Cross-regional and Blogosphere
Editor’s note: NewEurasia already written about the Open Central Asian literary forum. Our special blogger Alex Ulko gives his opinion on the event and on the development of Central Asian art in general
In 2005 the Russian curator Victor Miziano spoke of Central Asian culture and art as of the only unclearly marked areas on the map of the world’s contemporary art. This begs a legitimate question whether anything has changed over seven years which is a long period of time from a contemporary art’s perspective. Actually, not much. We have been waiting for years for a decisive moment to come when Central Asia would suddenly surface as the new Other, unknown until that time in the West, when it would unexpectedly evoke some special interest, but this breakthrough has not come yet. Some occasional names and random works get a mention or two somewhere but so far Central Asian art has not really emerged on the international scene.
NewEurasia’s special blogg Alex Ulko reports on the hard life of Uzbek labour migrants in Russia. “What I could not remember was whether Dante required those stuck in limbo to abandon hope or not,” he writes.
More than 1,300 people attended 30 events in Bishkek as part of Kyrgyzstan’s first such forum, opened by ex-President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Roza Otunbayeva, and with appearances by international literary stars including Janusz Leon Wisniewski (Poland), Hamid Ismailov (UK and Uzbekistan), and Elchin Safarli (Azerbaijan).
The winner of the festival’s literary contest, Zarina Karayeva, and forum organiser Marat Akhmedjanov appeared on the breakfast show of Kyrgyzstan’s NTS television station on 26 November, with coverage also featuring in 20 other media including Vechernii Bishkek, the BBC World Service, K-News, News Asia, The Times of Central Asia, Uzbek and Tajik media, and Mir.
After having killed his only son, Karajan approaches the finish line…
Seven days passed. Now, from whom do you hear the news? Hear it from the Kalmak, Taysha:
“Observers were looking. They could see anyone coming. There was one observer from Taysha Khan, and another from Karajan. They spotted the horse coming. Taysha Khan’s observer said:
‘My Khan’s happiness shall be increased shortly, there will be an end to his worries. [Indeed], Barchin Jan now belongs to the Khan, [for his horse] Tarlan is in sight!’
However, Karajan’s observer [recognized] the gold amulet upon the animal’s neck and declared:
‘Once the battle begins, all worries are forgotten; you cannot say contradictory words. The one coming is Baychobar!’
Upon hearing these words, Alpamysh climbed the white hill and saw Baychobar coming. He reflected,
‘I hung the golden amulet on his neck, saying,
“Whoever rides you shall forget his worries.
Glory shall be won by one’s self.
May I be sacrificed to your eyes Baychobar!
I do not have tulips blooming on the nearby mountain,
[but] you are priceless, even beyond one hundred thousand tumans!
When you walk, you earn honor.
God is my witness, I do not have elders.
I have no roses blooming in the spring if you do not run, earning honor.
God is my witness, I have no brothers,
I am but a poor beggar, away from my land.
But forty saints have touched my head,
and when you run, my worries disappear.
May I be sacrificed to your eyes!
When you win, the future of the Kungrats shall be secure!”‘
The race was to end where Alpamysh stood, at Kakbali Karatash. Taysha conferred with his vezirs:
‘Whoever’s horse comes across this rock shall have Barchin.’
Alpamysh was standing there…”
Karajan, having caught up to his treacherous progeny, begs him to relent. But driven mad with lust, Dost Mohammed refuses, leading father and son into a tragic confrontation.
Note that Dost Mohammed is riding a black horse, whereas Karajan is riding a white one. The imagery is profoundly archetypal: this is a perennial battle, between generations, moralities, and destinies. There is also a strong resonance of the Biblical and Quranic story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, except in this case, the sacrifice must be made. That seems like a pretty heavy demand to be made upon Karajan for the sake of friendship. But remember that much more is at stake in this story than just Alpamysh marring Barchin: an entire social order has collapsed, and Karajan is fighting to bring back justice and order. In this sense, the slaughter of Dost Mohammed, Karajan’s only son, is Christ-like — the high price that must be paid for our redemption.
The dastan paints a complex figure in the form of Karajan. It lionizes the slaughter of Dost Mohammed, yet it indicates here and explores more fully later that Karajan’s decision breaks his heart. In general throughout the Alpamysh, we can sense a deep inner conflict in the main character: not quite Muslim in the fullest sense yet no longer a pagan — in fact, his whole relationship to Islam becomes somewhat pessimistic, as after the death of his son, he has lost all hope in this world — and vacillating between remarkable feats of strength and fragile weakness and laziness. He is the true main character of the dastan, the human being we can relate to, as opposed to the distant and mighty Alpamysh.
Atop his incredible steed, Karajan manages to overtake the Kalmaks in a dramatic race. He soon begins to catch up to his treacherous son…
An interesting tidbit: this portion of the dastan makes reference to the “Karadag”. Kara or Qara+ Dag/Dağ/Dagh, occasionally Daq or Tagh is Turkic for “Black Mountain”, and it connotes several locations within the former Ottoman sphere, from Montenegro in the Balkans to municipalities in Azerbaijan and Iran.
Three days’ time passed chasing after the Kalmaks. When the dawn broke to the Kalmaks, who speak a language no one knows, God granted him [Karajan] his wish: he caught up, having run without stopping! Bats [at dawn] gathered and folded [their wings]. Chobar, who was [artificially] restrained, [at] morning prayer time passed the Kalmaks.
After four days, at dawn, upon looking back, Taysha’s tarlan spotted the spreading wings of Baychobar. [The horse's] wish was granted at noon prayer time: like the northern winds of Spring, at the heels of the tarlan [he] came close. [Then] Baychobar passed, [and] on the way bit [the tarlan]. The tarlan fell behind.
[Baychobar] ran all day, ran all night. After five days on the slopes of the Karadag, the only one left [ahead] was Dost Muhammed…
Editor’s note: It’s becoming a truism that mobile phone technology could reshape Central Asia for the better, but there’s also a dark side, even a ridiculous side. NewEurasia’s Marat discusses the problem of shariah-backed sms-divorcing.
Modern technology is not only improving lives in Central Asia. Lately, short message services, emails, and other technical means are being utilized by male heads of family to dissolve that very family. Husbands are divorcing their wives thousands of kilometers away with one SMS message, reading “Talaq.” The word is an Arabic term for “divorced” and is the prerogative of the husband, according to Islamic teachings. While talaq is a permissible act in Islam, it is strongly discouraged for the sake of the family and society.
Baychobar speeds across the steppe to catch up with the rest of the race in a miraculous sprint of supernatural proportions!
Supernatural stallions figure prominently in Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, two religious systems that made a deep imprint in Central Asia prior to the rise of Islam.
In Zoroastrianism, one of the three representations of Tishtrya, the hypostasis of the star Sirius, is that of a white stallion (the other two are as a young man, and as a bull). Meanwhile in Buddhism, Kanthaka was a white horse that was a royal servant and favorite ride of Siddhartha himself, the eventual Buddha. Siddhartha used Kanthaka in all major events described in Buddhist texts prior to his renunciation of the world. Following the departure of Siddhartha, it was said that Kanthaka died of a broken heart. In one story, it is said that Kanthaka jumped across a massive river in a single leap — something similar to what Baychobar shall do in this portion of the Alpamysh.
Baychobar is often referred to as being “winged”, although whether metaphorically or literally is unclear. Unsurprisingly, the ancient Turkic tradition does have an analogue to the Greek Pegasus: the Tulpar (Тұлпар). It appears in the national seals of both Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
Readers should also note the allusion made to the Russians and other elements of sedentary Modernity, an example of the flexibility and adaptability of the dastan poetic form.
Karajan awakes three days later to discover his son’s betrayal. Can he and the injured Baychobar win the race for Barchin?
The Alpamysh makes several references to the “Saints”. Sometimes these figures are identified explicitly, as in the case of al-Khidr (“Hizir”); most of the time, simply as a collective. Who could these individuals have been in reality?
Central Asia has had a long and complex religious history. Its oldest spiritual genetics reach back to shamanism and Zoroastrianism, but there is also a heavy strain of Buddhism as well. This latter strain dates back to the ancient Greek kingdoms in Oxus, Bactria, the Khyber Pass, Gandhara and the Punjab. Hence, it is probable that the “saints” are, in fact, the bodhisattvas of Buddhist lore, in particular monks who had perfected the spiritual disciplines and subsequently ascended to nirvana, from which position they could assist and guide those still on earth trapped in the cycle of birth, death and re-birth. The bodhisattva notion would take on Islamic garb in the form of the Sufi pir.