Soviet Colonialism in Central Asia

Courtesy Reuters

ALMOST in the center of Asia, and far removed from the oceans, are two great basins of continental land, once the home of a civilization rivalling that of Cairo or Cordova, and even today an extension of the Moslem East. They were known until recent times as Russian and Chinese Turkestan. Both are ringed round by some of the world's highest mountains, and where the mountains stop the plains fade into desert or inland sea; both are traversed by rivers which do not reach the ocean; both are inhabited in the main by people in whom a Turkish strain may be said to predominate. To distinguish these Transcaspian peoples from the Turks of Turkey and the Caucasus it is convenient to speak of them in general as the Eastern, or Central Asian, Turks.[i]

More specifically, those of Turkish stock living in the U.S.S.R. are divided into Kazaks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Kirghiz and Karakalpaks; the Kazaks and Kirghiz overlap into China, where there are also Turkis or Taranchis. There are also the Tajiks, of Iranian stock and language. Turkmens, Uzbeks and Tajiks all overlap into Afghanistan, and the first into Iran also. All except the Tajiks speak one or other form of Turkic language, the Tajiks a form of Persian. A confused history has led to much crossing of stocks, and it may be said that the people in the settled area south of the steppe--the old Transoxiana--represent a mingled Turco-Iranian heritage, of which bilingualism in Turkic and Persian--common among Uzbeks and Tajiks--is one indication. The Iranian strain predominates in the towns and the settled oases along the rivers, while the Turkish strain, often infused with Mongol blood, is more common upon the steppe and in the mountains.

The two parts of Turkestan are divided by the great mountain transept culminating on the Pamirs, from which spring several of the biggest ranges of the world. In a general way this water-shed, linking the Tienshan with the Hindu Kush and Karakoram

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