From August 4th to the 7th, Nazarbayev University in Astana hosted the European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS) XIII Biennial conference with “The Steppe and the Sown” theme. The conference was dedicated to the study and image of both pastoral nomadic and sedentary lifestyles and heritage as well as the complexities between the two. The panels and papers were organized into six themes varying from history, anthropology to politics, education, sociology and arts. Historical themes covered a wide range of issues from colonial and Soviet experiences and focused more generally on the steppe, its frontiers and images. Several panels focused on gender matters and the role and conditions of women in contemporary Central Asia. The field of cultural and literary studies was widely represented by some deep considerations of early pre-Soviet, Soviet and late Soviet works by Central Asian writers and their ideas about nomadic heritage, history and culture that they passed on to future generations. The papers dedicated to literary imagination in Soviet Central Asia and to the images of Genghis Khan or the roles of writers like Chingiz Aitmatov were especially interesting and raised some important discussions. Separate panels and papers were dedicated to the development and change of urban space in Central Asia and especially in Astana.
Two keynote speeches by Svetlana Jacquesson and Meruert Abusseitova highlighted two days of the conference. The first keynote address by Dr. Jacquesson, Director of Central Asian Studies Institute (AUCA, Kyrgyzstan) was titled, “If the dogs bark, can the caravan go on: Steppe History, Metadiscursive Practices and the Future of Central Asian Scholarship”. This talk focused on the re-imagination of the nomadic heritage. After the consideration of the popular “kurultay” movement in Kyrgyzstan and the nomadic “invention of tradition” in contemporary Central Asia more broadly, Dr. Jacquesson concluded that the shift from a state-centered approach to the study of nationalism might give an interesting perspectivee and create a new venue for the study of Central Asia.
The second keynote speech “Historical Continuity and Traditions of Statehood in Central Asia: Visions and Problems” was given by Prof. Meruyert Abusseitova from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Kazakhstan Academy of Science. Prof. Abusseitova focused on the continuity of nomadic history and the importance of interregional and interstate contextualization of nomadic heritage and history in Central Asia and beyond. For a full list of panels, see the ESCAS website at www.escas.org.