Russo-Khivan War 1873

Russian attempts to encroach upon Turkmen territory began in earnest in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Of all the Central Asian peoples, the Turkmen put up the stiffest resistance against Russian expansion. In 1869 the Russian Empire established a foothold in present-day Turkmenistan with the foundation of the Caspian Sea port of Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashy). From there and other points, they marched on and subdued the Khiva Khanate in 1873. Because Turkmen tribes, most notably the Yomud, were in the military service of the Khivan khan, Russian forces undertook punitive raids against the Turkmen of Khorazm, in the process slaughtering hundreds and destroying their settlements. In 1881 the Russians under General Mikhail Skobelev besieged and captured Gokdepe, one of the last Turkmen strongholds, northwest of Ashgabat. With the Turkmen defeat (which is now marked by the Turkmen as a national day of mourning and a symbol of national pride), the annexation of what is present-day Turkmenistan met with only weak resistance. Later the same year, the Russians signed an agreement with the Persians and established what essentially remains the current border between Turkmenistan and Iran. In 1897 a similar agreement was signed between the Russians and Afghans.

Following annexation to Russia, the area was administered as the Trans-Caspian District by corrupt and malfeasant military officers and officials appointed by the Guberniya (Governorate General) of Turkestan. In the 1880s, a railroad line was built from Krasnovodsk to Ashgabat and later extended to Tashkent. Urban areas began to develop along the railway. Although the Trans-Caspian region essentially was a colony of Russia, it remained a backwater, except for Russian concerns with British colonialist intentions in the region and with possible uprisings by the Turkmen.

During the summer of 1867, shortly after Kaufman had become Governor-General of Turkestan, he had attempted to negotiate a treaty of friendship with the Khan contingent upon the prior release of all Russian prisoners and slaves held in the khanate, the ending of Khivan support for Kazakh rebels, and the negotiation of trade treaties between the two states. Muhammad Rahim and his officials replied with contempt and anti-Russian activities were stepped up. Finally in 1870, with Kokand and Bokhara humbled, Kaufman reported to his superiors that military action against the Khivans was necessary. 

Surprisingly, the Russian government approved of an expedition against Khiva. Upon reviewing the pressures on the Tsar’s government, however, it is no wonder that Alexander II» ministers gave in to Kaufman. The campaign was sold to the public as part of «civilized» Europe’s crusade against «Asian barbarity». The continued existence of slavery in Khiva was used to promote the argument. Nationalism was also utilized. Perovsky’s defeat in 1839 and the disasters incurred by Cossack expeditions in the 1600’s and early 1700’s were dredged up to stir the flames of Slavism and patriotism.

There were other, more subtle reasons for the request, and approval of military forces most originating among the troops on the scene and with the Governor-General himself. The army, particularly those officers stationed in Central Asia, sought new opportunities for promotion and decoration. Kaufman in particular needed something to restore his waning prestige. His administration of Turkestan was plaqued by scandal and suffered from a growing deficit, the latter a result of earlier campaigns as well as Kaufman’s own love of pomp and pageantry. Further, Kaufman had been criticized for his conduct and that of his troops after they had lifted the siege at Samarkand during the war with Bokhara. As a reward for their success, Kaufman had allowed his men to spend four days sacking the ancient city.

Although the campaign had been approved, the Russian government desperately sought to reign in thoughts of territorial annexation. Kaufman was warned that the Tsar would not welcome any territorial expansion at the expense of Khiva. Further, as soon as the khanate had been punished, Russian troups were to be removed from Khivan territories. Efforts to dispel British fears for India extended to ordering Count Shuvalov, who was being sent to London to arrange the marriage of a Russian princess to one of Queen Victoria’s sons, to reassure the British that territorial conquest south of the Aral Sea was not the goal of Kaufman’s offensive.

Operations against Khiva had actually commenced before the government’s approval reached Tashkent. Between 1834 and 1846, Perovsky had pushed Russian outposts down the east coast of the Caspian Sea to Fort Novo-Aleksandrovskoe on Komsomolets Bay. Troops from the Caucasus had established Fort Aleksandrovskii (Fort Shevchenko) on the tip of the Mangyshlak Peninsula in 1846. Finally, an 1869 expedition from Port Perovsk (Makhachkala) crossed the Caspian Sea and established outposts at Krasnovodsk and Chikishlar. From the former, reconnaissance missions were sent into the Turcomen lands to the east. East of Khiva, the Kyzyl Kum north of Bokhara was surveyed and explored by small detachments during 1871 and 1872. Similar missions were performed by troops from Orenburg between Emba and the Aral Sea. The Khan of Khiva found himself gradually encircled by elements of the Caucasus, Orenburg, and Turkestan military districts.

Such preliminary explorations and operations were deemed necessary by Kaufman for, in his opinion, the great opponent in a campaign against Khiva would be not the enemy army but nature. Lying in the upper reaches of the Kara Kum and surrounded by a land of near-desert climate and topography, Khiva is some 600 miles from Tashkent, 930 miles from Orenburg, and 500 miles from Krasnovodsk. Always before, distance, terrain, and climate had helped neutralize superior Russian discipline and firepower.

The Governor-General decided that the greatest chance for success lay with a springtime offensive. To enhance the possibility of success, Kaufman planned to make use of four converging columns. The primary column was based on Tashkent and Kazala. Commanded by Major General N.N. Golovachev, it was accompanied by Kaufman in his roles as regional commander and chief of Turkestan. The largest of the support columns was that organized by General Khryzanovsky at Orenburg. The other columns marched out of Kinderly Bay on the Mangyshlak Peninsula and Chikishlar on the southeastern coast of the Caspian Sea. To make sure that his subordinates did not steal his laurels, Kaufman gave strict orders that any column reaching Khiva before the Tashkent force was to await its (and Kaufman’s arrival before assaulting the city.

Despite preparations, the campaign nearly proved as disastrous as the earlier operations against Khiva. The Chikishlar Column, some 2,200 men commanded by a Colonel Markosov, left its base at the start of Marach, 1873. It was to proceed northeastward along what was believed to be the ancient bed of the Amu Darya. Markosov was operating from Chikishlar instead of the larger base at Krasnovodsk because it was thought that camels would be more easily obtained at the former.

For two months, Markosov pushed his men further and further into the Kara Kum. Along the whole of the route, the troops were harassed by the triple plagues of Turcomen raiders, a lack of water, and heat. Finally, the colonel realized his men could endure no more. On April 22 he ordered a retreat from the oasis at Bala Ishem.

The retreat became a catastrophe. Sixty men died of sunstroke. Almost all the others were ill. Under pressure from the Turcomen, the Russians abandoned their artillery, their supplies, and finally their camels to the Kara Kum. Eventually they staggered into Krasnovodsk and safety.

Marching eastward from Kinderly Bay, the 2,000 men commanded by Colonel N.P. Lomakin were organized into 12 infantry companies, one sotnia of Cossacks, two sotnias of Caucasian mountain troops, a battery of «Flying Artillery» and a rocket battery. From the outset, Lomakin’s column was hampered by logistical and climatic problems. Lomakin was to have had 1,300 camels in his supply train but the local Kirghiz refused to turn over their quota, some 600 beasts. Thus before the march on Khiva could begin, Colonel M.D. Skobelev, Lomakin’s second in command, was forced to lead a punitive raid against the local tribesmen. This short operation yield 110 horses, 380 camels, and 3,000 sheep and goats. Although still short of transport, the colonels decided that the beasts on hand would have to suffice.

Competent leadership and an abundance of supplies still did not make for an easy march. The Russians met no resistance from the Khivans although large numbers of Turcomen cavalry shadowed the column, occasionally skirmishing and feinting. As with the Chikishlar force, the true enemies of Lomakin’s men were the land and the climate. Participants recalled that the heat was oppressive, that the wind was like a blast furnace. What few wells they found were often polluted. Camels and horses died by the hundreds. On one day alone, 150 camels died or became incapacitated. Sickness eventually struck the troops. Already short or transport, Lomakin forced the Cossacks to surrender their mounts to haul the ill. Miraculously not one man was lost, but due to the animal loss, the Kinderly Column was on its last legs when scouts from the Orenburg force discovered it and brought Lomakin’s troops to safety.

General Khryzanovsky still in command at Orenburg, had received orders to cooperate with Kaufman’s Khiva operation early in January 1873. Major General Verevkin, who had helped Chernyayev seize Chimkent in 1864, assembled his column at Fort Emba, the most advanced outpost on the Kirghiz Steppe. The troops had journeyed to Emba from staging bases at Orenburg, Uralsk, and Orsk.

The generals, well aware of Central Asian winters and springs, made sure that their troops were well supplied and equipped against cold, severe weather. Their care in preparation was such that when Verevkin led his force southward on February 27, not a single casualty had been incurred to that date. The Orenburg Column, numbering 3,461 men, was organized into 9 infantry companies, 9 sotnias of Cossacks, a battery of «Flying Artillery», a rocket battery, and a half battery of mortars. These combat unites were supported by a pack train of 5,000 camels. As reinforcements could not be expected and the other columns were far away, Khryzanovsky and Verevkin took care to triple the normal ammunition allotment supplied to a column in the field.

From Emba, the Orenburg force-marched southeastward to the coast of the Aral Sea, which the troops skirted until they reached Khivan territory. Although the troops suffered from frosts, snowstorms, cold, sun, and heat, easy marches over well explored land and the logistical planning done by the two generals again resulted in the lack of heavy casualties to man or beast which were experienced by the Chikishlar and Kinderly Columns.

On May 8, 1873 the Orenburg Column marched into the city of Kungrad, the most important settlement in the northern part of the khanate. Muhammad Rahim’s forces had abandoned the town only hours before. Four days after Verevkin’s arrival, Lomakin’s troops limped into Kungrad.

Inside the khanate there was increasing anxiety. When the Khivan government had first learned of the coming invasion, the Khan had attempted to placate the Russians by freeing 21 captive Russians and sending them to Kazalinsk. However this had not caused the Russians to stop. The armed forces of Khiva were in such a state of antiquity that the most effective fighting force fielded by the khanate were the semi-nomadic Yomud Turcomen, who were vassals to Muhammad Rahim.

Even the efforts of the Turcomen proved insufficient to stem the advance of the combined Orenburg-Kinderly Column, commanded by Verevkin. Marching up the Amu Darya, the Russians took several towns by storm while others surrendered without resistance. Finally on May 26, Verevkin’s troops reached the outskirts of Khiva. The yomuds were brushed aside and over the next two days, Russian artillery shelled the city, inflicting an indiscriminate slaughter on the populace. Under cover of the bombardment, Russian infantry overran the outlying settlements around Khiva. Before the Orenburg-Kinderly troops could launch an assault on the city proper, Kaufman arrived with the vanguard of the Tashkent Column. Verevkin was not in a position, or in condition to complain about Kaufman’s interruption. He had been wounded in the head during the final attack on May 28.

At the outset of the campaign, the Tashkent Column, which included troops from Kazala and Kazalinsk, had totaled 5,500 men in 19 infantry companies, a company of sappers, 6 sotnias of Cossacks, a battery of «Flying Artillery», two batteries of rockets, a battery of mountain guns, and a half-battery of horse artillery. The local Kirghiz and Kazakhs had been pressured into supplying 10,000 animals for the pack train. 

The story of Kaufman’s advance on Khiva is a near mirror of the experiences of the Kinderly and Chikishlar forces. According to Olaf Caroe, «It was only by a happy chance and not good management that Kaufman reached Khiva at all…» Unseasonably heavy snowstorms slowed the column when it took to field in early Marach, 1873. Many of the requisitioned camels proved poor or weak animals. A large quantity of the supplies proved to have spoiled while sitting in storage.

For some reason, Kaufman abandoned a well explored, reasonably watered route to the Amu Darya for a little known but shorter route which went through the heart of the Kyzyl Kum. Marching through the desert, Kaufman’s troops suffered severely from thirst. All but 1,200 camels died . The Tashkent Column was on the verge of collapse and disaster when its scouts reached the Amu Darya on May 12, 1873.

Only upon reaching the river did the Russians meet any significant resistance. Some 500 Turcomen, each with two horses, occupied the south bank of the Amu Darya. Thus Kaufman’s men spent most of May 13 fighting their way across the river and in bringing the pack train over. For the next two weeks, the remnants of the Tashkent Column crawled down the Amu Darya toward Khiva.

When Verevkin’s troops approached his capital, Muhammad Rahim sent messengers to Kaufman asking the governor-general to state his terms of surrender. The general replied, stating that he would only negotiate with the Khivans upon reading their capital. On the 28th, with the walls of Khiva breached by Verevkin’s gunners, Muhammad Rahim offered to surrender unconditionally and to acknowledge the Tsar as his superior if Kaufman would halt the impending assault on his city.

Kaufman, still thirteen miles from Khiva, responded by asking Muhammad Rahim to meet him outside the city the next morning. At the appointed time, the Khan’s uncle and brother met the governor-general, reporting that the former was regent and latter Khan. They also reported that Muhammad Rahim had bled to the Yomud Turcomen. A short time later on the 29th, Kaufman entered Khiva in «true pro-consular fashion.»

The Russians refused to deal with Ata-djan-Tura, the new Khan, as his behavior seemed to indicate that he had been enthroned against his will. Kaufman also realized that as his pronouncements had stated that the Russians had conflict with the Khan and not the people of Khiva, a treaty signed with Ata-djan-Tura would be invalid if Muhammad Rahim returned to power.

Kaufman therefore attempted to renew contact with the refugee Khan. After a short period of negotiations, Muhammad Rahim returned to Khiva and was restored to his office. Henceforth, he would regn but not rule. Kaufman created a divan, or council, consisting of three Russian officers, a merchant from Tashkent, and three Khivan notables. One of these notables would also act as Vizier. All of the Khan’s advisers who had shown anti-Russian sentiments were dismissed and the former Vizier was sent into exile, eventually settling near Moscow. 

Before Khiva fell to the invaders, all Russian slaves had been released, but there was still a large number of slaves in the khanate, ethnically the largest group being some 30,000 Persians. Kaufman ordered Muhammad Rahim to abolish slavery within his realm. Once this was done, however, a Russian failure to vigorously enforce the new law caused the edict to be largely ignored. In the end, only a few hundred Persians were released, some of whom were killed on their way home by the Turcomen. Thus one of the overt reasons for the campaign, the eradication of slavery in Central Asia, went largely unaccomplished, although laws against slavery had been promulgated in the khanate.

To demonstrate his good will toward the Khivan populace, Kaufman was lenient to the people and strict with his troops. He promised Khivans the Tsar’s mercy if they lived quietly. Russian troops were strictly forbidden to loot, the penalty for doing so being death. They were also ordered to pay for everything they obtained in the bazaars.

A peace treaty was finally signed on August 12, 1873. Blocked by his government from annexing the khanate, Kaufman managed to force the Khan to cede all of his lands north of the Amu Darya to the conquerors. Furthermore, the Russians obtained the right of residence, the right to trade tax-free in Khiva, and an indemnity of 202 million rubles to be paid over a twenty year period.

The long delay between the fall of Khiva and the signing of a peace treaty resulted from Kaufman’s decision to punish the Yomud Turcomen for their resistance. At the start of July, the Governor-General had imposed a fine of 600,000 rubles on the Turcomen of Khiva and gave the Yomuds until July 22 to pay half the sum as they accounted for about half the Turcomen population in the Khanate. The possibility of payment was remote. When no initial deposits were forthcoming, Kaufman violated the deadline.

On July 7, Major General Golovachev was sent into Yomud territory, located west of Khiva, with eight infantry companies, eight sotnias of Cossacks, a battery each of guns and rockets, and two mitrailleuses which had been dragged to Khiva by the Tashkent Column. The savagery with which the Yomud Turcomen were punished over the next two weeks came from the Governor-General himself. In his orders to Golovachev, Kaufman stated that the general was to give over the Yomud settlements, and their families, to complete destruction. If the soldiery met any resistance at all, the troops were to «exterminate» the opposition. The resulting slaughter spared neither age nor sex as the Russians, and especially the Cossacks, «rushed about like madmen».

Short of money for the return to Tashkent, Kaufman ordered the other Turcomen tribes in Khivan territory to pay their shares of the fine, some 301,000 rubles. Becoming somewhat more reasonable, he allowed them to pay half the sum in camels and the other half in either coin or gold or silver jewelry and other objects. They were given from July 21 to August 2 to pay. The punishment of the Yomuds had its desired effect on the other Turcomen bands. At the deadline, some 92,000 rubles had been collected, and as there was evidence of intent to pay, Kaufman allowed an indefinite extension to the payment deadline. To insure full payment, he took 26 hostages from among the families of Turcomen notables.

As the new territories on the north bank of the Amu Darya were quite remote from the Syr Darya oblast and the Zarafshan Military District (Samarkand) and since there was concern over continued restlessness and hostility among the Turcomen, the Russian government decided that the new lands would be formed into the Amu Darya Military District. Command was given to Colonel N.A. Ivanov, who established his headquarters at Fort Petro-Aleksandrovskoe (Turkul), only 25 miles from Khiva City. The new military district had some 216,000 residents, mostly Kazakhs, Turcomen, and Kara-Kalpaks. Ivanov found it necessary to lead several expeditions against these peoples before they submitted to his authority. Armed Conflict