Politicisation of History in Central Asia

11 October 2010
A- A A+

Research in the Soviet Union in science and humanities was placed from the very beginning under a strict ideological scrutiny. All humanities and social sciences were additionally tested for strict accordance with historical materialism. History, Linguistics, Sociology and Philosophy were in a black book of the Soviet Union named as “bourgeous pseudosciences”.

First Secretary Khrushchev at the XX Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 started denouncing Stalin that opened the door for some level of scholarship in humanities despite his words “Historians are dangerous and capable of turning everything upside down. They have to be watched”.


We have to be agree with Robert Conquest that “Real facts, real statistics disappeared to the realm of fantasy. History especially the history of Communist Party was rewritten. A new past, as well as a new present, was imposed on the captive mind of the Soviet population”(1) Historical studies in the Soviet Union and everything related to social sciences  were sciences in service of a specific political and ideological agenda.


The bright example of politicisation of science in social studies is the Soviet historiography. It is unavoidably followed by current Central Asian historiography which is remaining Soviet heritage just in modern “national” way. The history of “an astonishing ethnic mosaic” of the Soviet union particularly of Central Asia is full of political falsification. However research in social sciences and humanities were under strict communist control and were known such as “pseudosciences of west”.


This sencorship was valid throughout Soviet period in Central Asia and remained until the death of Stalin in 1953.  Despite the period of Krushchev which brought some sense of freedom could be defined with his own words. Central Asian scholars such as Kasym Tynystanov (2) and Ishenali Arabayev and others were repressed in addition to political convicts blaming on Pan-Turkist and Pan-Islamic accusations. In fact, they were just researchers of national culture and national history.


Here we need to notice prominent political organizations in Central Asia such as Hokhand Self-Government,(3) Turkistan and Alash Orda Autonomies,(4) Kharesm and Buhara People’s Republics,(5) Alliance of Central Asian National Proletarial Revolutional Societies(6) and ideas about creation of Turan party. Nationalistic movements of Basmachy who faught against agressive politics of Bolsheviks and Soviet regime were accused as terroristic acts and were taught at schools as “enemies of nation” all seven decades of Soviet rule.


If we analyse Soviet history books published for schools and universities we will see that there are no traces of political history earlier than 1924 - the date of formation of Central Asian Soviet Socialist Republics. Soviet historiography developed a theory ideally conformed to the ideology of the ruling party which divided Russian colonization of Central Asia into two periods: Tsarist colonization and “recovery” followed by Sovietization. So Soviet government officially accepted the crime they did during Tsarist rule, however without presence of victims’ number, they accused Tsarism in many books published specially for recovery of Russians’ image.


Another point to discuss regarding the politicization of history in Central Asia is about the myths around the Sovietization of Turkestan. Sovietisation of Central Asia were enforced as modernization of undeveloped nations which didn’t have own culture, alphabeth and other features of civilization according to Soviet historiography. All this propaganda in the end emerged a huge army of disidentified inteligentsiya without any knowledge of own history and even own language. It’s really tragi-comic when one found out that ancient Orhun-Yenisey runic texts are bright examples of  “undeveloped nations’s” scripture while he\she has been tought vice versa all his concious life.


Russification of non-Slavic and non-Russian people is another important issue of politicisation of political culture in the Soviet Union. Kyrgyz people passed to an organized education after the October revolution in Russia in 1917. New government aimed to teach everyone to read and write in a short time. In result, 85% of people learned to read and write in the 1940s. Kyrgyz education system trained young generations within communist spirit of the Soviet period. It was escaped from any sign of nationalism according to recommendation of V.I. Lenin.(7)


Medressehs, mektebes and new method schools (usul-i jadid) of pre-Soviet period were liquidated as nests of Pan Islamism and Pan Turkism in the 1917 by secularism law.(8) Compulsory education was accepted as 7 years, Latin alphabet took place of Arabic alphabet, then Russian language became compulsory language and Cyril alphabet took place of Latin. (9)


There were bilingual education system in Soviet Central Asia: Russian and local languages such as Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Turkmen, Uzbek, Tadjik. However education quality was much more higher at Russian speaking schools. Therefore, elits of Central Asian states graduated from Russian schools were not fluent at their own languages.


National history courses were restricted with a history of Communist Party in Soviet Central Asia and native language courses have seen unnesessary in academic curriculum of Russian schools. Problems at higher education was more ridiculous because education was conducted absolutely in Russian. There were inconsiderable amount of publication in local languages for university studies so we can just suppose that those students graduated from local languages speaking schools were not proposed to study at university.


However post-Soviet period historiography is more curious. Newly emerged nation-states fell in romantisization of national histories and began to publish exaggerated national history books and researches.(10) Epic heroes and historical political leaders such as Manas, Tamerlan and Ablay-Han became something like Ataturk in Turkey. Basmachy leaders suddenly became national heroes overnight. The popular trend of accusation of Soviet rule and Russians started since 1991 followed by nationalization of government structure. Yesterday’s communist staff started to discuss democracy and open society.




(1) Conquest, Robert. Reflections on a Ravaged Century (2000), ISBN 0393048187, p. 101

 (2) Kasym Tynystanov (Kyrgyz: Касым Тыныстанов) (1901–1938) was a prominent Kyrgyz scientist, politician and poet. He served as the first Minister of Education of the Kyrgyz Republic. He was arrested on ungrounded political accusations on August 1, 1937 and executed on November 6, 1938.

 (3) Khokand self-governement (1917, November – 1918, January) established under chairmanship of Muhammed  Tynyshbayev.

 (4) Alash Orda (1917, December – 1920, January), under presidency of Alihan Bukeyhanov

 (5) Khorezm People’s Republic (1920-1924); Buhara Peole’s Republic (1920-1922).

(6) (Turkish: Orta Asya Milli Avami Ihtilal Cemiyetleri Ittifaki) – established in 1921, December under chairmanship of Zeki Velidi Togan.

(7) Kazakbayev A., “Some problems of reorganization of national education system in Kyrgyzstan”,  Frunze, 1960.

(8) Kumanov V.A., ”Prosvesheniye Mass I Revolutsiya”ı, Nauka, Moskva 1973, p. 280.

(9) Osmonov O.C., S.D.Saliyeva, N.U.Kurbanova., Kyrgyzstan Education and Science, Bishkek,1996.

(10) Roy, Olivier. The New Central Asia, the Creation of Nations, Tauris, Londres, 2000

Back to Top