In 1865, Tashkent was a city under siege, pestered by a Russian Imperial Force of 1,500 men under the command of Mikhail Grigorievich Chernyaev. After making an unsuccessful attempt at taking the city in October 1864, Chernayev retreated to Shymkent for the winter where he was able to plan his second attack for the next year. Tashkent was well protected by a 25 kilometer wall guarded by 15,000 Kokanid defenders. 12 gates named after the various cities they led to meant that Chernyaev had 12 choices. With mounted cavalry and nimble light infantry, the Russians had the advantage of surprise, and although greatly outnumbered, there was no way 15,000 defenders could mass at any one of the 12 gates at short notice. The city was also supplied with drinking water from irrigation canals which took water from the Chirchik river. In an attempt to dry out the city, Chernayev left Shymkent in April 1865, captured the source of the irrigation canals near Chirchik, and moved towards Tashkent.
In the area of Salar, on the outskirts of Tashkent, the Russians skirmished with a massive Kokanid force of some 40,000 troops led by Alimqul, ruler of Kokand. The Kokanid troops had been hastily gathered, and rushed to the defense of the city. The overwhelming numbers of Kokanid fighters forced the Russians to retreat to their camp, Alimqul and his troops in hot pursuit. The Russians launched an intense artillery barrage in defense of their camp, which soon turned to hand-to-hand combat, during which Alimqul was mortally wounded. Disorder among the Kokanid ranks ensued, and despite their overwhelmingly outnumbering the Russians, retreated allowing Chernayev and his men to regroup, and relocate their camp to the southwest of the city, near the confluence of the Chirchik and Syrdarya rivers.
Upon receiving news that the Emirate of Bukhara was preparing to move on Kokand, Chernayev launched a surprise attack on Tashkent’s Kamolon gate on the night of the 15th of June, 1865. Using assault ladders to gain access to the city, the shocked defenders abandoned their positions, allowing the calvary to breach the gate and clear the way for infantry. The street battle quickly pushed through to the other side of the city where second and third Russian detachments were waiting just outside the Kokand and Kashgar gates. The unprepared Kokanids were driven deep into the city where street fighting continued into the night.
In order to hold the Kamolon gate overnight, Chernayev ordered a semicircle of houses set fire around his position that the detachment could defend until morning. This forced the Kokanid defenders to attack blindly at the Russian stronghold which by this point was heavily defended by fresh reserves. Street fighting continued sporadically into the next day, but by the 17th of June, 1865, the city had unconditionally surrendered. Against overwhelming odds, Chernayev and his detachment of less than 1,500 men had taken a city of 100,000 people protected by a 25 kilometer wall defended by 15,000 Kokanid troops. Despite being outnumbered 10 to 1, the Russians only suffered 24 dead, 89 wounded.
The dead were buried in a mass grave near the Kamolon Gate where Chernayev and his men had made the initial surprise attack. The site was already being used as a cemetary by the locals, located just outside the city walls. The following year (Tashkent by this time firmly under control of the Russian Empire) a small chapel was built honoring the sacrifice of the Russian soldiers killed in the daring capture of the city. The chapel was named in honor of the patron saint of soldiers and fighters, Saint George the Victorious, and dedicated in the Russian Orthodox tradition. Constructed in 1866, the chapel became the first Christian architectural complex to be built in Tashkent.
From 1866 to 1917, on the 15th of June every year, the anniversary of the assault, a solemn procession took pace from the Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration (located in what is now Independence Square) to the memorial chapel accompanied by the Governor-General, veterans, and soldiers. A small memorial park developed around the chapel which was tended by wounded veterans of the 1865 capture of the city right up until the time of the Russian Revolution. The chapel was richly decorated with inscriptions from the Old and New Testaments, and the park contained crosses and cannon-ball pyramid monuments, along with an inscription of the names of all who died in the assault. In October of 1917 the Bolsheviks destroyed the complex and looted the chapel interior leaving only a brick facade.
The land of the former memorial park was reallocated to an ordinary local family after the Great Patriotic War, but the shell of the former chapel was preserved. Today the chapel is still standing on the side of the road directly outside the wall of a typical local house on a quiet mahalla street not far from the Milliy Bog station on the Chilinzar line of the Tashkent Metro.
No gate protects this historical monument, and there are no interpretive markers to tell passers by what the chapel is, or what it represents. Our driver didn’t even know it existed, and was delighted to learn something new about the city. The street level today is about a meter higher than it was in 1865, so the doorways require crouching to get inside. Remnants of paint can still be seen on the interior walls, but any gilding or iconography has long since been removed. Peering up into the cupola however, a small framed image of the Christ has been carefully hung indicating that members of the Orthodox community of Tashkent still keep watch over this solemn monument commemorating the day 153 years ago this month, that this ancient silk road city was finally captured by the Russian Empire.