Assimilation into Russian Culture in Inner Asia

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Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, “Full-Length Profile Portrait of a Woman, Possibly Turkman or Kirgiz, Standing on a Carpet at the Entrance to a Yurt, Dressed in Traditional Clothing and Jewelry,” still image, 1911, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/prk2000002449/.

This image initially struck me for its bright colors. Because of Prokudin-Gorskii’s three-negatives technique, individuals were able to digitally produce one final, colorized version. With the addition of color, the image fills with depth. Immediately, viewers see a woman. She wears a full-length robe, and it is covered with pinks, reds, yellows, and more. Additionally, a headpiece sits and covers her hair, and the intricate beading adds texture. More colors flow from the back half of the headpiece.

She stands on an equally ornate rug. The rug is bright red, but small detailing shows the level of work put into it. However, it lays on the ground in front of a light tan building. Called a yurt, these structures are circular-shaped homes, and they are often inhabited by inner Asian groups.

The Library of Congress (LOC) includes this image as part of their online exhibit in the ethnic diversity of the Russian Empire prior to 1917. It labels her a “nomad,” and it explains that the Russian Empire sought to change their nomadic ways. This extra piece of information prompted me to search the World Digital Library, and I learned that this woman belonged to the Teke population. Prokudin-Gorskii took this photo near the Mugrab Oasis in Bayramaly, or present-day Turkmenistan. After looking at a map, it became clear that this was a hot and arid region.

I became curious about how Russian conquest influenced the cultural and social structures in terrain so far from Moscow. Prior to Russian takeover in the 1880s, the people were largely Muslim in this region whereas the Russian Empire was mainly Eastern Orthodox. The Turkmen were comprised of several different tribes (CountryWatch Incorporated 2001). Finally, the land was fertile, but only near major water sites (called oases). Moscow’s landscape was vastly different.

Nevertheless, the differences did not stop new settlements. According to a country report, the settlers brought a wave of modernity, and even a railroad was built (CountryWatch Incorporated 2001). However, the native people found many grievances with the Russian Empire and the mass migration. Despite this, native people took great issue with the Russian Empire. As mentioned on the LOC site, people were expected to adapt to the demands of the Russian Empire. This partially led to a Muslim uprising in 1916, shortly before the infamous February Revolution (CountryWatch Incorporated 2001). This region would eventually gain independence, but not until late 1991.

With this understanding, the colors in this image are brighter. They depict a woman holding her traditional clothing, in spite of an Empire desperate to assimilate.

 

Text References:

CountryWatch Incorporated. (2001). History. Turkmenistan Country Review (p. 9). Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=5239310&site=eds-live&scope=site

 

9 Comments Add yours

  1. A. Nelson says:

    Thanks so much for this wonderfully detailed discussion! I feel like you’ve given us so much to think about where practices of empire are concerned. Asking us to think about ethnic, religious, and cultural identity makes so much sense (and is so hard to do without this kind of thoughtful, well-documented, and sensible analysis). And of course nomadism as a way of life would be profoundly altered (endangered) by the modernization projects that were still to come when this photograph was taken.

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    1. lilyfair says:

      Thank you, Dr. Nelson! This picture really jumped out at me because I’m also curious to learn more about overlapping identities. Prokudin-Gorskii captured so many ethnic populations in his photography, and I think that it starts to get at the core of what the Russian Empire was like.

      Separately, I would have loved to have met him just because he probably gained such valuable understanding of people from this. It’s really incredible!

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  2. Wow, you just gave me some pretty interesting information about these tribes! Very fascinating! I also love your blog design, and, yes, the picture you chose is really nice because of the colors!

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    1. lilyfair says:

      Thank you so much! I spent a lot of researching this group because I was so interested in the ways their previous traditions clashed with the Russian Empire.

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  3. alicjakara says:

    This was a very interesting and well researched post! I like how you dove deep into how this culture’s practices were threatened. Great image choice as well, I am amazed at their ability to pull these colors in an image so old.

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    1. lilyfair says:

      It was a very interesting read for sure; it was hard to write all of what I learned in such a short post! I wanted to share more about the Russian influence in the region post-revolution, but it wasn’t relevant for this assignment. The USSR controlled this area for their cotton until its collapse. Even today, the Turkmen people are still carving their unique identity out of what was previously Russian. I’m sure it’s hard to adapt to, even today.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A. Nelson says:

        Let’s talk! You could write a series of posts about this region in different time periods as your blogging contribution for the class.

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  4. jhamm31 says:

    Great post about the tensions between the nomadic cultures of Central Asia with their imperial ruler’s desires for industrialization. All of the modern day “Stans” still have cultural identity issues that remain from Russian Imperial rule.

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    1. lilyfair says:

      I think that the imperialist ways that Russia dealt with this area were similar to how European countries treated the Middle East and Africa. There’s a lot of residual tension because people drew maps with regard to what land they could control rather than what people groups lived there. The Turkmen are split among 5 different countries today, and I’m curious to see how this affects those countries today. I ultimately just researched this time period for the assignment, but I think it would be interesting to learn more about its long-term effects.

      Liked by 1 person

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