chapter  10
10 Pages

The Seizure of Merv

The conquest of Khiva by the Russians in 1873 left them facing the Turkmen tribes who lived in the region to the south and south-west of that khanate, between the Caspian Sea and the Amu Darya. The Turkmen comprised a number of tribes and sub-tribes of semi-settled nomads. Some were notorious as slave traders and ‘the worst freebooters of Central Asia’. Some were peaceable, while others were warlike – indeed the only warlike people whom the Russians encountered as they extended their rule southwards towards Persia and Afghanistan. Until 1861, they had been to some extent subject to Persia, but in that year they had scored a crushing victory over a Persian army and the Shah’s authority over them had never been restored. Of these tribes, the most formidable were the Tekke Turkmen, many of whom inhabited the Akhal oasis, a belt of fertile land close to the Persian border. The Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich, the Viceroy of the Caucasus, pressed strongly for military action against the Turkmen, but was overruled on the authority of the Tsar,1 and, for a time, while Khiva was being digested, the Russians adopted a cautious attitude.