Qurultaı

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Foundation

Following the death of Ibrahim Enver and the peace treaty with Russia, the various Basmaçı groups turned their attention to the problems of statehood and forming a government.

There were various factions, just as there had been among the Basmaçı; the traditional aristocracy or Aq Süyük ("White Bone"), who had resented the Russians' usurping of their traditional authority, and the common people or Qara Süyük ("Black Bone"), who hated the Russians but many of whom were no longer convinced of the ability of the White Bone to lead; the settled peoples and the nomads; the Turkic peoples and the Tajiks; and above all the different religious groups: Muslims, Assyrian Christians, Zoroastrians, Manesians, Buddhists and Judaists. Each of these potential areas of conflict would have to be addressed and balanced, otherwise, as the saying went, we might as well hand the country back to Russia!

Form of the Qurultaı Government

The eventual form taken by the government was conciliar in nature, just as it had been among the Basmaçı. Power rested in the hands of a National Qurultaı (or Council) made up of all the various khans, biis, emirs, bais and leaders of the various cities and nomadic groups of Turkestan, together with religious leaders of the different faiths- an extension of the Basmaçı Council, in fact.

This somewhat unwieldy assembly appeared to the outsider to be designed to minimise central authority and make government activity improbable, but it perfectly fit the perceived needs of the Turkestanis to be left alone to manage their own affairs.

Regular annual conventions of the Qurultaı were scheduled in which any intertribal or intercity conflicts or business would be settled, and for the most part, the loose confederation of nomadic tribes and city-khanates were left to fend for themselves. National-level issues such as defence and diplomacy were placed under the jurisdiction of more-or-less ad-hoc working groups revolving around single issues. The glue that held this rather chaotic freewheeling system together was the mutual agreement of all to abide by the rulings of the Qurultaı, together with the strong, unspoken recognition that if Turkestan were to remain free, Turkestanis of all lifestyles and faiths would have to work together.

By general consensus, any Turkestani leader could attend the Qurultaı convention and be recognised as a full speaking member, and the conventions quickly gathered the atmosphere and momentum of a national festival. Crowds of hangers-on would come to the chosen convention site, and while the leaders sat in council, there would be performances by troupes of Central Asian dancers and musicians, lyrical poetry battles between the poets of various nations, sporting competitions, and other entertainments. At the end of the Qurultaı convention (which would begin on the first of May in a different city or nomadic encampment each year), everyone would return home. It was sometimes said that the real business of the Qurultaı happened _outside_ of the Council meetings.

By common tradition, the host in whose city or encampment the Qurultaı was held would chair the council meetings, and it became something of a double-edged sword to host a Qurultaı. On the one hand, there was the power of the chairmanship and the prestige of hosting the government that would attach to both a leader and his people, but on the other hand, the responsibilities of feeding the festival attendees and organising the entertainment could sometimes nearly bankrupt them.

Other, irregular meetings of just the Qurultaı council could be called by any of the leaders to resolve a pressing issue or emergency situation, and it became recognised that it was in the interest of leaders to attend these meetings if possible, lest a decision be made that adversely affected them.

This governmental system, which some have likened to a League of Nations in miniature, was in place in Turkestan during the entire period from 1922-1946. Turkestanis of all religions and lifestyles, whether nomad, rural farmer or city-dweller, found a place to air their grievances and seek justice, while retaining the freedom to manage their own affairs without outside interference, while the festival provided a place for friendly competition and reaffirmation of the shared culture and common heritage of all people of Turkestan.

End of the Qurultaı

It was the freewheeling, chaotic nature of the system that was eventually to be its undoing, however. Against the Russian "liberators" , highly centralised and militarily organised, the anarchic Turkestani National Qurultaı was virtually helpless. While great at mobilising the people, they were unable to take advantage of tactical breakthroughs in any larger strategic framework, and the feeble and disjointed resistance to a second Russian invasion fell apart and was largely forgotten by history.

After the fall of the Snorist Government of National Unity, several of the myriad Political Parties of Turkestan have favoured reinstating a Qurultaı-type government in one form or another. The largest of these is the Democratic Qurultaı.

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