Description of the case

 Insurgency in Central Asia in 1920s

The insurgency of Basmachi, or Freeman movement, in Central Asia was an armed peasant resistance to Soviet rule during 1920–31.  “The guerrilla warfare and Soviet counter-insurgency campaigns led to considerable loss of life and demographic dislocation.”[i] The scholars defined several factors that had led to the rise of the movement including (1) the dissolution of the Emirate of Bukhara, (2) the establishment of a Communist order, (3) the process of national delimitation, and (4) forced modernization using methods of collectivization, industrialization and cultural revolution. In their fight, Basmachi also gained the support of Muslim reformers, Pan Turks, and nationalists.[ii]

For local population, the Bolsheviks were perceived similar to Russian colonialists, as ‘occupiers’ who have brought their culture, rules and traditions. The process of the establishment of the Soviet rule were complicated by several problems. First, the revolutionary ideas of communism were promoted by the representatives of the Soviet Russia, rather than local population. It created the perception of the invasion rather than awakening of the workers and peasants in Central Asia. Second, the Soviet Russia still held the legacy of the colonial past of the imperialistic Tsarist Russia when the majority consistent of Europeans were promoting particular policies. The local population had a vivid memory how Russians, committed violent acts against population of Central Asia. Third, the native minority members who previously collaborated with Tsarist Russia and possessed knowledge of Russian language become accustomed to meekly endure all kinds of cynical abuse and violence against their people. They were not motivated to help the Central Asian population and used their power to acquire money and valuable resources as well as promote their own group in expenses of all other local groups. Finally, the methods that were used to ensure the efficacy of the Russian colonial power in Central Asia, became incorporated into the very heart of intergroup relations. The discrimination of the local population became not only justified by the colonialists but accepted as normal by the oppressed population.

The Soviet leadership had to face bands under the leadership of the tribal leaders Enver Pasha (1921-2922) and then Ibrahim Bek, supported from Afghanistan. [iii] The Basmachi had a defined political goal (the emirate's restoration) and were probably sensitive to pan-Islamist rhetoric.”[iv] At the beginning of the insurgence, Ibrahim Bek and his bands (around 43,000)[v] dwelled on Soviet territory of Central Asia in 1926, he relocated to northern Afghanistan and had led militants in the civil war by the end of the decade. He also provided support for remaining band segments in Tajikistan and south-eastern Uzbekistan and participated in their military operations. These small and extremely mobile bands targeted villages supposed of collaborating with the Soviet regime and Red Army garrisons. The aim of these attacks was to demonstrate the weakness of Soviet power and reduce their control over the territory of Central Asia.

To fight the Basmachi, the Soviet authorities created ‘voluntary detachments’ (dobrotriady) from among the local population. They were consisted by “fighters who simply chose to support what they believed was the stronger side and often included former Basmachi.”[vi] Caught between insurgency and Soviet authorities, villages had to defend themselves. With the consolidation of Soviet administrative presence, many villages were siding with the Soviets and refusing to supply the Basmachi. To further weaken the insurgency, Soviet authorities regularly announced amnesties for members of Basmachi bands, providing whose returning people with aid for agricultural work, tax reductions for the first years, and subsidized credit. Those Basmachi who did not surrender were punished and persecuted.

[i] Kirill Nourzhanov, Bandits, warlords, national heroes: interpretations of the Basmachi movement in Tajikistan, Central Asian Survey 34, 2015, pp. 177-189

[ii] Olcott, M. (1981). The Basmachi or Freemen's Revolt in Turkestan 1918-24. Soviet Studies, 33(3), 352-369. Retrieved from

[iii] Y. V. Gankovsky, ‘Ibrahim Beg Lokai (1889–1932)’, Pakistan Journal of History and Culture, Vol 17, No 1, 1996, pp 105–114; W. S. Ritter, ‘The final phase in the liquidation of anti-Soviet resistance in Tadzhikistan. Ibrahim Bek and the Basmachi, 1924–1931’, Soviet Studies, Vol 37, No 1, 1985, pp 484–493.

[iv] Beatrice Penati The reconquest of East Bukhara: the struggle against the Basmachi as a prelude to Sovietization, Central Asian Survey Volume 26, 2007 - Issue 4:Pages 521-538 |

[v] Ritter, W. (1985). The Final Phase in the Liquidation of Anti-Soviet Resistance in Tadzhikistan: Ibrahim Bek and the Basmachi, 1924-31. Soviet Studies, 37(4), 484-493. Retrieved from

[vi] Beatrice Penati The reconquest of East Bukhara: the struggle against the Basmachi as a prelude to Sovietization, Central Asian Survey Volume 26, 2007 - Issue 4: Pages 521-538

Description of the case