Recent History- the end of Nomad Rule
The invention of the musket and canon marked the beginning of the end for nomadic rule in central Asia. ‘The Great Game” for central Asia became dominated by a tussle between Russia and China. Once again a wave of change was sweeping across the plains from Mongolia to Hungary. Eventually Russia took over the majority of the region labelling it ‘Turkestan.’ This included the current day republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the Ukraine. Mongolia was never strictly a part of the Soviet Union, but it was the second communist state in the world after Russia with a puppet government directed by Moscow. Stalinist rule was devastating for the nomad lifestyle. Between 1929 and 1937, one third of Kazakhstan’s population died as agriculture was collectivised. Intelligentsia were exiled and Russians moved in to populate the cities. The Soviet Union also marked the end of free travel to the region, and the steppe again became a place beyond the known world, or at least beyond the iron curtain. Interestingly, the Soviet empire had very similar boundaries to the Mongol empire: it’s western boundaries included Hungary and Poland, its eastern boundaries included Mongolia, and further east was the communist supported Korea. Furthermore, Lenin and Stalin both relied on the support of the Cossacks- a people skilled in mounted warfare from the steppe and related to the Mongols. When the Soviet Union collapsed around 1990, Turkestan broke up into independent states. Although the way of life of the nomads had been threatened for almost 80 years, their mentality had not changed. Their culture, lifestyle and history are now the pride of these young nations experimenting with democracy. In Mongolia the lifestyle was remarkably preserved, and so the spirit of the nomad lives on. During his journey, Tim will bear witness the effects of this recent chapter in history: from the destruction of the Aral Sea to the madness of Stalinism social policies, and a new post-soviet dawn. This has undoubtedly changed the face of Central Asia for bad and good. In seeking out the spirit of the steppe however it is important to remember that it is the Nomads who have dominated Russia throughout history. Some historians argue that the Russian psyche was so damaged by the Mongols over time that they had always sought a time for revenge. So perhaps it is not far fetched to suggest that the Soviet Empire was yet another Legacy of the great Ghengis Khan?