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Sms-divorcing: the new shariah in Central Asia?
Written by , Friday, 30 Nov, 2012 – 19:59 | 3 Comments

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.

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The Alpamysh, part 18: Baychobar’s supernatural gallop
Written by , Saturday, 24 Nov, 2012 – 1:00 | No Comment

'The Path of Kathanka' by Susan Cavaliere.

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.

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The Alpamysh, part 17: the Saints come to the rescue
Written by , Saturday, 24 Nov, 2012 – 1:00 | No Comment

Blue-eyed Central Asian Buddhist monk, with an East-Asian colleague, Tarim Basin, 9th-10th Century CE (Wikipedia).

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.

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Call for papers: “Muslims and Sports”
Written by , Monday, 19 Nov, 2012 – 18:48 | 2 Comments

The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (Department of Anthropology and Sociology) invites paper proposals for an interdisciplinary workshop: Muslims and Sports (event date: July 2013).

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The Alpamysh, part 16: the horseshoe nails of treachery
Written by , Saturday, 17 Nov, 2012 – 1:00 | No Comment

Horseshoe nails. Photograph from Wikipedia.

To what ends will men go to satisfy lust? As Karajan drifts to sleep, his only son, Dost Mohammed, implements a terrible plan to prevent him from winning the race for the lovely Barchin.

The tired [lit. "small-minded"] batir, Karajan, tied the feet of his young mount, then placed his head on the saddle cushion, rested his head on his palm, and laid down. He immediately became motionless like a tree.

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The Alpamysh, part 15: Karajan is betrayed by his only son
Written by , Saturday, 10 Nov, 2012 – 1:00 | No Comment

Kyrgyz father and son riding a horse in the Aksu Valley. Photograph by Robert Smurr (University of Washington: Central Eurasia Image Database).

Taysha Khan sends a spy to report on Karajan, who reports back about the latter’s horse, who has oddly pegasus-like qualities. A conspiracy is hatched by none other than Karajan’s only son to kill the horse and tie up the heroic horseman…

A tore was sent by Taysha to observe the order of the race, and was instructed to keep an eye on the four hundred and ninety Kalmaks.

This man was At Peshin Tore, who at once reported about the horses: “We saw the four hundred and ninety horses as they filed past us. We watched all. Next to the chestnut [tree] was Karajan’s horse, [compared to which] all the others seem like oxen. Karajan’s friend’s horse is [quite a] mount.”

[The khan replied,] “Let us go see it.” He gathered nine Kalmaks to go with him.

They all went near the horse.

Ever since Karajan became friends with Alpamysh and became Muslim, he never missed a single prayer time. While he was performing his morning prayers, Baychobar was walking around behind him.

The tore inspected Baychobar’s body and flesh with his own hands. He discovered the wings on his shoulders, and the way the horse folded them, moving occasionally. Atpeshin Tore became scared of Baychobar. He fled, rejoining the crowd.

He gathered all of the four hundred and ninety Kalmaks and said:

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The Alpamysh, part 12: The race of Barchin begins!
Written by , Sunday, 28 Oct, 2012 – 1:00 | No Comment

Riders speed towards the finish of the long-distance race, known as 'ate chabysh'. Photograph by EurasiaNet.org's David Trilling (click image for more).

The race for Barchin’s hand in marriage has begun: whoever can reach her jurt first shall have her! Alpamysh and Karajan’s enemies prepare themselves, numbering as many as 490. But Alpamysh himself is banned from racing on account of his age, forcing the much older Karajan to compete in his place…

Karajan told Alpamysh what Barchin said. Alpamysh asked him, “Are my elders well?” “They are well, my friend,” Karajan replied. Upon hearing this news, they rested Baychobar for seven days and nights.

Meanwhile, the Kalmaks rode hard over the stony ground towards the fortress of Taysha Khan. They hid their beloved in the castle, for to the winner of the horse race contest, Barchin was the prize; hence, all hell broke loose [among them].

For the lady and the child, horsetails were braided. Death is an order of the creator: no Kalmak was left behind, all were gathered, and all cried with the hope of receiving the hand of Barchin. [According to the mollas,] four hundred and ninety swift horses from the side of Taysha entered the race.

Karajan called for his friend Alpamysh, who was ready to enter the race. [Yet,] Alpamysh himself was not permitted [on account of his age of 14 years], for children only fetch the horses. His friend Karajan was fielded instead, declaring, “For the sake of friendship, I will be the horsegroom!”

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Ид Мубарак!
Written by , Friday, 26 Oct, 2012 – 13:58 | No Comment

The Alpamysh, part 11: “Luckless Barchin I am…”
Written by , Friday, 26 Oct, 2012 – 1:00 | No Comment

Alpamysh's horse, Baychobar. Photographer unknown.

Karajan breaks his in-laws out of prison and rides away upon Baychobar. But, as he parts ways with Barchin, she makes a terrible oath.

Kokemen Kaska [the vezir of Baysir Bay] was the head of the executioners. He realized that Khan was changing his mind. Speedily coming to the jailhouse, Kokemen Kaska released Baysari Bay and Altun Sach to Karajan.

Baysari Bay recognized the Baychobar, walked around it, hugged it. He Jumped and mounted Baychobar; Karajan mounted behind him, followed by Altun Sach. The horse’s chest got longer and he galloped away.

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The Alpamysh, part 10: “You will die doing what you have always done!”
Written by , Wednesday, 24 Oct, 2012 – 1:00 | No Comment

Barchin's golden cloak ('Биби-ханым' by Bobur Ismailov).

Thanks to his encounter with Barchin, Karajan has discovered the horrible truth of his own connection to the political upheavals and devastation plaguing the land. He vows to seek justice.

Karajan mounted his horse, saying to Barchin,

“My mind became upset on this field.
Kungrats are in a revolt over their honor,
and when the owner arrives from the land of Baysun
Taysha Khan will be in trouble.
Mounting horses from every direction,
countless Kalmaks died in Isfahan.
When I look, I see that your house is on fire Taysha.

Valiant Alpamysh arrived from the land of Baysun.
When the roses of the garden wilt before the ninety days of winter,
when my time is up, the appointed hour cannot be deferred,
all my limbs [shall be] devastated.
When he was our guest for the six days,
Padishah, hear that I am crying,
draining my life away,
consuming my sustenance at every stage of my travelling,
eating my nine camels,
even when the Kalmak could not eat one baby camel.”

Thus, Karajan was displaying his degree of friendship towards Alpamysh.

Karajan said,

“Hear me, Taysha Khan!
If you had nine camels eaten at every stage of travel,
you cannot keep it up until the end of time.
Won’t you admit that!
You are an impostor!
When I listen to the God in the morning,
I become angry and [vow to] take your head!
You will die doing what you have always done!
Of all your bad deeds, you do the worst to me!
You have imprisoned my father and mother!”