Archives February 2018

Central Asia

Central Asia

Central Asia, central region of Asia, extending from the Caspian Sea in the west to the border of western China in the east. It is bounded on the north by Russia and on the south by Iran, Afghanistan, and China. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.Central Asia’s landscape can be divided into the vast grassy steppes of Kazakhstan in the north and the Aral Sea drainage basin in the south. About 60 percent of the region consists of desert land, the principal deserts being the Karakum, occupying most of Turkmenistan, and the Kyzylkum, covering much of western Uzbekistan.

Most of the desert areas are unsuitable for agricultural use except along the margins of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river systems, which wind their way northwestward through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and eastern Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan after rising in mountain ranges to the south and east. Those two major rivers drain into the Aral Sea and provide most of the region’s water resources, though northern Kazakhstan is drained by rivers flowing north into Russia. On the east and south Central Asia is bounded by the western Altai and other high mountain ranges extending into Iran, Afghanistan, and western China.

As part of the Soviet Union until 1991, the region was generally closed to mass tourism. Popular among Russian alpinists and explorers, Central Asia had the highest mountain peaks in the Soviet Union. Issyk-Kul, the enormous mountain lake in Kyrgyzstan, was a popular destination for beach holidays among Soviet citizens. Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan attracted archeologists and scientists. But western tourists did not hear much from the region because of its position among the republics of the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were just one of the Soviet countries behind the Iron Curtain. There was only the occasional tourist – rare and daring – who would explore, experience and maybe write about Central Asia Tour.

There is another reason that Central Asia has taken so long to appear on the world scene: the decline of the Silk Road. Throughout its history, Central Asia has not been a single distinct political entity with defined borders. Rather, the region has been a crossroad of different cultures, home to nomads who were born to move from one place to another. The Silk Road was a trade route that enabled nomadic people to transport goods – and ideas – across the region over an interconnected matrix of roadways.

Central Asia, Silk Road

Trade was possible as people settled in cities along the route and established bazaars with countless goods for exchange between sellers and buyers. Several main routes of the Silk Road – and many more interconnections – traversed the territory of Central Asia. With the golden age of the Silk Road, the region flourished until the sixteenth century. Central Asia

After, alternate trade routes were established – faster sea routes from Europe to India and China. The region became unstable as many Silk Road empires simply ceased to exist, and clan-based kingdoms rose and fell until the twentieth century.Central Asia bazaar

Each country in Central Asia has maintained a strong national identity, and each country seeks to bring to bear its own historical significance on the continued development of the region. There have been varying definitions of Central Asia throughout the ages based on historical connections, geographical borders, and cultural peculiarities. Let’s discover in which context you might come to know Central Asia.Central Asia landscape

The modern idea of Central Asia as a region was introduced by famous Prussian geographer, Alexander von Humboldt, in 1843. His definition included Afghanistan and Western China because of the geographical connections and cultural interrelations. But the prolonged conflict throughout the 1800s between England and Tsarist Russia over control of the region, called The Great Game, resulted in the 1895 division of the territory of the Pamir mountain area, overseen by the Pamir Boundary Commission. The political annexation of the territory resulted in the population of the Pamir mountain area to be split between Afghanistan to the south and Tajikistan to the north. To this day, there are still Tajiks living in Afghanistan as a minority. But the territorial division split more than just the land. Afghanistan today is completely different – not related culturally, economically, or politically – to Central Asia, and Kashgar, in Western China, looks more Central Asian than the rest of China.

The Great Silk Road

The Great Silk Road

Silk Road is a system of caravan routes crossing in ancient and middle age time Eurasian continent from Mediterranean Sea to China and influencing the emergence and development of trade and cultural ties between people and statehoods located along the way. The legacy of first transnational contact between people of West and East prove importance of implementing this project aimed at launching open source online web portal dedicated to studies on Silk Road and studies about it. Moreover, local surveys and research are aimed to support scientific and cultural cooperation between the scholars and experts representing different regions and countries once surpassed by the Silk Road.

Connecting eastern and western margins of Eurasian continent, extended routes of the Silk Road crossed China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. On the east the road led to Korea and Japan; on the west to Russia, Eastern and Western Europe; on the south to India and Middle East on south-west. This was a transit road with two-way movement of goods, scientific ideas and achievements, as well as cultural and religious values. At certain period of time Silk Road used to be important and quick means of disseminating information through merchants, travelers and diplomats.

Many people assume that Silk Road first served as a route for exporting Chinese silk to Western countries, however many findings show that different goods produced in Rome, Byzantium, India, Iran, Arab Caliphate, later Russia and European countries were imported to China. Long list of exotic goods comprised: frankincense and myrrh, jasmine and amber, cardamom and nutmeg, ginseng and bile of a python, carpets and fabrics, dyes and minerals, diamonds, jade, amber, corals, ivory and “fish tusks”, gold and silver bullions, fur and coins, bows, arrows, swords and spears. Highly pedigreed species of Fergana horses, Arab and Nissyan horses, camels and elephants, rhinoceros and lions, cheetahs and gazelles, hawks and falcons, peacocks, parrots and ostriches passed the routes of Silk Road to be sold for higher prices. Cultivated crops, such as grapes, peaches, melons, vegetables as well as spices and sugar enhanced their geographic distribution with the help of merchants. Aside from movement of goods and animal trade, Silk Road served as a channel for dissemination of fashion and artistic styles that became widespread once grounded in a new ethno-cultural environment.

There is a theory that Silk Road contributed to the popularization of Timurid style in ceramics that is distinctive for blue palette of painting on white background. First emerging in emperors’ workshops of China during Yuan dynasty (1279-1369) it received its wide distribution in Iran, Turkey and Central Asia. Nowadays superb examples of ceramic bowls and vases painted with cobalt are exposed in many museums of the world.

Baghdad painting was regarded as a model. We believe, that public fascination with the style may explain why the walls of VIII-IX sanctuary located on the settlements of Kostobe and Talass valley, identified with Jammukat/Hammukat* were decorated with thick layer carving of plaster. Wide variety of grape withers, bundles of rape berries, tulips, rosettes, palmettes, rhombus shaped belts, meander borders, bouquet of plants were painted on panels. The palace walls of Afrasiyab and Varakshi, Samarra and Fustat encounter close analogies in carving motives, ornament details and general style. This meant that vision of Baghdad masters, fashion and lifestyle of the caliphate’s capital spread along the Silk Road, surpassing the borders of Muslim civilization.

Authors of different countries, contemporaries of those distant events praised not only prosperity of a certain state, but integration of other cultures’ values. The idea of cultural interaction naturally bears in itself main component of one of the real forms of developing world culture. Great Silk Road was not merely a route for transmitting goods, outstanding cultural pieces and standards of applied arts, architecture, wall paintings, but music art, dance and theatric performances of middle age. Performances of musicians and dancers, tamers of wild animals, acrobats and mimes, magicians and illusionists – all these forms possessed such qualities as entertainment and mobility. No language barriers existed for wandering troupes. Similar performances were showcased to Greek Basileus, Kiev Knyaz, Turkic Kagan and Chinese Emperor. Foreign orchestras traditionally were part of court staff. They were displayed both on official palace ceremonials and in unofficial celebrations and social gatherings. There are records left on reception of ambassadors by Turkic Kagan in his headquarters near Suyab city. It is widely known that most popular music in Tang China was music of the West – coming from cities of Eastern Turkestan and Central Asia. Music traditions of Kuchi and Kashghar, Bukhara and Samarkand merged with Chinese music tradition. Iranian, Sogdian and Turkic actors made significant contribution in choreographic culture of China. In China most popular artists were young dancing men and women from Central Asia. “Western prancing dance” was often performed by young boys from Tashkent, dressed in Iranian style blouses and tall pointed hats trimmed with beads. They were belted with long sashes, ends of which were waving during dance movements. “Chacha” dance was performed by two young girls in transparent robes decorated with multi-color embroidery and silver belts. The dressing of the dancers was complimented with narrow sleeves, peaked head wearings with golden bells and red brocade shoes. Another frequently performed dance was so-called “Girls from the West spinning in a whirlwind”, during which Sogdian girls dressed in scarlet dresses with green oriental style trousers and red suede boots, galloping, hopping and spinning on decorative balls. Of great popularity among all nations were various theatre performances with masks. In later time this traditional was guarded in Muslim countries. It is well known that during celebrations of Nowruz in Baghdad mask performances were displayed to the Caliph himself.

Monuments of spiritual culture found during excavations in different places located on traces of the Silk Road, speak about high level of cultural enrichment. For instance, terracotta collection of Tan period depicts dancers and actors in masks, musical ensembles sitting on camels. Facial features of these artists are identified with Central Asian people. Musicians and actors wearing masks are depicted on all paintings preserved in the staterooms of Penjikent, Afrasiyab, Toprak-kala and cities of East Turkestan. Exquisite wooden sculpture of a dancer was found in Penjikent, modem Tajikistan. Clay mask belonging to an artist of XXI centuries was found during the excavations of Keder city located in Syr-Darya regwn.

In addition, Great Silk Road played tremendous role in dissemination of religious ideas. On the routes of Silk Road different missionaries “carried” their faith to foreign lands. Buddhism came from India via Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan; Christianity and later Islam were transmitted from Syria, Iran and Arabia.

As archeological findings show, trade routes coming from Europe to Asia and vice-or-versa crossed Middle age Central Asia and Kazakhstan in different places: they went through steppes, overcoming mountains, and going down to fertile valleys. Silk Road, remaining as a main trade artery for many countries and people was at the same time the road of cooperation, mutual interpenetration and enrichment of different cultures. It is logical to conclude that Great Silk Road is a phenomenon of human civilization.

By: Dmitry Voyakin

Jammukat/Hammukat- ancient city civilization located in the valley of Syrdarya river and Talas valley, modern Kostobe, Zhambyl region of Kazakhstan

The Pamir Mountain

The Pamir Mountain

Pamirs, also called Pamir “The Roof Of The World”, highland region of Central Asia. The Pamir mountain area centres on the nodal orogenic uplift known as the Pamir Knot, from which several south-central Asian mountain ranges radiate, including the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram Range, the Kunlun Mountains, and the Tien Shan. Most of the Pamirs lie within Tajikistan, but the fringes penetrate Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan. The core of the Pamirs is in the highlands of Tajikistan, with the highest mountains in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous oblast (province).

The Pamir Mountain
The Pamir Mountain range is part of the Western Himalaya and features several peaks over 7000m. The terrain is diverse from towering peaks to high altitude desert plains and climate conditions can vary from +35C to -40C depending upon the time of year. The Pamir Highway follows paths forged long ago by the ancient Silk routes, when that precious commodity travelled from China to European and Arabian markets and traded goods returned in its stead. Legacies of those forgotten times can still be seen with cliff top fortresses and ancient caravanserais.
The highway winds over 2000km from Samarkand in Uzbekistan through Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan) and the Pamir mountains to Osh in Kyrgyzstan and then on to Bishkek (capital of Kyrgyzstan) through the Tien Shan mountain range.
The peoples of Central Asia hold hospitality as a value of great importance and travelers are warmly welcomed whether the visit is planned or otherwise!

The word pamir in the language of the region denotes the high undulating grasslands of the eastern portion of the mountains, especially where they abut Afghanistan and China. Deep river valleys mark the boundaries of the Pamirs in the north beyond the ridges of the Trans-Alai Range, and the valleys of the Vākhān region (Wakhan Corridor) of Afghanistan form the southern limit. The Sarykol pamir in the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in western China bounds the eastern margin, and a series of southwestern-aligned valleys that eventually drain into the Vakhsh and Panj rivers serrate the western boundary.