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Main / / The history of the peoples of Central Asia


Modern Central Asia includes the five independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which occupy an area of the Caspian Sea in the west to the borders of China in the East.

The history of the peoples of Central Asia till the VI century BC is known only from fragmentary information of the national epic and legends. More reliable information may be found in works of ancient authors.

The rich and fertile oases of Central Asia with their very advantageous geographical position have always been a tasty morsel for the conquerors. In 540 BC Bactria, covering an area of Hissar range in Uzbekistan to the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, had become a satrapy of the Achaemenid state with Cyrus II the Great (559-530 BC). Then he subdued Saks and Sogdiana, Khorezm and Parthia, which were mentioned in the text of the Behistun inscription of Darius I (522-486 years BC). The Saks or the Massagets (nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes) lived in the Central and Eastern Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea, Seven Rivers, and the Pamir. From Herodotus we know about Queen of Massagets Tomiris who defeated Cyrus II. Sogdiana (Sogd) occupied the territory of modern Tajikistan (without Pamir) and Uzbekistan (without Khorezm and northern Bactria) with the capital Maracanda founded in the VIII century BC. Khorezm is the state in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya, one of the most ancient historical and cultural regions of Central Asia. Many scholars identify this region with the country of the Aryans - Avestan Aryanam-voychah, the first Zoroastrian state. Parthia included Kopetdag Mountains and adjoining valleys of South-Western Turkmenistan and northeastern Iran.

Central Asian peoples were involved in a rivalry between the strongest powers of the time - Persia and Greece. They, along with the Persians, took part in the campaigns against Athenian Greek state. We know also that in the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC), Alexander the Great defeated completely the last Achaemenid Darius III, thus ending the Achaemenid dominion over the nations of Central Asia. Alexander united Sogdiana and Bactria into one satrapy, which was later transformed by Diodotus in the Greco-Bactrian state, which lasted until the II century BC.

The ancient Greek historian Strabo reported the nomadic peoples who came from the country of Saks had taken Bactria away from Greeks. Chinese sources narrate about the conquest of Dahya - Bactria by Yue-chi who were driven out of the East Turkestan by the Huns. After the victory over the Greek-Bactrian rulers Yue-chzi settled on the right bank of the Amu Darya. Ancient authors identify Yue-chi with Tocharians. Hence is the later name of these areas – Tokharistan.

Based on the report of the Chinese ambassador Zhang Qian, a Chinese historian mentions the nomadic (possibly Scythian) state Kangju whose customs are similar to the Yue-chi. History of Kangju in the legend goes back to the days of Avesta, where Kangkha is mentioned as the capital of Turan. The Indian epic "Mahabharata" as well as Avesta, mentions State of Kangkha which had been finally formed by the IV century AD. It existed in the lower and middle reaches of the Syr Darya from the II century BC up to the IV century AD. According to later references of Chinese historians, Bukhara, Karshi, Kattakurgan, Tashkent oasis and northern Khorezm were subdued by Kangkha.

In the same period, according to the Zhang Qian, on the territory of Central Asia, there was a state of Davan (Fergana), combining 70 cities; its ruler dwelled in Gushan (Yu-chen), probably present Uzgen.

Chinese chronicles report that in Dahya - Bactria in the first century AD rose one of the five Yue-chi kins - Guyshuan (Kushan). Kushan prince Kadfiz declared himself emperor, started a war resulting in creating territorial nucleus of the Kushan Empire. His successors have completed the creation of the great Kushan Empire, which included the territory of Central Asia, Afghanistan, partially India and Pakistan, and which in its power and dimensions was equal to the Roman and Chinese empires. In the Kushan period Buddhism turned into one of the world's religions. It was the time of the rapid flowering of the Great Silk Road.

In the V-VI centuries the Hephthalite State replaced the Kushan Empire. According to historian Leo Gumilev, Hephthalites (White Huns) as a nation formed in the mountains of the Pamirs. Ethtalitian State included the territory of Central Asia, except Khorezm (Sogdiana, Bactria-Tocharistan, Ferghana), Afghanistan and eastern Iran. During the wars the Hephthalites destroyed state Gupta in India. They themselves fell under the blows of the Indian, Sassanid and Turkic rulers.

In the VI-VII centuries the peoples of Central Asia were a part the great state of nomads - Turkic Khaganate (Khanate), which controlled a vast territory from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea (in the year 630  to the Indian Ocean), and with it the Great Silk Road. China was forced to pay a tribute of 1,000 pieces of silk. However, it was only up to 630 year when the Chinese defeated the Turks.

In the VII century over Central Asian nations there was looming a new threat - the invasion of the Arabs, who had already captured Syria, Palestine, and Iran. In 651 they came to a thriving Merv and took it without a fight. At the beginning of the VIII century Arab forces under the command of Kuteyba ibn Muslim completed the conquest of most part of Central Asia. According to the historian Ibn al-Asir, Kuteiba brought from Central Asia 100,000 slaves and captives. In the IX century during the process of decay of the Arab Caliphate in Central Asia (already converted by the Arabs to Islam) was established local Samanid dynasty (819-999).

In 999 Bukhara, the capital of the Samanid State was captured by Karakhanid State formed by Turkic tribes of Seven Rivers’ area and Kashgar. They had already won Shash, Ferghana, and the lands of ancient Sogdiana.

The Karakitays (Karachinese) came to Maverranakhr in 1141. They organized attacks from the territory of Seven Rivers, where they formed their own state. Using feudal fragmentation of the territory they captured first Samarkand, then Bukhara. But they were only interested in the tribute.

Khorezm fought against Karakitays. This state strengthened after the fall of the Seljuk dynasty in Iran in 1194, and did not wish to pay tribute. Horezmshakh Muhammad in 1210 took Bukhara and Samarkand; in alliance with Samarkand Khan of Karakhanids, Osman, he moved to Seven Rivers. In the valley of the Talas River Khorezmshakh captured the commander of the Karakitay troops Tayangu. On the eve of the Mongol invasion Khorezmshakh Muhammad united lands of Maverranakhr, conquering them one by one and included them in Khorezm state.

Genghis Khan was sure to make Khorezm a vassal state peacefully, but Muhammad did not wish to become a vassal, and killed Mongol emissaries. This fact tragically sealed the fate of Central Asia. In the summer 1220 the eastern and central parts of the Maverranakhr were conquered by the Mongols. Many cities lay in ruins. Fiercely resisting Samarkand, Merv, Termez, Urgench were particularly affected. Sesquicentennial Mongol rule in Central Asia had brought untold suffering to the people and were accompanied by widespread decline.

Amir Temur (1336-1405) united the separate lands into a single state. The ruler made Samarkand his capital in 1370. He combined Maverranakhr, Ferghana and Shash area easily, but the obstinate Khorezm was attached only in 1388. By the mid-80-es of the XIV century Temur already owned Khorasan, and then the whole of Iran. To loosen the Golden Horde, he undertook three campaigns against the Golden Horde Khan Tokhtamysh (in 1387, 1391 and 1394-95 years). In 1392 he conquered Armenia and Georgia, in 1397 - Azerbaijan. In 1398-1399 Timur conquered Delhi and nearby areas of India. In 1400 he joined the fight against the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid First and the Egyptian Sultan Faraj.

He captured Sivas in Asia Minor, and Aleppo in Syria. In 1402, in the Battle of Ankara Temur defeated and captured the mighty Ottoman Sultan. Only death in 1405 prevented his campaign against China.

Temur aim was domination over the world caravan trade routes, linking Europe and Asia and the Far East. The ruler tried to lead the old trade route through Central Asia, destroying the northern line, which was controlled by the Golden Horde. Therefore, in 1395 Temur completely destroyed the Golden Horde’s city of Azov, Saraie, Urgench.

In the XV century feudal disunity and internecine wars weakened the power of the Temurid state. Uzbek dynasties of Sheibanids (XVI c.), Ashtarkhanids (XVII-XVIII centuries), and Mangyt ruled the lands of Great Temur one after another. Their rule was also accompanied by endless civil wars which, ruined cities and devastated lands. It resulted in forming three khanates - Bukhara, Khiva and Kokand; bitter struggle between them for supremacy in Central Asia continued until their annexation by Russia in the second half of the XIX century.