The Alisher Navoi National Park is home to several Tashkent landmarks, including the Supreme Assembly Chamber, Wedding Palace, Navoi Monument, Istiqlol Palace, and the 16th century Abdulkasim Madrassa. The madrassa is the last remaining remnant of the Yangi Mahalla, and was once part of a larger architectural ensemble which included an ancient domed shrine supposed to contain a holy relic of the Prophet Mohammad. Today the relic is located in the Khast Imam complex, and the shrine no longer exists, destroyed by Soviet Authorities following the October Revolution in 1919, and the madrassa was shut down.
In the mid 19th century, the madrassa underwent extensive renovations, adding a second floor to the building. The work was commissioned by Sheikh Abdulkasim, elder of the Yangi Mahalla, a well-known and highly educated Tashkent resident. He is perhaps best known not only for his community improvement efforts (the madrassa being the only one which remains) but also for his negotiating skills during the May 1892 Cholera Rebellion.
The Tsarist government, in an effort to stop the spread of the cholera epidemic in the old city, issued a decree prohibiting residents to burry their dead until they could be inspected by doctors. The ruling was a clear violation of Sharia law which dictated that the deceased should be interred on the day of death. Residents of the old city crossed into the new Russian part of the city to protest, but were met by an angry mob of counter protesters, including Russian soldiers who subsequently opened fire on the demonstrators. Abdulkasim managed to convince the Russian authorities that the riot was not directed at the Tsar, and was only meant to protect an essential tenant of the Islamic faith. The Governor General then overturned his decision and allowed the residents of the old city to continue laying their dead to rest without interference. According to legend, as the epidemic continued to ravage the old city, Mahallah elders met with Abdulkasim to discuss a possible solution. They decided to make a sacrifice, but after doing so, Abdulkasim also contracted cholera and died on the 4th of July. The epidemic stopped the next day.
The Abdulkaism Madrassa is also famous for the May 1865 treaty between the Russian Empire and the Khanate of Kohkand. General Mikhail Grigorevich Chernayayev, against the orders of the Tsar, captured Tashkent with a force of just 1,000 men against a heavily fortified city with 30,000 defenders. The Khanate was already in turmoil thanks to an 1862 coup attempt and meddling from the Khanate of Bukhara, but the de facto ruler of Kokand, the warlord Alymkul, was mortally wounded defending Tashkent against the Russian aggressors. In the aftermath of the battle, Chernayayev forced the ruling elders of the defeated city sign a treaty saying the city capitulated voluntarily. It was within the courtyard of the Abdulkasim Madrassa that this treaty was signed. Abdulkasim himself was a signatory on the second version of this document, which he only signed in an effort to help those who had previously refused, and had been shipped off to Siberia for noncompliance. Chernayayev was soon recalled to St. Petersburg and honored for his heroic capture of Tashkent, but was forced to retire for acting against the direct orders of the Tsar.
When the Bolsheviks took power in 1919, the madrassa was closed. It was abandoned for 10 years, but then became a shelter for 70 refugee families from Samara who were escaping the Great Soviet famine of the 1920s. The madrassa served as a shelter for 45 years, until the 1966 Tashkent Earthquake initiated a new housing boom in the city, and the last of the Samara refugees were finally given brand new apartments in 1974. The madrassa then served as a toy factory for several years, but soon fell into disrepair.
Restoration works were carried out in the 1980s bringing the complex back to its pre Soviet condition. The former name of the madrassa was restored, and the cells were students had once studied and lived became workshops for preserving traditional Uzbek handicrafts. The role of the madrassa remained unchanged following Uzbek independence, and today continues to function as an artisans’ school where ancient techniques are passed on to the next generation. Stalls on the ground-floor cater to the ever growing tourist industry where bus loads of bargain hunting Europeans can get great deals on Uzbek souvenirs. The peaceful park-like courtyard is permeated with the constant sound of artisans hammering away on metalwork, and wood carvings, but the historical significance of this place is lost in the commercialism. No plaques or descriptions explain what happened here 150 yeas ago, but at least the madrassa’s original purpose as a place of learning has once again been realized.