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Emir of Bukhara

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I did a pretty lengthy article on the Emir for the special 4 volume Crimean issue of "Atlantis" a few years ago, so here are a few bits of information (culled from 60 pages, though):

Sayed Abd al-Ahad Bakhadur-Khan was born on 26 March 1859, at the country Palace of Kermine.  Shamshat, his mother, was a former Persian slave, and one of Emir Muzaffar's four legitimate wives; she was also said to be his favorite, respected for her intelligence and beauty.  Abd al-Ahad was her favorite son, and, when she died at Kermine in 1879, he was desolate with grief.  At the age of eighteen, Abd al-Ahad was appointed beg of Kermine, a post he held until he came to the Throne in 1885.  His intellect, abilities, and undoubted loyalty convinced his father to name Abd al-Ahad his official heir in 1882; the twenty-three-year-old Prince was sent to St. Petersburg to meet Alexander III, and receive the Imperial stamp of approval, which the Emperor was only too happy to give. A year later, he represented his father at Alexander III's Coronation in Moscow.

The Emir was one of the wealthiest in the Russian Empire.  He owned vast tracts of land, each yielding its own profitable agricultural crop, mounds of valuable Astrakhan fur, and important stud.  All of this income was added to the Bokhara Treasury, which the Emir, like Nicholas II himself in Russia, regarded as his own personal property.  Within a few years of coming to the Throne, Abd al-Ahad is said to have possessed more than a dozen accounts in both Russian and European banks, whose holdings totaled nearly 75 million gold rubles.  He kept 27 million gold rubles in his account at the Imperial Russian Bank, with another 7 million deposited in private Russian banks; further investments included accounts in Germany, Switzerland, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and London, as well as stock and real estate holdings.  Such immense wealth enabled the Emir to shower the Romanovs with dazzling gifts on his annual visits to St. Petersburg or the Crimea.

Abd al-Ahad was a quiet man, who preferred his country Palaces at Kermine and Shirbudun to life in the Bokharan capital.  Here, freed from the stifling etiquette of the Court and surrounded by the countryside he loved, the Emir could relax with his family.  In this, he was again quite different from his ancestors.  In the late 1870s, he married one of the beautiful Persian slave girls from his father's Harem; unlike his father, Abd al-Ahad was satisfied with one wife, who was delightful and intelligent and shared his love of poetry. Although he kept a Harem for the sake of tradition, he ordered all former captured slaves freed, and only those who wished to stay did so.  During his reign, the Harem eventually fell into disuse, no new girls were added, and the Emir himself never visited it, preferring the company of his wife.

His second son, Sayed Mir-Alim, was born on 3 January, 1880, and after his elder brother's death, became his father's heir.  In 1892, when he was twelve, his father arranged for Mir-Alim to live and study in St. Petersburg.  Father and son visited the Imperial capital in January, 1893, where the young Prince was enrolled as a cadet at the Nikolaievsky Military Academy. During this time, they stayed at the Winter Palace as guests of Alexander III, who brought his family to meet them; as it was the Season in the capital, the Emir was invited to attend several impressive Imperial balls during his stay in St. Petersburg, where he also attended gala performances of the opera, and a ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Alexander III promised Abd al-Ahad that he would personally supervise the young Prince's education, and he appointed a Russian tutor, Colonel Dyomin, to supervise the instruction and report Mir-Alim's progress to him.  At the same time, the Emperor officially recognized the young boy as his father's legitimate heir. The Emir took his son to the Nikolaievsky Academy, where he met with officials and toured the facilities.  In addition to Colonel Dyomin, the Emir also appointed a Bokharan tutor, Osman beg karaul-begi, who was charged with instructing his son in Arabic and in the Koran. Initially, Mir-Alim's course of education followed a plan which the Emperor himself had personally worked out; in 1896, however, the Emir decided that the program of instruction should be accelerated, with more emphasis on Islamic history and culture.  He also ordered that Mir-Alim not be allowed to study subjects like astronomy or electricity, courses which the Emir himself feared were too sophisticated and too modern in nature for a future ruler of Bokhara.

In general, Abd al-Ahad was a sympathetic figure. One of his first acts on acceding to the Throne was to abolish torture and severely restrict the use of capital punishment.  He was particularly generous in his support of Muslim affairs.  He ordered numerous Crown properties transferred to the Church, while it also received some 20,000 rubles a year in profits derived from certain agricultural lands owned by the Emir.  He regularly donated enormous sums to help maintain the Mecca and Medina Shrines. He increased the number of charitable Islamic hospitals and shelters from 500 to 1,500, largely out of his own pocket, and paid the relocation expenses and salaries of hundreds of Islamic teachers and scholars who came to Bokhara from Constantinople. He also forbid the importation of alcohol into Bokhara, except for the wine and vodka dispatched from the Crimea for the Russian Embassy.

As the years passed, Abd al-Ahad increasingly suffered from pain in his legs. In 1892, he was treated by Russian doctors, who provided some relief, but he still had difficulty in walking, especially in the winter.  Finally, the doctors recommended that the Emir spend winters away from the cold, damp Bokharan climate.  Effectively removed from power in Bokhara, Abd al-Ahad purchased two country estates in Russia: a villa in the Caucasus, and a magnificent new palace at Yalta in the Crimea.  From 1900 onward, he would spend only four or five months a year in his own country, always at Shiburdun Palace.

Abd al-Ahad's relationship with Nicholas II began in 1882, when he visited St. Petersburg with his father and met Alexander III and his family.  A year later, he again encountered Tsesarevich Nicholas during the balls and receptions surrounding Alexander III's Coronation in Moscow.  Thirteen years later, he returned to Moscow, this time as Emir, for another Coronation, that of Nicholas II himself, where he left a considerable impression on those he encountered.  Americans were particularly taken with his picturesque robes.  Kate Koon, a young woman from Chicago, was seated in a Tribune on Cathedral Square to watch the formal processions, when she spotted Abd al-Ahad.  "The Emir of Bokhara," she wrote, "distinguished by his jewels and rich dress, was one of the most interesting of the men pointed out to us." And John Logan, attending a ball given by the Moscow Nobility, recalled: "Among the throng were the Emir of Bokhara, clothed in scarlet robes heavy with gold embroidery and wearing an immense fur head-dress." The Emir accepted invitations to all the most important and prestigious events surrounding the 1896 festivities, including the Coronation Ball in the Grand Kremlin Palace; more than a dozen balls and dinners; and the infamous ceremonies at Khodynka Meadow, where the Emir was one of Nicholas II's guests in the Imperial Pavilion.  When he departed Moscow, he had lavished expensive gifts on the newly crowned Imperial couple and their relatives, leaving a highly-favorable impression on those who he had encountered.

Nicholas was quite taken with Abd al-Ahad, and invited the Emir to stay at Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo during his visits to his son Mir-Alim. Abd al-Ahad grew to love Russia as a second home, and was himself warmly embraced by the Russians.  He was generous as well: in 1892, during the famine which swept across Russia, Abd al-Ahad donated some 100,000 gold rubles to import grain and distribute food to the most affected regions. He also bought and presented Nicholas II's Imperial Navy with a modern destroyer, Bokhara.119 In the summer of 1904, in the midst of the catastrophic Russo-Japanese War, Abd al-Ahad donated more than a million gold rubles to the Russian War Ministry, and other funds were sent to the Russian Red Cross to help establish and equip field hospitals in Manchuria.  He also presented a number of important gold coins, ancient pottery, and other pieces to the Russian Government to help establish the Museum of the Turkestan Archeological Society, and was Patron of the Turkestan Charity Society.

The Emir was also patron and financial sponsor of the 5th Orenburg Cossack Regiment of the Imperial Army, to which he was dedicated; Nicholas II made him the Regiment's Honorary Colonel-in-Chief, and the Emir was also elected Hetman of the Terek Cossack Regiment.  Abd al-Ahad was richly rewarded for all of his charitable contributions to the Empire.  Nicholas II awarded him the Russian Imperial Orders of St. Vladimir, St. Alexander Nevsky, and St. Andrei, which the Emir proudly wore next to the Italian Order of the 1st degree and the French Order of the Honorary Legion.  Abd al-Ahad was also made a Cavalry-General in the Imperial Army, and given the Court rank of General-Adjutant, aide-de-camp to the Emperor himself.  As a final mark of Imperial favor, Nicholas II created the Abd al-Ahad a Russian Prince, with the style of Highness.

The Emir was no less munificent toward his Islamic subjects. In 1909, he asked Nicholas for permission to build a mosque in St. Petersburg for the use of not only those Bokharans who lived in the capital but also other Muslims, who had place to worship. The Emperor agreed to this proposal, and Abd al-Ahad donated 300,000 rubles to buy a large plot of land facing Kronversky Avenue, directly opposite the walls of the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, and only a block down the boulevard from the mansion of ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska.  He also gave 100,000 rubles to help pay for construction, and raised donations of another 200,000 rubles from the Craft Guilds on Bokhara.

In 1910, the Emir's health finally began to give way, suffering from stress; in his weakened state, the pain in his legs grew worse, and he had trouble sleeping.  In fact, like Alexander III, Abd al-Ahad was suffering from nephritis, but the disease had advanced too far; on 22 December 1910, Abd al-Ahad died at Kermine Palace. He was fifty-one.

Abd al-Ahad was greatly mourned by the Imperial Family.  His thirty-year-old son Sayed Mir-Alim immediately succeeded him.  The new Emir returned to Bokhara for both his father's funeral and his ceremonial enthronement in the Ark.  Like his father, however, he disliked life in the Bokharan capital, and quickly retreated to the Palace of Shirbudun.  Here, he re-instituted the Harem, which had previously fallen into abeyance, only now, Mir-Alim's Harem was tailored to his own personal tastes.  For the sake of appearance, he had a hundred young women installed in one wing; the other, the only wing that Mir-Alim entered, was filled with young boys.  Some were captured prisoners, others, epicene members of the Bacha dancing troops. Word of the new Emir's preference for beautiful young men soon reached the capital but, having gone through the turmoil of the Shiite-Sunni conflict and occupation by Russian troops, the Government preferred to ignore the goings-on at Shiburdun.

Nor was Mir-Alim dedicated to his new office.  Following his father's pattern, he began to spend long stretches of time away from Bokhara.  Having attended school in St. Petersburg, he knew the city well, and in 1913 had a mansion built on Kamennostrovsky Prospekt, near his father's Mosque.  Once again, Stephan Krichinsky was called on to act as architect, but the new Emir was not interested in following Islamic tradition or customs.  His new house was a four-storey building in the Style Moderne, the Russian equivalent of the then-waning art nouveau movement.  Two interior courts, reached through open peristyles of rusticated stone columns, provided light for the extravagantly decorated suites of rooms which Mir-Alim filled with expensive, imported furniture from Berlin, France, Brussels, and Vienna, all in the art nouveau style.  A special set of apartments on the ground floor housed members of his male harem.

For the first few years of his reign, Mir-Alim continued his father's annual visits to the Romanovs in the Crimea, where he was warmly received.  In 1913, he was invited by the Emperor to attend the Te Deum at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in the Imperial capital to mark the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, where he appeared in a black robe completely embroidered in gold thread; he was also present during a gala performance of Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar at the Mariinsky Theatre.  In response, Mir-Alim presented the Emperor and Empress with lavish gifts, and they reciprocated, showering him with a nephrite cigarette case set with the Emperor's cipher in diamonds, and a solid silver clock with a statue of St. Dimitri, both pieces commissioned from the workshops of jeweler Carl Faberge.

After the Revolution, Mir-Alim fled Bokhara at the end of September, 1920.  The Bolsheviks knew exactly where he was, and the head of the local Red Army garrison, which had stationed itself in the capital, dispatched more than a thousand armed soldiers to chase him down.  Mir-Alim came up with his own, novel plan to distract his pursuers. More than five hundred members of the Court and suite fled with him, including his infamous Harem of some 200 young dancing boys.  As he rode across the mountains south toward Afghanistan, the Emir, in the words of Sir Fitzroy Maclean, dropped "favorite dancing boy after favorite dancing boy" at strategic points, convinced that the Bolsheviks would not be able to resist at least a temporary halt to enjoy the pleasures of each lad.  The Bolsheviks, however, were less susceptible to the temptations of the  young boys than the Emir himself had been, and either ignored or killed them in their pursuit of Mir-Alim.


Those are just some brief bits-the whole article can be found in the special 4 volume Crimean issue of "Atlantis Magazine."

Greg King

Thank you so much, Greg, for the fascinating info.  And many thanks to Neva for posting the topic! This is one of those questions that I wish I'd asked, and I'm so glad someone else did . . .


Thanks for the information.



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