The Gay Emir Of Bokhara And His Dancing Boys

Emir of Eokhara.

Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, Emir of Bokhara and the last direct descendant of Genghis Khan to serve as a national ruler. [Photo by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1911]

[by Lustralboy]  In 1868, Russian forces conquered the Emirate of Bukhara, one of the three Uzbek dynasties ruling Middle Asia. Unlike some territory in this region, the Emirate of Bokhara remained independent but became a Russian protectorate.  The emir was forced to open Bokhara to Russia trade, but Islam still remained influential and the emir ruled “unchecked” until 1920.  The Emirate of Bokhara had three subsequent emirs as a Russian protectorate, the last of whom was Saiyid Mir Alim (1880-1944).

Thirty-year-old son Sayed Mir-Alim succeeded to the throne of Bukhara in 1911. The new Emir returned to Bokhara for both his father’s funeral and his ceremonial enthronement in the Ark. Like his father, however, he disliked life in the Bokharan capital, and quickly retreated to the Palace of Shirbudun. Here, he re-instituted the Harem. It had previously fallen into abeyance, only now, Mir-Alim’s Harem was tailored to his own personal tastes. For the sake of appearance, he had a hundred young women installed in one wing; the other, the only wing that Mir-Alim entered, was filled with young boys. Some were captured prisoners, others, epicene members of the Bacha dancing troops.

Bacha dancer

Word of the new Emir’s preference for beautiful young men soon reached the capital but, having gone through the turmoil of the Shiite-Sunni conflict and occupation by Russian troops, the Government preferred to ignore the goings-on at Shiburdun. Mir-Alim was less than wholly dedicated to his new office. Following his father’s pattern, he began to spend long stretches of time away from Bokhara. Having attended school in St. Petersburg, he knew the city well, and in 1913 had a mansion built near his father’s Moscow residence. Two open courtyards provided light for the extravagantly decorated suites of rooms which Mir-Alim filled with expensive, imported furniture from Berlin, France, Brussels, and Vienna, all in the art nouveau style. A special set of apartments on the ground floor housed members of his male harem.

Bacha Dancer

For the first few years of his reign, Mir-Alim continued his father’s annual visits to the Romanov royal family in the Crimea, where he was warmly received. Invited by the Emperor in 1913 to attend the Imperial capital to mark the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, he appeared in a black robe completely embroidered in gold thread. Mir-Alim presented the Emperor and Empress with lavish gifts, and they reciprocated, showering him with a nephrite cigarette case set with the Emperor’s cipher in diamonds, and a solid silver clock with a statue of St. Dimitri, both pieces created by jeweler Carl Faberge. The outbreak of the First World War brought the return of the Emir to Bokhara. Here, his behaviour in daily view, discontent with Mir-Alim’s rule increased dramatically. The Kush-Beg-i, believing that the young Emir was not only dissolute but also less than dedicated to his duties, secretly convened a Divan Council. It agreed, in effect, to run the country. They would continue to present the Emir with state papers which required his signature, but all decisions affecting Bokhara’s internal and external affairs would be made in the Ark, behind closed and heavily guarded doors. When the Russian Revolution came in 1917, Bokhara faced an uncertain future.

For a time, Mir-Alim simply watched as events unfolded, though the Emir realized that it was only a matter of time before Bokhara would fall to the Bolsheviks. Throughout 1919, Mir-Alim hovered nervously between the Ark and Shiburdun, his bags packed for quick flight if the situation worsened. With the Red Army settled on the borders of his own country, Mir-Alim ordered his soldiers to prepare for a fight if the Bolsheviks tried to cross into Bokhara. By August 1920, their numbers had grown considerably, and in September they launched a full-scale offensive against the Bokharan Army. It took little more than two days for the Bolsheviks to completely destroy the Emir’s forces. The Bolsheviks then began their steady march north, toward the capital. With the Bolsheviks heading straight for the capital, Mir-Alim was overwhelmed with terror; disguising himself as a coachman, he fled the city on the night of 31 August, heading for the mountains. At the same time, nearly two dozen other members of the Mangit Dynasty also hastily packed their belongings and rode away from the capital, never to return. Most made their ways to Afghanistan, where they had been promised asylum.

afghan , dancing boys

Mir-Alim himself remained hidden in the mountains, trying to organize armed resistance to the Bolsheviks, but he was unable to arouse sufficient interest; in fact, many Bokharans were glad to be rid of the Emir, and welcomed the Bolsheviks with open arms, convinced that their plight would be improved through Soviet occupation. Mir-Alim’s flight from Bokhara, when it took place at the end of September, 1920, was not exactly inconspicuous. The Bolsheviks knew exactly where he was, and the head of the local Red Army garrison, which had stationed itself in the capital, dispatched more than a thousand armed soldiers to chase him down. Mir-Alim came up with his own, novel plan to distract his pursuers. More than five hundred members of the Court and suite fled with him, including his infamous Harem of some 200 young dancing boys.

As he rode across the mountains south toward Afghanistan, the Emir, in the words of Sir Fitzroy Maclean, dropped “favorite dancing boy after favorite dancing boy” at strategic points, convinced that the Bolsheviks would not be able to resist at least a temporary halt to enjoy the pleasures of each lad.150 The Bolsheviks, however, were less susceptible to the temptations of the young boys than the Emir himself had been, and either ignored or killed them in their pursuit. Finally the evil Emir reached Kabul, Afghanistan, where he died in 1944. He is buried at the Shuadoi Solehin cemetery.

PBS’s Frontline, in their 2010 piece, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan,” exposed the continuing practice called Bacha Bazi. Young Afghan boys are sold to warlords and powerful businessmen to be trained as dancers who perform for male audiences in women’s clothing and are then used and traded for sex. Not a lot has changed in this part of the world in the last one hundred years.

Dancer, Afghanistan,


0 thoughts on “The Gay Emir Of Bokhara And His Dancing Boys”

  1. I realise this might be considered trivial but the portrait shown above is not a painting but a photograph, taken by one of the great pioneers of colour photography using a three-colour printing method. Despite the disadvantages of not being able to manipulate the image using a paintbrush, Prokudin-Gorskii has managed to show us a lot about Khan’s love of luxury while the rest of the world falls to bits around him.

    1. You’re right. It’s a photo. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii appears to have made lifelike paintings, but he was also an avid photographer.

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