In the 19th century, Russians migrated to Siberia in great numbers. Gold was discovered and mined after 1820. Going from west to east, the chief Arctic peoples of Siberia were the Evenk, Yakut, Yukaghir, Chuvan, and Chukchi peoples. The population of that northern Asian region grew from about five-hundred thousand in 1720 to one-million four-hundred thousand in 1811, and then increased again markedly by the end of the century.

Afghanistan remained the center of greatest interest in Central Asia for Russians in the 19th century. The Pashtuns continued to sweep clear across the country, acting like feudal barons, becoming the dominant ethnic group, and occupying virtually every post in government and administration. The ruling Durrani line ended in 1826 when Dost Mohammad of the Barakzai Dynasty gained power. Trouble almost immediately developed as the British attempted to use Afghanistan as a buffer between Russia and their territory in India. This resulted in a series of wars in which Indian soldiers fought under their British officers against the Afghans (supported by the Russians). In the First Afghan War of 1838 to 1842, the British took Kabul, along with other major cities, but the Afghani people reorganized and repelled the British-Indian troops who had invaded. The British returned in the Second Afghan War of 1878-79 and placed Abdul Rahman Khan as a pro-British emir.


A 1878 political cartoon showing the Emir of Afghanistan surrounded by his “friends.” The bear represents Russia, and the lion stands for Great Britain. (Source: Wikimedia)

To the north of Afghanistan, East Turkistan was dominated by China until 1865 when Russian troops invaded the Khanate of Kokand and took Tashkent. On the east shore of the Caspian Sea, Khiva was an independent khanate until it too was taken over by Russia in 1873. Kokand, north-east of Khiva, resisted the Russians until 1876. The territories of the Kazakhs and Kirghiz were controlled by Russia as early as 1854.

Most of the people of Tibet were serfs, attached to an estate by birth, although a few were tenant farmers. Three groups, nobles, monasteries, and the government, owned 95% percent of the land. In outlying areas, there was a nomadic culture. There was little class mobility, except that any boy could escape poverty by entering a monastery.


Share This Book