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Qishloq Ovozi

A strong leader came to be more highly regarded than a divine one, whose actions are beyond reproach.

We haven't had a book review in the Qishloq for some time now, so I am pleased to present this, the more so because I am a huge fan of Central Asian history. Jesko Schmoller is an amazing scholar and the former president of CESMI (see the upper right-hand corner under sites we like). Schmoller brings us his review of Thomas Welsford's book, titled Four Types Of Loyalty In Early Modern Central Asia, a work that reminds us that so much of what is happening in Central Asia now has happened before.

The title of this review of Thomas Welsford's Four Types Of Loyalty In Early Modern Central Asia does not evoke bloodshed in order to imply that this period of Central Asian history was particularly cruel. Rather, this gruesome word choice alludes to the events described in the book's subtitle: The Tuqay-Timurid Takeover of Greater Ma Wara al-Nahr, 1598–1605. A conquest inevitably leads to violence, and this likewise applies to the Tuqay-Timurid replacement of the Abul-Khayrid (also known as Shibanid) dynasty, which ruled the region for about a century. Describing and interpreting political events that are more than 400 years removed from our days presents considerable challenges, but Welsford guides the reader unfalteringly through difficult terrain. For the sake of clarity, I will contextualize the book by summarizing the tumultuous events of this particular era, at the same time paying attention to the types of loyalty Welsford discerns in the source material. He differentiates between loyalties that are motivated by reason (charismatic loyalty), interest (clientelist and inertial loyalty), and affection (communal loyalty).

In the late 16th century, much of the area we know as Central Asia was ruled by Abul-Khayrid Abdallah Khan. He was responsible for reforming the office of khan, or head of state, in a way that seriously expanded the sovereign's privileges but also made him more liable for his actions. When Abdallah died in 1598, his son Abd al-Mumin ascended the throne and immediately began attacking and executing any close relatives that he viewed as wavering in their loyalties. This strategy proved unwise, as Abd al-Mumin was nevertheless assassinated only six months into his reign. Meanwhile, in the southern territories of his realm, a new contender to the throne would eventually bring down the entire Abul-Khayrid dynasty.

This individual was Yar Muhammad, the new ruler of Herat. Through his ancestor Tuqay-Timur, he was in fact related to the late khan Abd al-Mumin, as Tuqay-Timur was the brother of Shiban and both were grandchildren of Chingiz Khan. Abd al-Mumin's ancestors had in the past mostly lived in Western Siberia, while the Tuqay-Timurids came from an even more distant point of origin. Other lines descending from Tuqay-Timur had generated the khans of Kazan, Crimea, and Astrakhan. Welsford argues that the Abul-Khayrids had enjoyed the charismatic loyalties of the people for such a long time that it hampered a successful transition of loyalties to the new dynasty. Luckily for the Tuqay-Timurids however, Abd al-Mumin had already damaged the prestige of the Abul-Khayrid dynasty.

It is during this transitional period that the commotion truly begins. Unexpectedly, the Kazakh ruler Tawakkul Khan emerges from the north and takes the cities of Tashkent and Samarkand without any significant obstacles. Pir Muhammad, the Abul-Khayrid ruler of Bukhara, finds himself under attack and turns to the grandson of Yar Muhammad, the Tuqay-Timurid prince Baqi Muhammad, for assistance. Baqi Muhammad meets Tawakkul in battle, fatally injuring the Kazakh khan and dispersing his army. Pir Muhammad decides to make the victorious hero Baqi Muhammad governor of Samarkand, but the latter soon begins to act as if he were the great khan.

This behavior urges Pir Muhammad in the autumn of 1599 to go on a punitive expedition to Samarkand. As the armed forces clash before the city, Baqi Muhammad remains victorious and has Pir Muhammad executed. But how had Baqi Muhammad been able to rely on the support of the Samarkandi population? Welsford argues that his triumph over Tawakkul had impressed the people profoundly and he simply seemed the person ideally suited to provide the necessary public services to suit the needs of the population. With the above-mentioned reforms of the khanal office, a strong leader came to be more highly regarded than a divine one, whose actions are beyond reproach. The clientelist loyalties of the Samarkandi population thus worked in favor of Baqi Muhammad. We may understand clientelism as the exchange of goods and services for political support.

According to Welsford, there is yet another type of loyalty that Baqi Muhammad profits from during the fight before the gates of Samarkand: the communal loyalty of the people. It appears that Pir Muhammad as well as his predecessors Abd al-Mumin and Abdallah had treated the Muslim mystics that were revered by the population in a disrespectful manner and they now had to pay for their mistake when the supporters of those holy men sided with Baqi Muhammad. Some emirs may also have hoped that Baqi Muhammad would better uphold the more general interests and values of the Samarkandi community.

After Baqi Muhammad's second victory, several former associates of Pir Muhammad transferred their loyalties to that fledgling dynasty. Welsford explains this move with the concept of inertial loyalty, which resembles clientelist loyalty but is more distinctly determined by rational calculation. Apart from that, it is not a particular ruler but a regime that becomes the object of inertial loyalty. In order to consolidate the empire, Baqi Muhammad undertakes an offensive, easily captures Bukhara, and controls Termez and Balkh by the end of the year 1600. The Abul-Khayrid princes Muhammad Salim, who is the son of the late Pir Muhammad, and Jahangir flee and seek refuge with Shah Abbas, the Safavid king of Iran. Abbas promises support for their plan to reestablish Abul-Khayrid rule in Central Asia and they set out at the head of an army to take back Balkh. However, they are met with little sympathy in the population, whose loyalty lies firmly with the Tuqay-Timurids by now. As the soldiers run out of food, the campaign eventually needs to be abandoned in the summer of 1602. Although it is difficult to establish when historical processes begin and end, the Tuqay-Timurid takeover can be regarded as more or less complete at this point.

Welsford's book is a serious piece of scholarship, and he presents his line of reasoning in a convincing manner. The one problematic aspect of the text is whether it is possible to deduce the motivations for particular loyalties from people's recorded actions. Moreover, are we dealing not only with a different period but also with a foreign culture. Is there not the danger of projecting our own conceptions of loyalty onto circumstances to which they are not fully applicable? As an anthropologist, it would be even more fascinating to learn how actions were explained and interpreted by the people themselves. Such a perspective would call for a history of ideas or history of concepts approach. Welsford is aware of this problem and argues that we cannot take the historical accounts at face value, as their authors used words in a very instrumental fashion. Since this is obviously true, we must accept that there are limits to what can be done with the sources. Under these conditions, it is remarkable how Welsford recreates in all shades and colors a long bygone age before the reader's eyes.

Jesko Schmoller is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Comparative History and Political Studies at Perm State University. He is an anthropologist who wrote his PhD at the Central Asian Seminar of Humboldt University Berlin. His book Achieving A Career, Becoming A Master; Aspirations In The Lives Of Young Uzbek Men was recently published with Klaus Schwarz
Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party, "several times stressed that their party is against this Islamic State and the Islamic State also several times announced that Kabiri would be killed, they sentenced him to death."

The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the second-largest political party in the country and the only Islamic political party legally registered in Central Asia, is days away from being closed down.

According to an August 28 order from Tajikistan's Justice Ministry, the IRPT must cease all its activities by September 7, two days before Tajikistan's Independence Day.

Many, including the IRPT, accuse Tajik President Emomali Rahmon of orchestrating a protected campaign to remove the IRPT as a political force in the country's politics. If that is true then Rahmon appears to have succeeded, but there will likely be some consequences from the IRPT's closure.

Why the Tajik government would want to close down the IRPT, why it is happening now, and what happens next were the topics of a panel discussion organized by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk.

(NOTE: This podcast was recorded on September 2, two days before the violence near Dushanbe that Tajik authorities allege involved at least one former opposition field commander.)

Azatlyk director Mohammad Tahir moderated the discussion. Participating were Habibullo Kurbon, editor at the independent Tajik newspaper Nigoh (View), and Edward Lemon, a doctoral candidate at the U.K.'s University of Exeter who lived in Tajikistan and continues to keep close watch on events there. I, as always, said some things as well.

The IRPT was once the main partner in an alliance that fought against government forces during the 1992-97 Tajik civil war. The IRPT and its allies signed a peace agreement with the government in June 1997. The unique peace deal legalized the wartime opponents' political parties and granted them 30 percent of places in government at all levels from village to ministerial.

The opposition's share in government has gradually been eroded since then and following this year's parliamentary elections in March, no opposition politicians remain in any branch of Tajikistan's national government.

Lemon called the August 28 order from the Justice Ministry "quite a surprising move because the Islamic Renaissance Party was always in a way a useful tool for the government in terms of its international relations with other Islamic countries, in terms of giving an impression that the country is in some way democratic."

Kurbon said the IRPT's popularity has been growing for years. "This party has the backing of society," he said, adding that in Tajikistan, where a post-Soviet religious revival in well under way, "the word ‘Islam' helps this party to involve more and more supporters."

But Lemon said it had been clear for some time that Rahmon's government was moving to eventually neutralize the IRPT. "Since the end of the civil war in 1997 the regime has arrested, exiled and sometimes killed its major opponents and I guess people in Dushanbe in the regime have got to the point where they believe that the party is no longer a useful tool," Lemon explained.

Lemon said the regime seemed to feel secure enough now to take this final step to eliminate the IRPT, and some reasons for this feeling of security were mentioned in the discussion.

Also mentioned was the growing economic trouble in Tajikistan (and throughout Central Asia) and that the Tajik government might wish at this time to silence any potential domestic sources of criticism as the country enters a trying and uncertain period.

It was also noted that growing global concern about Islamic extremist groups helped pave the way for Tajik authorities to allege the IRPT provided a "gateway" of sorts for recruiting. In recent days some in the Tajik government have made clumsy attempts to connect the IRPT and the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Kurbon rejected that connection, saying, "The chairman of the party, [Muhiddin] Kabiri, several times stressed that their party is against this Islamic State and the Islamic State also several times announced that Kabiri would be killed, they sentenced him to death."

Such an allegation by Tajik authorities could also be seen as an attempt to distract attention from the fact that the best-known citizen of Tajikistan fighting in the ranks of IS is Gulmurod Halimov, who was previously a commander of Tajikistan's Interior Ministry troops.

It was generally agreed there is little the IRPT can do to prevent its activities from being banned. "The Tajik opposition has no tribune to raise their voice," Kurbon said, and Lemon pointed out that "in June, Jumhuriyat, the state-controlled paper, published an article alleging that Muhiddin Kabiri, the party leader, was involved in fraudulent property transactions and now he's in self-imposed exile."

Both Kurbon and Lemon believe the authorities will not pursue any campaign against IRPT members after the party is officially disbanded and both also said there was little likelihood that IRPT members would now seek to create problems inside Tajikistan or go abroad to join radical Islamic groups.

"Most of the young supporters among the IRPT, most of them although they are religious and believe religion should play some sort of a role in politics they often do not agree with the very extremist, jihadist views of groups like [IS] so I don't think that risk is too great," Lemon said.

Kurbon said, "There are also voices [favoring] opening a new party...but they know that in Tajikistan it is almost impossible to register a new party, political party, it is very, very difficult if you are an opponent of the government."

It was the opinion of the panel that once the IRPT is gone from Tajikistan's political scene it is likely to be many years before there is another legally registered Islamic political party in Tajikistan or anywhere else in Central Asia.

But as Lemon suggested, inevitably Islam will play a role in Central Asian politics. "The regimes are faced with an increasingly religious population who are demanding that religion play an increased role in politics but obviously being raised in the Soviet Union, the current elite is unwilling to listen to the demands from the more religious people within their society and obviously this is not a sustainable model and eventually religion will have to be better incorporated into the political system in Central Asia."

The discussion dealt with these issues in greater detail as well as touching on other subjects. You can listen to the full discussion below:

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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