Thursday, June 26, 2014

Travels through Uzbekistan

Comrades,

The past few months have been filled with long days in the bazaar, combined with even longer days in the university preparing academic articles and trying to make sense of all of my field notes. I presented at a conference in Astana and was able to spend some time with my good friends while there, so that was nice. And in true American fashion, I am planning for life back in DC next year. Never a dull moment.

I have been wanted to visit Uzbekistan for some time, and after the Astana conference, I took a week and visited Tashkent, Samarqand and Bukhara. Historically, the modern-day territory of Uzbekistan was under the control of the Mongols, Timurids and various steppe empires (Bukharan Emirate, Kokand Khanate, etc.). Out of all of the Central Asian states, Uzbekistan has the most physical cultural history, as this is largely due to its location in between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river. Historically, the region was called "Transoxiana" (sometimes spelled Transoxania) which means the land between the Oxuses. For a more familiar parallel, think of Mesopotamia -- "the land between the rivers" -- a hotbed for cultural development by sedentary (as opposed to nomadic) inhabitants -- apply the same principles to Uzbekistan.

Due to visa requirements, I went through a tour agency. My tour started in Uzbekistan, where I visited the central square, the textile museum and a Madrasa, where one of the four original Qurans is housed. In Bukhara and Samarqand, I also took a tour and visited all of the major historical sites including tons of Mausoleums and Madrasas, the Summer and Winter Palaces of the last Emir of Bukhara, and some museums.

The highlight of the trip was my trip to the Bukharan hamomi bath (banya). I am a huge fan of Russian and Central Asian baths, and I regularly frequent the Arasan Baths in Almaty. But the Bukharan hamomi is unique. You start out in one room that is basically a sauna and open up your pores. Then you move from room to room in what is basically a cave and are massaged by a masseuse/chiropractor. Anthony Bourdain visited an Uzbek hamomi on his show, "No Reservations," and I included a clip here. While my experience was a lot more therapeutic than Bourdain's, the clip is an excellent overview of the hamomi experience.


I included a sampling of pictures below, but omit a lot of names and historical details, as this post would go on forever. I apologize if things are out of order -- Blogspot is not cooperating with me in moving pictures around, and my internet connection is kind of slow.

Anyways, enjoy, and thanks for your attention!

Statue of Amir Temur (Tamerlane) in Tashkent.

Uzbekistan culture features a variety of handicrafts, one of the most famous is the suzana wall rug. A Bukharan Suzana features a white background (cotton or silk) and colorful, silk embroidery.

According to my guide, the nine circles represent the nine months of pregnancy in this Suzana.

A Suzana made during the Soviet Union to promote the state-run cotton industry. This is an example of how Soviet propaganda adopted local artistic forms. 

The Old Jewish Quarter in Bukhara. Jewish merchants thrived here during the Silk Road. In Bukhara, there are three main trading domes -- one for furs, one for carpets, and one for money, and not to feed into stereotypes, The Bukharan Jews were particularly successful in the third dome, exchanging money. The Bukharan Jews were also successful musicians who played the shash maqan (stringed instrument) in the Emir's court. And Bukharan hand-weaving and rugs is a byproduct of the Bukharan Jews.
Finally, for most Jews unfamiliar with the culture of Bukharan Jews, look at the Bukharan kippah/yamulka, which is very similar to a Uzbek tyubiteka with its highly-geometric shape.
Madrasa in Bukhara.
A menorah, torah scroll, shofar, shabbat candle stick from the Regional Studies Museum in Samarqand. These were owned by Bukharan jews.
Khovrenko winery in Samarqand.
A hall from inside the Regional Studies Museum.

One of two functioning Jewish synagogues in Bukhara. After the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the Bukharan Jews emigrated to Israel or the U.S. The Jews spoke Tajik and Russian, but lacked knowledge of Uzbek so they could not find jobs in an independent Uzbek state. There used to be a vibrant community with thousands of families, and now there are fewer than three hundred Jews here. In Samarqand, there used to be 34 synagogues, and now there is one. I went in and met some of the people working there, and it was nice to be back in a Synagogue after living in a place with virtually no Jewish life. At the same time, it is such a shame that the Jewish community has shrunk so much.


 One of the trade domes in Bukhara. This one is devoted to the carpet trade.
Props to Uzbekistan for naming a juice in my honor. According to my Tajik bratishkas in the bazaar, "Dena" in Tajik means "yesterday."

Bolo Hauz mosque in Bukhara.

A bazaar in Bukhara where they sell "Gold like Fruit." This market neighbors the madrasa and features beautiful, hand-made Bukharan rugs and gold. To many locals, gold and rugs are a store of value and good investment pieces. It is traditional to give these items as gifts during a wedding. Gold, dangling earrings, in particular, are valued by women and gifted by a mother to her daughter at the time of her wedding.

Token selfie from Ulughbek Madrasa from Bukhara.


The Regional Studies Museum in Bukhara is housed in the converted mansion of Abram Kalantarov, a Russian-Jewish cotton industrialist. Kalantarov finished the house in 1914, but only lived there for four years before his death in 1918. During the Soviet Union, the house remained empty and under the control of the Communist Party. In 1981, it reopened as a museum. The museum itself is pretty interesting and is a nice overview of Russian, and Jewish, life in Samarqand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This photo is a snapshot from a wall mural. You see the symbol of the Russian Empire -- the double headed eagle -- and a Star of David. The eagle heads represent the Russian Tsar and the Russian Orthodox Church. So the fact that there is a Jewish star on the symbol of the Russian Empire is extremely fascinating. This symbol illustrates how Russian Imperial rule in Central Asia took on many forms at the local level. Administrators in St. Petersburg, and perhaps Tashkent, were pragmatic and willing to tolerate different interpretations of Tsarist power on the local level insofar as peace and stability existed on the local level, and individuals ran profitable enterprises that contributed to the state treasury. This is also quite a message sent by Kalantarov -- he sees himself as a Jew living in the Christian Orthodox Russian Empire, albeit in a primarily Muslim region. 

This is the entrance to the Khovrenko winery in Samarqand. The Khovrenko winery was started in 1868 by Russian-Jewish entrepreneur, D.M. Filatov. Filatov apparently traveled the world and collected an assortment of grape varieties. He brought them to the fertile region of Samarqand and began his wine factory. The factory has produced wines and cognacs since its inception, and during the Soviet period. Recently, the factory incorporated a vodka production facility into its portfolio.
My Lonely Planet guidebook recommended a visit to the Khovrenko winery, so I naturally could not resist. I scheduled a tour and a private wine tasting. My tour leader was a sweet Russianized Tajik babushka whose great-grandfather was one of the founding partners of the firm. She spent her life working in the winery and her children and grand-children also work here. I admired her passion for her work and for keeping the factory alive. This ranks high under my list of "good life decisions." 

Kukeldash Madrasa in Tashkent.

Registan close up


Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasa in Bukhara. This was one of two functioning madrasas in Uzbekistan during the Soviet Union, and continues to function.

The Mausoleum of Amir Temir and some of his family members and teachers. In Samarqand.

In Bukhara.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum. If you took AP Art History or Introduction to Art history in college, and you used the Jensen textbook, then you should recognize this photo. It is the only one from Central Asia in the book (at least in the version I used in 2008-2009).
This is a mausoleum that features Samanid architectures, which includes bare, clay bricks, rather than the turquoise blues tiles and mosaics of Timurid architecture. Legend has it that when the Mongol forces came through Samarqand, the locals hid this mausoleum under a mound of dirt, which preserved it.


One of the three Madrasas in the Registan. This one is fascinating because you see there are two faces and lions on the top. Islam prohibits the painting of animals and humans on religious sites. My tour guide said that the Khan who built the madrasa wanted to make a point and display his power by painting a lion. I don't buy that argument, but there are a lot of theories.

The "Hippodrome" bazaar in Tashkent is Uzbekistan's equivalent of Almaty's Baraholka. It is a major wholesalers bazaar that feeds small-scale retailers and traders throughout the country. I spent my last day in Uzbekistan in the Hippodrome, comparing prices (on identical goods), and taking in the environment. 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Statement on Alexander Sodiqov

Comrades,

I just returned form a week-long trip to Uzbekistan. I visited Tashkent, Samarqand and Bukhara and I have loads of stories and photos to share. But time is a little crunched now. The most crazy thing is, as of Monday, June 30, I will have one more month left in country! Time flies!!

But I want to take a moment to write something in support of Alexander Sodiqov, a Tajik citizen and PhD student at the University of Toronto who was recently detained my Tajik authorities and accused of treason. On June 16, Sodiqov was taken into custody in Khorog. An article by "The Guardian" has a good summary of events:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/19/fears-grow-for-canadian-researcher-arrested-in-tajikistan

The Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS), Association for Slavic, Eastern European, Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and Association for the Studies of Nationalities (ASN) have put together a petition for Sodiqov's release. If you would like, please add your name.


More information on Sodiqov:
[Following text was copied and pasted from a CESS email]:
"On Friday, June 27, an international event entitled "Researchers at Risk in Central Asia: The Detention of Alexander Sodiqov" will be held in many different locations around the globe, including London, Toronto, Washington, Paris, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Russia, and Kazakhstan. In this global discussion, held on the same day in a growing number of settings, scholars consider not only the latest information about Sodiqov’s detention but also the broader implications for research scholars around the globe. Anyone interested in hosting their own event is encouraged to do so."
As a researcher in Central Asia who knows plenty of other researchers, please trust me when I say that research in this part of the world has its unique challenges. All researchers around the world face issues -- language barriers, communication, bureaucracy, trust, homesickness, cultural shock, racial/gender/ethnic/religious/national prejudices, scams, etc. That is research and life overseas. However, in Central Asia, based on my interaction with other scholars and personal experiences, there is another layer of security risks. I will not go into too much detail here, but Sodiqov's detainment is an extreme example of how researchers are perceived by the state and sometimes treated -- even if such treatment occurs in a more subtle way such as a phone call or document check. There is always a risk.

I don't mean to say all Central Asian people and governments are bad  -- not at all. Rather, researchers are viewed as spies, even though we are not. And Sodiqov's detainment by his own government (he is from Tajikistan, but educated in Canada) is beyond tragic, especially since he has a wife and a child.

This is a part of the world that needs researchers, not just for the collection of academic knowledge, but for the cross-cultural dialogues and interactions researchers create. I have so much respect for Western and local researchers and academic institutions and indigenous cultures and traditions in Central Asia, that it is painful to see people who are really trying to do good and help generate knowledge that can inform good policies, be detained. 

Thanks for your support.

Alright, a more positive post on my Uzbekistan travels will come within the week...Cheers!