Zindan, The Emir’s Prison

Zindan, The Emir’s Prison

My name is Matt Williford and I am a history major.  I’m also minoring in classical studies and psychology.  I have always had some interest in Russian history, more specifically around the time of World War II.  This is also my first Russian history class that I have taken so I am excited to learn more about Russia and its people.


The picture above is of the zindan or prison located in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, also known as the Emir’s Prison.  At first glance you’ll notice the Russian guard with his rifle and bayonet, as well as a robed man squatting by the crude iron bars.  More than likely he was visiting one or more of the men in the jail.  To provide a bit more information the word zindan is Persian for a dungeon or prison.  The prison itself consisted of two parts with the first being cells just like in the picture.  These were mostly debtor’s prisons but there were also solitary confinement cells.  The second part was a deep, dark pit where criminals would be confined too.  The only way in and out of the pit was by a rope system making escape impossible.  To make things worse the pit was often referred to as the “bug pit” due to the local population of poisonous scorpions and other insects.  Many prisoners were killed by these poisonous insects and died in agony.  However, after every two months prisoners would be removed from their cells and brought before the Emir who would then decide who would be put to death and who would be pardoned for their crimes.


You may be wondering why these photos are important or relevant to Russian history.  Well looking at how these prisoners were treated sort of reminds me of a small scale version of Soviet prison camps and perhaps these early simple prisons helped set the foundation for more large-scale and elaborate system of prison camps that became prevalent during the reign of Joseph Stalin during World War II and after.  Do you think that this prison helped serve as a model for future Soviet prisoner camps?


Works Cited:

These images were created by photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

The permanent records are located in the following links:

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/prk2000002573/ (Prisoners in a Zindan with Guard)

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/prk2001000001/ (The Emir of Bukhara)

Cited Sources:

2 thoughts on “Zindan, The Emir’s Prison

  1. This dark, hopeless prison definitely seems like it was a blueprint or ‘inspiration’ to the massive amounts of prison camps under Stalin. The Emir’s power of life or death over these prisoners certainly represents the sort of control which Stalin became famous for. The different levels of cells in the prison reminded me of a miniature of Dante’s Inferno. I wonder if the poisonous creatures were placed there on purpose?

  2. During World War I the POW camps had the same kind of conditions in which prisoners are treated with very little care and are used for hard labor in which many die. In the beginning it seems that the prisoners were just confined, but they refined their system into something in which the prisoners could provide some sort of benefit to country. It is interesting that they treat their criminals in the same fashion as foreign prisoners. I have always been curious why their prison system is one of the harshest in the world.

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