Threads of Empire: Loyalty and Tsarist Authority in Bashkiria, 1552-1917

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Threads of Empire examines how Russia's imperial officials and intellectual elites made and maintained their authority among the changing intellectual and political currents in Eurasia from the mid-16th century to the revolution of 1917. The book focuses on a region 750 miles east of Moscow known as Bashkiria. The region was split nearly evenly between Russian and Turkic language speakers, both nomads and farmers. Ufa province at Bashkiria's core had the largest Muslim population of any province in the empire. The empire's leading Muslim official, the mufti, was based there, but the region also hosted a Russian Orthodox bishop. Bashkirs and peasants had different legal status, and powerful Russian Orthodox and Muslim nobles dominated the peasant estate. By the 20th century, industrial mining and rail commerce gave rise to a class structure of workers and managers. Bashkiria thus presents a fascinating case study of empire in all its complexities and of how the tsarist empire's ideology and categories of rule changed over time.

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1 Steppe Empire, 1552–1730

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STEPPE EMPIRE

1552–1730

THE CONQUEST OF Bashkiria marked Moscow’s emergence as a steppe empire, one that governed steppe nomads as previous empires and its Eurasian rivals did, by developing different systems of administration for sedentary and nomadic peoples. The contrast in systems became clear after 1552, when Ivan IV’s army conquered the Kazan Khanate. The 1550s were a difficult time in Bashkiria according to many Bashkir chronicles.1 Harsh winters and floods cut the size of herds and harvests, leaving many people hungry.2 Even before Moscow conquered Kazan, conflict strained Bashkir relations with the Nogai Horde, a larger tribal confederation that had dominated Bashkiria’s south since the mid-fifteenth century. Disagreements with the khan of Kazan provoked violence and caused some Bashkir clans to support Moscow instead of Kazan.3 With Ivan IV’s triumph, the Nogai Horde splintered. Many Nogais who had supported Kazan fled to the southwest and left their lands empty.4 Parts of the Bashkir elite, seeking to take Nogai land and prevent the Nogais’ return, turned to Ivan IV as a new “khan” who had assumed the title “Tsar of Kazan.”5 In return, the tsar’s men promised Bashkir clans that they would interfere little in Bashkir life if the clans submitted to Muscovy. According to the Karagai-Kypchak chronicle, Ivan declared: “Let no one run away as the Nogai ran away, having abandoned their iurts (tents) and having left their land behind. Let everyone preserve his faith [and] observe his customs.”6 Russian sources generally echo Bashkir chronicles. In 1553, according to the Nikon chronicle, Ivan IV sent to every district (ulus) surrounding Kazan documents stating that there was nothing to fear. The new sovereign wanted all to pay iasak, a tax or tribute, just as they had paid it to the “former tsar of Kazan.”7

 

2 Absolutism and Empire, 1730–1775

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ABSOLUTISM AND EMPIRE

1730–1775

RELATIONS AMONG BASHKIRS and imperial authorities had deteriorated by the mid-1730s. In order to build an empire in Asia, in 1734 two men, Ivan Kirilov and Kutlu-Mukhammad Tevkelev, had received permission from Empress Anna to construct a city named Orenburg. Unlike Ufa, which was on the site of a former Nogai stronghold, Orenburg was something new. Many Bashkirs felt that building a city on Bashkir land violated their understandings of imperial authority. Iusup Arykov—batyr, mullah, and volost elder—wrote to Vasilii Tatishchev, director of state industries in the Ural Mountains, in the summer of 1736. He asked “why had [the Russians] broken their promises,” persecuted Bashkirs, and shown them such a lack of mercy? Bashkirs such as Arykov sought to continue the politics of rebellion and negotiation that had characterized the region from the time Bashkirs swore loyalty to Ivan IV in the 1550s. Arykov wrote, “We, Bashkir peoples (bashkirskie narody), our fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers, came to the sovereign as subjects by our own will, abandoning our khans.”1 If tsarist authorities would deal with Bashkirs as they had previously, then “we [Bashkirs] would be slaves as previously.” If not, Bashkirs were prepared to give up their lives. If the empress no longer honored agreements with Bashkirs, some wanted to reject subjecthood and find another sovereign just as they had once rejected Nogai rule in favor of the tsar. Bashkirs took to arms against Kirilov and Tevkelev’s project.

 

3 Empire of Reason, 1773–1855

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EMPIRE OF REASON

1773–1855

IN ORDER TO win support among Kazakhs and to build loyalty among her Muslim subjects, Catherine II (the Great) appointed Akhund Mukhamedzhan Khusainov to the position of mufti, the head of the new Orenburg Muhammadan Ecclesiastical Assembly, in 1789.1 Mufti Khusainov’s speech at the official opening of the OMEA in December 1789 emphasized that Muslims could become privileged members of the empire’s elite due to Catherine’s policies of toleration, support of Islamic institutions, and acceptance of Muslims as nobles: “The Russian (rossiiskii) son celebrates that Catherine reigns over him…. But who is this lover, devotee of happiness? Is it really only he whom the Evangelist’s spirit directs? Those who think so, do not think correctly. The sagacious mother does not consider various faiths, just loyalty of the heart.”

Khusainov urged Muslims to respect “the common good and tranquility.”2 Privately, Khusainov wrote to St. Petersburg to explain in Islamic terms the legitimacy of a Christian empress’s rule over Muslims and the need for Muslims to honor their oaths of loyalty.3 Members of the Muslim elite could become “sons of the empire” and participate in Catherine’s “Age of Gold.” New institutions for Bashkirs followed the new institutions for Muslims. In 1798, imperial officials organized Bashkiria into eleven Bashkir, five Meshcheriak, five Orenburg Cossack, and two Ural Cossack cantons.4 The cantonal system (kantonnaia sistema) built upon a half century of Bashkir military service by creating regionally defined units led by Bashkir officers, who would organize Bashir service and much of Bashkir life as well. The new institutions’ effectiveness showed itself in 1812, when Orenburg governor-general Volkonskii included Bashkirs when conveying Alexander I’s invitation to “all loyal (vernopoddannykh) sons of the Russian Empire” to defend it against Napoleon. More than ten thousand Bashkirs responded to the call.5

 

4 Participatory Empire, 1855–1881

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PARTICIPATORY EMPIRE

1855–1881

MUKHAMETSALIM UMETBAEV, SON of a Bashkir canton head and translator for the Orenburg Muhammadan Ecclesiastical Assembly, recalled February 4, 1877, as a day of celebration. The akhund presiding over prayers that Friday at Ufa’s main mosque called the attention of those present to Mufti Salim-Girei Tevkelev, the great-grandson of Kutlu-Mukhammad/Aleksei Tevkelev. When Tevkelev turned to face the crowd, the crowd was struck by the extraordinary red ribbon with stars he wore. The emperor had awarded Tevkelev the Orders of St. Stanislav and of St. Anna, first class.1 The mufti then spoke.

Muslims! I thank the Most High for his favor; preserve our Sovereign in the future. I convey my thanks to all of you. No way can I think that this honor belongs to me alone; I am obliged, Lord, to the Muslim community of the entire empire. I hope, in the future, that your descendants, too, will forever enjoy peace and pray for the tsar with thanks, and that your love and good feeling will belong to him.

 

5 The Empire and the Nation, 1881–1904

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THE EMPIRE AND THE NATION

1881–1904

MUKHAMETSALIM UMETBAEVS WRITINGS show the wide range of responses to the Great Reforms in Bashkiria. In 1882, he spoke in the Ufa County zemstvo in favor of greater support for native-language Muslim education. The government had long “concerned itself about the enlightenment of us Muslims, subjects of the Russian Empire, through the sciences,” he stated, but little progress had been made. Muslims boys in Russian-language schools looked on religion “as a last subject,” when according to sharia law the teachings of the Koran are “the first subject and secular sciences second.” Many Muslims saw Russian-language education without prior knowledge of a native language not as “enlightenment, but only as Russification (obrusenie).” Umetbaev considered this unfortunate. Since many “European sciences” had been translated from Eastern to European languages long ago, “European sciences” could be translated back into “Eastern languages.” Umetbaev asked the zemstvo to fund translation of textbooks into Tatar for use by Muslims.1

 

6 Empire in Crisis, 1905–1907

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EMPIRE IN CRISIS

1905–1907

THE ZLATOUST STRIKE, the killing of workers, and the assassination of Governor Bogdanovich made Ufa one of the most conflicted provinces in the empire before 1905.1 That year brought a much more disruptive politics to the empire as a whole and to Ufa Province in particular. Shortly after Nicholas II issued his Manifesto of October 17, 1905—granting his subjects freedom of speech, assembly, and conscience and promising them personal inviolability and a new state Duma—Ufa governor Boleslav Tsekhanovetskii authorized a public demonstration.2 The crowd on October 19, 1905, made a striking impression. Eight to ten thousand of the city’s 75,000 residents—what Tsekhanovetskii called “nearly the entire city”—came to Ufa’s Ushakovskii Park out of curiosity at this “extraordinary, exceptional spectacle of a new character.” The crowd’s diversity was as impressive as its size. Containing members of the intelligentsia, “simple people,” students, women, workers, petty bureaucrats, officers, and soldiers, the crowd made clear the meaning of the manifesto to a wide variety of city residents. For the first time, Tsekhanovetskii wrote, freedom of speech and assembly were “brought to life.”3

 

7 Empire, Nations, and Multinational Visions, 1907–1917

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EMPIRE, NATIONS, AND MULTINATIONAL VISIONS

1907–1917

IN THE WINTER of 1915–1916, twenty-five-year-old Akhmed-Zeki Validov, a political activist and future leader of the Bashkir movement for autonomy, was summoned to St. Petersburg. The Muslim Fraction in the State Duma, which had been as large as thirty-three members in the Duma’s second convocation, had been cut to six due to imperial officials’ efforts to reduce non-Russian representation. Validov considered the head of the Muslim Fraction, Kutlu-Mukhammad Tevkelev—nephew of the late Orenburg mufti, wealthy noble landowner, and zemstvo activist—“a brave and knowledgeable man.” But Tevkelev recognized that members of the Muslim Fraction had mostly secular education and experience. They lacked detailed knowledge of Muslim affairs. So the fraction called on areas with substantial Muslim populations to send representatives to assist in its work. At the end of 1915, a meeting of Muslim society in Ufa decided to send Validov to St. Petersburg. Tevkelev graciously introduced Validov to the Duma leadership and ministers at various receptions and social events in the capital. Validov found meeting the “Petersburg aristocracy” through Tevkelev interesting. However, “these people had no clue: their principal activity was games of chance, which I hated. This class, doomed to extinction, lived only by reminiscences and dreams.”1

 

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