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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 beyond.
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.
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.