Map of Central Asia

The Great Game in Central Asia

With the advent of China’s Belt and Road Initiative I found it necessary to learn about the involved regions and histories. I’m curious. Grown up in Germany during the Cold War I was teached that Russians were always mostly the evil ones and people from the West are usually the “better ones”. I never believed it but I also had a clear lack of information about Russia and of course China. Both regions didn’t  existmore or less in the media and my school lessons at that time (1960ties).

When I was in Jordan it was the first time that I really thought about the Chinese project, its impact, what it will change in the world. I read some news about it and I like the idea in general. Last year I read about a weekly train connection from Düsseldorf to Peking (New train connection developing between China and Germany), about the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway and some other developments related to the project. There is even a conference in Germany about it (

My biggest lack of knowledge was about Central Asia. Six years ago I was in Mashad, Iran and I got an idea how complicate the relationships are.

But back to the Great Game:

“The Great Game” was a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the nineteenth century between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories in Central and Southern Asia. Russia was fearful of British commercial and military inroads into Central Asia, and Britain was fearful of Russia adding “the jewel in the crown”, India, to the vast empire that Russia was building in Asia. This resulted in an atmosphere of distrust and the constant threat of war between the two empires. Britain made it a high priority to protect all the approaches to India, and the “great game” is primarily how the British did this in terms of a possible Russian threat. Historians with access to the archives have concluded that Russia had no plans involving India, as the Russians repeatedly stated.” Wikipedia

A good start for me to understand the history of Central Asia far better was this book from 1994:
The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia – Peter Hopkirk

It tells the story of the Great Game through the exports of the young officers, both British and Russian. Disguised as holy men or native horse-traders, they mapped secret passes, gathered intelligence and the allegiance of powerful khans.

Do you know some books, movies, websites, whatever to learn more about Central Asia? Please comment I’m still curious :)



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3 responses to “The Great Game in Central Asia”

  1. Simon Avatar

    Afghanistan ist der Schlüssel :) Es ist kein Wunder, dass die Briten das Land im 19. Jahrhundert so unbedingt erobern wollten, die Russen (oder besser: die Sowjets) das Land in den 1980er Jahren in den Abgrund stießen, und die Amerikaner in den 90ern mit den Taliban flirteten. Afghanistan ist geografisch die Landbarriere (Stichwort Khyber-Pass) zwischen der eurasischen Landmasse und dem indisch-pakistanischen Subkontinent. Nach Norden und Osten gibt´s keinen Umweg, denn da prangt der Himalaya. So gut wie alle Pipeline-Planungen der ehemaligen und aktuellen Mächte (die Rohstoff-Vorkommen in Zentralasien sollen zum Indischen Ozean) führen durch Afghanistan. Das wussten auch die ganzen Warlords, die sich in den Neunziger Jahren zum einen gegen die Taliben erwehrten, zum anderen ihre jeweils eigenen Süppchen kochten. Empfehlenswerte Lektüre dazu: “Taliban” von Ahmed Rashid, darin v.a. Teil 3: “Das neue große Spiel”. Das Buch ist ein Augenöffner.

    Mich hat die Geschichte Afghanistans gepackt. Ich nenne mal Stichpunkte:
    – Alexander der Große
    – Ay Khanoum
    – Graeco-buddhistische Ghandara-Kultur
    – Statuen von Bamiyan (Überragender Dokumentarfilm von Christian Frei: Im Tal der großen Buddhas)
    – Durchreise von Xuanzang
    – John Wood: A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus
    – George Robertson: Kafirs of the Hindu Kush
    – Robert Byron: The Road to Oxiana
    – Eric Newby: Ein Spaziergang im Hindukush
    – Peter Levi: Im Garten des Lichts
    – Nancy Hatch-Dupree

    …und und und…

  2. Hagen Graf Avatar

    @simon, danke für die vielen Tips!

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