Bukhara and Khiva, Caught in Time: Great Photographic Archives, Part II

Part I of this review deals primarily with Bukhara, the counterpart to this 1993 volume  by Garnet Publishing (UK).Vitaly Naumkin is identified as the series editor and Andrei G. Nedvetsky as co-compiler and archive researcher.1


I found the volume on Khiva slightly less interesting than that on Bukhara, partly because it is farther removed geographically from my personal area of interest, and partly because there are fewer photos overall (105, as compared to 163) and less commentary.

However, the circumstances under which the photographs in the first part of the Khiva album were taken provoke speculation. Russian Colonel N. Ignatieff was sent on a diplomatic mission in 1958 to sign commercial treaties with the governors of Khiva and Bukhara. A.S. Murenko was assigned to the party as photographer; he was later awarded a silver medal by the Russian geographical society for his photographs.

The introduction describes the diplomatic challenges Ignatieff encountered in Khiva and his success in Bukhara, one result of which was the emancipation of Russian prisoners of war there (photo p. 45). One has to wonder if Ignatieff’s party was not, in addition to seeking treaties, also conducting reconnaissance for the military action that was likely already in view. In 1868 Russian armies took Samarkand, which was under the rule of the Bukharan emir, and Khiva, along with other Central Asian territories. An 1873 treaty declared Bukhara as well a “Russian protectorate.”

For research purposes, a number of photographs of everyday activities are likely representatives of scenes one might have encountered across Central Asia at the time (and, in some cases, today):

  • “Harrowing”–two turbaned, bare-chested men standing on a wooden plank drawn across a field by two oxen (p. 64).
  • About a dozen carpenters outside the walls of Khiva stripping the bark from logs, dressed in long robes and large bushy hats (I’m sure there’s a specific name for them of which I am ignorant) (p. 65).
  • A “fitter” (although it is not quite clear what he is fitting) working over a metal vise (p. 66).
  • Four “coppersmiths” in Central Asian caps working in front of a clay oven in a workshop (p. 67).
  • Two-wheeled “Khiva carts” drawn by horses (p. 68).
  • “A qadi (Muslim judge) administering justice,” seated on a carpet in a courtyard with five men (convicts?) seated before him (p. 69).
  • Sufi men praying in a circle, seated with knees tucked under them (p. 70).
  • A mendicant in a patched cloak, leaning on a staff next to a garden in Khiva (p. 72).
  • Seven falconers on horseback, with rifles and swords, engaged in “the most favourite amusement of the Khiva residents” (p. 73).
  • A tight-rope walker at a festival. This caught my attention because I had read a description of such an event in Rajab Amonov’s Stories from the Land of Springs (see review here: Translation in Progress) but could not quite envision the scene (p. 75).
  • “Gallows,”–a long pole perhaps ten feet off the ground, supported on each end by a vertical pole with a forked top (p. 95).
  • The album concludes with photographs of a number  of palaces and monuments dating from the 17th through the 19th century.

The copyright date–1993 for both Bukhara and Khiva–invites some speculation as to the circumstances of their publication. Having been printed so soon after the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, it seems safe to assume that the project was conceived during the Soviet era. Naumkin, the series editor, is a specialist in Oriental studies residing in Moscow, and one wonders what prompted him to undertake the project at that particular time (assuming it was at his own initiative).

Did he foresee what was coming and sense that Central Asia would be an emerging area of study? Was it simply a project he had long wanted to undertake? Did the fall of the Soviet Union open up an opportunity for the books to be published in the UK that wouldn’t have existed previously?

Certain statements in the introduction by Dmitriy Yu. Arapov (his association with the project is not identified) represent a distinctly Russian perspective: “As you see, even at the end of the 19th century the khanate was a mediaeval country immune to all innovation. Nevertheless, modernity penetrated it slowly but surely, mainly thanks to the impact of Russia” (p. 22). And this: “At the end of the century, Bukhara gained permanent access to Russian culture. It resembled a burst of fresh air for the few local progressives who aspired to revive Bukhara via its modernisation” (p. 23). Many Westerners witnessing Central Asia at the time may have held a similar opinion, and I have met some Central Asians who hold something like it even now. However, it must be acknowledged that there were and are other perspectives on the Russian colonization.

In any case, the albums provide researchers with valuable visual images of Central Asia in the latter half of the 19th century, and we are indebted to the Russian archivists for providing them. Many thanks, A.S. Murenko!

1 Since 1993 Naumkin has edited other titles in this series, including Samarkand, Japan (jointly with other editors), and, more recently, China. Other titles not edited by Naumkin include Korea, Jerusalem, Egypt, and Tibet.

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