Mustafa Shokay 1890-1941: champion of Turkestan Autonomy

The name of Mustafa Shokay is well known in Russia, as well as in his homeland in Kazakhstan, as the leader of the proclaimed but short-lived Turkestan (Kokand) autonomy (November 1917-February 1918), which had been under Russian rule since 1864.

An educated native of the aristocratic Kazakh class, following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 he stubbornly refused to accept the Soviet system of government. Following the dissolution of the autonomy after just 3 months, from 1921 to 1941 he was to live in exile in France.

During this period in exile he was to face allegations of collaboration with the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s - early 1940s.

Subsequently, research by historians conducted in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have since discredited such allegations, and the monuments erected to him in Kazakhstan and France are now considered to be justified by the high assessment of the life and work of this worthy man.

Mustafa Shokay Statue

Born on December 25th, 1890 in the village of Aulie-Tarangyl on the Syr-Darya River - on the land of the present Kyzylorda region of the Republic of Kazakhstan, into a noble family of enlightened aristocrats, he received his primary education in a Russian school. At the age of 12, the young Mustafa continued his studies at the Tashkent gymnasium, from which he graduated with a gold medal, and in 1910 entered the law faculty of the Imperial St. Petersburg University.

After receiving his degree, he worked for 2 years as a secretary of the Muslim faction of the State Duma - the Russian Parliament.

The most notable success of the young politician was his participation in the work of the State Duma Commission in Tashkent, as a result of which the head of the commission, Alexander Kerensky (the future head of the Provisional Government), prepared a report that shocked tsarist Russia on the situation of the population of Turkestan and the reasons for people's discontent. The young lawyer Mustafa Shokay had contributed to this work.

He settled in Kokand, where the Turkestan autonomy had been created on November 27th 1917 and became the first head of the department of foreign affairs before becoming the second head of state. In this position he refused to countenance the entry of Turkestan autonomy into the Soviet Union, as a result of which a large Russian force of troops and artillery was dispatched to Tashkent. In the resulting Bolshevik suppression of autonomy, several thousand civilians were killed.

During his sojourn in France, his detractors embarked on a campaign to destroy his reputation.

In 1941 he was imprisoned by the Nazis along with many other well known emigres from Soviet space. During this period he was invited to raise a legion of fighters from Turkestan from amongst the ranks of Red Army prisoners of war. This he refused to do: “Seeing how representatives of the nation, who raised such geniuses as Goethe, Feuerbach, Bach, Beethoven, Schopenhauer, treat prisoners of war ... I can not accept the offer to lead a Turkestan Legion, and refuse further cooperation. All the consequences of my decision, I realise.”

Shortly after this, he was hospitalised in Berlin, dying on December 27, 1941, just five days after he refused Hitler’s orders to establish a legion, and two days after his 51st birthday.

The cause of his death was recorded as "blood poisoning on the background of an emerging epidemic of typhus.” This could possibly have been contracted in a prison camp, although having previously suffered from Typhus his widow considered him immune. There remains speculation that he was poisoned.

It is a matter of historic record that the Nazis attempted to recruit “legions” from the ranks of Prisoners-of-War. A similar attempt was made to raise a similar group from British prisoners, but was abandoned after only three “volunteers” came forward.

In the early 2000s, the head of the special Commission for Rehabilitation of the KNB Department for the Kyzylorda Region, Colonel of the USSR KGB Amirkhan Bakirov, refuted speculation about Shokay’s alleged cooperation with the Nazis in creating the Turkestan Legion.

On the pages of AiF-Kazakhstan on April 28th, 2004, he noted: “In addition to almost all the materials in the open press about Mustafa Shokay, I had the opportunity to study a 40-volume criminal case in the archives of the KNB of the Republic of Kazakhstan, where he was accused of ‘treason and aiding fascists’.

"The accusation is based on the organisation of the Turkestan Legion. I believe that he was not the one who created the notorious Turkestan National Committee and the Turkestan Legion, and even less he sent them to fight the Red Army. No matter what they say about him, Shokay had nothing to do with the Turkestan Legion and the Committee, as they were in 1941-1944. "

Based on an original article by Andrey Zakhvatov

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