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A famous vacation spot for criminals in Bukhara

Photo from the early 20th century displaying a guard at Zindan, a Russian prison in central Asia, and several inmates looking out from inside the cell.

Photo from the early 20th century displaying a guard at Zindan, a Russian prison in central Asia, and several inmates looking out from inside the cell.

Although the Soviet Union traditionally claims superiority when it comes to jailing and exiling people in deplorable conditions, this photo places the Emirate of Bukhara as a notable competitor. Perhaps only a mere footnote compared to the notorious purges of Joseph Stalin, the prison at Zindan certainly doesn’t seem any more appealing than a Soviet gulag in the Siberian wilderness.

 

Also unlike the massive scale of Stalin’s purges, the prison at Zindan was only built to incarcerate a maximum of 40 inmates at once. It was literally built underground into the dirt and required a ladder to enter inside the earthen walls. The most common crimes were outstanding debt or religious in nature. As a semi-independent protectorate of Imperial Russia, Bukhara’s culture was heavily Persian-based and thus the Islamic religion was much more prevalent than in the rest of Russia. That being said, such a draconian, dungeon-style confinement system for religious infractions indicates that the people in Bukhara took their religion really seriously.

An interesting point about Zindan is the relatively small number of inmates it was designed to accommodate. It seems that either the crime rate was very low in Bukhara, or Zindan was reserved for only the worst offenders. Considering the commonality of crimes such as debt, it seems there would have been a different, much worse place for offenses such as murder. Many would-be offenders were probably deterred by the dreaded aspect of having to live at a place such as Zindan. This would explain why it was only built to hold 40 people because the population was likely in no hurry to do anything that may land them inside.

Even though Zindan was no Siberian Gulag, the effects upon the population were probably very similar. Some may call these methods overly excessive and tyrannical, while others may consider them necessary instruments for a stable society. We all know which observation Stalin would have sided with, what about you comrads?

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