Versions of the Kyrgyz epos Manas have been collected and studied for over a hundred and sixty years. Reasons for this research have varied. Foreign scholars collected the first variants of stories connected to the legendary hero Manas and his descendents for linguistic purposes in the mid-nineteenth century.[i] As a Tsarist expedition made the first sound recording of a performance, connoisseurship of written variants appeared with an emerging class of Kyrgyz literati.[ii] Nationalistic interests of these local intellectuals, and the Soviet focus on folklore, coincided with the aim to produce a complete narrative. Post second world war political concerns led to the publication of a harmonized epic, with features deemed problematic removed.[iii] Throughout these periods, the extinction of the living oral tradition has frequently been predicted. In post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan (1991-), the resurgence of oral performances has been met with the frequent claim that ‘true manaschis’ (chïnïgï Manaschïlar), performers of the Manas epos capable of the traditional oral improvising, have been replaced by ‘manaschis by the book’ (jattama Manaschïlar), those who merely memorize a printed version.[iv] Wishing to examine this issue, in Fall 2017 a group of researchers connected to the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, responded to my initiative to collect and study new variants of the Manas epos.
“We Are Not Mutants”
Stihia Festival promised to be the Burning Man of Central Asia. On September 14, hundreds of revelers gathered in Moynaq, a once bustling port at the edge of the brimming Aral Sea, but now a dusty town in the Karakalpak autonomous region of northwestern Uzbekistan. Festival goers arrived from cities across Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia, Europe, and the US, hoping to rave to techno sets mixed by DJs from Tashkent, Moscow, Tbilisi, and Berlin. Media reports soon followed, describing the spectacle: the desolate landscape of a former sea-bed-turned-desert; electro-music as rain-song to call back the sea or, at least, to raise environmental awareness; the hundreds of curious locals who showed up to observe the festivities.
Building upon their Author-Critic Forum at the recent annual CESS meetings in Pittsburgh 2018, author and historian Scott Levi (Ohio State University) reflects on questions posed by colleague James Pickett (University of Pittsburgh) about his latest book, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2017 as part of the Central Eurasia in Context series.
In the spring of 2013 a private workshop was organized by a major international donor for its Tajikistani state and NGO partner organizations in Dushanbe. The event was part of the reporting process related to a large labour migration program being implemented by three large international development agencies. I attended this event as a part of fieldwork on the bureaucracy of migration management I conducted between 2012-2014.
2019 Summer School in Russian and Eurasian Studies (SSRES) at Nazarbayev University
SSRES at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan is an intensive academic program that offers students the chance to immerse themselves in the Russian or Kazakh languages and to experience Kazakh and post-Soviet culture in the heart of Eurasia.