Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Khudaybergen Divanov - Father of Uzbek Photography

Khudaybergen Divanov tours to Uzbekistan
Khudaybergen Divanov
Khudaybergen Divanov was born in Khorezm in 1878, the son of the Secretary to the Khivan khan. Around this time, the khan had offered the German Mennonites to settle in the region, in a place that became known as Ak Metchet (white mosque).

Wilhelm Penner, a Mennonite craftsman who had a German ZOT camera, (and who became known as Panorbuva - grandfather lantern), befriended the young Khudaybergen. Such was the young man's interest in photography that Penner eventually gave him the camera and the accessories.

Young Divanov began photographing the remarkable streets, minarets and mosques of Khiva as well as his own family. There are many ethnographic shots such as dorboz (rope walkers), the walls of Khiva, hunters with hunting birds, typical Khivan donkey-carts, irrigators cleaning the ditches, etc). However, he soon came into conflict with the city's religious authorities. They complained to the khan that this activity was not approved by God and that angels would not enter a room adorned with human portraits.

This khan was an educated man and a poet, writing under the pen name of Feruz. He asked Khudaybergen to photograph him. The khan liked the photo and recognized the creative and technical skills of the young artist. He not only protected him from the clergy, but invited Divanov to work at the Khivan mint. In 1907, the khan's delegation, led by Right Vizier Islam Khodja, went to Saint Petersburg.  Divanov accompanied them to memorialize the event.

Khudaybergen Divanov uzbekistan tours
 Divanov teaching children in Khiva
He was permitted to stay in the Russian capital for two months in order to study photographic art.  There he bought a Pathé cinematograph, a gramophone and new cameras. That equipment enabled him to independently produce the first Uzbek documentary featuring Asfandiyar, the Khan of Khiva, riding in a phaeton in 1910. His first films such as Architectural Monuments of Our Land (1913), The Sites of Turkestan (1916) and others have survived.

He became an ardent promoter of photography and cinema: he demonstrated his own and foreign-made films in public places in Khiva and distributed pictures of Khorezm monuments with clarifying inscriptions in his own hand, often in Arabic. 

Divanov later became the Finance Minister of the People's Soviet Republic of Khorezm. Indeed, all bank notes issued in 1922 bear an imprint of his seal. He became the first Uzbek cameraman at the first Uzbek film studio.

Divanov had been a  member of Mladokhivintsy's dissident movement during the years of Stalin's repressions. He was arrested, denounced as an 'enemy of the nation' and executed in a Yangiyul prison camp in 1938. He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1958 after Stalin’s death.

Khudaybergen Divanov uzbekistan tours
Khivan on horseback with hunting birds
Anahita Photo Archive in Santa Fe has published and sells an interesting selection of Divanov's work as well as other  Central Asian 19th century and pre-revolution images.

During your stay in Khiva on an Uzbek Journeys tour, you will see several of Divanv's photos in various sites. And if you look carefully in the exhibit at the mint, you may even see bank notes issued during his tenure. You will see his photograph in the Museum of Victims of Repression in Tashkent on the last day of the tour.

Related posts:  Max Penson: Uzbek Photography between Revolution and Tradition
Jacques Dupâquier's Images of Tashkent, 1956
Mennonites in Khiva 1880-1935
Paul Nadar's Images of Turkestan 1890 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Alexander 'Bokhara' Burnes - Great Game Player

Alexander Bokhara Burnes great game player bukhara
Cover Travels into Bokhara
Alexander 'Bokhara' Burnes became a celebrity in Europe after the publication of his three-volume book Travels into Bokhara: A Voyage up the Indus to Lahore and a Journey to Cabool, Tartary and Persia in1835.

Eland Books, which specializes in keeping the classics of travel literature in print, has just published a new edition of his work. Kathleen Hopkirk has brilliantly edited Burne's work from three volumes to one very readable book. Ms. Hopkirk is well suited to the task: she is the author of  A Traveller's Companion to Central Asia, and is the wife of the journalist Peter Hopkirk. His work The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, is a must-read for travellers to the region.

From 1829 onward the British considered it a matter of urgent, national importance to extend their influence into Central Asia before the Russians arrived. They also feared that their hold on India would be jeopardized if Russia were dominant in the region and militarily present in or near Afghanistan.

To protect their interests, they sent young Lieutenant Alexander Burnes by way of Kabul to Bukhara in 1831-32, for which he became famous as an explorer and political agent and earned the nickname 'Bokhara' Burnes.  Burnes was a gifted linguist, fluent in Persian and Urdu, and he spoke enough Punjabi to get by disguised as a merchant, negotiating his way past bandits on the road into the Hindu Kush and in negotiating entrance into Bukhara, the sacred city of Islam.

alexander bukhara burnes great game player
Alexander 'Bokhara' Burnes
By all accounts, Burnes was charming, clever, egoistic and quite a ladies' man. On the British restoration of Shah Shuja in Kabul in 1839, (an action that led the way to the First Afghan War,)  Burnes became the regular political agent in Kabul. On the morning of 2 November 1941, during an insurrection, he was cut to pieces in the garden of his house in Kabul, within sight of the garrison cantonments.

As an interesting aside, Burnes appears in George MacDonald Fraser's first Flashman novel. (Flashman becomes a hero because he is one of only two survivors - in fact there was only one - of the horrific retreat from Kabul in 1842. This is the event that launches Flashman on his fictional career of cowardice in every available trouble spot in 19th century military history).

Eland Books was started in 1982 to revive great travel books that had fallen out of print. Its catalogue alone triggers dreams of other places and other times. Its paperbacks are printed on fine, cream paper and sturdily bound. The launch for this book was held at 50 Albemarle Street, London, home to John Murray publishers since 1768, and in the very room where Burnes plotted his journeys into Central Asia.

Related posts:
Arminius Vámbéry - a Dervish Spy in Central Asia
Bukhara's Summer Palace

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lenin Still Points the Way in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek's huge Lenin statue remains the only major statue of Lenin left in Central Asia, presiding over the ceremonial heart of the capital city. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union, most of the new Central Asian republics demolished their monuments to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The Kyrgyz it seems have decided that he and his legacy are still very much a part of the country's history: although there are occasional debates in the press and parliament, there is a special law on the preservation of the statue.

His statue was still standing in the main Ala Too Square (formerly Lenin Square) in Bishkek until 2003, when it was removed to the other side of the historical Museum.  (Statues were removed from the main squares of other Central Asian capitals much earlier). In Kyrgyz cities and towns many streets  still bear his name. At one time the main street in every town and village was called Leninskaya, and one of the four administrative districts of Bishkek is still named Leninsky.

Since declaring their independence, the Kyrgyz people have moved a few of the most conspicuous Lenin monuments, but there is no shortage of residual iconography in smaller squares and parks. Not far away, in Oak Park, sit Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, deeply engrossed on some finer point of dialectical materialism.

Bishkek's Lenin statue was replaced by one of Erkindik (Liberty) - a winged female figure on top of a globe, holding aloft a tunduk, the circular frame that forms the top of a traditional Kyrgyz yurt. She was replaced in 2011 (evidently some Kyrgyz believed that a woman holding a tunduk was a bad omen) by Manas, the national folk hero.

The extraordinary video clip below shows the removal of Lenin's statue in 2003. In one scene there is a literal (not just figurative) changing of the Kyrgyz guard as Lenin's monument is skilfully dismantled.

Related posts:
Tours to Kyrgyzstan 
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings 
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan
Karakol: A Frontier Town in Kyrgyzstan