About Uzbekistan

The history of Tashkent
08 December 2017

With a population of 2.3 million people Tashkent remains the largest city if in the Asian part of the former USSR, and at the times of USSR it was the 4th largest city in the administrative borders (after Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev) and the third in the metropolitan area (up to 4 million people). Nowadays, it could probably grow to the size of St. Petersburg, but the city has a draconian migration regime for the locals, unchanged from the Soviet times, and it is easier to move from provinces to Moscow than to Tashkent. As a result, Tashkent is a beautiful, spacious, not overcrowded city and clean city that has preserved the spirit of the good old Soviet Central Asia.

For some reason, many tourists coming to Uzbekistan think of Tashkent as no more than a transport hub and a stopover point on their itinerary to Samarkand and Bukhara. Tashkent always remains in the shadow of those cities whilst it is a very ancient city itself, the center of a large oasis of Chach in the fertile valleys of the Chirchik and Angren rivers near the western foothills of the Tien Shan. The very name Tashkent, although it means the Stone City, is rather originated from Chachkent (the city of Chach). As in many oases, the center of Chach changed places more than once, and there are still few fortifications left in the city. For example, the 2000-year-old Ming Urik in the residential quarter near the railway station.

A large territory of the present Tashkent is covered by a network of large canals from the Chirchik River, dug out in ancient times and now similar to full rivers. There is not even a single opinion among the indigenous people of Tashkent where one channel passes into another. A chain of Bozsu-Ankhor-Burdzhar canals passes through the center, each subsequent preserves the direction and most of the water of the previous one. On their western bank in the 9th century, after the Arab conquest (when Chach was an ally of Sogd, but not part of it) the city of Binkent grew up, and in the 11th century under the rule of the Turk-Karakhanids it finally became Tashkent.

Tashkent was always a centre of the fight among surrounding powers - Karakhanids were replaced by Khorezmshahs, Khorezmkhashs by Mongols of Chagatai ulus, Chagatai Khanate by Timurids, then Tashkent happened to be right on the border of Kazakh and Uzbek nomads, that's why the whole of the 16th century Bukhara and Kazakh Khanates were fighting for it with varying success, and with the victory of the latter (1598 and finally - 1627) - also the Dzungars, who seized the city in the early 18th century. In fact, the Uzbek capital has more in common with the history of Southern Kazakhstan than with the history of Bukhara or Samarkand. For example, the mausoleum of Tole bi (1756) - the Kazakh judge, one of the compilers of the Seven Provisions (the proto-constitution of the Three Kazakh Juzes), the street with his name is in every city of Kazakhstan.

the mausoleum of Tole bi (1756)

But under all the khans, Tashkent lived its own life, most of all resembling the "free cities" of medieval Europe. At that time it stood on the western bank of Bozsu-Ankhor canal and consisted of 4 independent daha (cities)... that had a common and fortified wall of 12 gates and the center - ancient but still existing ad functioning Chorsu bazaar.

Chorsu bazaar

The largest was the southeastern daha of Sheikhantaur (with 48 mahallas) with the Koymas, Kokand and Kashgar gates. This daha was famous for its artisans and craftsmen. Northeastern Sebzar daha consisted of 38 mahallas and held the gates of Labzak, Takhtapul ("Customs Duties"), Karasaray (the "Black Palace"). This daha was famous for producing the araba carts, but its main "asset" was suburban plowlands and meadows along with the mills on Kalkauz channel. North-western Kukcha, the smallest daha (31 mahallas) with the Sagban, Chagatai and Kukcha Gates was mostly occupied by potters and tanners, and the south-western Beshagach daha (32 mahallas), controlled the Samarkand, Kamalon and Beshagach gates, was famous for its gardens behind the wall and brick plants. Each daha was governed by hokim (mayor), whose congress was Chorhakim (4 mayors). That is why sometimes that period of Tashkent is called the Republic of Four Hakims. 

Sometimes daha fought each other, calling for help Kazakhs, the Dzungar or the Uzbeks. In 1784, Yunuskhodzha, the ruler of Sheikhantaur, took power over the whole city, downgrading the rest of hakims to the role of advisers. This is how the Tashkent state was formed, the most weird city in Central Asia. The territory of this free city was stretching sometimes to Turkestan, it had the mercenary army, recruited from vagabonds and fugitive criminals. Behind them stood the Kazakhs, allies of the free city.

Then there was an even more interesting turn: Tashkent was the first in Turkestan to turn to Russia for help, promising protectorate and ores of the surrounding mountains ... eventually Tashkent and St. Petersburg exchanged embassies at the turn of the 18-19th centuries. All this, however, came to end with the death of Yunuskhodzha, who died in 1801 after an unsuccessful campaign against Kokand. His sons Muhammadhodja, Hanhodja, Sultanhodja and Khakimhodja fought each other for the power and as the result in 1808 Tashkent was under the rule of Kokand.

Mahalla in Tashkent's old city

And it was the capture of Tashkent by the troops of Mikhail Chernyaev in 1865 that became the key battle in the conquest of Turkestan. Interestingly, there was 20-fold (!) difference in forces (1300 for Russians and 30,000 for the Tashkent garrison), Russians managed to lose only 25 people while taking the city, that could partly be explained that the Sarts themselves did not really want to fight for the Kokand occupants. Before the revolution of 1917 the original territory of Tashkent was known as the Sart city, and in Soviet times as the Old City. 
From the first years under Russia (the official acceptance of Tashkent into Russian governance was held in 1866), they started to build on the other side of the canal the Russian city, now known as the New part of Tashkent. The centre of New City was Square, known under different names at different times - Kaufman, Revolution, Stalin, Marx and finally - Tamerlane (Amir Timur) Squre.

Amir Temur square
By the time of the Russian conquest, Tashkent was already the largest city of Turkestan (78,000 inhabitants) - with the reorientation of Central Asia to the north, it turned out to be the gateway to the fertile Fergana Valley, and Russian officials found it more suitable for climate than Samarkand or Shymkent. Tashkent became the center of the entire Turkestan Governorate General and the giant Syr Darya region from Talas to the Aral Sea, and according to the census of 1897 with a population of 155,000 people was the 10th largest city of the Russian Empire between Tiflis and Vilna. However, in fact Tashkent still consisted of two cities, and in its New Russian part there were only about 20 thousand people, whilst the local majority was listed as "Turks without distinction in dialects." The life of its Russian part remained deeply provincial, as well as architecture with a constant yellow brick.
new part of Tashkent
It was Tashkent that became the center of both modern (for those times) industry after the railway came here in 1899, and the revolutionary movement in Turkestan. After the Civil War in Russia, Tashkent became the center of the Turkestan ASSR, and later of the Uzbek SSR with a short break in 1924-30 when the center was Samarkand.

Tashkent had its own very powerful and distinctive school of Soviet architecture. But most of the city was destroyed as a result of earthquake in the spring of 1966. "Seven months on the back of an enraged camel" - this is how the Tashkent people describe the events of spring-summer of 1966, when the capital of Uzbekistan experienced several hundred tremors by force up to 8 points on the Richter scale. As a result of the disaster, the central part of the city, built in the XIX century, was destroyed, about 300 thousand people were left homeless. For several months hundreds of thousands of citizens lived in army tents, schools, kindergartens, hospitals and libraries. The main motto of those days was the slogan: "we are shaking, but we are not giving up".

Luckily the quake that struck Tashkent was quite specific – instead of more frequent horizontal it had vertical convulsions, in other words the city did not "swing", but "jumped," which caused thousands of buildings to crack, but almost nothing collapsed at once. And if in Ashgabat earthquake in 1948 the number of dead was exceeded a 6-digit number, in Tashkent an earthquake killed only 9 people (not counting those who died from heart attacks during aftershocks). But infrastructure of the city was seriously damaged, the cracked houses were not up to restoration (the official version), and the Soviets decided to build the city from a blank. That's why the buildings of the 1960s-1970s determine the face of Tashkent. The city became a masterpiece of late Soviet architecture - beautiful, integral and with a unique "face". Soviet Tashkent was built on top of both the Old and the New parts of former city, levelling their landscapes and population.

Characteristic features - unusual forms of balconies, complex concrete grids, mosaics and simple laying on the sides of the buildings has a genuine Central Asian touch.

Public buildings are extremely impressive

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Did you know?

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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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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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