During this period, the region (excluding Xinjiang Province in China) becomes a battleground in the rivalry between imperial Britain and czarist Russia.
For almost a century, Afghanistan is a pawn in the “Great Game” played by European imperial powers as they vie for influence in Central Asia. The Anglo-Afghan Wars (1839–42, 1878–80, 1919) end inconclusively. In 1893, Britain establishes an unofficial border, the Durand Line, separating Afghanistan from British India. British intervention in Afghanistan stems from growing British concerns about Russian ambitions in Central Asia.
In the beginning of the century, parts of the region are organized into the three khanates of Kokand (present-day Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), Bukhara (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan), and Khiva (Kazakhstan). Slave-based agriculture expands, trade increases, and new demands for luxury goods spur an artistic revival in Central Asia. By the 1850s, the Kazakh nomads are conquered and the khanates gradually lose their independence, the final blows dealt in the European scramble for colonies. The Russian campaigns end in 1884 with the conquest of Merv and by 1895 the southern borders of Russia and Central Asia take definitive form. For the Russians, the chief objectives of these campaigns are to thwart British colonial expansion and gain access to a rich source of raw materials, particularly cotton, and create a colonial marketplace in which Russian goods can compete.
Central Asia is often referred to as the land of textiles. Producing beautiful textiles is an integral part of a nomad or villager’s life. Young girls often produce textiles for their dowries, and the interior of even the most modest of homes is covered with woven, embroidered, or appliqué textiles in silk, cotton, wool, or felt. Textiles and embroidered objects play important roles in rites of passage, and in the most challenging periods of life. Many contain talismanic motifs intended to protect the user from harm. They are used as prayer rugs, saddlecloths, cradle covers, mirror cases, yurt bands, tent flaps, salt bags, gift wraps, and articles of clothing. Throughout Central Asia, individual regions develop their own distinctive designs. Among the most splendid textiles are colorful suzani embroideries and brilliant ikats (woven textiles, resist-dyed prior to weaving).
The Turkmen, particularly, are the acknowledged master weavers of Central Asia. They produce various types of pile carpets and embroideries, including bags, cradles, covers, weavings for dividing the space within a tent, and entrance covers using striking ornamental patterns of protective and magical significance. Among the ubiquitous motifs on Turkmen carpets are the göls, or octagonal medallions, which appear in horizontal or diagonal rows often on a red ground. Other motifs consist of abstract representations of rams, birds, dogs, and other zoomorphic forms. The Turkmen are also known for producing some of the most graceful and elegant silver tribal jewelry in Inner Asia. Jewelry often expresses the taste and preferences of a certain tribe. Silver pendantlike ornaments, plaques, beads, rings, and bracelets make up the components of Turkmen jewelry. These are incised with a variety of talismanic motifs and sometimes set with carnelian stone or red glass.
Few Western innovations make their way into the region in the first half of the century. Photography is introduced around 1870 with Russian troops and administrators. Most photographers are foreigners based in Kokand, Samarqand, and Tashkent. Unlike in other parts of the Islamic world, Central Asian photography is not a market-driven enterprise; photographs are mostly of a documentary nature and taken by amateur photographers working for governmental institutions. A Western school of painting does not develop in this region until the twentieth century.
Alim Khan of Kokand captures Tashkent, Chimkent, and Sayram and moves in to Kyrgyz territory to the northeast of his own kingdom. This ushers in a period of prosperity for the khanate, and a new mosque, many madrasas, and a palace are built in Kokand.
The Kazakhs rebel against Russian rule in a series of uprisings. The Russians attempt to placate the Kazakhs with land reforms and other measures to no avail.
After the last of the Durrani kings is forced to abdicate, the Muhammadzai clan rises to prominence in Afghanistan. The first ruler of the dynasty, Amir Dost Muhammad Khan (1793–1863), reunifies most of the lands held by the Durranis and subdues the Sikhs during the first part of his reign.
First Anglo-Afghan War. The British have become involved in local politics in order to ensure the security of their prize colony of India. They are able to overthrow Dost Muhammad in 1839 but are unsuccessful in fighting in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, and their garrison in the Khyber Pass is wiped out. They retreat from Kabul in 1842 and Dost Muhammad retakes the throne. In 1842, two Englishmen, Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly—the first sent by Queen Victoria as an emissary, the second sent to rescue the first—are executed by Amir Nasrullah of Bukhara.
Kazakhstan comes fully under Russian control.
Dost Muhammad signs a treaty with the British, pledging his support against their mutual foes, Russia and Iran. He proves his loyalty by siding against the Indians in the Mutiny of 1858, and in return the British aid him in ousting the Iranians from Herat, which Dost Muhammad occupies in 1863.
The Emancipation Edict ends serfdom in Russia, initiating a mass migration of freed peasants to the Kazakh steppes.
The Hui Muslim population of Xinjiang Province in China rebels in response to religious restrictions imposed by the Qing government. The movement is headed by the Sufi leader Ma Hualong, who is executed in 1871. During this period, the Uighur population of the province, under Muhammad Yaqub Beg, also revolts against the Qings. The Chinese emperor moves troops into the area to restabilize it and to eradicate the encroaching Russian influence. Muhammad Yaqub Beg is killed in battle in 1877.
Russia defeats the Kokand khan at Tashkent, then battles the Mangits to win Bukhara in 1868. These territories become protectorates of the Russian empire, and the khans are left in place to administer them. Russia then overthrows the khanate of Khiva in 1873, and subsumes it into the Russian province of Turkestan in 1876. The conquest of the region is completed with the victory at Gök Tepe in 1881. Tashkent becomes the seat of the Russian governor and the city is greatly expanded, railroads are constructed, and a telegraph system installed. Many Russian civil servants and farmers emigrate to the area and soon outnumber the local population.
Photography is introduced to the region coincident with Russian incursions, as photographers accompany troops and administrators and are commissioned to document the architecture, monuments, industry, and customs of the local populations. An early example is the album of some 1,200 images compiled by Aleksandr Kun in 1870–77 for Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufman (1818–1882), the first Russian governor-general of Turkestan.
Fearing that Afghan Amir Sher Ali will not be able to keep the Russians at bay, the British depose him, replace him with his nephew, and occupy Kabul during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Britain then attempts to take Afghanistan as its protectorate, but after the diplomatic mission is killed in Kabul, it retreats to handling only the country’s external affairs. In 1893, the British negotiate a border with India (not yet Pakistan) along an artificial boundary that divides tribal homelands and causes problems with Pakistan to this day.
In a second campaign of expansion, Russia takes the Merv oasis, which brings it closer to British-controlled lands in the area. It draws up official borders with British Afghanistan in 1887. Xinjiang officially becomes a Chinese province. Muslims revolt in the Ferghana Valley against czarist rule.
As Chinese Muslim pilgrims travel to the Middle East for the hajj, they are exposed to Arab reform movements. Among the new organizations that emerge in China as a result, the Yihewanis and leader Ma Wanfu (1849–1934) criticize the melding of Islam and local religious practices—for instance, worshipping in Confucian-style temples—and advocate a purified, “non-Chinese” Islam.
“Central and North Asia, 1800–1900 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=10®ion=nc (October 2004)