U.S. and ‘Turkestan’ Political Exiles during the Cold War: Information Policy of Radio Liberty in Soviet Central Asia

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US policy in Central Asia is a topical issue that causes discussions among researchers. One can't help wondering about the origins of this policy, particularly during the Cold War era. This, in turn, leads scholars to question the U.S.'s role in the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the formation of independent states in the former territory of Soviet Central Asia. This article discusses the effectiveness of American propaganda services operating in Central Asia during the Cold War. The most prominent structure which tried to influence political sentiments of population of this region was Radio Liberty (RL). It consisted of former Nazi collaborators during World War II, and Soviet propaganda apparatus used this situation. RL used the concept of a united anti-communist Turkestan which was unacceptable for real situations in Soviet Central Asia. Jamming and the lack of feedback from listeners made great obstacles for activity of RL in this region. That is why the author attempts to prove that the effective-ness of this activity was not so great as its financial support. Using archives of Russian and American security services and documents of Central Asian archives, future scholars will have the possibility to clarify this conclusion.

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The problem of nationalism was one of the key questions in the Cold War. The Soviet Union was a multinational country and the U.S. tried to use this special characteristic in global confrontation. The U.S. activity in Central Asia is among some of the most under-explored yet interesting episodes in the history of the Cold War. This region attracted attention of American propaganda and security services. Central Asia was a significant part of the Soviet Union; therefore, for the U.S. it was very important to receive more information about this region and to attempt to influence the political situation. It was also necessary to form a structure which specialized in anti-Soviet propaganda in the different languages of Central Asia. Radio Liberty (RL) was to be such a structure.

The emergence of RL was associated with a sharp aggravation of Soviet-American relations, a kind of “apogee”: the Korean War. The foundation of RL was initiated by the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism which was headed by Eugene Lyons. Most of the members of the Committee (William Chamberlin, Charles Edison, Isaak Don Levin and some others) had specialized in “Russian” problems for many years, but they only had a vague idea of the mentality of the various peoples of the USSR (particularly peoples of Central Asia). This station was formed as Radio Liberation, and broadcasting began in 1953. Initially funded by the CIA, RL broadcasted on nine transmitters located in Western Germany from studios in Munich. Three of these nine transmitters broadcast fifteen-minute programs in the minority languages of the Soviet Union (particularly the languages of Central Asia). About 40 percent of the scripts originated in New York; 30 percent came from Munich; and 30 percent from outside contributors.[1] American management, therefore, determined an important part of the program content of RL. The station was renamed Radio Liberty in 1959, and Radio Free Europe joined it in 1976. There were many well-known dissidents and non-conformists among RL’s journalists. Only in 1988 did Soviet authorities stop the jamming of RL broadcasting. After the end of the Cold War, financial resources of RL decreased and some national services were closed.

This article tries to prove that RL was not an effective instrument in fighting the Cold War in Central Asia due to the lack of relevant personnel, an unrealistic concept of Turkestan, and the lack of information concerning that region (especially concerning the significance of an Islamic factor), and the jamming and lack of feedback.

A history of study and scholarship base

The activities of RL toward the peoples of Central Asia were discussed in a number of comprehensive works by Soviet authors who were devoted to the ideological confrontation between the U.S. and the USSR. Soviet propaganda literature stressed that, among the employees of the U.S. institutions specializing in Central Asian problems, there were many people who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. This situation was particularly emphasized in the memoirs of Taukel Amirov, a soldier of the Red Army and imprisoned during World War II, who ended up serving in the “Turkestan” legion of the Wehrmacht.[2] Another Soviet author, Serik Shakibaev, also wrote about the use of the former Turkestan legionnaires by the Americans in their ideological struggle against the Soviet Union.[3] The authors of these papers believed that their primary goal was to expose the futility of the “Liberty” radio station's attempts to influence the political consciousness of Soviet society.

This problem is also covered by some studies written by modern Central Asian historians. One of the most significant works is by Kazakh historian Bakhyt Sadykova, who wrote about collaboration between some RL officers and Nazi Germany during World War II[4]. Such studies are mainly devoted to World War II; the Cold War era is not the center of their attention.

The history of RL has received some coverage in American research literature. An important contribution to the study of American propaganda in the Soviet Union was made by L. Martin and A. Snyder. L. John Martin, a journalist from Detroit Free Press and a professor at the Universities of Minnesota, Oregon and Nebraska, characterized American international propagandist as having “a choice of truths.” Furthermore, an officer of these propaganda institutions was “on firmer ground” when he was telling the truth than when he was telling downright lies.[5] In his monograph, L. John Martin briefly described the formation of the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism and its activities in the 1950s. He showed that there was a rapid development of American propaganda apparatus and an increase of its activity during the Cold War. Alan Snyder, a former Worldnet director, retold the entire history of American inter national propaganda in the Cold War from the late 1940s to the 1980s.[6] Snyder also touched upon some technical aspects of this activity, for example, he wrote about the system of transmitters that were used by RL. Since Alan Snyder participated in the ideological struggle led by the American propaganda apparatus in the Cold War, his book contains personal impressions about this epoch. The main stages of the history of the United States Information Agency (USIA) were presented in detail in a number of studies by Nicholas Cull, particularly in his monograph.[7]

In 2013 Cold War History`s special issue was devoted to “Radio Wars” during the Cold War (articles by Linda Risso and Friederike Kind-Kovacs are the most important for our research).[8] It`s necessary to highlight also the article by Javier Gil Guerrero devoted to American propaganda campaign directed at Islam during the Carter administration. He stresses that

the damage control effort was transformed into an attempt to rally Muslims – both outside and inside the Soviet Union – against Soviet Communism.[9]

Simo Mikkonen’s articles, dedicated to how the American secret services used emi grants from the USSR to further their own goals, are also worthy of note.[10]

Generally, though, American authors were reluctant to discuss the methods used by RL to spread anti-Communist propaganda among the populations of Soviet Central Asia. Rarely did historians resort to materials from the personal archives of the American ma nagement representatives of this radio station, which makes the problem of American policy in Soviet Central Asia all the more interesting and needing further research.

In this aspect it’s necessary to highlight study by Artemy Kalinovsky.[11] “An intelligence officer and occasional scholar” Paul Henze is at the center of this article.  The author proves that particularly Henze played a great role in “bringing the view of hard-line Cold War Orientalists” into the policy mainstream of America.[12] Artemy Kalinovsky actively used materials deposited at Carter Library.

This present study is based on archival material stored in the Department of Special Collections, Georgetown University Library (Washington DC, USA). Here reside perso nal papers of the people who had great influence on the formation of the information po licy of “Radio Liberation”/“Radio Liberty” at different stages of its history. We mean, for example, Robert Kelly,[13] who spearheaded 'Radio Liberation' in the 1950s; and John Lodeesen,[14] who occupied a key position at the radio station from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. The official correspondence of these people along with the radio station staff and officials of the U.S. government agencies, allows one to clarify the decision-making mechanism at the radio station and the formation of information policy at RL.

Among the personal documents used in this current study is a memoir by Turkmen anti-communist activist Murat Tachmyrat,[15] who worked at RL. The crucial feature of this memoir is the author's desire to explain his political behavior and to stress that he always fought against Communism for the independence of Turkmenistan.

Apart from personal documents, the protocols of anti-Communist conferences which took place in West Germany in the 1950s were used. These conferences, organized by the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism, laid the groundwork for the formation of RL. Additionally, exiles from Central Asia also participated in these meetings. Documents deposited at the State Archives of the Russian Federation provide evidence on the formation of the anti-Communist bloc of peoples of the Soviet Union and show deep contradictions between its founders already at the beginning of the 1950s Comparing the data provided by all these sources, it is possible to understand the special characteristics of RL activity in Soviet Central Asia during the Cold War.

A way to the radio: Rl experts on Central Asia problems

American management of RL had very difficult task – to find qualified personnel for “Turkestan” service. There were very few intellectuals among political emigres from Soviet Central Asia during the Cold War. Their fates were closely connected with World War II; they actively collaborated with Nazi Germany. One of the main collaborators was Karis Kanatbay, who was ethnically Kazakh and a former Soviet mining engineer. In 1941, as a lieutenant of the Red Army, he was captured by the Germans.[16] He was in a POW camp in Latvia where he made friends with Mustafa Chokay,[17] a famous figure of the anti-Bolshevik movement of the peoples of Central Asia during the 1920s. Kanatbay joined the Wehrmacht infantry battalion 'Turkestan'. After the defeat of the Nazis, Karis Kanatbay surrendered to British forces and lived in Western Europe.

Kanatbay's closest ally was Aman Berdymurat. Before World War II, he had been a lecturer at Ashgabat Polytechnic Institute (in the Turkmen Soviet Republic) and worked on his thesis “The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union.”[18] He was also captured by German Army and began to collaborate with the Nazis.

One of the key persons at the Turkestan service of RL was Murat Tachmyrat. He was born in 1920 in Soviet Turkmenistan. Before World War II, he was a student at the Ashkhabad Pedagogical Institute. After the start of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, he was drafted into the Red Army and was soon captured. He was in POW camps in Latvia too. In captivity Tachmyrat joined the Wehrmacht battalion “Turkestan,”  where he met Aman Berdymurat. After the end of the war, they worked together at the Turkestan service of RL and at the related structures created in the 1950s (for example, at the Munich Institute for the Study of the USSR).[19]

As a result, we see that World War II played an important role in the formation of this small group of people. These people met in POW camps in Latvia and Wehrmacht battalion “Turkestan.” Firstly, they were intellectual leaders of Nazi action oriented to former soldiers and officers from Soviet Central Asia. It was difficult to understand – were they truly supporters of anti-Soviet ideology in that period? It was possible they wanted only to survive in the hard conditions of the Nazi camps. After the Nazis defeat, they had no choice; a way to the Motherland was closed for them as former collaborators. In conditions of Cold War, the U.S. was interested in them as specialists on Soviet Central Asia.

It was a small group; there were no people who were born in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Since American management did not know national languages of Soviet Central Asia, they had to use emigres from the others regions of Soviet Union. Unfortunately, these emigres were also former participants of different Nazi actions during World War II. For example, Tamurbek Davletshin, born near Ufa in 1904, was an ethnic Tatar. In the Soviet Union, Davletshin managed to make quite a successful career; he became an attorney in 1934. After that, he was the head of the Institute of Feasibility Studies in Ufa and a member of the Communist Party. After the start of the Soviet-German war in 1941, Davletshin was captured and then cooperated with the Nazis. He worked at the Tatar Department of the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, headed by Alfred Rosenberg. After the creation of RL, Davletshin became the director of the Research Institute. Suddenly he became a kind of expert on problems of Kyrgyzstan.[20]

One of experts on Turkmenistan was Edige Kyrymal (Shinkevich) who was a Crimean Tatar. Like Davletshin, during World War II, Kyrymal actively collaborated with the Nazis as the chairman of the Crimean Tatar Center, which was created in Berlin.[21] After World War II he helped many soviet Crimean Turks to stay in the West. Kyrymal was known as the main specialist on Crimean Tatar problems, an author of the book “National struggle of Crimean Turks” (1952) and the editor-en-chief of “Dergi” journal.

Due to the lack of relevant personnel, Azerbaijani Suleiman Tekiner became aware of Uzbek problems. During many years he was a prominent participant of Azerbaijani national movement, the leader of the Azerbaijani cultural society in Turkey, and after the establishment of RL he was the head of the Azerbaijani service.[22]

There seemed to be a difference in the methods used to manage RL in Soviet Central Asia and some others soviet republics. Americans needed to control such journalists as former collaborators with Nazis. Services which worked in Central Asia enjoyed relative freedom since the American management of these radio stations did not control them as tightly as, for example, Americans controlled the Russian service of RL. If the struggle against “Russian nationalism” was conducted at the “Liberty” station for many years, this was not the case with the Central Asian station. The reason for this situation was simple: the lack of specialists fluent in local languages. This was recognized by the American managers themselves. In 1985, John Lodeesen wrote that RL always checked texts before the beginning of programs. Exceptions to this rule, though, were “Caucasian and Tajik programs” because “among the members of the American ma nagement nobody understood the languages.”[23] This situation was typical not only for Tajik programs but for news programs in the other languages of Central Asia. Such situation was a great trouble for the successful work of RL in Soviet Central Asia.

As a result, this lack of relevant personnel was one of the main problems for Turkestan service of RL. American management had to use a rather small group of people who were former Nazi collaborators during World War II. Therefore, it was easy for the Soviet propaganda apparatus to fight against them.

“Turkestan” versus nationalism: concept by Mustafa Chokay and real soviet Central Asia

The question of nationhood hindered propaganda by RL in Central Asia. The ideo logy of “Turkestan” service of RL was based on the ideas of Mustafa Chokay. For many years he fought for a united, independent Turkestan, and the unification of different nationalities in their struggle against Soviet Communism. Therefore, the special characteristics of these nationalities seemed unimportant to him.

According to Marta Brill Olcott, after the national delimitation of 1924, Soviet power tried to increase the distinctiveness of the Central Asian nationalities.[24] New histories of these nationalities were written; the Soviet authorities tried to cultivate the old historical and dialectical differences between the nationalities. Although, as Robert Daniels wrote, their languages

are more or less mutually intelligible and their speakers are intermingled across all boundaries.[25]

The aim of this policy was to subdivide the ethnic consciousness of the substantial bloc of Muslim Turks. As a result, many people in Soviet Central Asia found it difficult to support the ideas by Chokay because at school they had been taught something completely different.

After World War II, former collaborators with Nazi Germany and supporters of ideas by Chokay, formed Turkestan National Liberation Committee, “Turkeli.” This organization participated in establishing RL in the early 1950s. Turleli was connected with attempts to form a Soviet 'government in exile', which was initiated by the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism in the early 1950s. The Americans attempted to create a single body of representatives of different peoples of the USSR; they promised to give it a powerful modern anti-Communist propaganda tool, a radio station. To achieve this, a large meeting was held in the West German city of Wiesbaden in 1951. However, it showed rather weak ties connecting the Americans with associations of Soviet emigres. The only structure to represent peoples from Central Asia in this meeting was “Turkeli.” But “Turkeli” did not express the political mood of the emigres of all the peoples of Central Asia; for instance, this committee had no Tajik or Uzbek members. This indicates not only the limited ties between the U.S. and the Soviet emigrant circles, but also reveals a rather narrow political base for an achievable compromise between the anti-Communist associations of emigres from the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, for many years this idea was the main point made by the American management of RL.

The founders of the American Committee believed that it was necessary to focus on the opposition movements of the peoples of the USSR as a decisive factor in the eli mination of the existing regime in the country. For example, the Governor of the State of New Jersey Charles Edison, a soon-to-be member of the American Committee, stressed in a speech in May 1951:

The overthrow of the Soviet regime would be the best news for centuries. But only the peoples of Russia, the first and greatest victims of Communist tyranny, can do it.[26]

We see that he spoke about “peoples of Russia” though for “Turkeli” it was not correct sentence.

But even “Turkeli,” these seemingly compromise-orientated participants, quickly escalated the situation in Wiesbaden. Karis Kanatbay immediately said:

For us Turkestan peoples, the title “The Council of the Liberation of Peoples of Russia” (the name of the future single body proposed by the Russian emigres. – A.A.) is not suitable <...> Because Turkestan is a certain geographic entity. And our people say: “when we say ‘Russia,’ Turkestan is automa tically included within Russia.”[27]

This latter option was unacceptable to “Turkeli.” Kanatbay immediately made it clear that he opposed the fate of the included state being decided at the Russian Consti tuent Assembly, which was supposed to be held after the collapse of Communism:

In this case, the Turkestan people would have no opportunity to decide their own destiny. They would have to choose delegates and send them to Moscow or somewhere else for the meeting.[28]

Kanatbay stressed, moreover: “After the overthrow of Bolshevism our people will decide their destiny in Turkestan. ”[29] In other words, separatist sentiments were typical even for relatively “moderate” emigrant politicians from Central Asia.

In the early 1950s, it was already clear that the leaders of political associations of emigres from Soviet Central Asia focused on the struggle for the independence of their republics. Even before the collapse of Communism they sought to gain their Russian partners’ consent for the complete political independence of Central Asia. It is no coincidence that at the new emigrant forum in Tegernsee (Western Germany) in 1953, Aman Berdymurat asked Russian anti-Communists whether they were ready to sign a statement on self-determination for the various peoples of the Soviet Union.[30]

Despite the fact that the idea of compromise between Russian and other emigrant groups from the Soviet Union actually failed (Russian organizations believed that post-Communist Russia must be created within the boundaries of the USSR), on 1st March 1953, Radio Liberation began broadcasting. “Turkestan Service” went on the air on this day too. This was not by chance because it was in that year that the US Information Agency (USIA) was formed by President Eisenhower. Propaganda towards the Soviet Union was one of its main aims.

Radio Liberation focused on the national contradictions that existed in the USSR. The basic principles of the radio stations were clearly expressed in 1954 in the memorandum by M. Williams, one of the managers of “Liberation,” which was sent to the station staff. Williams particularly stressed the following:

The sole purpose of Radio Liberation is the liberation of the peoples of the USSR from the Communist regime. All the peoples inhabiting the territory of the USSR have an unlimited right to de termine their own destiny through the democratic expression of their will after the overthrow of the Communist regime.[31]

The journalists of RL gradually began to understand that the concept by Chokay was unacceptable for the situation in Soviet Central Asia. They began to speak about nationality sentiments in different republics. Special attention was paid to the problem of nationalism in Soviet Central Asia at structures associated with Radio Liberty in the mid-1960s. Robert Kelly’s archival collection devoted to a 1965 special seminar, “On Nationalism in Soviet Central Asia,” was discovered. It is interesting to note some key questions which were posed by the seminar organizers:

  • What is the strength of national feeling among the local Communists and how is it reflected in their attitude towards non-Asian Communists and Communist Party leaders in Moscow?
  • Is there any visible manifestation of the nationalist movement in the form of campaigning for greater autonomy or the desire for national independence?
  • Is there any interest or sympathy among fighters for national liberation in Central Asia with the events in Vietnam, in the Congo and in other former colonies?[32]

The seminar was attended by emigrant intellectuals from Central Asia, as well as by experts from the Institute for the Study of the USSR associated with RL. Some papers at the seminar were devoted to the general problems of development of national relations in Soviet Central Asia. Among them, for example, was one such speech delivered by S. Voronitsyn,

The Nature and Manifestations of Nationalism and National Consciousness Among Young People of the Central Asian Soviet Republics.[33]

The nature and forms of nationalism in Kazakhstan were discussed by B. Riza who stressed that this republic “was chosen by Moscow as an experimental field for Russian assimilation policy.”[34]

Due to the lack of qualified national experts on Soviet Central Asia, RL had to entrust regional studies to specialists from other Muslim republics of the Soviet Union. For example, Azerbaijani Suleiman Tekiner made a speech at the seminar on the problem of nationalism in Uzbekistan. Suleiman Tekiner tried to prove that the

national consciousness of Uzbeks, who were active participants in the movement of national resistance to the Communist regime in Turkestan, was still quite strong and palpable.[35]

However, that speech raised a very difficult question: why was it difficult to find evidence of Uzbeks' anti-government, nationalist protests? Realizing this, Suleiman Tekiner pointed out that it was necessary to take into account that Uzbekistan was “an occupied country”: “its national borders are controlled by the Soviet troops and border guards... There are many Soviet agents among Uzbeks.” Some other participants of this seminar spoke about strong nationalistic sentiments among Uzbeks. They tried to prove that there were very difficult relations between Russians and Uzbeks in Soviet Uzbekistan[36].

In general, ideological aims were typical for the majority of the speakers at this seminar. It seemed that this was particularly true for the report “Nationalism in Tajikistan,” by Emirdzhan. Clearly, the author tried to find facts which would reveal manifestations of nationalism in this republic. He worked hard on Soviet press sources, which were the main outlets for all emigres researching the situation in the USSR. However, all his efforts resulted in almost complete failure, and he was forced to admit:

In recent years, there have been no specific facts about the manifestations of nationalism among Tajiks in the Russian press.[37]

Despite this situation, he wrote an extensive 20-page report, which did not contain any facts about the manifestations of nationalism in Soviet Tajikistan.

In 1970s the importance of the nationality question in USSR was clear for prac tically all observers. Particularly RL was the main American tool in that field; Ameri can managers of RL realized that it was necessary to improve the thrust of the station. As a result, in the 1970s they kept changing its structure. One of the main changes took place in 1972–1973. Maurice Dyakovsky became the head of all national services; in charge of the Armenian, Georgian and North Caucasian outreach.[38] The Turkestan service was divided into three parts. The American managers understood that Chokay's ideas were unacceptable for the Brezhnev era. It was practically impossible to propagandize for a united Turkestan because the majority of intellectuals in Central Asia thought that this was Utopian: they were supporters of local cultures. Murat Tachmyrat became the chief editor of the Turkmen-Tajik-Kyrgyz programs. Nevertheless, the American management preserved such terms as “Turkestan” in its structure. In 1975 Murat Tachmyrat became a correspondent and program specialist on “Turkestan affairs,” his office being a part of the National Department of RL.[39]

This situation, of course, influenced the work of the radio station. The structural changes were also caused by the difficult situation that arose at the 'Liberty' station in the 1970s. Internal conflicts damaged the image of this leading anti-Communist radio station. However, the atmosphere of structural instability only complicated the working conditions for employees of “Liberty.”

Officers of the former Turkestan service wanted to believe that they represented the correct image of Central Asia in their programs. RL broadcast some series, for example, “Sovietization of Turkestan and its consequences,” “Falsification of history and culture in Turkestan,” “Struggle for national liberation and Basmachi movement,” “Victims of Stalin's terror.” These series were aimed at providing critical analysis of the current situation in Soviet Central Asia, exploding some of the myths of Soviet propaganda. And RL continued to speak about Turkestan as a single body.

But the real situation in Soviet Central Asia was very contradictory due to the special characteristics of Soviet policy. Khrushchev and Brezhnev played down the spectre of the Stalinist terror and developed a more decentralized political and economic system. Some new émigrés from Soviet Union knew about these special characteristics of Central Asia. For example, famous sculptor Ernest Neizvestny stressed that Central Asia depended on communist ideology not so strongly as some others republics.[40] Soviet Central Asia was to demonstrate successes of Soviet power for Asian and African countries. Local intellectuals wanted to have such cultural level as their comrades in others republics. As a result, real atmosphere in Soviet Central Asia was rather free. But RL did not speak about it.

Control from the Center lessened, which resulted in the process of formation of local “mafias” consisting of Party and State apparatus representatives. As Ronald Suny wrote, the national political elite promoted the creation of a corrupt system of patronage, favoritism towards the titular nation, and “the widespread practice of bribe-taking and payoffs.” For the local population, though,

loyalty is given first to kinship groups or intimate friends…So powerful are the obligations to one`s relatives and friends that the shame incurred by nonfulfillment weighs much more seriously than the penalties imposed by law.[41]

Some experts thought that in the Soviet Union social stratification had a racial aspect, as Central Asian people were recruited for lower ranks in the industry and in the army.[42] It was not the result of a certain governmental policy but was mainly connec ted with the special characteristics of societies in those Soviet republics. The main demographic tendency in Central Asia was the faster growth of populations in comparison with other regions of the Soviet Union. Central Asian peoples also had to deal with the pressures and temptations of modernization. As a reaction to the process of modernization in the 1970s there was a growing interest in regional history and culture among local intellectuals. Modernization and social transformation were often associated in people’s minds with Soviet governmental policy. As a result, some local intellectuals who were supporters of these traditions could be potential recruits for the formation of an anti-Communist opposition.

Another crucial factor was a new tendency in Soviet national policy which occurred at the end of the Brezhnev era. Some party ideologues began to argue that “too much self-direction had been granted to the nationalities.”[43] They proposed to strengthen unification in the development of the Soviet Union; this aggravated the situation with the nationalities question in the USSR, particularly in Central Asia.

It was necessary, though, to estimate the special features of political culture in Soviet Central Asia.[44] These republics were known to be conservative. Ethnic activism ma nifested itself not in national or separatist movements, but in the archaic form of clashes between titular nations and ethnic minorities. The cultural traditions of these republics inhibited ethnic activism. As a result of Soviet governmental policy, these republics had an unusual social structure: “a huge educated class rested on a predominantly traditional society.”[45] The middle classes in these republics, who were the main leaders of nationalist movements, were, therefore, effectively neutralized.

It was necessary for RL to take into account these tendencies in its activity. But RL journalists left their Motherland many years ago. They did not know real situation in Soviet Central Asia. Living in Western Germany, it was difficult to understand real picture of development of nationality conflicts in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. They tried to understand processes in this region using Soviet press, but these sources also showed an un realistic picture.

Significance of Islamic factor

Certainly, there was a close connection between religion and nationalism in Central Asia. As early as in the 1950s, the U.S. and its allies in Central Asia tried to begin anti-Communist propaganda appealing to the religious sentiments of the Soviet population. In particular, the author of one RL internal document, stored in Robert Kelly's archives, wrote:

Tatar and Turkestan Soviet Muslim immigrants in the United States had some success in dispensing propaganda among pilgrims who were sent to Mecca by the Soviet government.[46]

American propaganda in Soviet Central Asia was to a great extent a result of the errors made by the Soviet authorities. One of these was the anti-religious policy. The anti-religious campaign began during the Russian Civil War and continued in the 1920s. It was one of the main factors for the formation of the famous Basmachi movement, which was opposed to Soviet power. The Islamic heritage of the Central Asian population was one of the most important factors; in the Soviet period Islamic values, rituals and practices continued to dominate people`s lives.[47] Khrushchev had an uncompromisingly hostile attitude towards Islam in the USSR, and his position was characterized by radical anti-clericalism. During the Khrushchev period there was a new wave of mosques closures in Central Asia by the Soviet authorities.[48] Clearly, the Turkestan service of RL tried to use these facts in its programs.

In 1965, the seminar “On Nationalism in Soviet Central Asia,” could not ignore this problem. One of the key questions of this seminar was, “Is Islam a very important factor in modern Central Asia?” Some scholars devoted their speeches to this question. Certainly, the speakers could not ignore the problem of terror reprisals against the religious leaders in the region in the 1920–1930s: that was the topic of the report made by Aman Berdymurat “Fighting against Islam in Central Asia and Attempts to Use the Clergy in Soviet Foreign Policy.”

The central report on Islamic factor and nationalism in Turkmenistan was made by E. Kyrymal. Like most other political refugees, he believed that among the Soviet Turkmens there were people who shared the views of the Turkmen political exiles. Kyrymal argued that there was “persistence of religious and national domestic customs” in Turkmenistan. This situation, in his view, was one of the “forms” of nationalism. Among these forms there were facts of 'localism' in the appointment of senior positions. Thus, the emigrant author could conclude:

Despite 40 years of severe persecution, nationalism in various forms undoubtedly exists in Turkmenistan and in all of Soviet Turkestan up until now.[49]

Thus, Kyrymal tried to connect Islamic factor with nationalism.

Not only did this seminar show that American policy officials began to study the Islamic factor more deeply in the 1960s, American experts were interested in the role of Islam in the development of Russia and the Soviet Union. Whether this factor streng thened the Soviet Union or made it weaker was one of the main questions which interested them. There is a considerable amount of material on this subject deposited in Dimitry von Mohrenschildt's collection at the Hoover Institution Archives. There were articles written in the 1950s and 1960s on the Islamic factor and nationality problems. Among them, for example, was a review of the book by Sergey Zenkovsky “Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia” (Harvard, 1960).[50] Dimitry von Mohrenschildt pointed out that Islamic peoples did not cause instability throughout Russian history.

It was not by chance that the same situation in the 1960s in the Soviet Union occurred: the rise of Islamic studies. As a response to activity of American policy analysts and to internal processes in the USSR, the Soviets made a major investment in the analysis of Islam. A new generation of Soviet experts in these questions emerged from Soviet educational establishments. Thus, from the 1960s to the 1980s, American as well as Soviet experts paid special attention to the Islamic factor in the Soviet Union.

This situation was also connected with Arab-Israel conflict in the Near East. RL paid attention to this problem. American management of RL stressed that it was impossible for the radio station to support only one participant of this conflict – Israel. Journalists had to speak about peacemaking policy as the only chance for this region.[51] American management understood that Muslim people in Soviet Central Asia were also potential listeners to RL programs.

The situation in Soviet Central Asia in the 1970s was contradictory. Brezhnev tried to go ahead with the anti-religious campaign[52]: there were even some anti-Islamic pamphlets. This policy was not very successful in eliminating this more unstructured and informal religion, because in Central Asia, religious practice was based more on rituals than on doctrine.[53]

This situation led to a discussion between American scholars on how important the Islamic factor was in the anti-Communist struggle. Representatives of the “Bennigsen school” were interested in the potential of anti-Soviet resistance among minorities groups in the USSR. At the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, Alexander Bennigsen thought that religion was a key factor in regional self-identification; Islam was seen as a potential threat to Soviet rule. But Alastair McAuley underestimated the strength of Islam in some parts of Central Asia.[54] Artemy Kalinovsky proves that

for most of the Cold War, the views of the Bennigsen school were not of much interest to US policymakers, whose focus was on preventing nuclear confrontation… and halting further Soviet expansion into the Third World.[55]

But at the end of 1970s Paul Henze tried “to mobilize” Bennigsen and like-minded scholars to form “Cold War Orientalists” in the Carter Administration. Kalinovsky wrote about contribution to this project made by Zbignev Brzezinski, Richard Pipes, Samuel Huntington and some other prominent figures. In 1980 Henze wrote a memo to Brzezin ski devoted to dissidence in Muslim Republics of the USSR:

Broadcasting to Muslims and Other Soviet Nationalities: RFE/RL reports it has increased first-run programming in nationalities services by more than 11 hours per week. This includes most of the Muslim languages, as well as Ukrainian, Georgian and Baltic services. This was done in part at the expense of Russian broadcasting but primarily by reducing non-political output and squeezing in extra programs in every available time slot. Effectiveness of Muslims-language broadcasts is still limited by lack of strong transmitters… Implementations of the expansion program for Muslim languages you approved last December has been delayed by OMB until new transmitters are assured.[56]

During the Reagan administration these “Cold Warriors” received a chance to realize their ideas.

U.S and its allies tried to select the correct strategies for conducting propaganda in Central Asia. Was it necessary to stress religious aspects in that activity? Or was there already no such self-identification as Muslim in Central Asia after half a century of Communist rule? Here one should not only try and imagine the position of the American overseers but also the personal political line taken by the head of the Turkestan service, which proved very difficult for the American managers of RL. Murat Tachmyrat and his colleagues continued to speak on the air about the anti-religious campaigns in Soviet Central Asia. But new generations of Soviet Central Asia grew up in atmosphere of Khrushchev and Brezhnev policy. Some local intellectuals had anti-Soviet viewpoints; among them were supporters of modern secular Central Asia. For them the Islamic factor was not so important. Certainly, it was the position of a small intellectual group of the population of this region. The majority of “ordinary” people shared traditionalist values, but they were not listeners to RL programs.

Waiting for the voice from the USSR: jamming and lack of feedback

Certainly, during the entire history of RL there was one serious problem: the jamming of RL programs by the Soviet authorities. News in the languages of Central Asian peoples, broadcast by Radio Liberation/Radio Liberty, were jammed virtually non-stop from the instant they went on air. The Communist power considered such outlets of RL as the Turkestan Service to be a provocation and an intrusion in the country’s internal affairs. Alan Snyder studied the problem of the jamming of American radio stations, which was a customary practice in the Soviet Union these years.[57] As he wrote, jamming was done in two ways: “groundwave” (local jamming), conducted in large urban areas; and “skywave” jamming, which covered broader, rural areas and was less effective.[58] “Skywave” transmitters were usually located thousands of miles away with jamming signals bouncing between the Earth and the ionosphere.

What can be said about the effect of this Soviet practice? By the mid-1950s  there were more than 2,000 jamming stations in operation. Almost every Soviet town with a population of more than 200,000 people had “a jamming center.” But in that period the whole population of Kyrgyzstan was about 1.9 million people; of Tajikistan, 1.8 million, of Turkmenistan, 1.4 million. Kazakhstan, along with Uzbekistan, had the largest populations: 8.5 million; and 7.3 million, respectively. We must also take into account that there were few intellectuals among the populations of these republics. Only minor parts of the population of Soviet Central Asia in the 1950s had the technical capacity to listen to Radio Liberty/Radio Liberation, because local people had no radios which could accept shortwave stations.

The U.S. spent much money on propaganda: for instance, in 1958 the budget of American international propaganda was about $100,000,000. For the Department of State, it was very important to estimate the real effect of this activity. RL regularly monitored its listeners; the results of this monitoring were analyzed by the special division of the Radio stations. In the early 1960s the radio management received information that the station was actively listened to in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and other states. Individual responses were received from Kyrgyzstan.[59] However, evidence that the “Liberty” stations were listened to in the other republics of Central Asia could not be found.

In the 1960s, and until the 1980s, the potential audience of RL grew. Under the Stalinist regime, only about 2 percent of the Soviet people had the technical capacity to listen to Western radio stations, but in the mid-1960s nearly two-thirds of the Soviet people could. In the 1970s the USSR had 35 million radios, about two-thirds of which were able to accept Western shortwave stations.

RL paid great attention to the study of its reception by the Soviet listeners. It is important to note that the management of the station knew the real situation and did not gloss over the fact that some Soviet people had negative attitudes towards RLs programs. For example, in 1965, R. Kelly wrote that over the past two or three years the proportion of Soviet people who believed that “Liberty” was a “free voice” had fallen from 44  to 37 percent. The number of those who defined RL as “the American station” greatly increased (from 4 percent to 18 percent).[60]

Was the Turkestan service at RL aware of these processes? It is important to note that the work of the Central Asian services was hampered by the inability to hear  the voice of its listeners. In this situation it was difficult to understand the correct direction in which the radio station could develop. It has been impossible, so far, to find any information to prove that people in Central Asia really listened to RL in the 1970s.  At that time, though, “listening” information regularly came from Russia, Ukraine,  Belarus, Estonia and some other Soviet republics.

In these circumstances, the managers of RL had to make use of any piece of information which showed that their activity somehow affected the region. For example, in 1984 “Liberty” managers actively discussed articles against the radio programs in Turkmen language which were published in the Soviet newspapers “Sovetsky Turkmenistan [Soviet Turkmenistan]” and “Turkmenskaia Zvezda [Turkmen Spark]”. The author of these articles was Seytniyaz Atayev, a well-known writer of Soviet Turkmenistan, pointed out that Murat Tachmyrat (Editor-in-Chief of the Turkmen service at RL from 1978 to 1985) collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. One of the leading ma nagers of “Liberty,” W. Buell, even sent a special letter to the Board of Radio Directors on this subject; these publications were referred to as “a series of articles,” “an attack,” which was organized by the ideological apparatus of the USSR. Such materials are regarded as evidence that RL had “a significant audience of listeners in Soviet Central Asia.”[61] “Liberty” managers wanted to believe in the picture which they themselves created. At that time the regional Soviet press really began to pay more attention to the “Muslim question,” especially to the actions of illegal Islamic activists. Whether it had anything to do with the activity of RL is difficult to answer.

At the beginning of the 1980s the Department of State tried to develop the structure of an American propaganda apparatus. During the Reagan era the ‘Voice of America’, for example, spent more than $23,000,000 on advanced engineering and technical deve lopment studies. Alan Snyder noted that “a new facility was slotted to be built in Sri Lanka to beam programs into Soviet Central Asia,”[62] Some experts were not sure whether Sri Lanka was the safest location for such an expensive station because of its internal instability. But an agreement was signed and the “Voice of America” had to pay $500,000 to Sri Lanka for “the relocation of squatters and for the coconut industry development.” There was also a project to build a new station in Israel for broadcasting programs to Soviet Central Asia. So, it can be said that the US Department of State put great effort into American propaganda in Central Asia. But there was no feedback from listeners.


1 See Alan Snyder, Warriors of Disinformation: American Propaganda, Soviet Lies and The Winning of the Cold War (New York: Arcade, 1995), 34.

2 See Taukel Amirov, Krakh legiona (Alma-Ata: Kazahstan, 1970), 86–87.

3 See Serik Shakibaev, Padenie “Bolshogo Turkestana” (Alma-Ata, 1972), 286.

4 See Bakhyt Sadykova, Turkestan Legion, http://www.continent.kz/library/turkestan_legion.html

5 See L. John Martin, International Propaganda: Its Legal and Diplomatic Control (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958), 17.

6 See Alan Snyder, Warriors of Disinformation.

7 See Nicholas Cull, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945–1989 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

8 See Linda Risso, “Radio Wars: Broadcasting in the Cold War,” Cold War History 13, no. 2 (2013): 145–152; Friederike Kind-Kovacs, “Voices, Letters and Literature through the Iron Curtain: exiles and the (trans)mission of radio in the Cold War,” Cold War History 13, no. 2 (2013): 193–219. https://doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2012.746666

9 Javier Gil Guerrero, “Propaganda Broadcasts and Cold War Politics: The Carter Administration`s Outreach to Islam,” Journal of Cold War Studies 19, no. 1 (2017): 4. https://doi.org/10.1162/JCWS_a_00716

10 See Simo Mikkonen, “Exploiting the Exiles: Soviet Emigres in U.S. Cold War Strategy,” Journal of Cold War Studies 14, no. 2 (2012): 98–127.

11 Artemy Kalinovsky, “Encouraging Resistance: Paul Henze, the Bennigsen School and the Crisis of Détente,” in Michael Kemper and Artemy Kalinovsky, eds. Reassessing Orientalism: Interlocking Orientologies during the Cold War (Routledge Studies in the History of Russia and Eastern Europe, 2015), 211–232.

12 Ibid., p. 211.

13 Robert F. Kelly (1894–1975) graduated from Harvard University. Diplomat, sovietologist. In 1926–1937 he was the Head of the Eastern European Branch of the Department of State. Since the 1940s he actively engaged in establishing contacts with political emigrants from the Soviet Union. He was one of the founders of the American Committee. From 1953 he was the Vice-President of the “Liberation” radio station (later – “Liberty”).

14 Jon Lodeesen (1934–1993) received a BA in Foreign Policy at the University of Virginia (1955) and a Master of International Relations (specialization “Soviet Studies”) at the American University in Washington, DC (1958). In 1955–1958 he served in military intelligence as a translator from the Russian language and as an intelligence analyst. 1959 he worked on the diplomatic service: he was an officer at the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of European Affairs; U.S. Vice Consul in Belo Horizonte (Brazil); officer at the Soviet-African relations of the Department of State. In 1966–1968 he became an officer of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; in 1968–1970 he was a permanent member of the international headquarters of NATO, an expert on Soviet issues. 1969 he worked at Radio “Liberty”/Radio “Free Europe”: as chief of political headquarters, head of program policy, program manager of the Russian service, director of policy and research issues; after 1984, as director of U.S. operations.

15 Murat Tachmyrat, Vospominaniia, http: // www. turkmeny.h1.ru

16 See Bakhyt Sadykova, Turkestan Legion.

17 Mustafa Chokay (Chokaev) (1890–1941) came from a noble family connected with Khiva`s Khan dynasty. Graduated from the Law faculty of St.Petersburg University. In 1917 he was the head of Turkestan Muslim Council. In the 1919–1920 he was the chairman of the Kokand government. After the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War, he had to emigrate. He lived in Turkey, Germany, France. He was arrested by the Nazis in 1941 in France.

18 See Murat Tachmyrat, Vospominaniia.

19 Ibid.

20 See “Institute for the Study of the USSR. Seminar on Nationalism in Soviet Central Asia. 1965, May 12–13,” in Georgetown University Library. Special Collections (GUL. SC). Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 15.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 “J. Lodeesen to J. Buckley” in GUL. SC. The Jon Lodeesen papers, box 2, folder 34.

24 See Marta Brill Olcott, Central Asia: The Reformers Challenge a Traditional Society in The Nationalities Factor in Soviet Politics and Society (Boulder; Oxford: Westview Press,1990), 255.

25 See Robert Daniels, Russia: The Roots of Confrontation (Cambridge; London: Palgrave Macmillan,1985), 14.

26 GUL. SC. Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 4.

27 “Protocols of Wiesbaden conference, 1951,” in Gosudarstvennyi Archiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (henceforth – GARF), f. 10015, op. 4, d. 842, l. 8.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 “Protocols of Tegernsee conference, 1953,” in GARF, f. 10015, op. 4, d. 843, l. 6.

31 “Radio Liberation – Staff Memorandum,” in GUL. SC. Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 4.

32 See “Institute for the Study of the USSR. Seminar on Nationalism in Soviet Central Asia. 1965, May 12–13,” in GUL. SC. Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 15.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 “All employees of the radio station “Liberty” in GUL. SC. The Jon Lodeesen papers, box 1, folder 56.

39 “Radio Liberty. August 1, 1975” in GUL. SC. The Jon Lodeesen papers, box 1, folder 57.

40 See Ernest Neizvestny, Govorit Neizvestny (Perm: Permskie Novosti, 1991), 83.

41 See Ronald Suny, “State, Civil Society and Ethnic Cultural Consolidation in the USSR – Roots of the National Question,” in From Union to Commonwealth. Nationalism and Separatism in the Soviet Republics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 118–120.

42 See Robert Daniels, Russia: The Roots of Confrontation, 317.

43 See Marta Brill Olcott, “Soviet Central Asia,” 54.

44 See Birgit N. Schlyter, ed. Prospects for Democracy in Central Asia (Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 2005).

45 See Philipp Goldman, Gail Lapidus, and Victor Zaslavsky, “Soviet Federalism – its Origins, Evolution and Demise,” in From Union to Commonwealth. Nationalism and Separatism in the Soviet Republics, 7.

46 “Negotiations for an effective partnership,” in GUL. SC. Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 2.

47 See Adeeb Khalid, Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia (Berkeley; Los Angeles; London, 2007), 83.

48 See by A. Bennigsen et al., ed. Soviet Strategy and Islam (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 30; Yaacov Ro’i, Islam in the Soviet Union: From the Second World War to Gorbachev (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000) etc.

49 See “Institute for the Study of the USSR. Seminar on Nationalism in Soviet Central Asia. 1965, May 12–13,” in GUL. SC. Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 15.

50 S. Zenkovsky “Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia,” in Hoover Institution Archives (HIA). Dimitri von Mohrenschildt papers. Box 1. Folder ‘Nationality problem.’

51 See “Radio Liberty. April 1970,” in GUL. SC. The Jon Lodeesen papers, box 1, folder 37.

52 See Michael Kemper, Raoul Motika, and Stefan Reichmuth, eds. Islamic Education in the Soviet Union and Its Successor States (London; New York: Routledge, 2010), 12–13.

53 See also Ashirbek Muminov, “Fundamentalist Challenges to Local Islamic Tradition in Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia,” in Uyama Tomohiko, ed. in Empire, Islam and Politics in Central Eurasia (Sapporo: Slavic research center, Hokkaido University, 2007), 249–262.

54 See John Anderson, Religion, State and Politics in the Soviet Union and Successor States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 94.

55 See Artemy Kalinovsky, “Encouraging Resistance,” 217.

56 Ibid., 231.

57 See Alan Snyder, Warriors of Disinformation, 26.

58 Ibid.

59 “W. Schramm to H. Sargeant,” in GUL. SC. Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 4.

60 “R. Kelley to H. Sargeant,” in GUL. SC. Robert F. Kelley papers, box 5, folder 3.

61 “W. Buell to the Board of Directors,” in GUL. SC. The Jon Lodeesen papers, box 2, folder 32.

62 See Alan Snyder, Warriors of Disinformation, 36.


About the authors

Alexey V. Antoshin

Ural Federal University

Author for correspondence.
Email: alex_antoshin@mail.ru
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6093-2219

Dr. Habil. Hist., Professor of the Oriental Studies Department

19, Prospekt Mira Av., Yekaterinburg, 620083, Russia


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