After the failure of a diplomatic mission to Khiva and Bokhara, the objective of which had been to gain the aid of those states against Kokand, Bezak visited the Syr Darya line in late 1863 and determined that the Kokand city of Tashkent, population 100,000, would be the initial target for an offensive. He planned to use two columns --one from Ak-Mechet, now renamed Perovsk, and the other from Fort Vierney in Siberia. The columns were to unite below Tashkent and then seize the city. With Tashkent in Russian hands, Kokand could be humbled and the trade routes between China and Khiva/Bokhara under Russian control.
When the Tsar's government finally determined that a diplomatic solution was not forthcoming, Bezak was given permission to commence military operations. On May 1, 1864 Colonel Mikhail Chernyayev led some 2600 men out of Fort Vierney and Colonel N. A. Verevkin left Perovsk with 1600 men. On the Siberian front, operations had actually been going on for two years. In the autumn of 1862, the cities of Takmak and Pishpek (now Frunze), after having been seized and lost in 1860, had been reoccupied by the Russians. The following summer, the Kokandian fortress of Suzak had been successfully stormed.
Chernyayev's first big test came at the Kokandi town of Auli-Ata (now Dzambul). On June 4 the Russians took the town at a cost three wounded. The defending garrison; some 1500 men equipped with old flintlocks, lances, and a few antique cannon; suffered nearly 700 casualties.
Marching up the Syr Darya, Colonel Verevkin's column captured the city of Turkestan eight days after Auli-Ata fell. Russian losses amounted to five dead and 25 wounded. In September, 1864, the two columns united below the Kokandi city of Chimkent, Chernyayev assuming command of the whole force.
Seeing the danger to his frontier and realm, Khudyar Khan, the ruler of Kokand, lost little time in reinforcing the endangered city. Under his personal leadership, the initial Russian assault on the city was repulsed. A prolonged siege was averted by fate, or luck. Thinking the Russian threat at end, the Khan turned and attacked Bokhara, leaving some 10,000 men to garrison Chimkent.
In fact, the Russians had suffered only a temporary set back. On September 22, 1864 Chernyayev's troops stormed Chimkent after a four day siege. Most of the garrison either fled or melted into the population. The Russians suffered two killed and seventeen wounded.
Despite the success of the expedition thus far, the colonels received orders from St. Petersburg to stop the invasion of Kokand The other European powers, particularly Britain, had lodged official protests against Russian expansion in Central Asia. Prince Gorchakov, the Tsar's foreign minister, assured Britain and France that the Russians would stop their encroachments toward Afghanistan.
The Russian government showed little ability to control its commanders in the field however. Five days after Chimkent was captured, Chernyayev, newly promoted to major general, moved on toward Tashkent with 1500 men. The Russians attacked that city on October 14 but were repulsed with a loss of eighteen dead and sixty wounded. Chernyayev was forced to fall back on Chimkent.
The failure of the attack on Tashkent gave heart to the Kokandis, who made raids deep into Russian territory. The city of Turkestan was attacked unsuccessfully by 10,000 of the Khan's forces. Shortly thereafter the Kokandis cut off and surrounded a sotnia of 112 Cossacks under Captain V. R. Serov outside the walls of Turkestan. For three days the Cossacks repelled attacks and inflicted heavy casualties on their enernies. Finally, having lost 57 men and running out of food and water, the Russians managed to break out of the trap by launching a charge through the Kokandi lines. The survivors reached safety in Turkestan. Not long afterwards, the Kokand Army abandoned its efforts against Turkestan when word reached its commanders that a Russian relief force was approaching. Although a minor action and certainly no Russian victory, Serov's "last stand" paved the way for Chernyayev's victories the following summer by cracking the will of the Khan's army.
Again operations were hafted as the Russian government debated its options and the wisdom of risking a confrontation with the rest of Europe. Once more events forced the hand of the Tsar's ministers. Muzzafar al-Din, emir of Bokhara, massed his army at Samarkand to check further Russian advances and to seize some Kokandi territory. As the Russians were on the defensive, Kudyar Khan dispatched a good portion of the remains of his army to counter the Bokharan invasion, which was heading toward the Kokandi fortress of Ura Tube.
Meanwhile Chernyayev moved to capitalize on the threat to Kokand. Fearing that the Bokharan invasion was aimed at the seizure of Tashkent, only fifteen miles from Russian territory, the Russians sprang into action. On April 29,1865 Chernyayev smashed a force of 7,000 Kokandis at Fort Niaz-Bek, which controlled the water supply and irrigation systems of Tashkent and its environs. Eleven days later, with 1300 men and twelve guns, the general defeated Alim Kul, the senior Kokandi general, before the gates of Tashkent. While the Russians lost ten wounded, the Kokandi army of 6,000 men and forty guns lost its leader and over 300 others killed.
In desperation the Khan and the citizens of Tashkhara appealed to Bokhara for help. On June 9 a small Bokharan force entered the city and took control of its defense. Again fearful of European hostility, the Russian government decided that Tashkent was not to be attacked. Once more events on the scene would frustrate the Tsar's
Chernyayev, upon hearing that Bokharan troops were participating in the defense of Tashkent, was determined to settle matters with Kokand. First, he sent troops, under Colonel A. K. Abramov, to block the road from Bokhara. Then with 1950 men and twelve guns, the general marched on Tashkent. Upon arrival he found that the city was defended by some 30,000 Kokandis and Bokharans with 63 cannon to back them.
Despite the odds, Chernyayev was determined to carry on. On June 14, 1865 the Russian attack began. A series of feints along the whole of Tashkent's sixteen mile perimeter encouraged the defenders to disperse their troops to guard each of the city's fourteen gates and the intervening walls.
The following morning a picked force of Russian infantry worked its way over the walls near the Kamalan Gate. Spiking the closest guns, the forlorn hope threw open the gate for its supporting columns. The first man through, holding his large cross high above him, was the Orthodox chaplain of the 4th Orenburg Line Battalion. About the same time, a second assault group seized the Kokand Gate to the east. The city's citadel fell quickly and, after a day-long street battle, the civic leaders surrendered. By June 17 Tashkent was in Russian hands and Chaplain Andrei Y. Malov had won a military cross for valor.
Once again casualties were tremendously lopsided, with the defenders suffering hundreds of losses and the Russians 25 killed and 89 wounded.
Upon entering the city, Chernyayev went to work soothing the conquered. He promised to respect the Islamic religion and local customs and that Muslims would not be inducted into the Russian Army. These proclamations, plus a one-year moratorium on taxes, quickly quieted Tashkent's population. What made the subjugation of Tashkent somewhat bizarre was the fact that prior to the June 14 assault, Chernyayev had received orders from his government and superiors not to attack Tashkent. Possibly suspecting the contents of a dispatch envelop he received on that morning, the general simply chose not to open the message until after the gates had been forced. Faced with a fait accompli, the Russian government annexed the newly conquered lands and made Chernyayev the military governor of "Turkestan."