Home > Documents on the History of the Civil War in Eurasia and on Muslims (1917-1921)

Documents on the History of the Civil War in Eurasia and on Muslims (1917-1921)

Introduction by Salavat M. Iskhakov

Browse documents

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Muslim peoples of European Russia, the Volga Region, the Urals, Siberia, the Caucasus, Crimea and Central Asia, based on their self-identification, constituted a single people who spoke, they believed, a single (Turkic) language and inhabited various parts of the Russian Empire under various names. In official documents as well, this entire population that practiced Islam was usually defined by the general term “Muslims.” In addition, while unified by a common religion, they retained their national, social and cultural differences with Muslims in other countries, which manifested themselves in socio-political life during the first twenty years of the twentieth century, especially during the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war, which encompassed the entire, disintegrated Romanov empire.

In historiography, the description of the political activities of the Muslim population of Eurasia, especially its struggle for civil, national and religious self-determination, still contains many contradictions and distortions. Many researchers today, as in the past, attribute the behavior of the Muslim masses during the civil war to the influence of pan-Islamism, which supposedly launched a full-fledged campaign against Russia in order to break it up and create a new caliphate (some writers even go this far), but due to the resistance of the Soviet/White (essentially Russian) government suffered yet another defeat. Numerous documents, including in this set, contradict this currently widespread view.

An study of the processes that occurred in the Muslim world during World War I and the revolution and civil war that followed in Eurasia, including Russia, brought the most incisive analysts of that time to the conclusion that pan-Islamism, as a political doctrine aimed at creating a single Muslim state, was unable to unify the Muslims of different countries. For example, S. S. Pestkovsky, the RSFSR deputy people’s commissar for nationality affairs, noted that the world war, whose principal cause was precisely the division of the East among various military-political blocs, showed eastern peoples and their leaders that the European states viewed them solely as a source of raw materials. In fact, “the most powerful of such national religious currents – [pan-Islamism] – despite all of its power, attributable to the spread of Muhammadanism in the East, did not receive proper political development for precisely this reason.” Even this “religious cohesion did not afford a sufficient opportunity for joint insurgent actions.” Therefore the national-liberation movement in the East invariably suffered defeats because of the disunity and inadequate organization of its forces and the lack of a center capable of fusing together the disconnected efforts of individual peoples.[1] Just as in the territory of the former Russian Empire during the Russian civil war.

The depiction and coverage of what actually occurred in the Muslim community in Eurasia during the civil war has been sparse, fragmentary and insufficient. Describing everything as it was continues to be quite an arduous task, hampered above all by numerous gaps in the stock of sources, which was formed over many decades from an “internationalist” and “national-liberation” perspective.

The documents in the set deal with the period of the Russian civil war in the former Russian Empire and the Muslim peoples’ attitude toward the Russian internecine strife. These documents contain diverse kinds of information about what happened at the time in various territories of the unified state that no longer existed; the role that various Muslim religious leaders played; what gave rise to the socio-political activities of Muslims in a given territory; and what they were striving for during the Russian civil war. This process had its own specific features in the Caucasus, the Urals, Crimea, the Volga Region, Siberia and Central Asia.

The documents in the set show how Muslim organizations participated in meeting the challenges posed by the Russian Revolution, both in Petrograd and Moscow and in the specific conditions typical of the Muslim regions of the disintegrating Eurasian empire. The greatest efforts by the reform-minded Muslim community were focused in this process on drawing the Muslim masses into building a state and socio-political activities.

The documents reveal the multifaceted activities of both the central and the regional governmental authorities of the Muslim peoples, re-create a picture of their life, their most pressing problems, and show the role of Muslim organizations and leaders throughout the postimperial Eurasian territories. By taking part in legislative activities, Muslim politicians in various parts of Eurasia not only consolidated their own authority with the support of the local populace but also combated the revolutionary chaos and lawlessness that had taken hold in the country.

In November and December 1917, a Mountain Republic was proclaimed in Vladikavkaz, as was a Turkestan Autonomous Republic in Kokand and a Crimean Republic in Bakhchisarai; the National Parliament of Muslims of European Russia and Siberia, meeting in Ufa, adopted a decision to create 34 national oblasts to make up the Cultural-National Autonomy of Muslims of European Russia and Siberia. These and other facts demonstrate that the Muslim peoples and their politicians were restoring and building their own state, using both their own historical heritage and the principles of democracy and parliamentarism, as well as the experience of the United States and the European countries, especially France.

In this context the documents, for the first time in historiography, portray quite thoroughly the work of the All-Russia Muslim Council elected in May 1917 in Moscow and the activities of the National Administration (Government) of Muslims of European Russia and Siberia, the Union Majlis (Parliament) of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, the Muslim National Council in Georgia, the Crimean Tatar National Directorate (Government) and other government bodies of Muslim peoples that sprang up at the time in various parts of Eurasia.

The diverse sources in this set paint a broad picture of the life and struggle of Muslims for their rights during the civil war. The nature and content of the documents vary, and they reveal how in the difficult conditions of the civil war Muslims did everything to defend their interests; they show how different authorities viewed them; they reveal the progress, scope and specific characteristics of the Muslim movement in all Muslim parts of the former empire, in which the successes of the Whites or the Reds depended at times on the Muslims’ position, their support for a certain government or resistance to it; they show the role of the national Muslim military formations that fought for the opposing camps; they depict the extremely difficult situation in a number of territories between the local authorities and the Muslim population; they show the blunders of certain governments in regard to the Muslim population, which actually caused popular unrest and popular resistance to the foreign government. Naturally, Muslims did not intend to fight one another over interests alien to them.

But both the Reds and the Whites who clashed in the bitter civil war needed combat-capable military forces and therefore tried to rely on Muslims. The most varied Russian governments during the civil war tried to play the “Muslim card” in their narrow political interests.

The documents depict the processes that led to a split among the Muslims of Eurasia during the civil war. The documents repeatedly note that once Soviet rule triumphed, there was interference – unacceptable from the Muslim perspective -- by secular authority in a sacred domain, i.e. something occurred that had not been practiced even under the autocratic regime. The publication of the decree of the RSFSR Council of People’s Commissars on freedom of conscience and on church and religious societies, which cited the separation of the church from the state and of the state and school from the church (20 January 1918) caused serious alarm among Muslims. While recognizing such separation in theory, Muslims still demanded that amendments be made to the clauses of the decree that concerned civil registry, religious instruction in private schools and the nationalization of the properties of religious societies. The Soviet government rejected these demands, but its representatives in the provinces, in order to mollify Muslims, sometimes published clarifications stating that certain provisions of the decree did not apply to them and their religious affairs. Muslim leaders hoped that their cultural-autonomist activities were evidence of their loyalty to any national Russian government, including a Soviet one, but their hopes were not fulfilled. A few months after the decree was issued, the Muslims’ mood was as follows: “You see what the Bolsheviks are doing: today they are banning religious instruction in the schools, and after a while they will shut down our mosques!” [Doc. 103] The masses, naturally, did not trust such a government.

How the Muslims in Russia felt at the time was illustrated in a leaflet of the Cherkessk Cavalry Regiment of the White Volunteer Army addressed to Muslims throughout the country, which appeared in the summer of 1918:

“A revolution started, and we Muslims thought that the doors of freedom had swung open, that we would not receive everything that until now had not been available to us in the realm of culture and education, in accordance with the requirements of our religion and customs. We thought that we would open higher and secondary educational institutions with all the rights oaf state institutions, which had been unavailable to us under the tsar.

“We thought we would organize our life as we saw fit.

“We thought that freedom of expression and freedom of speech had arrived in Rus, but our hopes were not fulfilled: Completely unexpectedly, Bolshevik communists appeared, released from all of Russia’s prisons, who turned out to be fierce enemies of re-creating a free Russia in general, and in particular, enemies of Muslims on the path of their free development, because of whom we have to temporarily slow down the final fulfillment of our sacred ideals and take up arms together.

“The Bolsheviks are taking away our possessions, acquired through the honest labor of our fathers and ancestors, abuse our mothers and wives and ridicule our religion, which is revered as sacred by Muslims the world over; they turn our mosques into stables and burn the sheets of the sacred Koran instead of cigarette paper; they ridicule our honored old men, removing their turbans with bayonets; they bayonet our prominent public figures, our glorious leaders.

“If the Bolsheviks are fighting for the freedom of peoples, which they loudly declare in their numerous appeals, why on earth do they ridicule our religion and loot our possessions, which were earned by each of us through our own labor? Why do they insult our women and bayonet us men?...

“Seeing such relations between the Bolshevik communists and Muslims, everyone will understand what they are striving for. Having understood this, everyone who is able to bear arms must take them up and immediately join the ranks of the army. We Muslims have no choice, if we are to rid the 25 Muslims from the Bolshevik yoke, but to take up arms… We can implement all of the ideals that we have dreamed of for so long only after destroying the Bolsheviks – and only then will our life take a normal course and our religion be rid of abuses; only then will the inviolability of our women be guaranteed” [Doc. 192]

The Muslims of the Volga Region and the Urals, who fled to Siberia from the Bolsheviks, also declared, as the documents in the set attest, that the Bolsheviks were desecrating their religious objects and places of worship, that Muslims had therefore risen up to defend them in the name of saving their faith, that Muslims favored the establishment in Russia of a democratic system and were striving in this regard to receive guarantees of free cultural development in conformity with their specific spiritual and cultural characteristics, i.e. they were seeking recognition of their rights to cultural-national autonomy from the national government. As the documents in the set show, Muslims, both Reds and Whites, though fighting for different sides, were defending the same thing– their religious and ethnic autonomy, their traditions, their culture.

The protest-oriented attitudes among the Muslim masses stemmed primarily from the fact that the revolution under the Bolsheviks had begun to encroach on the religious sphere of their life, which was unacceptable, according to their religious notions, since it was subordinate only to the Almighty. And then prayerful cries began to be heard in the mosques for deliverance from the Bolsheviks, which also signified a wish to be delivered from the revolution in general and to create their own state.

These documents depict, for the first time, the unknown circumstances of the origin and fall of the young states that sprang up in the Muslim lands and their relations with representatives of the governments of Europe and the United States. There is still extreme confusion in current historiography surrounding the question of how the victorious countries regarded the aspirations of the Muslim peoples of European Russia and Siberia, the Caucasus, Crimea and Turkestan, who created their own states in the postimperial territories during the civil war. There has been even less study of the topic of what plans were put forth and how negotiations proceeded on this issue between Western politicians and Muslim diplomats – all this needs a special inquiry. These documents make it possible to move forward significantly in the study of these extremely important and complex questions.

The contacts of Muslim diplomats with European and American diplomats and statesmen actively began in 1918 as a result of the Soviet leadership’s actual policy toward the aspiration of the Muslim peoples for self-determination.

In early 1918 two representatives in Switzerland of the People’s Council of Autonomous Turkestan (the parliament) contacted the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, after his famous speech on 8 January 1918 to the American Congress and made a request to the American people to defend the right of the Muslim peoples of Central Asia to self-determination.

In February 1918 the leader of the Crimean Tatars, M. Chelebiev, the head of the Crimean People’s Republic, perished like a martyr – as a shahid – when he was shot and decapitated by sailors in Sevastopol. The death of that leader, who was popular among Crimean Tatars, proved to be a powerful factor in their religious and national revolt against Soviet rule, which in effect was an undeclared jihad (holy war) against the Bolsheviks.

At the beginning of March 1918 a group of Tatar leaders in Kazan attempted to create the Idel-Urals (Volga-Urals) Republic (out of the Kazan and Ufa gubernias, as well as predominantly Muslim raions of the Orenburg, Perm, Samara, Simbirsk and Vyatka gubernias). At the end of March the republic was liquidated by the Bolsheviks, after which its supporters staged an armed revolt. Furthermore, before the military operations the rebel detachments visited a Muslim holy place in the village of Chishmy, Ufa Gubernia – the mausoleum of Hussein Bey (fourteenth century), who propagated Islam in those lands. This meant that that is where the anti-Bolshevik jihad, in essence, started. Armed Muslim resistance against the Bolsheviks also began in southern Russia; its causes were laid out in detail in the above-quoted leaflet.

The same kind of struggle also began in Central Asia: after the Turkestan Autonomous Republic was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in Kokand and Soviet rule was established in February 1918, this produced a religious protest among local Muslims, which one of them expressed later as follows: “We attended the funeral, according to Christian rites, of the freedom of Muslim Turkestan and, while listening to the singing of the “Internationale,” we swallowed our tears, read a prayer and asked Allah for a miraculous resurrection of our freedom” [Doc. 180]. That is how the famous basmach movement began, and was supported by the broad people’s masses throughout Central Asia.

A memorandum of the Crimean Tatar parliament and the government of the Crimean People’s Republic of 21 July 1918, which was transmitted by Dzh. Seidamet, a Crimean Tatar and the republic’s minister of foreign affairs, to the German government, envisaged in its first clause the transformation of Crimea into an independent state [Doc. 364].

On 20 September 1918 S.-A. Lapin, a Kazakh and the chairman of the People’s Council of Autonomous Turkestan, arrived in Berlin as the head of Turkestan’s parliament. The purpose of his visit was to obtain the German government’s assistance in the struggle against the Bolsheviks in Turkestan, but this did not happen, since a revolution occurred in the Kaiser’s Germany in November 1918, followed by the emergence of the Weimar Republic, which was interested in setting up relations with the Bolsheviks and Soviet Russia.

On 8 November 1918 the Committee for Convening a Turkestan Constituent Assembly was created, and headed by M. Chokaev, a Kazakh. In this capacity he prepared to travel to the United States and Europe, but along with other members of the All-Russia Constituent Assembly he was arrested by the Whites in the Urals. In February 1919 Chokaev, who managed to escape from them, sent a radiogram on the committee’s behalf from Askhabad to Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States; Robert Lansing, the U.S. Secretary of State; and the Paris Peace Conference, with an appeal to recognize Turkestan as a sovereign state [Doc. 366].

During the Russian civil war the eyes of the Muslim leaders of the governments that had been created in Eurasia were focused on the United States and Europe, where the Paris Peace Conference (18 January 1919-21 January 1920) took place after the end of World War I. The conference dealt with important questions concerning the postwar structure of the world. Representatives of the Muslim peoples also came to Paris, fervently hoping for help from the governments of the United States and Europe.

Shortly before the work of the peace conference began, M. E. Rasulzade, the leader of the Musawat (Equality) party bloc in the parliament of the independent Azerbaidzhan Republic, wrote in a Baku newspaper: “…The eyes of the whole world are now focused on Paris. Paris is the capital of a people that gave the world the historic example of overthrowing the yoke of despotism; Paris is the birthplace of the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man’ and of the political commandments of the entire revolutionary world, and is now engaged in drafting ‘The Law on the Rights of Peoples” of the whole world. And if these laws are as sacred and recognized as the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man,’ France’s beautiful capital of Paris will be the capital of all the peoples.” As for the Azerbaidzhanis themselves, in the view of the head of Azerbaidzhan’s leading political party, “What is needed is that we here, at home, also work and prove that we deserve what we are demanding. By doing this, we will accomplish half the task; in addition, it would be desirable that the democracies of America and Western Europe show all of their influence in the matter of arranging the destinies of small peoples” [Doc. 365]. Some representatives of Muslim governments managed to get into the Paris Peace Conference, where they hoped to receive recognition of their states by the subjects of international law and recognition of their independence by the European powers and the United States, which had won the world war.

At the end of 1918 the National Administration of Muslims of European Russia and Siberia made efforts to send its representatives to the peace conference in Paris. S. Maksudov, the Tatar head of the delegation, while in Europe, tried to put the question of the cultural-national autonomy of the Muslims of European Russia and Siberia on the agenda of the peace conference for the discussion of Russia’s problems.

The declaration of the National Administration of Muslims to the Paris Peace Conference, on behalf of all Muslims of the former Russian Empire, stated: “In view of the fact that the peace conference will address questions of war and peace, of foreign and colonial policy, and the question of the national self-determination of peoples, i.e. questions in whose resolution every nationality has an interest, representatives of the 30-million-strong Turkic population must be invited and admitted to the peace conference with a deciding vote. …All of Russia’s Turkic peoples should be granted the broad and full right to national self-determination at the free discretion of the Turkic peoples themselves. …All hostilities and war preparations must cease, with the establishment of a lasting peace for all the peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa and each of them granted the right to full national self-determination” [Doc. 367]

 A memorandum of the delegation of the Mountain Peoples’ Republic to the Paris Peace Conference, dated 9 May 1919, contained an appeal to recognize its independence, permit the delegation to participate in the conference and admit the republic to the League of Nations [Doc. 370]. A letter dated 16 May 1919 from G. Bammatov, a Kumyk and the republic’s foreign minister, to A. Balfour, the foreign secretary of Great Britain, expressed the view that when Maj.-Gen. William Thomson, the allies’ representative and commander of British troops in the Caucasus, wrote a letter dated 27 November 1918 to the head of the mountain peoples’ government, the British government thereby extended de facto recognition to the government of the Mountain Peoples’ Republic [Doc. 371]. Was this true. This question, like a number of others touched on in the set’s documents, had not been raised in the historical literature.

In 1919 A. V. Kolchak’s White army began to create volunteer Muslim military units to fight the Bolsheviks in Siberia. The Kolchakites called on Muslims to go forth with their weapons “white and green banners, with the crescent and star” [Doc. 101]. The most varied sources attest that there were a large number of Muslims among the Kolchakites. The RSFSR People’s Commissariat on Nationality Affairs acknowledged that “Kolchak at first was able to rely on …the Muslim masses, which he initially managed to frighten and dupe with stories that the Bolsheviks were supposedly the same kind of autocrats as before, who will not give any nationality its freedom.”[2] It was Bashkirs and Tatars who made up the main strike force of Kolchak’s troops.[3] These combat-capable and disciplined Muslim troops inspired great fear both among rank-and-file Red Army soldiers and among the Soviet leadership. On 7 September 1919 an Omsk newspaper noted: “Muslims are rising up under the sign of the crescent for a holy war.” “The volunteer movement in Siberia,” the Omsk newspaper explained on 27 September 1919, “is growing under the influence of refugees’ accounts of the horrors of the Bolshevik regime and the surge of religious feeling among… Muslims, caused by desecration of the faith and places and objects of worship.” These and other White Muslims were by no means fighting against the Reds in order to return the previous tsarist system but against Soviet rule and its interference in the religious realm. The Muslim’s armed struggle against the Reds, which was primarily of a religious nature, was assuming more and more of a mass scale.

Against this background, the thirteen-point draft peace treaty drawn up by U.S. President Wilson, submitted to the U.S. Congress on 8 January 1918, stirred enormous enthusiasm among Muslim diplomats, as illustrated by a whole host of documents from this set. Foreign Minister Bammatov of the Mountain People’s Republic managed in early 1919 initially to get to Switzerland, where he conducted negotiations with American diplomats. One of them, Pleasant A. Stovall, reported from Bern on 5 February 1919 to Paris, where the U.S. secretary of state was, that Bammatov had told him the following: Bammatov’s government was willing to converse with any government in Russia, including a Bolshevik one, if it was the American president’s desire. Bammatov also stated that his country hoped to be placed under the protection of the League of Nations as an independent state and its earnest wish was that the United States would obtain a mandate from the League of Nations for the territory of his republic.[4]

Some religious leaders in the Northern Caucasus came out in 1919 in favor of declaring a holy war against the attacking White Guards, while others were against a gazawat. A power struggle was under way not only between the mountain peoples’ religious and national leaders but also among the clergy themselves. For example, on 26 May 1919 Sheikh of Dagestan Ali Hadji Akushinsky wrote a letter in which he noted that his goal was to introduce Sharia in Dagestan [Doc. 202]. In July 1919 he declared that “Dagestan recognizes the full right to manage itself and its affairs, according to its everyday practices and the sacred Sharia” [Doc. 211]. Akushinsky was in favor of Dagestan’s becoming a theocratic state. Another influential sheikh, Uzun Hadji Saltinsky, proclaimed a gazawat against the Whites, created a Northern Caucasus emirate with its capital in the Chechen settlement of Vedeno and formed a government and military staff. In 1919-1920 a real religious war was waged here under his command by the local mountain peoples against all of their enemies. Ultimately, the struggle between the two religious groups competing in the Northern Caucasus led to the point where the overall Mountain People’s Republic was split from within and then liquidated by the Bolsheviks.

The documents show that what was happening as a result of the clashes between various political forces in the Muslim territories was more and more clearly becoming a religious civil war, which was developing increasingly into a struggle of Muslims for their existence and for their faith, which had been desecrated by the intrusion of Soviet rule into a sacred sphere of Muslim life. In the process, Muslims were advocating not a scholastic Sharia, “like a dam against anything new, but a Sharia cleansed of routine, strictly in keeping with the requirements of democracy and progress” [Doc. 257], as a mountain newspaper noted. Muslims were speaking out for the necessity in public life of freedom, democracy and equal rights, which in a democratic state, they believed, will allow people openly to express their opinion and to prove themselves, benefiting society and religion. According to their concepts, people should not be limited to a personal faith in God and an observance of rites but be active in the name of improving society and people themselves. A Muslim, as a Muslim leaflet issued in the fall of 1917 in the Cisurals said, “must himself become the blacksmith of his happiness!”

These aspirations of the Muslims were countered by the political-indoctrination propaganda of the Bolsheviks, who were striving to create “a fighter for the interests of the oppressed peoples of the East, who are rebelling against the yoke of imperialism,” and to instill the idea of the “commonality of interests” among workers, peasants and farmhands and the toiling masses of the whole world, and so forth. But all this propaganda had no serious effect on the Muslim population.

Then Red Muslim agitators began to use the slogans of pan-Islamism, by which they meant solidarity and unity among all Muslims only in the spiritual and religious sphere. This was done in order to direct the Muslim world and the Muslims of Eurasia against the enemies of Soviet rule, both foreign and domestic. This may be judged by the specific instructions from the head of the Soviet government, V. I. Lenin, regarding the Muslim peoples: “It is imperative in Turkestan,” he wrote on 16 October 1919, “to swiftly create… a base: to make cartridges… to repair mil[itary] weaponry, to extract coal, oil, iron … We will spare no money, we will send enough gold and foreign gold coins… to buy… military weaponry,” which is needed to provide “assistance to the peoples of the East in the struggle against imperialism.” In the middle of November Lenin cabled his comrades-in-arms: “If we are only going to ‘wring things out’ of the East[ern] peoples without giving them anything, our whole internation[al] policy, the whole struggle ‘for Asia’ will go down to drain… Otherwise we will not do anything (in Asia) against Brit[ish] imp[erialism], and we face a serious struggle for Persia, India, China…”[5] In a letter to the communists of Turkestan that was published in Tashkent at the beginning of November 1919, Lenin pointed out that “the establishment of proper relations with the peoples of Turkestan” is of “gigantic” importance for Russia, and to this end it was essential “to eradicate all traces of great-Russian imperialism.”[6] As a result, almost all of Central Asia was engulfed in a religious anti-Bolshevik war.

In Lenin’s view, reforms among the Muslims had to be implemented without prodding, based on reality, by gradually accustoming the peoples of the East to a change in their way of life, gradually introducing a new ideology and treating their traditions and customs with care. “The idea of ‘pan-Islamism’ continues to live among Muslims as an idea of liberation from their yoke… The goals of the Muslims are identical to the tasks oaf Soviet rule: national liberation in Asia, social revolution in Europe,”[7] a communist newspaper in Tashkent openly stated.

Here, for example is what A. Ibragimov, a Siberian Tatar theologian and Red mullah who was popular and commanded authority among Russian Muslims, said while speaking on 21 November 1919 in a Samara mosque: Before the 1917 revolution the Islamic world had two enemies: the first, England, and the second, Russia. The goal of these states was to destroy the Muslim world. More than once the tsarist government started a war against Turkey with the objective of capturing Istanbul and to plant a cross on the Hagia Sophia mosque. Russian Muslims, due to what the mullah called their “fearfulness and ignorance,” participated in all these wars to plant a cross, marched against the Turks and “stabbed a Muslim breast with a Muslim dagger.” In addition to Turkey, Russian tsars inflicted harm on the Muslims of Turkestan, Khiva, Bukhara, Crimea and the Caucasus, “taking away their freedom, consigning them to division” and “incited them to make war on one another.” And the Tatars took a beating: Not only were they encroached on materially, but their religion was insulted and many were separated from religion by force. “Now Russian Soviet rule has taken upon itself the liberation of mankind, including Muslims. It is now sending troops to the East,” who are going to liberate the Muslims. “For us this is a great fortune… We Muslims should rejoice at this… When Soviet rule embarks on the road to liberate Muslims… Russian Muslims must be in the first ranks of the Red troops marching for liberation. This is our religious and life duty.”[8] The priority for Muslims, as the documents note, was the religious factor, which began to be used in Bolshevik political-indoctrination agitation as well. Agitation for Soviet rule among Muslims was conducted, in effect, under religious slogans, despite all the communist rhetoric, but in practice the Bolsheviks, with the aid of bayonets, eliminated all attempts by Muslims at self-determination that were not in line with the Soviet model, and in so doing intruded into the sacred sphere of Muslim life – all this generated great outrage among Muslims.

As a result, Muslims, as the documents in the set show, began to rise up for an armed struggle against the alien ideology and political practices of the Bolsheviks, defending their right on their own lands to religious self-determination. In almost every Muslim territory during the civil war the slogan of “defense of Islam” was used in the struggle against the Bolsheviks and the Red Army. The detachments of fighters for the faith that were fighting the Reds had banners with religious texts from the Koran stitched on them, weapons with maxims about “holy war” etched on them and appeals to Muslims citing the Koran. This struggle, which proceeded under the religious banner of holy war throughout the former Russian Empire, was not aimed at creating a single Muslim state, did not have a common center, was local in nature and included a multitude of disconnected national-religious and religious movements of Muslims, which therefore were destroyed by the Bolsheviks. This, however, was not a victory for Soviet rule but a real defeat for it, since the Muslims’ spirit was not vanquished.

What they actually felt is expressed, in part, in an appeal dated 10 January 1920 (the day the Versailles Peace Treaty entered into force) to the Supreme Soviet and to the peace conference written by S. Maksudov, the chairman of the National Council of Muslims of European Russia and Siberia. He declared on behalf of the Muslims that after the end of the world war they expected a moral reward from the allies’ victory – more national freedom – since they believed that they had earned this at the cost of the lives of hundreds of thousands of their sons who had fallen on the battlefields while defending the allies’ interests. Under Soviet rule in Russia, however, instead of freedom the Muslims experienced the most repugnant oppression and national and religious discrimination [Doc. 381].

Despite the civil war in Russia, the political dialog between European politicians and representatives of the Muslim peoples continued. It was based on the principle of free self-determination of peoples. It was to achieve this goal that Muslim peoples waged a struggle for the realization of their trampled rights and aspirations. The leaderships of these countries faced, above all, the challenge of upholding their right to an autonomous existence. The paths to achieve this goal varied and were determined by the specific international situation, which changed rapidly as a result of the end of World War I.

Between 1917 and 1920 the Muslim factor turned into a military and political force that both the Whites and the Reds had to take into account. The postimperial Eurasian territories were by no means exclusively “White” or “Red,” as is often depicted in historiography. The previous government could no longer stay in power, no matter how hard certain rulers tried. The Whites could no longer rule in the old manner, notwithstanding all of the pompous declarations and slogans about serving the Russian state, which no longer existed on the political map.

Through incredible effort, when anarchy reigned over all the remaining territories of the former empire, the Muslim peoples, in Crimea and Azerbaidzhan in particular, as the documents show, were able to avoid many of the horrors of the Russian civil war and even secure for themselves relatively democratic development and demonstrated that they could develop by themselves on a democratic basis. Despite the fact that their hopes for further self-realization as states and in political terms were not fulfilled since Soviet rule was established everywhere, the results of their practical social-political and state-oriented activities could no longer be completely ignored even by the Bolshevik Kremlin and the central Soviet government throughout the political postimperial territories. In order to oppose the White jihad aimed against Soviet rule, the Bolshevik Kremlin provoked a Red jihad, inciting the Muslims against the “imperialists” and their “accomplices.”

The documents in this collection, therefore, are an important source for studying the history of the civil war in the territory of the former Russian Empire and Muslim self-determination and armed resistance in Eurasia, and provide an impetus for a significant revision of knowledge in this field of history.

Most of the documents have not been used in historical research, and yet they are of fundamental importance for analyzing the aspirations of the Muslim peoples’ masses, their mentality, the goals of Muslim organizations and their leaders and all of their attitudes toward various governments.

The documents in the set afford an opportunity to take a new look at relations between the state and Islam in the territory of the former Russian Empire between 1917 and 1920, to reassess a whole host of facts in the history of Eurasia during that period as a whole and to conduct a critical analysis of their interpretations in contemporary world historiography.

[1] Pestkovskii, S. Revoliutsiia i Vostok (s”ezd narodov Vostoka). Rostov-on-Don, 1920, pp. 5, 30.

[2] Zhizn’ natsional’nostei (Moscow). 1919. 30 November.

[3] Russian State Archive of Social-Political History [RGASPI], f. 583, op. 1, d. 129, l. 4.

[4] Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States. 1919. Russia. Washington, 1937, pp. 43-44.

[5] V. I. Lenin. Neizvestnye dokumenty. 1891-1922 gg. Moscow, 1999, pp. 302, 305.

[6] Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch. Vol. 5, p. 304.

[7] Turkestanskii kommunist (Tashkent). 1919. 13 June.

[8] Natsional’no-gosudarstvennoe ustroistvo Bashkortostana (1917-1925 gg.). Dokumenty i materialy: V 4 t. Vol. 3, Part II. Ufa, 2006, pp. 218-219.