ASU historians find unique archival documents

3 July 2019 Department of Information and Media Communications
The research team of Altai State University has found archival documents refuting the opinion of a number of researchers on the colonial policy of the Russian Empire in Central Asia.

The studies were carried out within the framework of the project entitled “Social and Economic Modernization of the Central Asian Suburbs of the Russian Empire: Interdisciplinary Methods of Reconstruction and Efficiency Evaluation” under the guidance of Doctor of History, Professor at the Department of Oriental Studies under the Faculty of History of ASU Yulia Lysenko.

The project became one of the winners of the 2019 competition for grants from the Russian Science Foundation in the priority area of activity of the Russian Science Foundation "Conducting Basic and Exploratory Research by Individual Research Groups". To date, the first phase of the project, work in the Russian State Historical Archive (St. Petersburg), has been completed.

The main objective of the project is to identify the main directions of economic modernization of the Central Asian region of the Russian Empire. For this, the scientists of ASU began to study a large amount of statistical data, which, above all, suggests that Russia purposefully followed the course on wide-format integration into the all-imperial political, socio-cultural and economic space of the Steppe Territory and Turkestan, located on the territory of present-day Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and parts of Russia.

“However, in modern historical science of the states of the post-Soviet Central Asia, the term “modernization” is not actually used. Here they often mention colonialism, colonial policy, colonial exploitation of labor of the local population, which, of course, acquires negative connotation and excludes the possibility of a balanced and objective analysis of the economic policy of the Russian Empire in this ethnic region,” project manager Yulia Lysenko said.

The Central Asian region was subsidized in the budget of the Russian Empire. This is confirmed by statistics from the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Empire.

“Thus, in the course of our work at the archive, we were able to establish that the expenses of the empire on the development of the Steppe Territory and Turkestan amounted to 13,605,000 rubles in 1880, 10,620,000 rubles in 1895, while the revenues to the treasury from the region in the same years amounted to 4,114,000 rubles and 7,835,000 rubles respectively,” the scientist said.

The state invested in the development of mining and oil industries, construction of railways and irrigation systems; a lot of attention was paid to the social sphere – active construction of educational and medical institutions took place. A considerable part of the money was invested in the defense capability of the Turkestan military district.

“All this testifies to the priority of the geopolitical, and not the economic aspect of the Russian policy in Central Asia,” Yulia Lysenko said.

Documents reflecting the process of formation of financial bodies in the Steppe Territory and Turkestan, and the history of the opening of branches of the State Bank of Russia in this region also testify to the insignificant rates of modernization in the Central Asian region. The State Bank carefully studied the situation on the ground, collecting information on the feasibility and prospects of opening branches in the Central Asian region. As a result, in the 1870-1890, 16 branches of the State Bank were opened there. They had insignificant cash flow and were mainly engaged in trade crediting.

In the course of the work at the archive, the scientists identified a number of unique documents indicating that the indigenous peoples of the region did not attract a lot of industrial workers: Spassky Copper Ore Joint-Stock Company, Ekibastuz Coal Deposit, Atbasar Copper Ore Joint-Stock Company.

“From the documents of these enterprises, we were able to establish that they reluctantly hired the indigenous population in small numbers, therefore, all industrial facilities experienced personnel shortages. This problem was solved in different ways. For example, workers from China were recruited in large numbers at these enterprises, and during the First World War, European prisoners of war (Italians, Czechs, Slovaks, etc.) worked here. These unique data cast doubt on the conclusions of some modern scholars about the colonial nature of politics of the Russian Empire in the Steppe Territory and Turkestan and confute a thesis on the exploitation of its indigenous peoples," Yulia Lysenko said.

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