Bukharans in Russian State Service in the 17th Century: The Case of Seidash Kulmametev

Friday, January 4, 2019: 9:10 AM
Chicago Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Erika Monahan, University of New Mexico
As the Russian state advanced across Siberia in the seventeenth century, it encouraged the residency and in-migration of Central Asian émigré merchants known as Bukharans. Authorities in Moscow were keen for the goods that they brought to Siberia, recognizing the potential of trade to fill supply line deficits in the region, and alert to the potential of transit trade revenue. In addition to their valued roles as merchants, Bukharans served the state in more formal ways. They served in the customs administration as auxiliary officers, or “sworn men” (tseloval’nik), and appraisers at the marketplace. They also served in the diplomatic service, providing advance support, logistics management and in some cases even leading commercial-diplomatic missions. Ad hoc functions included providing intelligence information to the provincial and imperial administrations. In certain cases, Bukharans ransomed Russian hostages. Occasionally, they served as translators, but this was a minor role for them. Importantly, and paradoxically, the Russian state sought to benefit from the knowledge that well-traveled and better-connected Bukharan merchants possessed and extended Bukharans’ privileged status even as it regarded these intermediaries with suspicion. For their part, Bukharans found themselves welcomed by state authorities as well as episodically harassed by Orthodox religious authorities. This paper reconstructs the career of Bukharan Seidash Kulmametev to examine the variety of formal and informal ways in which Bukharans served the Russian imperial state in the seventeenth century.
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