Battle of Geok Tepe

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Siege of Geok Tepe
Part of Russian conquest of Central Asia
Siege of Geok Tepe.jpg
Date December 1880 – January 1881
Location Geok Tepe, Turkmenistan
38°09′28″N 57°57′59″E / 38.15778°N 57.96639°E / 38.15778; 57.96639Coordinates: 38°09′28″N 57°57′59″E / 38.15778°N 57.96639°E / 38.15778; 57.96639
Result Russian victory
Russian Empire Turkmens
Commanders and leaders
Mikhail Skobelev
72 artillery pieces
20–25,000 people in the fortress[2] the actual armed defenders were probably 8,000[citation needed]
few firearms
no artillery
Casualties and losses
268 killed[3]

669 wounded[4]

645 died of disease.[5]
15,000 defenders and civilians killed[6] or up to 20,000 killed[7] or 150,000 killed[8]
Russian engraving depicting the storming of the fortress.

The Siege of Geok Tepe or The Battle of Geok Tepe was a siege by the Imperial Russian army against the Turkmen fort of Geok Tepe in 1880–1881.


Map of modern Turkmenistan. Geok Tepe is just northwest of Ashgabat. Krasnovodsk is the modern Turkmenbasy.

Throughout 1853–1868, the Russians moved south and occupied most of what was later called Russian Central Asia. The area they did not yet occupy was approximately modern Turkmenistan. In 1869, they built Krasnovodsk on the east side of the Caspian sea. In 1879, they moved east and tried to take Geok Tepe. After bombarding the fort with artillery, the Russian forces tried to take the fort by storm. The more numerous Turkomans drove them back. The Russians retreated and had difficulty holding off their pursuers. They retreated back across the desert toward Krasnovodsk. It is said[9] that this was the worst Russian defeat in Central Asia since 1717.

A second Russian expedition to take the fort was sent with more men and equipment, including 20,000 camels for transport. In December 1880, Geok Tepe was besieged by 7,100 Russians under General Mikhail Skobelev. The defenders of Geok Tepe numbered 25,000, which included the civilian Turkmen population. Learning a lesson from the previous expedition, Skolobev decided to besiege the fort instead of attempting direct assault. The siege of Geok Tepe lasted twenty-three days after which the city was taken by storm. Although they encountered heavy resistance, Russian forces were eventually able to break in by digging a tunnel underneath a portion of the wall, then detonating a mine underneath the wall. On 12 (24) January 1881, the mine was detonated. Once the fortress was breached, the Russian troops stormed in. Several hundred defenders were killed in the initial explosion, and many more were killed in the fighting that ensued. As the Russians poured into the fort, the defenders, along with the civilians inside the fortress, fled across the desert, pursued by General Skobelev's cavalry.

The massacre[edit]

Around 8,000 Turkmen soldiers and civilians, including women and children were killed in their flight, along with an additional 6,500 that were killed inside the fortress. The Russians killed all Turkmen males in the fortress who had not escaped, but they spared some 5,000 women and children and freed 600 Persian slaves. The taking of Geok Tepe and the following slaughter broke the Turkmen resistance and decided the fate of Transcaspia. On 6 May 1881, Transcaspia was declared an oblast of the Russian Empire. During the entire campaign of 1880–1881 Russian casualties were 290 killed and 883 wounded, sickness accounted for the death of 645 Russian soldiers.[10]

The Russian general Skobelev said the following about the massacre:

"The harder you hit them, the longer they'll stay down."[11]


Skobelev was removed from his command because of the massacre. In 1881, Ashgabat was founded 28 miles southeast of Geok Tepe. The next Russian move was east to Merv in 1884. In 1885, the Russian advance continued south from Merv to Pandjeh on the Afghan border.


The Geok Tepe (Gokdepe Mosque) was built to commemorate the siege and the defenders, it is noted for its mint-turquoise blue coloured roof and white marble structure.

The battle is remembered as a national day of mourning each year, and the resistance is often cited as a source of great national pride.[12]

Russian medal for the battle


  1. ^ Russian Central Asia, 1867–1917, Richard A. Pierce page 41, 1960
  2. ^ Russian Central Asia, 1867–1917, Richard A. Pierce page 41, 1960
  3. ^ Merv, the Queen of the World, Charles Marvin, page 402
  4. ^ Merv, the Queen of the World, Charles Marvin, page 402
  5. ^ Russian Central Asia, 1867–1917, Richard A. Pierce page 42, 1960
  6. ^ Turkmenistan, MaryLee Knowlton, page 30, 2005
  7. ^ Dictionary of Battles and Sieges, Tony Jaques, page 389, 2007
  8. ^ Asian History Module-based Learning, Ongsotto, et al., page180, 2002
  9. ^ Peter Hopkirk,'The Great Game",1994,page 389
  10. ^ Russian Central Asia, 1867–1917, Richard A. Pierce page 42, 1960
  11. ^ Turkmenistan, MaryLee Knowlton, page 30, 2005
  12. ^ Turkmenistan, MaryLee Knowlton, page 30, 2005

Further reading[edit]

  • Chahryar Adle, Madhavan K. Palat, Anara Tabyshalieva History of Civilizations of Central Asia