Lessons in Central Asian Islamic resistance : the Basmachi movement (1918-1931) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (1991-present)




Abizaid, Dana Edward

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This study examines the Basmachi resistance against Soviet power in the 1920s in order to provide insight into the motives and aims of their rebellious progeny, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), who currently oppose the governments of former Soviet Central Asia. To this point, the majority of studies concerning the IMU have made only scattered comparative references to the Basmachi. This neglect, combined with the current repressive policies of Central Asia’s governments, hinders the successful termination of Islamic inspired resistance in the region. The study first provides a brief history of the destabilizing military and political events that occurred in the decades preceding the appearance of the Basmachi. The following six sections examine the main similarities between the Basmachi and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s struggle from which a greater understanding of Islamic resistance in Central Asia may be extracted. These sections will look closely at 1) the chaos of the post-October Revolution and fall of the USSR in Central Asia that created the conditions in which the Basmachi and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan emerged; 2) the goals and hardships of the respective movements, including internal disagreements in political/religious ideology and the feasibility of the Islamist dream of a Central Asia ruled by Shari’a law; 3) the vital role of leadership 4) significance of the groups’ persistence; 5) the part that neighboring nations, particularly Afghanistan and Tajikistan, played in supporting and harboring Central Asian radicals; and 6) local sentiment concerning the role that political and educational reform and more effective use of western aid can play in improving present day Central Asian security. By way of conclusion, the last section will reflect on the common Basmachi and IMU experience and the strategies that Central Asian governments could employ to avoid the repetition of violent conflict that engulfed parts of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and threatened Soviet power in the 1920s.


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