alexander morrison on peasant settlers in turkestan

18Sep14

Alexander Morrison, ‘Peasant Settlers and the ‘Civilising Mission’ in Russian Turkestan, 1865–1917’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History (Published online: 03 Sep 2014).

This article provides an introduction to one of the lesser-known examples of European settler colonialism, the settlement of European (mainly Russian and Ukrainian) peasants in Southern Central Asia (Turkestan) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It establishes the legal background and demographic impact of peasant settlement, and the role played by the state in organising and encouraging it. It explores official attitudes towards the settlers (which were often very negative), and their relations with the local Kazakh and Kyrgyz population. The article adopts a comparative framework, looking at Turkestan alongside Algeria and Southern Africa, and seeking to establish whether paradigms developed in the study of other settler societies (such as the ‘poor white’) are of any relevance in understanding Slavic peasant settlement in Turkestan. It concludes that there are many close parallels with European settlement in other regions with large indigenous populations, but that racial ideology played a much less important role in the Russian case compared to religious divisions and fears of cultural backsliding. This did not prevent relations between settlers and the ‘native’ population deteriorating markedly in the years before the First World War, resulting in large-scale rebellion in 1916.

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