Many majestic monuments,such as the Statue of Tamerlane, give a new narrative of a country’s history.The Statue of Tamerlane cannot only be seen as a commemoration of his achievements,but also as efforts to redefine Uzbekistan’s national identity apart from
the Soviet Union. Located in the heart of Tashkent, this statue depicts Tamerlane perched on his horse in a majestic pose, conveying a since of victory, his hand raised in salute. Both Tamerlane and his horse have well-defined muscular bodies, symbolizing strength, power, and nobility. This statue stands in the place of a monument of Karl Marx, a sign that Tashkent is being purged of the physical signs tied to a Soviet past, and a new heritage being put in its place.
The fall of the Soviet Union left Uzbekistan with a challenge of reconstructing
a new sense of culture. Uzbekistan has been under the control of both Imperial
Russia and the Soviet Union. However, the strongest change to Uzbek identity occurred
during the Soviet period of its history.
Imperial Russia invaded both Bukhara and Khiva in the later part of the 19th
century. Both of these khanates became Russian protectorates that were
eventually annexed by the empire. The subjugation of this region divided the
people into two groups that either resisted or embraced modernization. However,
the Russian Revolution in 1917 brought discord and instability to the region. A
group that allied itself with the Muslim population in the region consolidated and
allowed a new congress that enabled a short time of independent rule. The Red
Army liquidated that government, leaving the Uzbeks under the authority of the
U.S.S.R. This led to a resistance movement known as the Basmachi Revolt. However, by 1921 Communist politicians dominated the government once again. Another change made by the Soviet Union was its redefinition of the Central Asian map. The Soviet Union redrew the map along mono-ethnic lines, declaring Uzbekistan as a constituent republic. The Uzbeks were the minority in Tashkent and most of the Uzbek Communist Party members were either Slavs or others from outside of Central Asia. They were responsible for making most of the administrative decisions except for those concerning the Soviet Union itself.
The Communist political purges in Uzbekistan destroyed the local intelligentsia and other political leaders thought to be against the Communist Party. World War II also
brought a change in demographics when Soviet authorities decided to relocate
thousands of Russians, Jews, and others to Uzbek cities and villages. However,
the death of Stalin in 1953 brought about some relief to the pressures of
Soviet dominion, and eased some controls on the press that enabled Uzbekistan
to have contact with the outside world. Current Uzbek president Islam Karimov
supported a failed coup against the leadership of Gorbachev. After this
failure, Uzbekistan declared independence from the U.S.S.R. in 1991 finally
freeing itself from Soviet control and repression, and taking on the
responsibility of rebuilding a post-soviet nation. The statue is a
manifestation of a process of both reconstructing and redefining Uzbek
idealism, an idealism that escapes the mark of Communism, and draws from ideas
of Tamerlane’s character and military strategy. Tamerlane’s ideas promote power
Tamerlane, also known as Timur in Persian,was known to be an imposing conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire. Tamerlane brought about the final blow to the Mongol Empire and the Golden Horde (Weisbrode, 55). He took over Dehli, Damascus, Bagdad, and the majority of Persia. Tamerlane was born in 1336 in a Turkic-Tatar clan (Weisbrode, 55). He quickly consolidate his Empire invoking a “mythology of Mongol ancestry”(Weisbrode, 55). Tamerlane was also ruthless in eliminating threats to his new empire, which promoted a military career that extended as far as China. The Uzbek’s desire to create a historical narrative traced to Tamerlane’s legacy is interesting. Tamerlane’s conquests are not given as much emphasis as Genghis Khan’s or Alexander the Great’s. However,after years of Soviet revisionism, the Uzbek president Islam Karimov is drawingfrom Tamerlane’s legacy to construct a useable national history. The statue also emphasizes Tamerlane’s military prowess.
The construction of historical monuments, the revival of architecture, and the genesis of new ideals are all a part of a country’s historical narrative. It is always interesting
to see how countries deal and interact with their past, how their sense of
historical identity has changed over time. For many years, Uzbekistan’s
historical identity has been defined by “outside” forces. Their identity changed
in the context of eighty years of Soviet Rule. Embracing Tamerlane’s legacy
enables the country to trace ideological roots to an original bloodline. Tamerlane
was of nomadic lineage, and was not a traditional colonial conqueror. Kamerov can perceptively draw a connection between Uzbekistan and a lineage outside of colonial conquest. However, in reality historical narrative and historical identity are never fixed. They are constantly changed and redefined into new ideals. This statue can represent the
latest culmination of this process.
- “Uzbekistan Restores Timurid Legacy” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/media_reports/948757.stm
(15 March 2012)
- Weisbrode, Kenneth, “Uzbekistan: In the Shadow of
Tamerlane”, World Policy Journal, Vol 14:1, The MIT Press and the World Policy Institute, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40209517, (15 March 2012).