The Emir of Bukhara

Emir Said Mir Mohammed Alim Khan


In 1911, Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky travelled to the Emirate of Bukhara, a protectorate of the Russian Empire, to photograph and illustrate the interesting region that is now known today as Uzbekistan. One of his many subjects of his photographic adventures to the region included the Emir of Bukhara, Said Mir Mohammed Alim Khan. Alim Khan was the last emir of the last ruling dyansty of the Emirate of Bukhara. Coming into power the same year Prokudin-Gorsky started his travels, Alim Khan set out to modernize and reform the still traditional and “backwards” region. Unlike many of his predecessors, he swore off accepting personal gifts and tribute from officials and demanded the officials stop accepting bribes and kickbacks from the public. He also sought out to abolish unjust forms of taxation being waged on the public to benefit the greedy officials in his government. Despite promising his officials and advisers that he was a traditionalist much like his predecessors, his modernization and reform moves alarmed officials in both Bukhara and in far out places such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. He would find himself in a middle of a conflict in his emirate between reformers who wanted the Emirate to modernize to prevent any collapse in order and traditionalists who saw any form of modernization as a threat to their prestige and power. The circumstances and events surrounding Alim Khan’s reign in Bukhara paint a more broadened picture of what the Russian Empire was facing in the early years of the 20th Century. Faced with a choice between modernization/reform or double down defending tradition and the old ways, the Russian Empire would find itself in a rude awakening in the period between 1905 and 1917.

7 Replies to “The Emir of Bukhara”

  1. it sounds like the Emir was truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Did you find any information on how Bloody Sunday or the Bolshevik Revolution impacted the Emir’s ability over his land and people? How long was he able to stay in power?

    1. He managed to stay in power until 1921 when the Red Army moved in to overthrow his government and establish a regional communist government in Bukhara. He outlasted the Tsar and unlike the Tsar, he found little to no resistance during events such as Bloody Sunday, but faced communist-inspired revolts in his Emirate.

  2. The way you described the Emir as trying to appear traditionalist while advancing reforms reminded me of something I heard on a RadioLab special on the history of football this weekend. Someone described football fans and players as “progressive in the mind, but traditional at heart”. They said that football is a sport that’s constantly innovating and evolving, but also one whose fans think of it as this “grand old game” that hasn’t changed at all. I liked that idea of doublethink, convincing yourself one thing while actively practicing another. It was an interesting parallel to what the Emir seems to have attempted while wrangling his reactionary elements.

    1. You practically hit the nail on the head on this one, the leadership of the Russian Empire, much like the Emirate, realized the inevitability of modernization but at the same time hoping to retain whatever power they wanted, especially any reactionary elements who were afraid that modernization would tank the traditionalist culture of their nation.

    2. I’ve read a lot of blog posts, but this is the first time I’ve seen football invoked as a framework for understanding reform currents in the Russian empire. Nicely done!

  3. What an insightful post, Chris, and you have some wonderful comments here. The Emir does epitomize the challenges of spearheading reform while remaining quite reactionary in many respects…AND having to deal with Russian rule as well. What sources did you use for your analysis? And could you provide a citation to the photograph? You should check out Isaiah’s post about the Emir, which looks at his rule from a different angle:

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