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Khiva (alternative names include Khorasam, Khoresm, Khwarezm, Khwarizm, Khwarazm, Chiwa and Chorezm) is a city in present day Uzbekistan, in the Khorezm Province . It is the former capital of Khwarezmia.
The district of Khwarazm, centred on the formerly rich and fertile delta of the Oxus or Amu-Darya, was an ancient centre of Iranic culture and Iranian architecture. In the very early part of its history, the inhabitants of the area were from Iranian stock, belonging to the Khwarazmian branch. They spoke an eastern Iranian language called Khwarezmian. As a consequence of the constant Turkic attack and migration, the Khiva area now has a mixed population of Karakalpaks, Uzbeks and Kazakhs, and has lost its Iranian language. Historically the main centre of population was Konya-Urgench or 'Old Urgench', but the city was abandoned owing to the depredations of the Mongols and Tamerlane, together with a shift in the course of the Amu-Darya. By the early 17th century the city of Khiva had become the capital of a Khanate of the same name, ruled over by a branch of the Chingissid Astrakhanid dynasty.
The discovery of gold on the banks of the Oxus during the reign of Peter the Great, together with the desire of Russia to open a trade route to India, prompted an armed trade expedition to the region, led by Prince Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky , and consisting of 4,000 men.
Upon receiving the men the Khan set up camp under the pretense of goodwill, then ambushed and slaughtered the envoys, leaving ten alive to send back. Peter the Great, indebted after wars with the Ottoman Empire and Sweden, did nothing.
Tsar Paul I also attempted to conquer the city, but his expedition was woefully undermanned and undersupplied, and was recalled en route due to his assassination. Tsar Alexander I had no such ambitions, and it is under Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III that serious efforts to annex the city started.
A curious episode during The Great Game involved a Russian expedition, in name to free the slaves captured and sold by Turcoman raiders from the Russian frontiers on the Caspian Sea, but also as an attempt to extend its borders while Great Britain entangled itself in the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1839. The expedition, led by General Perovsky , the commander of the Orenburg garrison, consisted of 5,200 infantry, and 10,000 camels. Due to poor planning and a bit of bad luck, they set off in November, 1839, into one of the worst winters in memory, and was forced to turn back on February 1, 1840, arriving back into Orenburg in May, suffering over 1,000 casualties without firing a single shot.
At the same time, the British, anxious to remove the pretext for the Russian attempt to annex Khiva, launched its own effort to free the slaves - a lone officer stationed in Herat. Captain James Abbott , disguised as an Afghan, set off on Christmas Eve, 1839, for Khiva. He arrived in late January, 1840, and although the Khan was suspicious of his identity, he succeeded in talking the Khan into allowing him to carry a letter for the Tsar regarding the slave issue. He left on March 7, 1840, for Fort Alexandrovsk , and was subsequently betrayed by his guide, robbed, then released when the bandits realized the origin and destination of his letter. Yet his superiors in Herat, not knowing of his fate, sent another officer, Lieutenant Richmond Shakespear , after him. Shakespear was evidently more successful than Abbott in that he somehow talked the Khan into not only freeing all Russian subjects under his control, but also making the ownership of Russian slaves a crime punishable by death. The freed slaves and Shakespear arrived in Fort Alexandrovsk on August 15, 1840, and Russia lost its primary motive for the conquest of Khiva, for now.
It was in 1873, after Russia conquered the neighbouring cities of Tashkent and Samarkand, when General Von Kaufman launched an attack consisting of 13,000 infantry and cavalry. The city fell on May 28, 1873, and although Russia now controlled the Khanate, it nominally allowed it to remain as a quasi-independent vassal nation, or Protectorate.
Once the Bolsheviks took power after the October revolution, a short lived People's Republic of Khorezm was created out of the territory of the old Khanate of Khiva, before in 1924 it was finally incorporated into the USSR, divided between the new Turkmen SSR and Uzbek SSR.
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