Russian forces conquered the Emirate of Bukhara, one of the three Uzbek dynasties ruling Middle Asia, in 1868 (Kappeler, 195). Unlike some territory in this region, the Emirate of Bukhara remained independent but became a Russian protectorate. The emir was forced to open Bukhara to Russian merchants and had to pay high war reparations but Islam still remained influential and the emir ruled “unchecked” until 1920 (Kappeler, 197). The Emirate of Bukhara had three subsequent emirs as a Russian protectorate, the last of which was Saiyid Mir Alim (1880-1944).
As a teenager, Saiyid Mir Alim spent four years in the Nikolaevskii Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg during which time he came to greatly admired Russia (Becker, 207). He frequently visited Russia, supported “Russian causes,” and filled his library with Russian authors (Becker, 207). Alim, who was easily influenced by others, came to power after his father’s death on 23 December 1910. At the beginning of his reign, Alim banned the giving of gifts to the emir, courtiers, or civil servants in an attempt to cut corruption in the Bukharin government. Although this reform movement was short lived, it impressed Russia.
The sultan-khalif declared a holy war against the Allied states at the outbreak of World War I, prompting Emir Alim to prove his loyalty to Russia by donating millions of rubles to the Russian war effort (Becker, 208). A short while later, the Emirate of Bukhara again needed to prove its loyalty; this time to the Provisional Government. Petrograd told Alim that the “new order in Russia” would not work with the current system in Bukhara (Becker, 242). As a result, Alim promised to “declare amnesty, lighten criminal punishments, establish a printing press, and permit the publication of newspapers” (Becker, 242). By 20 March 1917, A. Ia. Miller, the last Russian Residency, drafted manifesto, which promised:
judicial and tax reform, promotion of economic development and education, a salaried civil service, prohibition of bribe-taking among government officials, representative self-government for the capital city, separation of the state treasury from the emir’s private fortune, a government budget, a government printing office to produce ‘publications of social utility,’ and a general amnesty (Becker, 243).
While waiting for the manifesto’s approval in Petrograd, Saiyid Mir Alim intended to form commissions to solve fundamental reforms. Alim signed the approved manifesto on 7 April 1917. Not long after, Bolsheviks seized control in Petrograd and a soviet government was established in Bukhara. However, he early policy of the Bolsheviks in Bukhara was more similar to Imperial Russian than the Provisional Government (Becker, 264).
In 1918, Young Bukharans allied with Bolsheviks in Middle Asia and demanded that Emir Alim either step down as emir or fight. Alim did not step down and sued for peace when faced with a “massive Russian attack;” the peace treaty was signed on 25 March (Becker, 268). From 1920 to 1921, the Soviet army invaded Bukhara. Emir Saiyid Mir Alim escaped with his retinue to the mountains of Bukhara and, eventually, to Afghanistan (Becker, 304). Alim ruled the Emirate of Bukhara for nearly 10 years and died at the age of 64 in 1944.
The Emir’s Love Story
On 17 December 1911, a newspaper article about the emir of Bukhara was printed in the Los Angeles Times. The story, “The Emir’s Love Story Shocks Respectable Czar,” tells the story of how Emir Alim, “owner of three flat-nosed Moslem wives,” stole a Christian girl (Lentz). Alim is said to be “no better than his grandfather . . . whose daily joy was to pull out the courtiers’ fingernails” and is described to be a foolish, though loyal vassal of Nicholas II (Lentz).
Miss Dubassoff, the girl Alim kidnapped, was treated well by the emir who “only once even mentioned the delicate subject – love” (Lentz). Alim told her that if she did not love him by Ramadan, she could return home but he would kill three slaves. Miss Dubassoff promised to try to love him in order to save the slaves. Eventually, Miss Dubassoff’s father came to Bukhara and successfully rescued her. This short news article ends with the shock of the “painfully respectable” Nicholas II (Lentz).
The story in this 1911 newspaper article presents an interesting contast between Western Russia and the “backwards” Emirate of Bukhara. Nicholas, a respectable man and monarch, is shocked at the behavior of Alim, a vassal who, by his actions, is clearly portrayed as a barbaric, selfish individual who has no concept of right or wrong. In addition to Nicholas, Miss Dubassoff’s self sacrifice (she promised to try to love Alim in order to save the lives of three slaves) is also a portrayal of how civilized Russians were.
- Seymour Becker, Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia: Bukhara and Khiva, 1865-1924 (Cambridge, Massachusettes: Harvard University Press, 1968).
- Andreas Kappeler, The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic History (Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2001).
- Vladimir Lentz, “The Emir’s Love Story Shocks Respectable Czar. Vassal Ruler of Bochara Kidnaps Beautiful Girl While on Visit to Russia – Swears to Make Her Love Him or He Will Kill Three Slaves – Devoted Father Finds Her After Many Adventures,” Los Angeles Times, 17 December 1911.