Shlapentokh D. V. Russian Expansion and Control in Central Asia: the Myth of Aryanism and Bartol’d Lagacy // Центральная Азия на перекрестке европейских и азиатских политических интересов: XVIII–XIX вв. Сборник научных трудов. Алма-Ата, 19–23 августа 2019 г. / науч. ред. Д. В. Васильев. М.: ОнтоПринт, 2019. С. 15–37.

D.  V. Shlapentokh

(Indiana University,

South Bend, USA)



Abstract: Russia’s conquest of Central Asia was not an isolated phenomenon. The end of the 19th century was the last round of European colonial expansion. It was the time when Africa was partitioned and European control was solidified on the Asian mainland. In all of these cases, ideological justifications were employed. Some were framed in a Kiplingian context. Here, civilized Europeans brought the light of civilization to “ungrateful children” – the conquered natives. The line was justification, related to the first, but still not completely identical to the first. These justifications were clearly connected to the prevailing Social-Darwinism, which divided people into several “races.” The division was not limited to people with different skin color, but even people with the same skin color. Even here, Social-Darwinists find “superior” and “inferior” races. “Superior” races were called “Aryans” and were implicitly connected with Indo-Europeans; at least, this idea was elaborated upon by Gobineau and Chamberlain, the fathers of European racism. This philosophical outlook created the framework for European colonial expansion and inter-European rivalries. This ideology also affected Russia, as the Russian elite professed and employed several doctrines, depending on geopolitical context and the elite’s interests. While claiming control over the Balkans, with its predominantly Slavic and Orthodox population, Russian elite emphasized the notion that Russia is a Slavic country, with its uniquely Orthodox makeup. In this case, Russia juxtaposed itself to the West. At the same time, when Russian elite turned to the East, it presented itself in quite a different light. Here, they presented Russians as European civilizers of savages. In addition, the justification has been also implicitly reinforced by the notion that, like other European nations, Russians are Indo-Europeans, “Aryans.” This theory was also reinforced by historical arguments. It was stated, in the context of this theory, that Indo-Europeans were the truly autochthonous people of Central Asia, who were later replaced by the inferior Turkic folk. Bartol’d, the well-known Russian orientalist, who started his scholarly career in the late 19th century, had developed the theory of Indo-European, or Aryan, autochthonism in Central Asia, implicitly accepted not just by the Czarist government. Indeed, in the context of this theory, the Russian conquest of Central Asia was nothing but a returning of the area to its historical owners – the Indo-European Russians. Bartol’d’s theory was implicitly accepted during Soviet rule and, after the collapse of the USSR, reemerged as the ideological framework for Tadjik ideologists, mostly in their dealings with the nearby Uzbeks.

Keywords: Central Asia, Bartold’, Aryanism, Iran, Indo-Europeans, colonialism.