• Michael Laxer

Soviet Tashkent in photos and text, 1973 & 1980

With 18 photographs of the capital of the Uzbek SSR


Today we are going to take a look at Soviet Tashkent through 18 postcard photos as well as an article about the city from Soviet Life in 1973.


Tashkent was the largest city of the Uzbek SSR and was its capital from 1930 until the counter-revolution of 1989-1991. In 1973 its population was around 1.5 million. By 1991 when the USSR collapsed it was around 2.1 million and it was the fourth largest city in the Soviet Union.


After a devastating earthquake in 1966 Tashkent saw a massive rebuilding program that resulted in the construction of many new artistic and cultural centres, hundreds of thousands of new apartments and even a Metro.


While the article is from 1973 the postcard photos are from 1980 and show many of the city's interesting and futuristic architectural landmarks of the time such as the Circus building, the city's Central Gymnasium, the Samarkand Tea-House, the Blue Domes Cafe, the Communist Party's publishing house and the Lenin Central Museum.


The article details the growth of not only the city but of Uzbekistan itself during the Soviet era in terms of industry, culture, education. literacy (Uzbekistan went from a literacy rate of just 2% at the time of the revolution to universal literacy by the 1960s) and importance.


"It is said that the sun is reflected in a drop of water. In a like manner Tashkent reflects the essence of Soviet life. Here, as in the rest of Uzbekistan, people of dozens of nationalities live peacefully and work and study together. We felt the power of this friendship with particular force during the days of the Tashkent earthquake in 1966. In literally a few hours Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin were in Tashkent. That very day a government commission was formed, and two days later the first train arrived from the Ukrainian city of Lugansk with volunteer builders. All the republics of the Soviet Union allocated funds and materials to help rebuild Tashkent. And a large modern new city was indeed built in a very short period of time."


An Apartment Block and a Children's Shop on May 1 St.


Hotel Tashkent


Editorial Department Building of the CP Central Committee of Uzbekistan Publishing House and the branch of the Lenin Central Museum.


A part of the Main Building of the Tashkent University


Hotel Uzbekistan


Central Gymnasium


Kukeldash Madrasah


Airport


Exhibition Hall of the Artists Union of Uzbekistan


Samarkand Tea-House


Youth Hotel


Blue Domes Cafe


Tashkent Department Store


Inner yard of the Applied Arts Museum of the Uzbek SSR


Cooperation House


Bath House


State Arts Museum of the Uzbek SSR


Circus Building



Article by Uzbek journalist Nikolai Rahmanov from Soviet Life, 1973:


CITIES, LIKE PEOPLE, have a character of their own, a face, a biography, a name and age...so has Tashkent.


Let's begin with its age. Nobody knows the exact date it was founded, but by 330 B.C., when Alexander the Great invaded Central Asia, it was already a large and flourishing city whose fame had spread as far as Greece. Some ancient sources set the date of Tashkent's birth around 1000 B.C. Our land witnessed hundreds of conquerors over the ages. That's how the city got its name. Defending themselves against foreign invaders, our ancient ancestors turned their city into a stone fortress and named it Tashkent. Tash is Uzbek for stone and kent for city.


Different cities advanced to prominence at different periods. In the fifteenth century Samarkand was renowned as a city of science, with Ulugh-Beg's observatory its emblem. Sacred Bukhara, a city of remarkable architectural monuments was one of the religious centers of the Moslem Orient. Khorezm preserved for us vivid evidence of the original ancient culture of the Central Asian peoples, and Fergana was and remains a living exhibition of the soil's bounty. Kokand is called the homeland of poets . Margelan is famous for its satins and silks. Andizhan is known as the place from which Babur (Zahir ud- Din Mohammed ), founder of the great Mogul dynasty in India, set out on his campaign, and Shakhrisyabz as Tamerlane's birthplace.


Tashkent has long been an established trade and industrial center of Uzbekistan, the golden gate to Russia and, via Russia, to the world market. The first industrial installations and railways, electric lines and sundry machinery, the telephone and phonograph made their way into Central Asia at the close of the nineteenth century through Tashkent. And wherever industry develops, a working class emerges. Tashkent became a major revolutionary center, and Soviet power was established here, as in Central Russia, in October 1917. The Stone City of Tashkent has been a citadel of socialism in the East ever since.


This fundamental turning point in history determined Tashkent's present status. The Uzbeks say, "A bird's strength is in its wings, man's -- in friendship.” This saying has been confirmed repeatedly in the history of my people. Before the Revolution, the Uzbek, in his native land, was looked upon as a second -rate citizen. Referring to him, signs in hotels and czarist government institutions read, "Sarts and dogs not admitted."


The Uzbek today is an active and equal member of the socialist family of peoples, and Uzbekistan a sovereign socialist republic with its own emblem, state flag, constitution and capital Tashkent.


At the turn of the century no more than two per cent of Uzbekistan's population was literate, and the czarist government allocated a pittance for education. A magazine published at that time calculated that if the rate at which people were being educated were to remain unchanged, it would take 4,600 years to make Central Asia a literate region.


But it took only 50 years for Uzbekistan to become a country of universal literacy. Whereas a mosque with a semiliterate mullah had been an indispensable architectural attribute of an Uzbek city or kishlak ( village) before the Revolution, today a beautiful light-swept school is one of the first buildings to go up, not only in every neighborhood of Tashkent, but in the most remote kishlak as well. It is only in their history class that young people learn what it means to pay for an education. The law stipulates universal compulsory secondary education, and the Constitution guarantees that it is free.


The capital's main seat of culture is Tashkent University. Its history provides a vivid example of the friendship of the Soviet peoples.


On September 7 , 1920, Lenin signed a decree on the founding of Turkestan University in the city of Tashkent. The Civil War was still going on, the young Soviet power was still weak and poor, but it was already laying the foundation of the future culture of Central Asia's peoples. Not only a decree was signed, but a large sum of money was appropriated, and "a train of knowledge" left Moscow for Tashkent. The distance today is covered by plane in five hours, but in those days the trip by that train took almost two months. The professors going to Tashkent became soldiers and had to defend with arms their train and its priceless freight, indeed priceless, because it was made up of books, study aids and laboratory equipment gifts from Russia's universities to their young Tashkent counterpart.


That was how Tashkent University came into being. Many departments eventually grew into independent institutes and today are ranked with their alma mater. In 1943, at the height of the Second World War, an Uzbek Academy of Sciences was formed which today conducts fundamental research in all fields of contemporary knowledge.


It is a writer's responsibility to reveal the basic laws of life. As a literary critic, I proceed from this very concept in all my articles and searching for these laws, compare present-day reality with the past . Today Uzbekistan grows four and a half million tons of high-grade cotton. To compare that with its prerevolutionary crops is to compare a mountain with a mouse. What's the secret behind it? The soil is the same, so is the sun. But the people -- it's the people who have changed. And here again I can't help recalling that saying about friendship. Russian cities in their day helped Tashkent build plants and factories, turbines were sent in from the Ukraine, and the entire land of Soviets shared its experience with Uzbekistan.


What has happened to the traditional figure of the cotton grower? He no longer exists. Geneticists select fast-growing, high-yield, long-staple varieties of cotton. Geologists and irrigators teach the collective farmer how to cultivate the soil more efficiently. Chemists recommend the best fertilizers. Uzbekistan's factories and plants manufacture seeders, tractors and mechanical cotton pickers. Tashkent's character, the basis of which is loyalty to friendship, was displayed during the years of the Second World War in the actions of its citizens.


One of them was an ordinary worker | met several times, the modest blacksmith Shoakhmed Shomakhmudov. Uzbekistan was deep in the rear during the war against German Nazism, but thousands of threads linked it with the front. Here is what happened: A group of orphaned children were brought to Tashkent from the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia and other war-torn territories. The burden of war is a heavy one for man, but it is ten times harder for a child deprived of a parent's care and caresses.


That was when blacksmith Shoakhmed Shomakhmudov adopted 16 children. In recalling this, we usually emphasize the number. But the main thing is not that the Uzbek blacksmith brought up so many orphans, but that they were children of different nationalities. Patriotism, humanism and internationalism have become part of Soviet people's makeup. The character of the city and its citizens brought into being a new international term, "the spirit of Tashkent,” which has become a synonym for good will. The term emerged 15 years ago, when the first conference of Afro-Asian writers in defense of peace was held in Tashkent.


Ten years later writers again assembled in Tashkent to discuss their most important creative problems. The work of that symposium was enriched by the participation of writers from all other continents. The Tashkent Afro-Asian film festival, which has become traditional, is held here every two years.


Not a month passes without some international undertaking, scientific session, symposium or conference taking place in our city.


It is said that the sun is reflected in a drop of water. In a like manner Tashkent reflects the essence of Soviet life. Here, as in the rest of Uzbekistan, people of dozens of nationalities live peacefully and work and study together. We felt the power of this friendship with particular force during the days of the Tashkent earthquake in 1966. In literally a few hours Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin were in Tashkent. That very day a government commission was formed, and two days later the first train arrived from the Ukrainian city of Lugansk with volunteer builders. All the republics of the Soviet Union allocated funds and materials to help rebuild Tashkent. And a large modern new city was indeed built in a very short period of time.


Today Tashkent reminds me of a person in his prime. Its strength and energy lie in its polyglot population of almost a million and a half. The city is changing before our very eyes. It is growing in breadth, with absolutely new districts coming into being, and climbing upward, with multistoried towers going up alongside four - and five - storied buildings.


And way down below the ground a subway is being built. The growth and transformation of the Uzbek capital is so rapid that historians have a hard time recording its progress. It almost seems as though a very fast working artist is daily adding new strokes, lines and details to his canvas, making the portrait ever more complete and beautiful. It is really happening, and the artist is my fellow countryman, the citizen of Tashkent.



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