Tashkent is an ancient city and major caravan crossroads on the Silk Road. It started as an oasis on the Chircuk River, near the foothills of the western Tien Shan Mountains. In ancient times, this area was the principality of Chach, whose capital of Kanka had a square citadel built around the 5th to 3rd centuries BC, some 8 km south of the Syr Darya River. By the 7th century AD, Chach had over 30 towns and a network of over 50 canals, forming a trade center between the Sogdians and Turkic nomads. The capital was called Ming-Uruk ("Thousand Apricot Orchard"), and the area was famous for horses, cattle, gold, and precious stones. In 751 AD, the Chinese invaded and executed the prince of Chach, provoking an Arab invasion in return. The Arabs were victorious at the Battle of Talas, and the region subsequently came under the sway of Islam.
Under the Samanid dynasty, the city came to be known as Binkath. However, the Arabs retained the old name of Chash, pronouncing it Shash instead. The modern Turkic name of Tashkent (City of Stone) comes from Kara-Khanid rule in the 10th century.
The city was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219, although the great conqueror had found that the Khorezmshah had already sacked the city in 1214. Under the Timurids and subsequent Shaybanid dynasties the city revived, despite occasional attacks by the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Persians, Mongols, Oirats and Kalmyks.
In 1809, Tashkent was annexed to the Khanate of Kokand. At the time, Tashkent had a population of around 100,000 and was considered the richest city in Central Asia. It prospered greatly through trade to Russia, but chafed under Kokand’s high taxes. The Tashkent clergy also favored the clergy of Bukhara over that of Kokand. Before the Emir of Bukhara could capitalize on this discontent, the Russian army arrived first.
In May 1865, General Mikhail Grigorevich Chernyayev (Cherniaev), acting against the direct orders of the tsar, and outnumbered at least 15-1 staged a daring night attack against a city with a 25 kilometer long wall, 11 gates and 30,000 defenders. While a small contingent staged a diversionary attack, the main force penetrated the walls, led by a Russian Orthodox priest armed only with a crucifix. Although defense was stiff, the Russians captured the city after two days of heavy fighting and the loss of only 25 dead as opposed to several thousand of the defenders. Chernyayev, dubbed the "œLion of Tashkent" by city elders, staged a "œhearts-and-minds" campaign to win the population over. He abolished taxes for a year, rode unarmed through the streets and bazaars meeting common people, and appointed himself "Military Governor of Tashkent", recommending to Tsar Alexander II that the city be made an independent khanate under Russian protection. The Tsar liberally rewarded Chernyayev and his men with medals and bonuses, but regarded the impulsive general as a "œloose cannon", and soon replaced him with General Konstantin Petrovich Von Kaufman. Far from granting Tashkent its independence, Tashkent became the capital of the new territory of Russian Turkistan, with Kaufman as first Governor-General. A cantonment and Russian settlement were built across the Ankhor Canal from the old city, and Russian settlers and merchants poured in. Tashkent was a center of espionage in the Great Game rivalry between Russia and Great Britain over Central Asia. The Trans-Caspian Railway arrived in 1889, and the railway workers who built it settled in Tashkent as well, bringing with them the seeds of Bolshevik Revolution.
With the fall of the Russian Empire, a provisional government attempted to maintain control in Tashkent. It was quickly overthrown and local Muslim opposition crushed. In April 1918, Tashkent became the capital of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkestan ASSR). The new regime was threatened by White forces, British spies, basmachi, revolts from within, and purges ordered from Moscow. Tashkent fell within the borders of the Uzbek SSR, and became the capital of the Uzbek SSR in 1930, displacing Samarkand.
The city began to industrialize in the 1920s and 1930s, but industry increased tremendously during World War II, with the re-location of factories from western Russian to preserve the Soviet industrial capacity from the invading Nazis. The Russian population increased dramatically as well, with evacuees from the war zones increasing the population to well over a million. (The Russian population would eventually comprise of nearly half of the total residents of Tashkent)
On April 25 1966, Tashkent was destroyed by a huge earthquake (7.5 on the Richter scale). Over 300,000 were left homeless. Soviet historians made a great story about "battalions of fraternal peoples" and urban planners from each of the Soviet republics, who "œvolunteered" to rebuild devastated Tashkent. They did a good job, creating a "œmodel Soviet city" of wide shady streets, parks, immense plazas for military parades, fountains, monuments, and acres of apartment blocks. At that time residents of Tashkent began to realize that they were not being consulted in the planning, or necessarily being hired in the rebuilding. The problem exploded when Moscow announced that 20% of the new buildings would be given to the mostly Russian "œvolunteers", who would be staying permanently. The subsequent riots were called the Pakhtakor Incident, after the stadium where the trouble began, and eventually the Red Army had to be called in to maintain order.
At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tashkent was the fourth largest city in the country, while being a center of learning in the science and engineering fields
Tashkent today is a very Soviet city, with very little reminders of its position on the Silk Road or its 2000+ years of history. It is the most cosmopolitan city in both Uzbekistan and Central Asia, with large ethnic Russian and Korean minorities. The city is noted for its tree lined streets, numerous fountains, and pleasant parks. As capital of the nation, it has also been the target of several terrorist attacks since Uzbekistan independence, which the government has attributed to Islamic fundamentalists.