Taking Stock of the Turkmens: The Many Forms of Khivan Sovereignty

This paper is about Khivan relationships with Iranian Khorasan and Tekke Turkmens. A severe political crisis took place in the mid-19th century Khiva khanate, one of the most prominent and dynamic political players in Central Asia. Such crisis lasted far too long, at least a decade, and resulted in a landmark change in the political landscape and the regional power configurations, which reinforced the ambitions of Qajar Iran over Khorezm. The military campaign that the Qungrat ruler of Khiva, Muhammad Amin Khan (1845-1855) in March 1855 to Khurasan against the Turkmens-Tekke can be considered as a conventional starting point of this crisis. The success of such a military operation was of particular importance for the Qungrat dynasty to ensure the stability of the southern fringes of its domains. However, on the eve of a decisive battle in Khurasan a group of Turkmen Yomuts, who so far had provided for the backbone of the Qungrat army, made a deal with the enemy, which led to the death of Muhammad Amin Khan and plunged Khiva into a severe political crisis. This course of action mirrors the internal contradictions existing in Khorezmian society, which often forced various social and political groups to shift alliances. By offering a contrapuntal reading of material from archives in Tashkent, Khiva, and St. Petersburg, I set out to review the motivations, strategies, and the choices of a number of political and social groups that participated in the political crisis in Khiva between the years 1854 - 1865. I thus hope to be able to show that, rather than a monolithic state formation, it would be more useful to think of rule in the Khanate of Khiva as a ‘process’. By building on the work of Sanjay Subrahmanyam and Farhat Hasan, I shall argue that the state should be best viewed as a mesh of administrative practices, which were informed by notions of loyalty, alliances, and compromises. The reiteration of the ‘core – periphery’ paradigm would necessarily seat uncomfortably in my reading of the events. Equally, I want to suggest that the Qungrats regarded Khorasan less as a border of sorts, than an outer region from which they could extract resources.


Ulfatbek Abdurasulov
Austrian Academy of Sciences