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Last modified: Friday, December 17, 2010

Osman Batur: Feudal bandit or Kazak hero?

Dec. 17, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Almost 60 years after his death, the Kazak warlord Osman Batur lives on in the competing narratives of Kazak nationalism and the post-colonial Chinese state, Justin Jacobs writes in the December 2010 issue of the American Historical Review.

In the article "The Many Deaths of a Kazak Unaligned: Osman Batur, Chinese Decolonization, and the Nationalization of a Nomad," Jacobs explores the transition from empire to nationalized state in China's Xinjiang region, where Osman fought for nomad autonomy against encroaching state authority.

American Historical Review

Casta paintings such as José de Alcíbar's De Español y Negra, Mulato (ca. 1760) represented attempts to classify people by descent at the time that the modern idea of race was coming into existence. In "Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering," William Max Nelson describes proposals for breeding "mulatto" soldiers in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which paradoxically developed along with Enlightenment ideas of inclusion and equality.

The American Historical Review is the official publication of the American Historical Association. Its editorial offices are at Indiana University Bloomington.

Jacobs, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, describes the "doomed struggle" that Osman waged from 1940 to 1951. Gaining support from a rotating cast of sponsors, including the Soviet Union, Mongolia and the United States, he fought on until February 1951, when he was captured and executed by forces of the People's Republic of China.

It took less than five years after his death for Osman to start becoming a myth. Western writers portrayed him and his followers as colorful heroes. And a small band of Kazak refugees who fled China and crossed the Himalayan passes into India kept his legend alive. Eventually some of that group settled in Turkey and transformed Osman into a hero of the Kazak diaspora -- at least for some segments of it.

Today, Osman Batur the unaligned nomad has disappeared from history, Jacobs writes. Instead, he has become a "proto-terrorist" who justified violent suppression of ethnic groups -- the Chinese version -- and "a neo-nomadist nationalist reincarnation of Genghis Khan" to Kazak nationalists.

Also in the December issue of the American Historical Review are an article on the origins of modern humanitarianism and an AHR Forum on Enlightenment studies.

In "The League of Nations' Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920-1927," Keith David Watenpaugh explores the League's rescue efforts after the 1915 genocide. Relying on source materials in several languages, the essay draws attention to the place of the Eastern Mediterranean and its women and children in the history of humanitarianism.

In the AHR Forum, Fredrik Albritton Jonsson explores how the defense of global commerce pioneered by Adam Smith and others was tied to the improvement of the natural order; William Max Nelson suggests an Enlightenment genealogy for racial engineering ideas associated with the 19th and 20th centuries; and Sophus A. Reinert takes on the conventional claim that the Enlightenment mainstream put its faith in peaceful laissez-faire economics. Karen O'Brien provides a concluding comment to the forum.

The American Historical Review is published five times a year by University of Chicago Press. More information is available at the AHR website,