Monday, December 27


Mohammed Alim Khan, the final Emir of Bukhara (overthrown by Bolsheviks in 1920), had been the last direct descendent of Genghis Khan to rule over a nation. Ayni Sadriddin, creator of the contemporary world of Tajik letters, was flogged by Alim Khan for daring to speak in Tajik in Bukhara. Sadriddin wrote of life under the often capricious and sadistic Emirs in his book Jallodon-i-Bukhara (The Executioners of Bukhara.)

From stuffing debtors into sacks of starving wild cats, to flaying captured Russians (pushing straw under the skin to separate it from the entire body, and then displaying the still-alive victim from ramparts), to throwing thieves off minarets every Friday for public edification, Central Asia has probably seen it all when it comes to psychological warfare. In 1839, following the British invasion of Afghanistan, Col. Charles Stoddart was sent to Bukhara by the Lord Auckland, Governor General of India, to convey to the then Emir Nasrullah (aka Emir-i-Qassab, the Butcher Emir, who had cleared his own path to the throne killing all his brothers as well as several dozen close relatives) the benign intentions of the British towards his khanate. Stoddart, clueless of protocol, mortified the Emir by riding up to him (instead of approaching bowing and scraping on foot), carrying no gifts, and, quelle horreur, bearing a letter not from Queen Victoria (whom Nasrullah regarded his equal sovereign) but from Auckland. The piqued Nasrullah had Stoddart thrown into the feared scorpion dungeon. Captain Arthur Conolly arrived in 1841 to secure Stoddart's release; he too was thrown in with Stoddart.

On January 1, 1842, the British in Kabul and a number of Afghan chiefs reached an agreement that provided for the exodus of the entire British garrison and its dependents from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Ghilzai and allied tribes had not been among those who had signed the agreement, and during the retreat by some 4,500 British and Indian troops with 12,000 camp followers, as the would-be-invaders struggled back down the snowbound passes, the Ghilzai struck. Dr. W. Brydon is usually cited as the only survivor of the march to Jalalabad (out of more than 15,000 who undertook the retreat.) After Auckland's Folly, Abdul Samed Khan at the Emir's court instigated the theory that British power would never extend into Central Asia from India. On June 24 1842, the delirious Stoddart and Conolly were pulled out of the pit of scorpions, marched out to the Registan, and, to the festive tune of shehnai from the Ark Citadel, made to dig receptacle pits for their own blood before being beheaded.

Subsequently, here is Vámbéry c. 1863:

"The infamous Abdul Samed Khan, the murderer of Conolly, Stoddart, and Naselli, had in the meantime been overtaken by a righteous punishment. The Emir, who had sent him to ShehriSebz, was at last convinced of his treason, and, not being able to reach him by forcible means, sought to employ artifice to get possession of his person. Abdul Samed evaded his fate a long time, but finally fell into the snare laid for him, and, aware of the presence of the executioner in the ante-room, he rent up his belly with his own poniard, to irritate by his death a master so like himself in character.

I heard from good authority that the death of the Emir Nasrullah was solely owing to a paroxysm of rage at the constant ill success that attended his campaigns against Khokand, and the unprecedented obstinacy with which the city of Sheri-Sebz resisted, for although he had taken the field thirty times against it, and had been then besieging it six months, it was all without effect. Upon this occasion his adversary was a certain Veliname, whose sister he had married to obtain by the connection a faithful vassal in the brother of his wife. Now it happened that the news of the capture reached the Emir when on his deathbed ; although half senseless, the tyrant ordered his rebel brother-in-law to be put to death with all his children. But as circumstances prevented him from feasting his eyes with that spectacle of blood, in the evening, a few hours before his death, he summoned, to his presence his wife, the sister of Veliname; the unhappy woman, who had borne him two children, trembled, but the dying Emir was not softened—she was executed close to his couch, and the abominable tyrant breathed his last breath with his glazing eye fixed upon the gushing blood of the sister of his detested enemy."


Blogger Andrea Bourne said...

Hey there - I am trying to find a copy of this book by Ayin. Any suggestions? Thanks!

6:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interlibrary loan is your best bet, e.g.,-1,,B/browse.

3:17 AM  

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