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The Russian statement of the Pamir question, The Times, Sep. 11, 1892.

Pamir MountainsClick here to view the original article.

Sir,-The letter of your St. Petersburg Correspondent which you publish in your issue of October 20 on the above question, although valuable from the point of view of audi alteram partem, contains, nevertheless, sundry statements which might easily mislead public opinion and upon which I beg leave to make a few remarks. The tendency of the said letter is, of course, to find a plea for the feverish activity of the Russian military authorities in Turkestan, who endeavour to prove the innocence and harmlessness of Colonel Yonoff’s expedition to the Pamirs by stating that the restless spirit of British officers, steadily investigating and reconnoitering the Pamir, has compelled the Governor General of Turkestan to prevent unpleasant eventualities, and that the paternal care of the Tsar was, so to say, called for in protection of the poor Kirghiz subjects, whose flocks are grazing in the valleys of the “Roof of the World.” It is over and over again the old story of the poor Russian wolf on the upper course of the river who has to complain of the rapacious and greedy English lamb on the lower course of the water, and my readers will excuse me if I do not waste time and paper upon this often-exposed absurdity.

What I would call attention to is the very shallow reason adduced to justify Russia’s claims of ownership of the Pamir by pretending that this high tableland belongs to her by right of direct inheritance from the late Khanate of Khokand, and that from the earliest times, according to traditions preserved amongst the population, the Pamir, as well as all the mountain passes and defiles of the Sarighol and Kashgar mountains always belonged and were governed from Khokand. To show how untenable such an assertion is, I must begin by alluding to the rather curious fact that the name Pamir, as a geographical denomination, is utterly unknown in Turkestan. It does not occur in any of the historical records extant. Baber, who was well versed in the geography of his country, does not mention the name Pamir, although he tried on various occasions to penetrate from Khokand towards India. Next to the “Memoirs of Baber” there is the historical poem called the” Sheibani-Nameh,” in which the, military expeditions of this destroyer of the Timurides to the headwater of the Oxus are given in great detail and minuteness without one single mention of the name of Pamir. I have looked through various other Oriental manuscripts relating to the geography of Central Asia without finding a trace of the said geographical definition, and, what is still more astonishing, that name does not even occur in a recently-published historical work on the Khanate of Khokand, which bears the title “Kratkaya Istoriya Khokandskago Khanstva,” Kazan, 1886. (“.A Short History of the Khanate of Khokand.”) The author of this book, M. W. Nalivkin, a Central Asian by extraction, has based his work upon various, mostly Oriental, sources, and I daresay if the Pamir had figured as such he certainly would not have omitted to mention it. However strange, it is a fact that the geographical name of Pamir has come down to us merely through foreign non-Central Asiatic travellers and writers. It is first mentioned by the Chinese pilgrims Hwui Seng and Sung Yun, who crossed the valleys of the Pamilo (Pamir) A.D. 518. Marco Polo speaks of a plain which is called Pamier; the same is noticed by Benedict Goes, who travelled here in 1603, and, considering that these travellers must have heard the name from the Kirghiz or other inhabitants of the Pamir, it is easily explainable that the Pamir as such has been unknown in Khokand and in Bokhara.

Now I beg leave to ask whether a geographically undefined and unknown region could ever have elicited such an amount of attention and importance among the inhabitants of Khokand as is assumed by the Russian writer in his paper published; in the semi-official part of the official Turkestan Gazette? Surely not. I was travelling with Khokandians for months. I never heard the name of Pamir, and when speaking of the south of their country they always used the vague expression Alai-taglari (the Alai Mountains). It is under this name that Madali (Mehemmed Ali), the greatest ruler of modern Khokand, from 1821 to 1842, whose conquests extended in all directions, may have laid claim occasionally to certain portions of that high tableland in order to have a control over the Kiptchaks and other branches of the Kirghiz and to attack the Chinese, with whom he was frequently at war; but the list of Daakhas (Dad-khah means judge, and was a rank and title in Khokand) given by the Russian writer as men who have ruled over the Pamir is a very problematic evidence with regard to the de facto possession of Khokand, and consequently Russia’s right of inheritance is very doubtful, indeed.

I am sorry to say I cannot come to a better result with regard to the so-called sacred duty of the Tsar to protect his beloved and dear Kirghiz subjects against the robberies of the Afghans. The question as to which clans and branches of the Kara-Kirghiz are subjects of the Tsar, (i.e., black Kirghiz), or Buruts as they are sometimes called, are comparatively new-comers in Central Asia. They have migrated from the banks of the Yenissei to the mountainous district lying between Semiretchinsk and the western spurs of the Thien-Shan. Westwards their migrations extend to the watershed of the rivers Tchatkal and Talas; eastwards they frequent the valleys of the Thien-Shan far into the possessions of China; whilst in the south they are to be met with as far as Shahidulla; on the road between Leh and Yarkand. Their main divisions are the Ong (right wing) and Sol (left wing), of which the former move about principally on Russian territory, while the latter are to be met with in the north-western frontier district of China. As with every nomadic people, so also with the Kara-Kirghiz, it is extremely difficult to fix a strict delimitation to the sphere of their wanderings, and, consequently, to the character of their allegiance. This uncertainty was the cause of many quarrels and disputes between Russia and China, and even at the present time the question of authority over various branches of these nomads is unsettled. There is no doubt that certain portions of the Pamirs are frequented by Kirghiz coming from the Alai- i.e., Russian subjects; but, on the other hand, it is patent that some of the Kirghiz subject to China likewise resort to the said high tableland, and the right or duty of the Russians to protect their subjects applies in the same degree also to China. Of course, at present, when the question of the right of possession of the Pamir is on the tapis, the Russians are inclined to claim authority over all Kara-Kirghiz, but a few years, ago this was not the case, for Russian authorities like Zagriashski, Radloff, and many others unreservedly mention Kirghiz as acknowledging allegiance to China. .

As for the rest we may well ask, is it worth while for the sake of the 1,500 souls of Kara-Kirghiz wandering in the so-called wilderness of the Pamir to raise the Pamir question, and was it worth while to send during the last 28 years uninterruptedly scientific and military expeditions to the dreary “Roof of the World?” If the Russian writer reproaches England with having constantly infested the Pamir with English travellers and secret emissaries, he evidently forgets that the work of the long list of Russian travellers from Fedtchenko to Grombtcheffski can hardly be compared with the modest achievement of the four or five Englishmen who have visited the Pamir. An intentional disfiguring of facts will not help in discarding doubtful points, and in summing up our scanty notices about the Pamir we may state- (1) that the word Pamir, or in its plural the Pamirs, meaning literally, like chol or djolge, a plain, a sterile tract of country, was never in use in Central Asia as the geographical nomen proprium for the mountainous district between the Hindu Kush and the Alai; (2) that its population never exceeded the present one, except in the neighbouring provinces or principalities, where in bygone centuries the settled population must have been much more numerous than the present one; (3) that the physical character of the leading routes from the north towards the south, although frequently described as dreary, desolate, and bare of fuel and fodder, must have some facilities for communication, otherwise the Russian travellers Ivanoff, Grombtcheffski, and

Kossiakoff would not speak of grassy plains and delightful valleys, Severtsoff would not have mentioned so many species of fauna (particularly birds), and Colonel Yonoff, quite recently, would not have been able to accomplish his return journey from the Alichur to Khokand in 20 days, in spite of the advanced season- namely, the middle of September. I see there is a prevalent view in England about the absolute unimportance of the Pamir, as proved by the letter of General Adye published in The Times of October 17; but your gallant correspondent would certainly alter his views if he would examine the papers published by Russians on, this matter. Their extreme anxiety in concealing their plans is the best and most valid reason for our watchfulness

I beg to remain yours obediently,


Budapest University, Oct. 26.

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