During the first few years of the republic the Soviets followed Lenin’s blueprint policy of encouraging local revolution under the aegis of a local national bourgeoisie, in an attempt to win over the local Muslim population. Two weeks after the fall of Bukhara the ranks of the Communist Party swelled to over 14,000 as the local inhabitants rushed to pledge allegiance to the city’s new emir. As the Soviet state grew in stability so its confidence in Bukhara grew. By 1922 a series of purges stripped the numbers to just over 1,000 and on 10 February 1924 the Bukharan Republic, seized by a moment of revolutionary martyrdom, voted itself out of existence. Uzbekistan was born.
In Bukhara the Soviet transformation took a passive form, Conjuring up class consciousness in a city of merchants and mullahs was not easy and women formed a surrogate proletariat. The Soviets decided against a radical overhaul of Bukhara, preferring to ignore it and wait for it to fall apart. The town was sanitized and secularized.
Bukhara the Holy became Bukhara the Noble. Canals were drained, mosques converted to working men’s clubs or local offices and occasional Western visitors decried “the soft and heavy oppression of a city and a life disintegrating”. In 1959 the last veil in Central Asia was burned in a public ceremony, fittingly in Bukhara’s Registan. Revolution by attrition continued in Bukhara for over 70 years, but it never managed to capture the city’s soul.
In the words of Fitzroy Maclean:
While in Tashkent and Samarkand East and West lie side by side and often intermingle in the most disconcerting way, Bukhara has remained, and, I think, cannot hut remain as long as it survives at all, wholly eastern.
Today old town shrines are dusted off anew, a pantheon of local saints and holy men stir from their slumber and tourism entrepreneurs are revitalising old town buildings. The hibernation is over.
Sights: The Old Town
The majority of sights lie scattered around the old town (shakhristan) and are thus most easily reached on foot. The following itinerary starts at the Registan and proceeds through the heart of the old bazaar quarter to the area around the Lyab-i Hauz square. Bukhara’s range of interesting sights requires at least two or three days to do the city justice and is the Central Asian city that most rewards the inquisitive traveller prepared to veer off the main tourist routes and immerse himself in the old town.
I could have spent months in Bokhara, seeking out fresh memories of the prodigous past, mingling with the bright crowds in the bazar, or simply idling away my time under the apricot trees in the clear warm sunlight of Central Asia.
Fitzroy Maclean, Eastern Approaches.