From the 15th to the 19th century the area covered by present-day Tajikistan was under the nominal suzerainty of frequently competing Uzbek dynasties, albeit on the fringe of their territory.
By the 18th century three khanates (Turco-Mongol kingdoms ruled over by a khan) controlled the bulk of central Asia: the Kungrats of Khiva, the Mangits of Bukhara, and the Mins of Kokand in the Fergana Valley. The Khan of Kokand's territory stretched deep into the Tian Shan Mountains and northern Tajikistan.
Kokand was famed for its slave markets and the despotism of its rulers. Merchant caravans were frequently raided, their goods stolen and their owners sold. Kokand's territory was expanded with the aid of a mercenary army, and both British and Russian travellers recorded with shock the viciousness of the regime they encountered. This brutality was to be the khans' undoing, however: the people rebelled and civil war seriously weakened the state. Tsarist Russia advanced into the breach.
Russia began moving into central Asia from the mid-1860s. Tashkent fell in 1865, swiftly followed by Bukhara in 1867 and Samarkand in 1868. Kokand became a Russian vassal state the same year thanks to a commercial treaty, its khan merely the titular head of his territory. He was forced into exile in 1875 and Tsar Alexander II brought Kokand and its people under his direct control. Russian and European migrants flooded south, and the arrival of the railways tied central Asia indisputably to Moscow.
For tactical reasons, however, the Russians left the Uzbek power structures largely in place, and - in the 1868 treaty establishing a Russian protectorate over Bukhara - the Emirate of Bukhara gained territory including present-day Dushanbe in compensation for territory that had been conceded to Russia.
In the latter part of the 19th century, because of its geographical location at the confines of the Russian Empire and its proximity to China and British India, the territory of Tajikistan - especially the Pamirs - had considerable strategic importance. The Great Game, between Russian and British adventurers, soldiers, spies and diplomats - staking the limits of the respective Empires - was largely played out in the mountains of the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush. Subsequently, at the time of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1 989), the Pamir region again assumed strategic importance for the Soviet Union as one of the main supply routes for the logistical support of Soviet military operations in Afghanistan.