Uzbekistan celebrates reformist Jadid movement in the new documentary

Depiction of a Jadid activist, writer, and journalist Mahmudkhodja Behbudiy in the documentary film. Screenshot from Blue White and Green Production YouTube video. Fair use.

On November 20, an Uzbek documentary film called “Armon: Jadidchilik Tarixi” (The Dream: History of Jadidism) premiered on YouTube. The production company behind the film, Blue, White and Green Production, made it available in Uzbek and Russian, with the latter version carrying the name “Mechtateli” (The Dreamers).

Here is the documentary in Uzbek on YouTube.

The documentary tells the story of the reformist and modernist movement that came to be known as Jadidism. It was active in Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, when the region was first part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union following the October Revolution in 1917.

Members of this movement, Jadids, acquired their name from the implementation of educational reforms that introduced usul-i jadid (new-method) schools. The defining feature of these schools was their usage of the phonetic method to teach the Arabic alphabet and the inclusion of secular subjects to the curriculum.

Jadids placed civilization and progress as their end goal and viewed educational, political, and social reforms as the primary means to reach it. They actively advocated for educating girls in schools, arguing that educated women are very important part of society. The Russian Empire’s non-intrusive socio-cultural policy in the region left enough room for Jadids to pursue their reforms.

Education was not the only sphere in need of reform, according to Jadids. Many of them studied in Istanbul, thanks to the benevolent society for the education of children set up by wealthy merchants from Bukhara for their sons to receive a modern education abroad. While studying there, young Jadids came across the ideas of progress and modernity, forcing them to advocate reforms at home.

Jadids used literature and theater to exhort wide-ranging reforms. Perhaps the most famous example of it is the work called “Tales of the Indian Traveler” by Abdurauf Fitrat. The author disguises himself as a traveler from India visiting Bukhara to provide criticism of the traditional ulama’s (religious clergy) corruption, poor health and sanitation systems, and the overall degradation in the city. Another famous Jadid Mahmudkhodja Behbudiy authored the first modern play in Uzbek called “Padarkush” (The Patricide) about the dangers of ignorance.

The history of Jadidism is the history of Uzbekistan’s important cultural and political milestones. Its members were often the founders of literary genres with the prime example being Abdulla Qodiriy, who is considered founder of Uzbek prose with his novel “Utkan kunlar” (Bygone Days) towering over Uzbek literature.

Here is the film “O'tgan kunlar” adapted from Abdulla Qodiriy's novel.

The documentary tells the story of these and other famous Jadids with the help of their relatives and local and foreign experts on Jadidism, as well through the recreation of historical scenes involving these figures.

A tragic fate awaited Jadids in the 1930s as the Soviet authorities consolidated power and purged local intelligentsia. Jadids were executed on charges of counter revolutionary activities as Panturkists during the Great Terror in 1937. Many of them died on the shores of the Ankhor river in the capital Tashkent, where the Uzbek government erected the Museum of Victims of Political Repressions in 2001.

Jadids started returning to the public space under the rule of the current president Shavkat Mirziyoyev. In 2020, he posthumously awarded Abdulla Avloniy, Mahmudkhodja Behbudiy, and Munavvarkori Abdurashidkhanov the Order of the President “For Great Services” for their “contribution and formation of the national system of education.” On December 11 and 12, Uzbekistan hosted a conference titled “Jadids: ideas of national identity, independence and statehood.”

It seems the Jadids’ return to the public space will be long term, with the government using their legacy as means of inspiration. Speaking at the conference, Mirzioyev’s chief advisor, Saida Mirziyoyeva noted that “the ideas, dreams and desires of the Jadids are reflected in the policies” of the president.

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