This chapter explores the outbreaks of vigilantist violence between settlers
and Kyrgyz in Semirech’e, and the measures taken by the colonial authorities
to confine the latter to upland regions and reserve more fertile lowland
areas for Russian settlers and Cossacks. It shows that this process
continued into 1917, as Kyrgyz refugees began to return from China but were
refused permission to return to their land. The separation of the Russian
and Kyrgyz populations continued despite the February Revolution, and the
Provisional Government was powerless to prevent ongoing settler violence.
These ongoing tensions, rather than revolutionary politics, help to explain
the patterns of violence in Semirech’e that persisted into 1918 and
The 1916 revolt was a key event in the history of Central Asia, and of the
Russian Empire in the First World War. This volume is the first comprehensive
reassessment of its causes, course and consequences in English for over sixty
years. It draws together a new generation of leading historians from North
America, Japan, Europe, Russia and Central Asia, working with Russian archival
sources, oral narratives, poetry and song in Kazakh and Kyrgyz. These illuminate
in unprecedented detail the origins and causes of the revolt, and the immense
human suffering which it entailed. They also situate the revolt in a global
perspective as part of a chain of rebellions and disturbances that shook the
world’s empires, as they crumbled under the pressures of total war.
Aminat Chokobaeva, Cloé Drieu, and Alexander Morrison
The revolt of 1916 in Russian Central Asia was an important part of the First
World War and the crisis of imperial globalization. Despite this, it remains
little-known and understudied in Anglophone and Francophone scholarship.
While there is a rich legacy of Soviet-era publications on the revolt in
Russian, these usually bear the strong ideological imprint of the period
when they were produced. The post-Soviet period has seen a flowering of new
scholarship from Central Asia itself, some of it in Central Asian languages.
While much of this continues to use paradigms and terminology inherited from
the Soviet period, and interprets the revolt in a series of narrow national
frameworks, some of it is also making use of new types of sources, and
uncovering voices that were often silent in earlier scholarship – most
notably those of the rebels themselves, and the revolt’s many victims. This
introduction will give a brief overview of the overall course of the revolt,
review the existing historiography, suggest some of the unanswered questions
that remain, and explore the new approaches found in the most recent
publications and among the contributors to this volume.