Although I’m often amazed at how great telecommunications work in this country, there are still stretches of time when internet jok — there’s no internet. In anticipation of those long hours, days, weekends, I like to load up on reading material while at work or cafes. [In this edition’s case, internet jok isn’t so much the problem as ubakyt (time) jok. I spent the summer working my butt off, and reading of all kinds — books, internet — fell to the bottom of my priority list, oops.] Here’s a compilation of some of the things that made me look twice and think a while, mostly about Kyrgyzstan, international development, foreign policy, feminism, and language. Enjoy.
Play Uzbek Music, But Only With Uzbek Instruments: The Uzbek Ministry of Culture and Sports has essentially (but not officially) banned the tar, a stringed instrument with Persian origins from Azerbaijan. The ways the Ministry is limiting the tar, and their control of the narrative surrounding the tar and Uzbek culture, is fascinating. “How far the authorities intend to go to enforce the use of only Uzbek instruments for playing Uzbek songs, or even all of what qualifies as a traditional Uzbek song is unclear (Look out Flyin’ Up).”
: My good friend Valentina just finished a year as a Fulbright fellow in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where she was researching alphabet reform and national identity in Kazakhstan. AKA right up my dang alley. Her website is a collection of informal interviews with Almaty residents on the subject, but each page also has nuggets about national identity, geopolitics, and ethnic tension. I’m obsessed, you should be too. “But with Latinization, the Kazakhs might have adopted the letter “j” for the sound “zh,” while the Uzbeks took “z.” This reflected on the pronunciation of words, and opened a rift between the languages. Even today, the linguistic differences between Uzbek and Kazakh, for example, are attributed to the Soviet border-drawing. Praise universality, realize sectionality.”
Turkish Targeting of Gülen Movement Reaches into Central Asia: My host brother attended one of these schools until he graduated this spring, and now my host sister will start classes in the fall. I never put two and two together that the Turkish schools in each of the oblast capitals were Gülen schools…“Turkish officials may want Kyrgyzstan to “prove” its brotherhood, but the Gülen-affiliated schools in Kyrgyzstan are among the country’s best.” No politics, because #peacecorps, but cough, ahem.
When a Swimsuit is a Security Threat: Expect a post that ties what’s going on in France to some recent trends in Kyrgyzstan. “To an American spectator, such bans probably appear a blatant restriction on religious liberty, or liberty generally, but what is striking is that the European jurisprudence upholding them speaks in the language of human rights. By couching prejudice and fear in the language of Article 9 exceptions, the court in effect uses human rights laws to limit human rights.”
Meet The Lakota Rapper Bringing The Noise About Indigenous People: “My great-great parents were the last people to learn [their] language because of the boarding schools and all that was done to try and wipe out our culture—so I’m trying to incorporate it in my creative process as much as I can.” There are some ties here to language in the post-colonial post-Soviet space.
Vladimir Putin’s Walkable Streets in Moscow: Maybe-sort-of parallels trends in large-scale construction in Issyk-Kul. “The idea that you can create democratic-looking spaces without actual democracy in them is worrisome, [Moscow architect Eugene Asse] said. ‘The city government is creating a space for citizens with one hand, and with the other they ban a protest which is legal and does not present any danger to the state. It demonstrates the policy of double standards — yes, we are democratic and we are creating a democratic space, but we won’t give citizens the right to realize their democratic rights in this space.'”
Moscow Warehouse Fire Kills at Least 17 Migrants: 14 of these migrants were Kyrgyz women. “Video from the scene showed a gray Soviet-era warehouse covered in black soot. A sobbing woman, standing in front of the building, said she had lost her 18-year-old daughter in the blaze.” My Facebook is blowing up with coverage of the fire; Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day is Wednesday, but people are asking just how independent the country is that it gets 30% of its GDP from remittances sent from Russia, that its citizens live away from their parents and children to earn money in horrible conditions, that young Kyrgyz men and women are dying in Moscow.
An Eagle’s Eye : View on Otto Bell’s The Eagle Huntress: How do documentary filmmakers decide to make art? When they decide to produce art, how far is too far in terms of manipulating the facts for the sake of the film’s “message,” especially in a documentary? The Eagle Huntress is a tale of a Kazakh girl in Mongolia who’s gotten famous in eagle hunting; the documentary warps a lot of facts, though. Does it matter, should people speak out, especially since the film makes such a claim on the “girl empowerment” movement? “Aisholpan joins a legacy as a member of an egalitarian society where interested females are not prohibited from eagle hunting. Despite his claim that she was news to him, Bell knowingly “erased” Makpal as a huntress forerunner and he scrounged for the male obstacle or foil in nearby countries. It is questionable whether he cares about female empowerment and accurate cultural and historical depictions.”
The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad: We all learn about the Underground Railroad in elementary school; this piece takes on the history of the “railroad” as both myth and fact in American collective memory. “One of the biases of retrospection is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own—that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and insidious and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within.”
Love in Translation: Swoon. “We like to think that the lexicon of a language reveals broad truths about its speakers. The wine will flow, and the Japanese guest will mention komorebi, the sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees, and the Frenchman will offer l’appel du vide, the urge to jump off a cliff, and there will be collective acknowledgment of the aesthetic qualities of the Japanese and the nihilistic ones of the French. But the idea that untranslatable words prove that speakers of different languages experience the world in radically different ways is as dubious as it is popular, originating from “the great Eskimo vocabulary hoax”—the notion that Eskimo has fifty or eighty or a hundred words for snow.”
How to Make Friends: “Even though friendship is slowly being recognized for being as important as romantic relationships, it can feel awkward to apply the same standards. That leaves a lot of room for mismatched expectations. I wonder how many more friendships would last well into old age if we explicitly discussed our Golden Girls dreams. Or how many more friendships would be healthy and mutual if we talked about what that means to each of us. We need a little less conversation about the joys of friendship, and a little more conversation about the expectations that come with it.”