About Uzbekistan

Kagan. Part 2: Proletarabad
28 May 2018

I continue the story about Kagan - once a Russian satellite city of Bukhara, that grew around the railway station. In the last part I showed its center - relatively well-known palace of the emir and almost unknown to the traveler Russian quarters and the church of Soviet times with an old iconostasis from Moscow. Now I will tell you about the places so forgotten that even I found out about them only on the spot - the former Russian Embassy, the POW cemetery on the edge of the desert and the Proletarabad station with the barracks, from where Frunze bombed Bukhara, and the Persian mahallas, in which it seems that this is already Iran.

Both trips to Kagan suburbs I made by car, and both on the recommendation of the inhabitants. Reaching bazaar along the streets shown in the last part, I was surrounded by friendly local people who wanted to talk with me and who recommended to go "to the cemetery where the Japanese are burried". There I found a taxi, or rather just a man with a car, which in Central Asia by default is part-time taxi driver, and we drove to the south-western outskirts of Kagan. The yellow brick remains of New Bukhara stretch far enough:

It could be the 1920s:

And even a building obviously from Stalin era, if my memory does not fail me that was a kindergarten:

The next two buildings - either one of them or both - belonged to the hospital, an establishment in the sands of Turkestan with its diseases and poisons more than necessary:

But the heart of New Bukhara was on its very edge, in an abandoned (but still guarded) military unit:

This is the Russian embassy, or rather the whole administration that was in charge of relations between the Russian Empire and the Bukhara emirate, which retained partial independence in the status of a protectorate. In general, the idea of annexation of Turkestan seems to have been smoldering from the time of Peter the Great, his successful war with Persia and the failed expeditions of Ivan Buchgolz to Dzungaria (with losses left the Kazakh steppe and founded Omsk) and Bekovich-Cherkassky in Khiva (deceptively divided and completely massacred by Turkmens). Expeditions, the exchange of embassies, trade relations lasted all the 18th and 19th centuries, and the main enemy of Russia in these parts was Kokand khanate, that owned Tashkent and the Fergana Valley - from its conquest began the Turkestan campaign of the 1860s and 70s. The Bukhara Emirate, the most populous and wealthy of the Turkestan states, was by then a vassal of Kokand, and Emir Muzzafar-Eddin Khan, seeing that the suzerain was subdued by the White Empire, did not come up with anything cleverer than arresting Russian merchants in Bukhara, demanding from the Russian troops get out of the border areas. In 1866, General Dmitri Romanovsky defeated the Bukharians near Irdzhar, took Ura-Tube (now Istaravshan) and, with tangible losses, Djizak. The key stage of the Russo-Bukhara war was two battles for Samarkand in 1868 under the commander of the whole campaign Konstantin Kaufman: first battle - the capture of the city, and then - the defense of the Samarkand citadel. Kaufman found Samarkand submissive and went to war with Muzaffar, leaving in the city a small garrison, which was soon attacked by troops not of Bukhara itself, but of Shahrisabz - its beks did not completely obey the emir, and used the Russian invasion as a chance to shed his power. There was apparently a degree of motivation: comparing to the loose and cowardly Bukhara army, where hardly anyone had the desire to fight, except religious fanatics, Shakhrisabz proved to be so powerful and aggressive that Russia and Bukhara almost had to unite forces against it. In Samarkand, the garrison defended the citadel from 100 times (!) superior enemy for several days, and among the defenders was the famous battle-painter Vasily Vereshchagin. As Kaufmann approached, the attackers fled, and after several more battles, Muzzafar Khan began to ask for peace and even offered his help in the war with Khiva.

I must say, he did it very timely - war did not reach Bukhara itself, and instead of the lost Samarkand oasis (which was the best part of emirate), the emirate even gained something: it got some lands of Khiva (1873), returned power over the insurgent Shakhrisabz (1870), Gissar and Kulyab (1876), that is, the eastern part of present Kashkadarya, Surkhandarya and the southwest of present-day Tajikistan, where Dushanbe grew under the Soviets. The emir lost the right to an independent foreign policy, which, it never had under Kokand as well, but inside the Khanate emir was required only not to interfere with Russian merchants, to guarantee their safety and not to charge duties for transit. In total, three emirs changed under Russian authority: Muzaffar-Eddin (until 1885), Abdul-Ahad (1885-1910) and Alim Khan. Each of them was having closer and closer ties with Russia: if Abdul-Ahad built Russian railways, fortresses and factories in the lands of the emirate, then Alim Khan built palaces in Petersburg, the Crimea and the foothills of the Caucasus, posed for Prokudin-Gorsky and was promoted to General the lieutenants of Terek (!) Cossack troops. If the end of the 19th century was lasting, and the development of the countries strictly progressive, then all this would result in the appearance of the princes of Bukhara in Petersburg, and Bukhara region with Bukhara, Kermin, Karshi, Shakhrisabz, Hissar and Kulyab uyezds. This was the secret of Russian expansion - the taming of local peoples and the slow transformation of the colonies into the outskirts of the metropolis.

Two pictures above - the same building from different sides, and the building is nothing more than an Orthodox church at the Russian Embassy, the only one operating in Bukhara emirate. It was built in 1892.

Behind these remnants of New Bukhara, are stretching usual mahallas, and at last we drove out to a huge cemetery on the very edge of the desert:

Here the Russian cemeteries often look like this - an endless stockade of squinting metal crosses, with no bush or grass between them. And although there are still Russians left in Kagan, an elderly Uzbek woman is looking after the cemetery.

On the edge of the cemetery is a military memorial ... but not dedicated to the Great Patriotic War. On all graves there is one date of death - April 19, 1973 and the signature "Killed in the line of duty." At the obelisk, the inscriptions were erased. I could not find anything concrete about the tragedies at that date, but the images of the aircraft and helicopter flying towards each other suggest the collision of two air crafts at the exercises, but the date also makes you suspect some connection with the war in Vietnam. The memorial is very creative: only from a distance it is noticeable that the inscriptions on the obelisk form the figure of the grieving fighter.

And at the edge are two necropolises of prisoners of war, who died here in the post-war years in labor camps, under the White Sun of the desert. Germans:

And the Japanese. There are much more of them here, because much more of them worked in Central Asia, and they were dying here faster away from their native sea:

But the strangeness of their thinking is striking even here. Who in Europe could have thought of the idea to number the gravestones and put a slab with a list of names at the end of the alley?

... Then the taxi driver took me back to the center, and I went for a walk on the streets shown in the second half of the previous part. At one point, an intelligent person passing by with a small child greeted me - in Central Asia, as has been said many times before, it is perfectly normal for a local to talk to a foreigner. We talked, and the local with unconcealed enthusiasm suggested to me: "Do you want me to take you to the station Proletarabad?" The Austrians built it, I will show you the old barracks, the headquarters from where Frunze bombed Bukhara, and we'll show you also our mahallas! " I hesitated - I did not have much time left (never leave less than 3 days for exploring Bukhara with the surrounding area!). But the person persuaded me, especially since it was for free, and his intelligent look and presence of a small child somehow made me trust him. He just finished his work in the center and went to his car.

We drove along the former Lenin Street, Boris (as he called himself - in Central Asia many people call themselves with Russian names presenting to Russian guests so that it would be easier for them to remember) asked me about how people live in Russia and told how they live here. He was saying "they" about Uzbeks and Tajiks, and noticing my questioning look, said: "We ourselves are an alien people here ... I am a Persian" .... and this delighted me. I knew about the Central Asian Persians before the trip, but I did not think that I could meet one of them. The Persians came to this region in several waves, and some communities trace back their ancestry to Ancient Iran, others are considered descendants of merchants in Uzbek khanates or slaves driven into slavery by raids of local nomads, someone moved to Central Asia, when in the course of endless wars either Persia occupied parts of Turkestan or Turkestanians - Persia. But most of them, including Boris, moved to Russian Turkestan in the 19th century in search of a better life and away from constant wars. "Old" Persians at that time were called "eroni", and new ones - "porsiyon" and "mashhadi", since most of them were actually from the bordering Mashhad. Boris said that he respects Russia very much, and Russia has always supported the Persians and (here we are talking about the Central Asian peoples in general) "put us on our feet". He was also in the homeland of his ancestors, in Mashhad - Persians have their own community in Uzbekistan and do not forget their kinship. And Proletarabad is a Persian quarter.

Meanwhile, we approached the Proletarabad station, and behind the overgrown weeds and partly cultivated by vegs former square, I saw an abandoned railway station of incomprehensible age:

and with a panel on the porch:

At that time I did not know anything about this station, and even now know quite a little - it is not clear when the railway station was built, or when the station received such a name. But this was the starting point of perhaps the most forgotten railway line in Russian history - the Bukhara Railway, built in 1913-16 entirely in the lands of the Bukhara Khanate, from the Emir capital through Karshi to the fortress of Pattagisar (now Termez) on the border with Afghanistan, only 490 km, but possibly - with an aim on the earlier and semi-utopian project of the Indo-Volga Railway. Partly it passes through Turkmenistan with Kelif station, and its entire historic course is now being overcome by the Moscow-Dushanbe train, which Uzbeks are not allowing on a new straighter line through the mountains. I could not find out any more details about it, I will only say that similar stations with domes apart from Proletarabad can still be found in Kelif and Termez (see this post), and at many stations there are Shukhov's towers. The shape of the stations is absolutely unusual for the Russian Empire, something subtly common in them is with the Ottoman stations of the Middle East, and in general I have the feeling that architects from Bukhara built them.

But the information deficit is fantastic! The Station was called Proletarabad, most likely, in 1922, when the Kagan station was renamed into the Bukhara station ... but how it was called in the first few years of its existence? Or maybe ideas that Bukhara built it are unfounded, and the stations were built and put into operation already under the Soviets? It seems, that anywhere in my numerous travels I did not feel such information helplessness, as in Kagan. Yes, and approaching Bukhara by train, do not look out for this train station - it stands on a side branch, the only passing Moscow-Dushanbe train passes here without stops, and if someone decides to drive this forgotten and strange railway itinerary entirely - do not forget to make a Turkmen transit visa:

And along the railway there are the so-called White barracks: ostensibly, here Whites were station here during the Civil War, but the fact is that there were never any Whites under Bukhara, so it was rather tsar's troops, or simply the barracks were originally painted white, like the facade of the station on the photo above. Besides I have a suspicion that initially it was not barracks, but the railway houses: they stand out among mahallas at every major station in Central Asia (for example, Arys). They were built by the captive Austrians from the fronts of the First World War, and their appearance is for some reason more Central Asian than Russian - but with a stonework not characteristic for this region:

By the way, this is the "station square".

Nowadays - ordinary residential buildings:

But with what an amazing use of local shapes! As if they were built by Bukhara architects:

A wooden warehouse ... wooden buildings in predominantly clay Central Asia looks kind of extraterrestrial. They say that in Bukhara there was even one log house in the whole of the Bukhara emirate.

The chain of barracks is finished with Frunze Headquarters standing by the railway. It is now occupied by something guarded, and Boris apologized that he can not show me it not through a high fence:

As already mentioned, there were no Whites in the Kagan - in 1918 there were already Reds here, that is, apparently the Kagan garrison immediately took the side of the new government, or perhaps even the separation to Whites and Reds did not matter in the foreign land, and they were simply on the side of those compatriots, who established contact with them. Whatever it was, both the Bolsheviks and the Provisional Government in 1917 recognized the Bukhara Emirate as an independent state, but of course they were preparing to fix it. In addition, in Bukhara itself has grown the movement of the Young Bukharians - enlightened and secular people who visited and even studied in Russia (one of the centers of such education was the Ural Troitsk with its "new-method" madrassas) and advocating the Europeanization of their country (like the Young Khivans, the Young Afghans , Young Turks and many others). In March 1918, the garrison of New Bukhara, led by Bolshevik Fyodor Kolesov and the young Bukharans led by Fayzulla Khodjaev, attempted to overthrow the emir and capture Bukhara, but were defeated, followed by the typically Asian massacre of the Young Bukharans in Old Bukhara, and the evacuation in New Bukhara. Bukhara detachments made several raids along the railway, destroying Russian settlements, and finally the Bolsheviks concluded a peace treaty with Alim Khan, which promised not to touch each other, and the emir compensated the Soviets for material damage and refused to support the basmach movement. In 1920, however, the Bolsheviks returned - by that time their power in Turkestan had strengthened, part of the Basmach fighters joined their side, Bukhara had formed its own Communist Party with the underground, and the military campaign was led by one of the best Soviet military leaders, Mikhail Frunze. Bukhara operation in August-September 1920 was one of the most impressive in the Civil War, and the city was heavily destroyed by massive artillery fire, and the outcome of the siege was decided by four airplanes that caused a fire in the Emir's palace and panic among city defenders, after which the Reds assaulted the Ark. Several thousand people died on both sides, but the last emir Alim Khan managed to escape to Afghanistan, where he lived quietly until 1944. Bukhara was bombed in so violently that the very center of the city was destroyed, including most of the Ark and Registan at its gate.

On whose side were the Persians in the Civil War - I never asked. The Soviet Union is now respected by all the peoples here. Behind the railway there is a hillfort or a mound, crowned with a Russian cemetery.

There are a lot of ancient settlements in the Bukhara oasis, some have been deserted before our era, and hardly anyone knows even their names. But it seems only on this ancient settlement there are crosses:

We started leaving the railway along the winding streets of the Persian mahallas, and at some point I began to feel that I was already in Iran (where I had never been) - as everything here was from an ancient and alien civilization:

One of the mahalla centers is a school. It has two buildings - a new concrete building and old adobe one. In the latter now is a utility room, but Boris still remembers when it was used for its original purpose:

In the courtyard is a memorial made by the students. On the right is the Great Patriotic War, and on the left ... dates 1917-38 - apparently, the local interpretation of the Civil War, taking into account basmachi movement.

Another center of Proletarabad is Shiite mosque. In Turkestan, the Persians retained their faith, and it was Shiism, which became the state religion of Iran in the 16th century under the Sevefids - their main difference from the extremely close in language Sunni Tajiks. I do not know for sure when it was built, and to my shame I still can't distinguish "by sight" the Shiite mosque from the Sunni one:

But the customs are slightly different. For example, Shiites are required to pray the same 5 times a day, but not necessarily on time - that is, during the day all 5 prayers should be read and preferably on time, but several "sessions" can be shifted into one. The most, however, visual difference is the absence of a taboo on the image of people and animals. Not pretentious, but very beautiful ceiling canopy:

The hall photographed through glass:

Later I met Persians more than once, somehow I recognized them immediately, and remember them for their kindness, intelligence and sense of dignity, and also because of all the local people (including Russians) they showed the most sympathy for Russia right down to the words "I believe that the Russians will return here." Most of them spoke Russian almost without accent, which they apparently preferred to learn, rather than Uzbek. I also was in the Persian mahallas of Samarkand, but never again I saw such a holistic Persian atmosphere as in Proletarabad.

And these are not Persians, these are the Lyuli, or the Central Asian gypsies. They wander even here:

I met even the Russians in the Persian mahalla, just few of them who rooted here:

Refusing to take any money from me, Boris took me back to the center and dropped me at the railway square near the pre-revolutionary building of the bank. That was an interesting and surreal experience to visit this forgotten place (after all, you have read now the first on the Internet guide and travelogue about Kagan!) that is just half an hour drive from Bukhara, overflowing with tourists from all over the world.

In the end - here is the Boris himself. If you read these lines - thank you very much and forgive me if I made mistakes somewhere. Not intentionally, but only due to my ignorance and forgetfulness.

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Did you know?

Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!

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The Uzbek master chef is able to cook in just one caldron enough plov to serve a thousand men.

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To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot.  For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's.  Example: Linda-opa and David-aka.  You could also use hon and jon respectively.

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Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.

One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death. 

Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.

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