Kyrgyzstan ~ A Country Remarkably Unknown

Kyrgyzstan is a remarkably unknown country to most world citizens. Since its conception in the 1920s, outside observers have usually treated it as a backwater of the impenetrable Soviet Union.
There was little interest and even less opportunity to gather information on this particular Soviet republic. But even within the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan was relatively unknown. It is as likely to meet a person from Russia or the Ukraine who has never heard of Kyrgyzstan as someone from the Netherlands or the USA. As one of my informants who has a Kyrgyz father and a Russian mother said:
I was raised in Kazan in Russia and went to school when the Soviet Union still existed. The kids in school did not understand that I was Kyrgyz. I sometimes explained, but they still thought I was Tatar, or from the Caucasus. We were taught some facts and figures about Kyrgyzstan in school, but that was it.

Kyrgyzstan briefly became world news in March 2005, when it was the third in a row of velvet revolutions among former Soviet Union countries. President Akayev, who had been the president since 1990 (one year before Kyrgyzstan’s independence) was ousted, to be replaced by opposition leaders who had until recently taken part in Akayev’s government.

A few years before that, Kyrgyzstan had become a focus of interest in the War on Terrorism, because of its majority Muslim population and its vicinity to Afghanistan. The country opened its main airport Manas for the Coalition Forces, who all stationed troops there.
The lack of a solid general base of background information gives the study of Kyrgyzstan a special dimension. Researchers and audience do not share images of the country that are based on a large number of impressions from different sources. Thus, every morsel of new information becomes disproportionally important in the creation of new images, and may be taken out of perspective. It also means that the researcher does not have an extensive body of knowledge to fall back on. Questions that are raised can often not be answered, as there is no corpus of data and general consensus. This can give the researcher a sense of walking on quick sand, but it also keeps the researcher, and hopefully her audience as well, focused and unable to take anything for granted.
In this paper I will give an overview of images of Kyrgyzstan as it is portrayed in journalist reports, travel guides, and works of social scientists. This will provide the reader unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan with a framework of background information that cannot be presupposed.

Kyrgyzstan Located

Kyrgyzstanmap.jpg

Map of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, a country of 198,500 square km, is about the size of Great Britain. Its population of 5 million is considerably less than that of the UK, however, because of the mountains that cover the larger part of the country. Kyrgyzstan’s impressive mountain ranges, known as the Tien Shan, Ala Too and Alay ranges, are extensions of the Himalayas. Ninety per cent of Kyrgyzstan’s territory is above 1,500 metres and forty-one per cent is above 3,000 metres. Perpetual snow covers about a third of the country’s surface. Large amounts of water, in the form of mountain lakes and wild rivers, are a consequence of this landscape.
Kyrgyzstan is landlocked and bordered by four countries, three of which are former Soviet Union republics. Kazakhstan lies to the North, Uzbekistan to the West and Tajikistan to the South. The Eastern border is shared with China, or more precisely: with the Chinese province Xinjiang, home of many Turkic and Muslim peoples.
Administratively, Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven provinces (oblus, from Russian oblast) and two cities (shaar). The two cities are Osh city and the country’s capital Bishkek. Bishkek was known as Frunze during Soviet times, named after Red Army hero Mikhael Frunze. In 1991, four months before independence, the city was renamed Bishkek (Prior, 1994:42).
Kyrgyzstan is commonly divided in the North and South. The South consist of three provinces: Jalal-Abad, Osh and Batken. Batken was separated from Osh after the invasion of Islamic guerrillas in August 1999. The North consists of the Chüy, Talas, Ïssïkköl and Narïn provinces. Looking at the map, it is clear that ‘North’ and ‘South’ are not so much geographical indications, as Ïssïkköl and Narïn are at the same latitude as Jalal-Abad. A mountain ridge with very few passages, however, separates the North from the South, making them far apart in people’s experience. If one travels from Osh to Narïn, for instance, one usually takes a triangle route through Bishkek. There is a road that traverses the mountain ridge that separates them, but snow often renders it impassable. Until 1962, there was not even a road between Osh and Bishkek (then: Frunze), the railway that connected the two cities ran by way of Tashkent.
The term ‘Kyrgyzstan’ is a choice out of a number of names for the country. Presently, the official name in the Kyrgyz language is Kïrgïz Respublikasï. In English, it is ‘the Kyrgyz Republic’, after the ‘h’ in Kyrghyz was dropped in 1999. One year before independence, shortly after Akayev’s appointment as president, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan became the official name for the republic after it announced its sovereignty (Rashid, 1994:147). In May 1993, this was changed to the Kyrghyz Republic. Another often-heard name for the country is Kirgizia, which is based on Russian, who substituted the ï (usually transliterated as y) by an i to fit Russian grammatical rules. Popular in the country itself is the word ‘Kyrgyzstan’. This term is not new, but was already in use in the early days of the Soviet Union. In this dissertation, I will join with popular habit and refer to the country as Kyrgyzstan. Read more

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University Of Pennsylvania Museum Of Archaeology And Anthropology Films

pennmuseumlogoIn its 120-year history, the University of Pennsylvania Museum has collected nearly one million objects, many obtained directly through its own field excavations or anthropological research. Three gallery floors feature materials from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Bible Lands, Mesoamerica, Asia and the ancient Mediterranean World, as well as artifacts from native peoples of the Americas, Africa and Polynesia. This collection on the Internet Archive represents a portion of the motion picture film collection housed at the Museum. Please note that cataloging and identification of subjects will progress over a period of time

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology holds copyright to these films. Please contact the Penn Museum Archives at 215-898-8304 or at photos@pennmuseum.org to request permission to reproduce this footage.

Enjoy: https://archive.org/details/UPMAA_films

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Savage Minds | Notes and Queries in Anthropology

savageSavage Minds is a group blog devoted to ‘doing anthropology in public’ — providing well-written relevant discussion of sociocultural anthropology that everyone will find accessible. Our authors range from graduate students to tenured professors to anthropologists working outside the academy.

Savage Minds was founded in 2005. In 2006 Nature ranked Savage Minds 17th out of the 50 top science blogs across all scientific disciplines. In 2010, American Anthropologist called Savage Minds “the central online site of the North American anthropological community” whose “value is found in the quality of the posts by the site’s central contributors, a cadre of bright, engaged, young anthropology professors.” In 2014 we hope to have our blog deposited into the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian.

The title of our blog comes from French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book The Savage Mind, published in 1966. The original title of the book in French, Pensée Sauvage, was meant to be a pun, since it could mean both ‘wild thought’ or ‘wild pansies,’ and he put pansies on the cover of the book, just to make sure readers got the pun. Lévi-Strauss was unhappy with the English title of his book, which he thought ought to have been “Pansies for Thought” (a reference to a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet). We liked the phrase “savage minds” because it captured the intellectual and unruly nature of academic blogging. As a result, the pansy has become our mascot as well.

Go to: http://savageminds.org/

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Margaret Mead – Tales From The Jungle


Exploring the work of Margaret Mead, this film investigates the 12 months Mead spent with the Samoans in the Twenties.
Her resulting book, Coming Of Age In Samoa, had a huge impact on Western culture.
Mead believed cultures like the Samoans could teach people how to live in harmony. Her book depicts a society of free love — devoid of jealousy and teenage turmoil.

But, decades later, her work was criticised as being tainted by her romantic views and strong belief in liberal values.
Tales From The Jungle examines whether Mead’s study was merely misinterpretation and romantic wishful thinking.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Freeman

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Indigenous Oral Traditions From The Huasteca, Mexico

This paper deals with indigenous oral traditions in Mexico. It addresses issues of indigenous languages and how they can be documented, preserved and revitalized through projects about oral traditions in a national context in which there is a renewed discussion on multiculturalism and cross-cultural understanding.
In Mexico, the discussion of multiculturalism centers on ‘indigenous issues’, specifically on how indigenous peoples should integrate into the so-called modern, more westerly-orientated rest of the nation. In Mexico, indigenous cultures and languages are still systematically discriminated, as they are often seen as irrelevant remnants of a past that have, at most, mere folkloristic value. Since the 1990’s, public policies regarding indigenous issues underwent a change and now focus on concepts of multiculturalism in order to favor a more equal position for indigenous languages and cultures.

The new policies were adopted after national pressures like the 1994 Zapatista uprising, and followed up on international interests in the situation of indigenous peoples, such as shown through the festivities around the 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America by Columbus in 1992, or in the declaration of the UN’s First and Second Decade of the Indigenous Peoples (1995-2014). They enhance a novel discourse that includes concepts like cultural diversity, interculturalism, intangible heritage, and other terms that are in accordance with the terminology of international conventions on indigenous issues.

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Rock Art Research in South Africa

Therianthropes and trance dance from artwork painted by Kalahari artist, the late Vetkat Regopstaan Kruiper (with permission)

Ethno-archaeology: Oral narratives and rock art
The focus of my research is on the method of recording oral narratives and their link to, and possible use in, the interpretation of rock art, specifically rock engravings. Research on indigenous knowledge and artefacts falls within a contentious area of indigenous archaeology associated with colonialists’ geographic and intellectual imperialism. It is necessary for my contextual approach to include, as in the exploration of myths, the theoretical setting of ethno-archaeology within which my research takes place. In the discipline of archaeology the use of ethnography falls under what Renfrew and Bahn (1991: 339) call ‘What did they think?’ The use of ‘they’ points not only to ethical issues of ‘othering’, the negative artificial construction of two camps of cultures and the corresponding approaches of scholars and present day descendants of the artists, but also to the time gap between the artists of the past and the present (Lewis-Williams & Pearce, 2004).

The rock paintings situated in caves, shelters and on portable stones, mostly in the mountainous regions in South Africa, and rock engravings situated predominantly in the plateau areas, on boulders on hills or near rivers, date mostly from within the last few thousand years. However, small mobiliary painted stones from Apollo 11 Cave and an engraved ochre piece from Blombos Cave date from some 25 000 and up to 70 000 years ago respectively (Lewis-Williams & Pearce, 2004).  This considerable antiquity complicates any attempts at interpreting the rock art by way of oral narratives, even those recorded by the earliest colonialists. Furthermore, our views and therefore theories on art, oral narrative and methodology are constantly changing (Bahn, 1998).

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