Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bishkek from Mediaeval Times to the Soviet Period: A Brief History

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Lilya Kas'yanova with mushroom bouquet
Frequent contributor to this website, Lilya Kas'yanova, an expert guide to Kyrgyzstan, has noted that many travellers are unaware of the city's history prior to the Soviet period. In this essay she provides an overview.

The location of medieval Bishkek was quite advantageous as the Valley of Chui River was  criss-crossed by the caravan trails of the Great Silk Road.

The eastern branch of the trunk road threaded through the Golden (Chui) Valley, and interlaced there with another, which pierced through the territory of the Central Tien-Shan mountains.


In the 7th – 13th centuries A.D., the Turkic-Sogdian Djul’ settlement was located in the space of present-day Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. Historians date Djul's foundation from the 6th century A.D.

In ancient Turkic dialect "Djul" means "steppe". One theory is that the town had also been known under its Sogdian name "Peshgah", meaning “town that lies in the foothills of the mountains”. In the Middle Ages, it was common practice to give two names to localities: one – Sogdian, another – Turkic.

Djul’ was not the only populated center of the Golden Valley: some historical sources indicate 18 towns and 50 small settlements. A well-defined distance of one-two days’ caravan march separated the towns of the Valley.

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Detail of Sogdian textile - the Sogdians were the great
merchants of the Silk Road  

The Iranian-speaking merchants and farmers who had moved from Sogdiana founded those settlements. Samarkand, in present-day Uzbekistan, was the heart of Sogdiana.

Gradually, those Turkic nomads, who were attracted by a sedentary lifestyle, took up residence in the towns. The settlements of the medieval era were multi-faith centres: they were settled by Zoroastrians, Christians, Buddhists, Nestorians, Muslims and pagans who lived together in peace.

In the 7th century A.D., Djul’ had the following layout:

  • citadel (central, fortified stronghold) - positioned in the dominant north-western section of the shahrestan;
  • shahrestan (residential quarters of ruler and nobles) - surrounded with a rampart;
  • and  rabad (suburb represented by workshops, shopping stalls, etc.) the centre of economic life, and which in turn was encircled by orchards and fields. 
Kilometers-long embankments screened cultivated areas: Djul’ was a sprawling city by medieval standards.

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Nestorian tombstone dated 1368, from Chui Valley,
now in the Hermitage museum
It is generally accepted that the booming towns of the Chui Valley declined by the 14th – 15th centuries. However, different versions describing the eclipse of urban life are put forward: the devastating marches and punitive expeditions of Amir Timur (Tamerlane), natural disasters such as earthquakes, internal feuds, plagues and so on.

In 1825, the Khan of Kokand (now in present-day Uzbekistan), after conquering lands populated by the obstinate Kyrgyz nomads, built a fortress known as Pishkek at the site of today’s Bishkek city, to maintain firm control.

However, the Russian military detachment led by siege-craft experts, completed a successful attack on the enemy’s citadel in November 1862. The Kokand fortress fell; it was demolished to the foundation by the Russian troops. Later, on the site of the former fortress, a Cossack outpost was positioned.

Pishpek settlement was founded in 1868.  Finally, the district center was moved from Tokmok to Pishpek, and it was granted the status of town on April 29, 1878.  The town became the administrative center of the Soviet Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Region in October, 1924.

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Parade at Central Square, Bishkek 1939
In 1926, Pishpek was renamed Frunze in honour of Michael Frunze, a major Red Army commander in the Russian Civil War, who is best known for defeating Baron Wrangel in Crimea. He was also Joseph Stalin’s arch rival – Frunze was born here in 1885. (As an aside, when flying to Bishkek you will note that the luggage tag’s three-letter airport code is FRU – a relic from the Soviet past).

The residents of the town laid out a great many parks and gardens of delicious coolness, managing to create a delightful oasis in the mid-desert steppe.  Frunze was regarded as the greenest capital of the Soviet republics.

During World War II, some of the Soviet manufacturing facilities were moved to Frunze, thus keeping them beyond the reach of the enemy. A number of heavy industry enterprises were launched at that time turning Frunze into a thriving industrial heartland. Many cultural centres, such as museums and theatres, were built in the capital.

Frunze was renamed Bishkek when the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic became independent Kyrgyzstan in 1991.

Additional images of Soviet Bishkek are below.

Contact Lilya on: lolya.87(at) mail (dot) ru

Read all Lilya's articles

Related posts:
Burana, Kyrgyzstan: Medieval Settlement & Central Asia's Oldest Minaret 
Kyrgyzstan: Uzgen's Eternal Treasures
6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan

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Old airport terminal of Frunze town

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School number 3 in Frunze, named after Joseph Stalin
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Southern Gate architectural complex, Frunze, 1970s
 



 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Central Asia in Art: From Soviet Orientalism to the New Republics

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Cover Central Asia in Art: From Soviet Orientalism to the New Republics
I have just ordered a new publication Central Asia in Art: From Soviet Orientalism to the New Republics by Aliya Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen.

Dr Tiesenhausen was born in Kazakhstan and obtained her PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where she still lives.

According to the publishers,  I.B. Tauris,  the author presents  the "untold story of Soviet Orientalism,  and  re-evaluates the imperial project of the Soviet state, placing the Orientalist undercurrent found within art and propaganda production in the USSR alongside the creation of new art forms in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

In the midst of the space race and nuclear age, Soviet Realist artists were producing figurative paintings. Why? How was art  produced to control and co-opt the peripheries of the Soviet Union, particularly Central Asia?

From the turmoil of the 1930s through to the post-Stalinist era, the author draws on meticulous new research and rich illustrations to examine the political and social structures in the Soviet Union – and particularly Soviet Central Asia".

Shirin Akiner, Senior Fellow of the Cambridge Central Asia Forum, University of Cambridge, writes:
 "The twin topics of Soviet art and modern Central Asian art are attracting growing attention, not to mention admiration, from connoisseurs and professional art dealers alike. However, to date it is a field that has been largely neglected by scholars.

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Baki Urmanche's Girls in a Yurt
Thus, this new book is doubly welcome not only as a ground-breaking study of the subject, but as an impressive piece of work by any standards.

Full of original insights and thought-provoking observations, it gives a lively and comprehensive overview of the subject and insightfully sets the Soviet legacy in context".

I can hardly wait to get my hands on it!

Related posts:  
Alexander Volkov: Of Sand and Silk, an Exhibition at Christie's, London
Homage to Savitsky
Sotheby's London Exhibition: Contemporary Art from Central Asia & the Caucasus




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Semyon Chuilov's famous painting Daughter of Kirghizia
 

Monday, July 18, 2016

2017 - The Year to Discover Central Asia

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Gur Emir, Samarkand. Image: Richard Marshall
Details of Uzbek Journeys 2017 one-of-a-kind, small group tours to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are now available.

The 16-day Uzbek tours, scheduled for the very best seasons in Uzbekistan, focus on the architecture, art, craft and history of this fascinating section of the Silk Road.

Explore the architectural masterpieces of the ancient cities of Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara and Khiva.

Visit artisans’ workshops to meet families who have practised their craft for generations and contemporary artists who are fusing ancient techniques with modern style.

Roam the bazaars, lounge around in tea houses and spend the night in a yurt in the Kyzyl Kum desert. Learn about the intrigues of the Great Game between Britain and Russia and view the extraordinary collection of avant garde art in remote Nukus.

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Magnificent Kyrgyz landscape
The 8-day Kyrgyz tours combine the majestic, rugged landscapes of snow-capped mountains and lush valleys, with visits to craft co-operatives, design workshops, felt carpet makers and yurt makers. 

Travelling around shimmering Issyk Kul lake, with the towering Tien Shan mountain range in view, you will understand how nomadic traditions are still at the core of the Kyrgyz people, who take immense pride in their heritage.  

There are opportunities for hiking, picnics by streams, and listening to traditional musicians. You will have the chance to see a kupkari (buzkashi) match and an eagle hunt. The tour also includes a visit to Sunday's Karakol livestock market.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country, often called the Switzerland of Central Asia, and makes a marvellous contrast to the landscapes of Uzbekistan.

Why not discover this fascinating region in 2017?


View the 2017 Kyrgyzstan tours.
View the 2017 Uzbekistan tours.

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Aidai  Asangulova's stunning felt piece