CAP Papers 161, CERIA Series, May 2016
By Adeeb Khalid
The political map of Central Asia with which we are all familiar—the “five Stans” north of Afghanistan and Iran—took shape between 1924 and 1936. The five states of today are each identified with an ethnic nation. A hundred years ago, it looked very different. The southern extremities of the Russian empire consisted of two provinces—Turkestan and the Steppe region—and two protectorates—Bukhara and Khiva—in which local potentates enjoyed considerable internal autonomy as long as they affirmed their vassalage to the Russian Empire. No ethnic or national names were attached to territories. Indeed, the ethnic nomenclature in the region was different and quite unstable. Outsider accounts of the period spoke of the population being composed of Sarts, Uzbeks, Kipchaks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turcomans and other “tribes,” with different authors using different categorizations. Even the Russian imperial census of 1897 did not use a consistent set of labels across Central Asia. In Central Asian usage, on the other hand, the most common term for describing the indigenous community was “Muslims of Turkestan.” Where did the nationalized territorial entities come from and, more basically, from where did the national categories emerge?