An Imperial Project for the Colonisation of Mirzacho’l
This article studies the development and passage of the bill concerning the colonisation of land irrigated by the state in Mirzacho’l (Rus. Голодная степь, lit. Hungry Steppe), a large area of Central Asia, in the early twentieth century. The new principles of organised colonisation supported by the state have not been studied previously. On the eve of the revolution, there was a process of “nationalisation” of the empire which involved the transformation of relations between the centre and the periphery. During the discussions, the government formulated the purpose of agrarian colonisation of Turkestan in the interests of the empire, which was followed by active measures taken for the geopolitical and economic consolidation of the periphery. For the first time in history, the centre determined the image of settlers and their economy, setting the ambitious goal of creating a “Russian Turkestan”. The leading role was played by A. V. Krivoshein, head of land management and agriculture. The study refers to published and archival legislative and administrative documents, works of officials and statesmen, and materials from the State Duma. It is concluded that through legislation, the authorities organised the selection of wealthy settlersto be who had experience in agriculture and set a number of restrictions for them. The government intended to create a stratum of petty Russian farmers in Turkestan who would lead a profitable economy on irrigated lands without using hired labour: they would grow the cotton necessary for the state while ensuring the strengthening of economic ties with the imperial centre and serving as a role model for the indigenous population in economic and cultural terms. The bill also testified to the strengthening of Russian nationalism among the authorities. The study demonstrates that the government’s initiative as a whole received support in the Duma, which established the basis for the equality of all estates and reflected the debatable character of the need for national and cultural restrictions. However, the implementation of the law and the establishment of “Russian Turkestan” were interrupted by the war and the revolution.
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