Russia. It is important to look at all of the history of not only the area of Bukhara but also the whole of Russia itself in order to understand how Muslims were treated and why they felt later after the fall of the Soviet Union that it was time to have their own freedom and finally not be oppressed by the central government.