Monday, January 17

The Jizzakh Event

Jizzakh seems a spruce Anyville as we drive through; a hospital, a high school marching band practicing in uniform, the football field decorated in the colors of the local football club Sogdiana Jizzakh. Then we see the tank trundling through the main street this weekday morning. Behind, a truckload of soldiers follows in escort. Traffic is backed up behind this stubby convoy -- hesitant to pass. As we come closer, we realize the soliders are all wearing black ski masks over their blue charcoal camouflage uniforms. Their faces remain hidden, with slits for eyes, and the cut of the masks make it appear they have no necks. The company have machine guns cradled in their laps as they follow the T80 on this crisp, beautifully clear winter morning; at the edge of town the militsia detail guarding the checkpost fumble with the road dividers to let the tank turn around.

In the bal masqué of the history of Uzbekistan, it is time to introduce another character, F. M. Bailey -- spy, orientalist, linguist, lepidopterist, botanist, mad dog and Englishman -- a bit player in the Great Game.

Born in Lahore in 1882, Frederick Marshman Bailey was the son of an officer in the British Indian Army. He studied at Wellington and at Sandhurst before returning to India as a member of the Bengal Lancers; during a mission to Sikkim, he began to study Tibetan, and became so proficient that he accompanied Younghusband in the 1904 invasion of Tibet ordered by George Nathaniel Curzon to stop Russian infiltration there. (Francis Younghusband is in many ways cut from the same cloth: born in British India, a mountaineer who set up the first explorations of Everest, subsequently war criminal and massacrer of Tibetan monks, finally New Age mystic spiritual writer of books with titles like The Gleam: Being an account of the life of Nija Svabhava.) Younghusband and Bailey found no Russians in Lhasa, but the invasion pointed out to Bolsheviks (once they came to power in 1918) what they could be doing to counter the British Empire.

As they consolidated power in Central Asia, the Soviets developed plans (The Kalmyk Project) to launch a surprise attack on the northwest frontier of India via Tibet in 1919-1920, in order to destabilize Britain through unrest in the Empire. Afghanistan had just seen a coup d'état that placed the young prince Amanullah Khan in power and precipitated the final (not counting the present NATO invasion) Anglo-Afghan War. The Soviets proposed to Amanullah a military alliance against British India and a campaign for which Soviet Uzbekistan would bear the costs. The Bolsheviks liaised with the Indian revolutionaries of Raja Mahendra Pratap's Provisional Government of India in Kabul (more on this in a later post), intending to raise a force of nearly forty thousand cavalry from Turkestan and the Urals which would advance to India through Afghanistan, with help from any Afghan tribes who might rally against the British. Among alternatives explored were the possibilities of fomenting unrest in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, Thailand and Burma through the Buddhist Kalmyk people, and using these places as staging grounds for an advance into India from multiple directions in a series of lightning pushes, to reach Bengal which was the centre of the revolutionary movement in India. As Soviet thinking developed, signs were picked up by British Intelligence, and FM Bailey's services were needed again.

In the meantime, Bailey had been sent to Assam as Intelligence Officer for an expedition geared towards bringing British Indian control over what is today Arunachal Pradesh; been wounded once facing the Kaiser's Germans in the European theater of WWI; been wounded twice more facing Ataturk's defenders in Gallipoli with the Indian Expeditionary Forces (he spoke Hindi and Urdu fluently); and served in Persia for British Intelligence. He was in a long line of lethal gentlemen spies, a shadowy wearer of many faces (he was a naturalist in his own right and won the Royal Geographic Society's Gold Medal for exploring the source of the Brahmaputra; the blue poppy found at the headwaters is named Meconopsis baileyi after him).

Secretly promoted to Lt. Colonel, Bailey was assigned to the Great Game. He trekked to Uzbekistan in the first year of the Bolshevik takeover (1918), crossing into Kashgar via the Karakoram Pass from Kashmir, and thence to Tashkent. No one in Europe had any idea of what to expect from the Bolsheviks; Would the Muslim population rise up? Would the White Russians overcome them to restore the Czar? Would they export their revolution to India?

In the midst of all these swirling theories, Bailey set himself up in Tashkent as the official representative of His Majesty's Government. Unfortunately, without informing Bailey, Britain had in the meantime engaged the Bolsheviks in battles near Arkhangelesk and in the Caucasus; as an enemy government's diplomat, the Bolsheviks made him persona non grata (i.e. ripe for execution in those times).

Tipped off by friends (Bailey had a knack for befriending telegraph clerks) Bailey immediately went underground, staying hidden in plain sight under various assumed identities -- of Romanian, Austrian, Albanian, Serbian POWs, of which Tashkent housed many in those WWI days. He rarely stayed in one place for more than a day or two, eluding capture for a year, collecting intelligence on the ebb and flow of the revolution as it progressed. Actively sought by the Cheka, he finally hit upon the mad scheme of using a false identity to actually join their ranks; and, as luck would have it, his assignment was to arrest the notorious English absconder Bailey (i.e. himself).

From Bailey's Mission To Tashkent:

In many ways the Russian revolution followed the course of the French revolution. Many of the actual revolutionaries were youths, maddened by a little temporary power to commit fearful atrocities. In 1792 the sans-culottes were mostly youths.

Many of the early revolutionaries, both in Russia and in France, eventually became victims. We all know of the Russian purges. In Russia especially, people advocating Liberal reforms whom the Imperial Government punished in various ways for their advanced views, were 'liquidated' by the Bolsheviks who considered them revolutionaries. Rising prices, the refusal of peasants to sell food in the towns at the prices fixed by the Government, and many other things had all happened before. But the Russian revolution did not produce a Napoleon!

When the first revolution led by Kerensky occurred in Petrograd in February in 1917, the population of Turkestan, both Russian and native, accepted the situation with delight, and most of the government officials served in the new provisional government.

In November 1917 when the Bolsheviks brought off their
coup d'etat, they really only obtained control of the center at Tashkent, but the officials of the previous provincial government in other districts worked for them, not quite knowing what to do and being economically dependent on whatever government was in control in Tashkent. Gradually in the beginning of 1918 unreliable officials were replaced by the Bolsheviks.

In November 1917 fighting broke out in Tashkent, and after four days the Bolshevik party gained the upper hand and many adherents of the provisional government were killed.

In the beginning of 1918 a similar movement against the Bolshevik regime had been attempted, and one day an enormous number of unarmed Mohammedans, estimated at two hundred thousand, came from the native city and surrounding country to the Russian town and released from gaol eight members of the provisional government who had been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, the gaol guards offering no resistance. This enormous crowd was then faced by a small detachment of the Red Army who fired on them. The native Sarts scattered and the prisoners were recaptured and immediately shot in the street.

In the summer of 1916 there had been an attempt at revolt by the native population. This had been repressed with the greatest severity by the Imperial Government and the village of Jizak had been destroyed. Natives from other parts of the country had been brought to Jizak and shown the ruins with corpses lying in the streets and had been told that if they gave any trouble they knew what to expect. The 'Jizak Event' as it was called was effective and the native population was completely cowed.

There is a glimpse of the tank in the video following the Curzon Goes To Tashkent post below, around 0:50.


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