Culture and History
Following the Central Asian film and music festival in Prague, I spoke to Murad Rakhimov (on the photo), a Turkmen dutar (national two string instrument) musician and member of “Silk Road Band” comprised of Central Asian and Afghani musicians in Prague. Listen to two passages of dutar and read the story of Murad, who mastered the traditional style of playing it.
Murad grew up in Turkmenistan, and, after getting his first dutar from a shop, he and his brother started practicing. “I became interested in playing dutar at the age of 8 or 9”, says Murad. “Back home, I studied the dutar with a traditional teacher. His name was Sapar Ishan, who himself was a student of famous Turkmen destanchi bahshi Gurt Yakubov, a classical singer and musician who tells the epic poems and novels. Traditionally Turkmen bahshi study without notes, and music is transmitted orally from person to person. Each region in Turkmenistan is famous for its own style of music and traditional teachers try to stick to theirs and thus preserve local traditions of playing. Formalized music schools teach dutar by notes and mix the styles.”
In addition to music, Murad is fond of poetry – he was writing himself and volunteered as a leader of a local regional Union for young writers. He was a student of philology at Turkmen State University and a journalist. When he became active in opposition movement Agzybirlik – organized meetings, distributed leaflets – he was being called in and questioned by the KGB. Read the full story »
On October 19, Prague’s Lucerna cinema hosted Central Asian gala event within MOFFOM, “Music on Film – Film on Music” festival. The event featured three music documentaries by Uzbek film director Saodat Ismailova: “Revitalizing Shashmaqam, Court Music of Central Asia”, “Homayun Sakhi: The Art Of The Afghan Rubab” and Tengir-Too: Mountain Music Of Kyrgyzstan”. Films were followed by live music performances by Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Afghan musicians. The event was well attended, by international and Central Asian audience, who represented vast Czech Central Asian community – staff of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and students of English language universities in Prague.
“Festival organizer Keith Jones attributes the enthusiasm of the audience to the exotic nature of the music and to outstanding musicianship…There’s also a political side underlying this — that people want to know more, especially in Europe, about the Islamic world , … about secular cultures from Islamic countries because they are sort of attacked in the media with unfair stereotypes. And a lot of people are searching for stories that lie underneath the headlines and underneath what is just on the surface. And so Central Asian music has attracted relatively strong support within a certain community which is interested in world music and international cultures generally”, wrote RFE/RL.
The films were very picturesque and interesting. Read the RFE/RL description of the films:
The film “Revitalizing Shashmaqam, Court Music of Central Asia” offers a glimpse into “shashmaqam” – one of the primary styles of ancient court music that flourished in Silk Road cities of Central Asia like Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent. “Homayun Sakhi: The Art Of The Afghan Rubab” is a detailed portrait of the life and work of a master of Afghan traditional music. Sakhi, the subject of the film, fled his native Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. But he developed a new musical style while living in exile in Pakistan. Eventually he moved to Fremont, California, a small American town that has a large population of Afghan expatriates. “Tengir-Too: Mountain Music Of Kyrgyzstan,” depicted the relationship between the Kyrgyz people, their traditional music, and the landscape.
I remember one of the characters of the “Tengir-Too”, “komuz” player, told that he grew up in a family where playing komuz was from generation to generation. “We are nomad people”, he said, and historically we played individually, we did not have orchestras. Now that we live in the cities, we still play our traditional music, but in ensembles, in a modern Western way.”
Live performances were vivid and touching: having similar instruments, Central Asian music has different styles. When musicians were playing one after another, there was a feeling that it was not only the Western audience that was getting exposed to different sounds of Central Asia, but also that Central Asians themselves were learning more about each other’s cultures. We were pleased to speak to Murad, a Turkmen musician who played at the event, and publish his story on neweurasia Turkmenistan, available here.
Recent excavations of the Botai Culture sites of Krasnyi Yar and Vasilkovka in northern Kazakhstan have unearthed an ancient corral for keeping horses. Now, the fact that Kazakhs have a long-standing equine tradition is not news per se, but evidence suggests that the ancient inhabitants of what is today Kazakhstan were among the first to domesticate horses as early as 3700-3100 BC. Archeologists of the University of Exeter say how difficult it is to establish who came first:
The identification of early domesticated horses is extremely difficult. With some domestic species there is a single clear criterion to work from, but with horses there is no immediately obvious morphological or size change. The identification of early domesticated horses is only likely to be possible through detailed and multifaceted study of sites like Krasnyi Yar and Vasilkovka.
The trophy is, however, likely to go to the Ukraine or Russia:
“The very first horse domestication was probably a bit earlier in the Ukraine or western Russia,” Olsen said. “Then some horse-herders migrated east to Kazakhstan.”
The images above are 3D models of a Botai village and the facial reconstruction of a Botai man made by students of the Carnegie Mellon University (via Quetzalcoatl, where the findings have also been discussed). Botai built large villages with as many as hundreds of homes. They did not subsist on agriculture, however. The Botai were a “horse economy”.
Despite the increased spending for education, research and development, Kazakh Universities still do not offer a high level of education, while the job market is not ready to place graduates.
Ben reported back in May that Kazakhstan is to increase spending on science development by 25 times until 2012, reaching 350 billion tenge, and recetly we found out that Nazarbayev announced that by 2012, Kazakhstan’s science budget would constitute 5% of its GDP.
All-round installation of modern information technologies into the educational process will be a central component element of education reforming system. President has made public a decision to open a new international university as well.
Opening new international, eurasian, world class universities becomes trendy in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. But building new campuses with excellent facilities is not enough: we would need to train a pool of qualified teachers and overcome the post-Soviet education demise.
On the Russian version of neweurasia Kazakhstan, Marat discussed the deteriorating higher education in Kazakhstan (RUS). He says that after “perestroika” many teachers either started their own businesses as they could not provide for living with teachers’ salary anymore, left the country or changed their specialisations. Those who stayed could not handle cnanged that came after with independence. Those changes involved paying for a workplace and for dissertations, and collecting bribes from the students. “As a result, we got a system for collecting money, not for educating people. In the end, the students learn how to bribe and apply it in real life”, says Marat. Read the full story »
As Esbergen reported on the Russian version, President Nazarbayev recently pledged to increase the spending on education and science by factor 25, so that by 2012, Kazakhstan’s science budget would constitute 5% of its GDP. To put these numbers into context, the EU’s goal is to achieve a Research and Development (R&D) share of 3.0% of GDP by 2010.
The increase in Kazakhstan’s R&D spending will have to be accompanied by institutional reforms. Esbergen touches on a variety of issues: The creation of numerous venture funds does not mean that they’ll be easily accessible. The concept of competition in the science sector is relatively new in Kazakhstan – and the system of fixed allocations without the tender process common in the Western world still prevails.
Another related problem to new forms of R&D financing is red tape and corruption, problems that seem to increase proportionately alongside hikes in spending in any public domain. Esbergen also says that due to the collapse of much of the science sector after independence and the subsequent disappearance of a large body of scientists, it is going to be difficult to lure academics and scientists back from the business hemisphere to what they were trained to do.
The promised economic stimuli can only materialise if the connections between business and state-sponsored science are well-functioning and institutionalised. In most European countries, the bulk of R&D takes place in the business sector, e.g. about 66% of all R&D expenditure in Germany is taking place in the corporate world, 75% in Japan. In most oblasts in Kazakhstan, the public share in total R&D expenditure is above 50%.
Naturally, regional disparities also play a big role. USAID, in a May 2006 publication, took us through regional disparities in R&D spending and employment. Nazarbayev’s recent announcement to create five national laboratories with intricate links to business will most probably make the usual suspects the winners – Almaty (with 33% of all higher education institutions already situated here) and Astana, plus maybe one or two other cities (e.g. Ust-Kamenogorsk with comparatively large research) will likely benefit most from the announced R&D spending spree.
This punctual support of excellence is somewhat reminiscent of Germany’s recent campaign to bolster certain higher education institutions in order to create elite universities able to catch up with the US and UK:
Universities in the country’s north and east went largely unacknowledged in the expert panel’s decisions, causing some to predict they could end up as even bigger losers in the future as ever more funding goes to institutions in the south and west, already among the country’s wealthiest regions.
Once again the government of Kyrgyzstan rejected the petition issued by the Muslim NGO «Mutakalim». In their letter to the prime minister of the country activists of the NGO were demanding to allow Muslim women to wear their headscarves when being photographed for ID cards and passports. In its interview to RFERL one of the representatives of the movement mentioned that 30 000 signatures were collected. The reason for that is that allegedly some women feel ill at ease when they need to remove their scarves at airport checkpoints.
The office of the prime minister reacted instantly in rejecting this petition, citing security reasons.(RFERL). The petitioners obviously remained unhappy but the decision of the government was in general positively assessed by many the majority in the country.
Many respondents who were asked to address this issue in our mini poll mentioned that Kyrgyzstan is a secular state and that the rule of secular law should prevail over all religious sentiments of those who are real believers and those who use religious rhetoric with their own, mainly political, agenda in mind. As it was emphasized it’s important not to mix up religion with politics, whatsoever.
One, though, could suggest that the state and people overreacted in the case of the mentioned petition. One could also pose the question: “What is so dangerous about women being photographed in headscarves and than being granted a right to wear them in public places, at checkpoints, airports, etc, etc.” I would personally suggest in this case recalling the recent scandal in France, where the conflict was triggered by the fact that some representatives of the Muslim community demanded to allow student girls to wear headscarves in public schools. The government of France did have enough courage to prohibit violating French laws. In spite of the outrage of the proponents of those proclaiming themselves strict believers, France, the country that confronted multiple problems with granting initially too many freedoms to virtually everyone, managed to curb “freethinkers”. As it turned out later, some of them were just trying to masquerade as believers with concrete political goals and agenda behind their sentiments.
It is hard to make any conclusions in the situation where religion and politics come at interplay, but it should certainly be kept in mind that there are no easy answers in such situation.
Though, I would also argue that security motives are important to be considered in this case. It is theoretically possible, that if headscarves are officially allowed, the next step will be legalizing veils and yashmaks under the pretext that religious women feel uncomfortable revealing their faces. Honestly, I will personally feel very uncomfortable, if someone like that appears in the airport. So at this stage I’m applauding the decision that has been made by the office of the prime minister of Kyrgyzstan. I appreciate their persistence.
It is safe to conclude that for now we are lucky enough to live in a secular system and, thus, should respect its laws. It may sound simplistic, but this is exactly what is currently needed in Kyrgyzstan, where so many parties, willing to set their own order, keep confronting the state. As a rule, they all start probing their power with lobbying minor issues.
This is a translation of the article that Inga posted on the Russian version of neweurasia.
On the 10th of October the day of mental health is traditionally celebrated worldwide. On the very same day in Kyrgyzstan it was officially announced that the upcoming month would be devoted to fighting psychosis and depressions among the population of the country. Though, it is still not quite clear how the fight will be carried out. According to official data in Kyrgyzstam there are 50000 of mentally retarded people. According to the calculations of independent sources, this figure is even higher. Several years ago medical doctors started sharing their concerns about the increasing number of children affected by mental diseases. Statistics in this case is disturbing: the number of children with mental problems accounts to 16-17% among every 100 000. 4 years ago there were 13% affected. 75% of those affected are mentally retarded, 20% suffer mainly from epilepsy. Thus, the number of people suffering from mental problems is obviously growing. Based on the common sense, one could assume that the number of doctors, dealing with these issues is increasing. But you’d better not to jump to conclusion. Actually, the situation is vise versa. Moreover there is an official platform that “justifies” the situation.
In the national program “Manas taalimi” defines the strategies of the national health care system, the number of physiatrists for kids is limited to its very minimum. This is in spite of the fact that Kyrgyzstan officially joined the European declaration on mental health. This document implies that all countries participants are obliged to pay special attention to developing the system on the protection of mental health of their citizens. Kyrgyzstan, though, doesn’t seem to be very enthusiastic about such obligations. On the contrary, the idea of minimalism seems to be the main one for local reformists, aiming to change the principles of the health care system in Kyrgyzstan. Once the reforms got started all positions of children’s physiatrists in local hospitals in the country were eliminated. Now only the capital enjoys the luxury of having special psychiatrists for kids. According to the expert of psychological department of the State Medical Academy Tomilla Kadyrova,
“lately Kyrgyz medical system has lost almost 50% of children’s psychiatrists. In 1998 there were 38 of them in Kyrgyzstan, now only 19 are left. Increasing number of children with mental problems stems from this fact. ”
As a matter of fact, in some remote areas of the country noone is even capable to deal with routine checkouts and diagnosing procedures. The majority of parents don’t have enough money to bring their kids to Bishkek that results in the fact that the majority of young Kyrgyzstaneese remain untreated. This fact, though, doesn’t seem to bother the officials, responsible for the reforms in the health care system. Melis Maldibaev, one of the representatives of the Coordination Committee on the reforms in the health care system, explains:
“We really needed to curtail the number of specialized medical doctors in local hospitals since it would be too expensive to keep them all. This is an international practice and we support the idea of wider medical specialization. In our realities it will mean that so called “family” doctors (therapists) will be able to recognize early symptoms. ”
We can conclude, though, that therapists, even the best ones, will not be capable of treating their patients. Considering the fact that there are no enough special doctors nowadays we are approaching a vicious circle.
“It is possible to integrate up to 70% of children with mental problems into our society. It is a matter of early diagnosis and timely treatment,”-states Burul Makenbaeva, the director of the “Mental Health and Society” NGO. “Though in the current situation medical officials are unwilling to act as saviors. ”
Kazakhstan: Government Reshuffling
October 06, 2006 14 19 GMT
Kazakhstani President Kurmanbek Bakiyev reshuffled law enforcement executive posts Oct. 6. Osmonaly Guronov replaced Murat Sutalinov as acting Interior Minister, while Sutalinov was appointed head of the National Security Service. Bakiyev made Tokon Mamytov head of the Kyrgyz Security Council after former head Miroslav Niyazov resigned. Kyrgyzstan has faced reshuffling since opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev was framed for carrying heroin in an airport.
Update: The in-house fact-checker must have been out for lunch. The story is now fixed.
Kazakh refugees celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in Turkey at the end of August this year. Thousands of Kazakh families fled from Eastern Turkistan, today’s China’s Xinjiang province, first from the nationalist Chinese government, then from the Chinese Communist suppression since the beginning of the thirties.
These two large groups left their homes in search of safety and peace. They endured hunger and thirst whilst crossing the Altai and Himalayas, traversing and resting in several regions such as Ghansu (Chinese province), Tibet, Kashmir and Pakistan. They finally found refuge in Turkey, where they were granted the Turkish citizenship. A village linked to the city of Nigde, known as the Altai Aul, was established in 1956 for them by the Turkish Government.
The event was organised by the Turkish and Kazakh governments and the head of the Altai Aul, as well as its residents. Many families who had left the village years before, returned from cities such as Istanbul, Izmir and Konya to find the village more developed; with water taps in the mud-houses, a paved road running through and new concrete houses.
The three-day program consisted of a football tournament arranged by the Kazakh-Turkish youths and concerts with famous akins, singers (including Roza Rimbayeva) and folklore dances in the village and in front of the Nigde government building. In addition to this, a statue of Kazakhstan’s famous Khan, Ablai Khan, was put up in Nigde, to represent the interconnectedness of the Turkish and Kazakh cultures.
On this special occasion, as well as at the opening of a concrete yurt in the village, various politicians from Kazakhstan and Turkey attended and held speeches. Many of them emphasised the importance of the Kazakhstan-Turkey relations, seeing the two countries as “brothers”. Among them were: a Kazakh senator, the Turkish Culture Minister and the Mayors of the cities of Chimkent and Nigde.
Diverse Kazakh, and of course, Turkish academics had the opportunity to present the history of the Kazakh refugees from a scientific point of view at a conference titled: “From the Altai to Anatolia: Half a Century Later”, which was held in the Cultural Centre of Nigde.
It was clear through this event, that although the Kazakhs have acquired the Turkish citizenship and have been living in Turkey for half a decade, they still see themselves as Kazakhs. Many saw it as a great opportunity for the youth to learn about their history, seeing as they still maintain a strong Kazakh self-awareness living in big Kazakh communities, be it in Istanbul, Berlin or New York. Read the full story »
During our recent outreach trip in Central Asia, we (Peter, James, Leila, Ben) stayed overnight in Sary Moghul, a village in southern Kyrgyzstan, on which I posted on recently. We used the morning of our departure for a stroll around the place and ended up at the village’s only school.
The headmaster of the school came in early that morning. He was surprised to see us gang of foreigners stand on his courtyard, but politely asked us inside his office and offered us a seat. From him, we got all important numbers:
Sary Moghul’s school is attended by children and teenagers from the first class onwards up to grade 11. There are about 780 pupils altogether, and teaching takes place in Kyrgyz. Besides Russians, English is also told, although we couldn’t audit any English class, unfortunately. School starts at nine in the morning, and, as Sary Moghul is quite a small place, the streets are crowded with young people during the minutes before classes start.
After our meeting with the headmaster, we went into a classroom, where a class of about 20 kids (maybe fourth grade) was just about to start with their Kyrgyz lesson. Once we entered the room, every one of them stood up, said zdra-zdvu-jte rather loudly in a choir and sat down again. The teacher, a tall elderly man, offered us to take a seat (for which many kids had to share a bench between three of them), and proceeded with his class. Before we left, we took a group photo, and the kids politely shouted do svidanija.
My former colleague in Bishkek graduated from school here. He comes back regularly to visit his parents and also to see where and how he can help in the classrooms. Thanks to him, Sary Moghul’s school now has a computer room with four computers and a printer. Some years ago, donations were more basic and included chalkboards, chairs and desks.
Last year, out of the people finishing the final grade, about 15 made it to Osh to pursue a degree at university. This year, however, numbers dropped to only 3.