chapter  8
19 Pages

Russo-Bukharan Relations Transformed The Central Asian Railroad

A new phase in Russia’s relations with her Central Asian dependencies dated from St. Petersburg’s decision in 1885 to build the Central Asian Railroad. The new period witnessed the ending of the isolation of Bukhara and Khiva and the establishment of a “Russian presence” in the two khanates. A Russian political agency was founded in Bukhara, as were Russian cantonments and civilian settlements. Private Russian commercial activity expanded greatly in both states. They for the first time came into contact with Western civilization on a broad scale. Bukhara was transformed into a Russian protectorate, and the autonomy of both khanates was curtailed in several important respects, although Russia adhered in the main to her policy of nonintervention. The catalyst of change, the Central Asian Railroad, was the most important development in the region since the Russian conquest. As the British statesman Lord Curzon put it after a visit to Central Asia in 1888, Bukhara’s “last expiring chance of freedom” from Russian control was lost when the iron rails were laid across the khanate. The same observer reflected, not without some regret, on the probable effect of the railroad on Central Asia: “The present…is the blank leaf between the pages of an old and a new dispensation…[between] the era of the Thousand and One Nights…[and] the rude shock and unfeeling Philistinism of nineteenth-century civilisation.”1 It was typical of Russia’s policy in Central Asia that so important a development should have come about in a quite haphazard way.