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Taming of the Turkmens
Diplomatic history of the Caspian Sea

July 31, 2001
The Iranian

From Guive Mirfendereski's A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea: Treaties, Diaries, and Other Stories (Palgrave, 2001) .

-- Chapter titles and endorsements
-- Foreward
-- Introduction
-- Chapter 13: Taming of the Turkmans
-- Chapter 31: The Shah's Northern Navy
-- Chapter 33: Making Virtue of Necessity
-- Appendix

Chapter 13

The Russian gains in Central Asia in 1873-1876 had "encircled" in a way the area that was inhabited by the Turkmens: Russia figured on three sides and the softer Persian sovereignty bordered the area to the south. An earlier Russian expedition to Geok Tappeh having been abandoned, in 1879 the Russians decided to march again on the Tekke's traditional stronghold.

In March, intelligence reports indicated that Russia had transported some 2,000 men across the Caspian Sea to Chekishler, ready to attack the town of Akhal. In April, rumors circulated that soon 30,000 additional Russian troops would be arriving in eastern Caspian in order to march on Marv and then into Afghanistan. In connection with this plan, the Russian military busily amassed provisions and recruited auxiliaries from among the nearby Persian tribes.

Needing field communications in its Transcaspian operations, in May 1879, Russia entered into a Telegraph Convention with Persia. A line was to be built between Chekishler and Astarabad connecting the Russian communication line in eastern Caspian to the Russian station at Julfa on the opposite side of the sea. The existing Persian lines were to be used to connect Astarabad to Julfa.

Russia's activities at Chekishler finally alarmed Britain. Inquiries were made in St. Petersburg about Russian intentions and in July 1879 Russia assured the British representative there that the intended operations were aimed at putting an end to the depredations of the Tekke and that the Russian troops were under strict orders to respect Persian territory. Britain queried if Russia and Britain were agreed on the exact limit of the Persian frontiers; Russia replied that much of the land in that area was terra incognita, meaning literally unknown or unexplored territory, but up for grabs in a legal sense.

In September, the Yamut inhabiting the Hassanqoli area complained to the Persian government about the treatment received at the hands of the Russian occupation force at Kari Qara. The Persian government sent an agent to investigate the complaint. The Russians arrested the agent and this set off a diplomatic protest by Persia, claiming interference with its territory and subjects. The Russian embassy in Tehran responded by claiming that Hassanqoli lay to the north of the Atrak River and was therefore Russian territory.

The Russians pressed ahead toward Akhal and Marv and against the Tekke. Largely because of deficient transportation and logistical shortcomings, the Tekke dealt a severe blow to the Russian forces of General Lazarev (1879), and this hammered home to the Russian commanders the necessity of secure supply lines.

So, the Russian expedition now set out to build a railroad right across the steppe. That achieved, on January 12, 1881, a Russian force of 8,000 men, 532 guns, and 11 machine guns, commanded by General Skobelev, took Geok Tappeh. Three days later Ashgabat also fell. The force inflicted a "crushing and final blow" on the Tekke of Akhal. The horror included the massacre of some 8,000 defenseless Turkmen at Denghil Tappeh "on the Russian principle that with Asiatics the duration of peace is in direct proportion to the number slain."

Meanwhile, in Persia, in June, 1880, Naser ed-Din Shah had spent the summer camped in Mazandaran, returning to Tehran on August 2.

With the fall of the Tekke, the Russians united the Akhal Tekke oases with the Transcaspian military zone, creating the Transcaspian oblast or district, centered on Ashgabat, which, in turn, was tied to the Caucasus command.

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