The bombing of Bukhara in 1920 by Bolshevik troops under the command of Mikhail Frunze marked the beginning of the destruction of old urban space in the city. The Ark suffered, along with the residential areas that surrounded it and the bazaar on the Registan. The debris around the Ark was cleared in September-October 1920, forming vast wastelands. People from across Bukhara fled; mosques and madrasas stood empty.
With the fall of the Bukhara Emirate, Bukhara became the capital of the Bukhara People’s Soviet Republic and its center had to be built in accordance with new standards and a new urban development policy. Before 1920 no such policy had existed: not a coin from the emir’s treasury was spent on urban development projects and all the costs were borne by private individuals. But with the advent of Soviet power, a completely new system of accounting and distribution of income and expenditures for public utilities was set up. In the first three years of the new government, the Executive Committee of Bukhara found itself unable to develop the technical capabilities to implement schemes and organize the work of communal services. Then the responsibility for this work was shifted to the Central Departments of Nazirat of Internal Affairs, Finance, and State Control of the Bukhara Soviet Republic. The ancient city plan built only along the medieval caravan roads and around the walls of the shahristan. The task of composing a new general plan was taken up by specialists invited from Russia. They decided to turn Registan Square (renamed Independence Square in November 1920) into the administrative and political center of the new city.
From 1920 to 1930, all the ancient madrasas surrounding Registan were demolished: Bozori Gusfand madrasa, Dor ush-Shifo madrasa (both are visible in the first photo), Nihol madrasa, the Poyanda biy atalyk mosque (both are visible in the second photo), and Shadimbiy madrasa (very few photos have survived).
They were destroyed not only in order to make room for new administrative buildings, but also—indeed, primarily—for the purpose of extracting building material, as bricks were in short supply in Bukhara at that time. The facades of the new Soviet institutions were covered with new bricks and other materials that hid the ancient stones.
The facades of the new Soviet institutions were covered with new bricks and other materials that hid the ancient stones.
In the place of the madrasas were built the so-called “People’s House,” which later became the Regional Musical Drama Theater, the Uzbek Institute of Education (now School No. 6), and the building of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party.
Until 1924, electricity in Bukhara was generated by a small number of private power plants, the capacity of which was far from sufficient for the entire city. Then in January 1924, on the site of the lower palace of Emir Kuyi Khauli, which had been destroyed during the bombing, the first city diesel power plant was opened, making it possible to illuminate the entire city of Bukhara.
The authorities of the Bukhara People’s Socialist Republic faced many problems, with health care chief among them. Due to the many swamps in and around the city—which were home to the anopheles mosquito—as well as the numerous basins (khauz), almost the entire population of Bukhara was sick with malaria, while 20 percent of the population had Guinea worm. To address this issue, an Epidemiological Station was created in Bukhara, and in 1924 the Institute of Tropical Medicine was opened under the leadership of the famous parasitologist L.M. Isaev. A group of epidemiologists worked to identify the sources of diseases and eliminate them. In 1927-1929, under the leadership of the outstanding engineer and scientist V.G. Shukhov (1853–1939), a water tower was erected opposite the Arch. This brought a new water supply to the city, allowing many basins to be drained and gradually filled up with sand.
The ancient cemeteries, which occupied a significant proportion of the city, were also closed to new burials. With the elimination of the waqf system, many mosques, madrasas, and caravanserais began to deteriorate and gradually collapsed. Some of these buildings, like the homes of the exiled rich, were adapted into schools, libraries, clubs, hostels, warehouses, and workshops.
In 1922, the Russian government sent equipment for textile, paper, leather, and soap factories to Bukhara, as well as earmarking 50 million rubles to restore and expand the old cotton gins, oil mills, and tanneries—all to create more jobs and form a new proletariat class, which had been completely nonexistent at the time of the overthrow of the Emir.
Following the demarcation of Central Asia in late 1924 and early 1925, Bukhara lost its status as a capital and became the administrative center of the Zeravshan District.
By 1925, the city of Bukhara had practically restored itself after the bombing of the Red Army and continued its transition to a socialist way of public and private life. Even though in Uzbekistan the active process of women’s liberation—guided by the Khujum movement—began only in 1928, by that time it was already difficult to find a woman in Bukhara in a veil.
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