Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Greek Community of Uzbekistan

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Greek family gathering, Tashkent 1972
Greeks have been in Central Asia since Alexander and his armies marched through in the 3rd century BC. Indeed many blue-eyed people you meet in the region will claim their ancestry from his soldiers.

However, it was in the 15th century, following the fall of Constantinople and the marriage of Greek Princess Sophia to Tsar Ivan III of Russia, that a steady migration of Greeks to Russia began. The religious and cultural ties were strong.

After Catherine the Great's armies reached the Black Sea and founded the city of Odessa, many Greeks settled there; before the Russian Revolution there were over 500,000 Greeks living in Tsarist Russia.

Prior to WWII about 30,000 Greeks lived in Uzbekistan, most forcibly sent there by Stalin. Another 11,000 settled in Tashkent as political refugees following the Greek Civil War (1946 - 1949). Many Greeks worked on the Golodnaya Steppe (also known as the Hungry Steppe). Begun in 1956, this was a Soviet agricultural project on a grand scale, to cultivate the naturally saline virgin lands, an area of 10,000 square kilometres in Eastern Uzbekistan, about 160 kilometres from Tashkent.

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Musicians performing at the Greek Cultural Centre, Tashkent 1970s
By 1960 there were 12 Greek neighbourhoods in Tashkent and two in Chirchiq. Greek was taught in local schools and a cultural centre established to preserve traditions, customs and language. They played a significant role in Tashkent's cultural, economic and political life.

The Soviet Union actively supported the Greek Communist Party within its borders and performers such as composer and musician Mikis Theodorakis regularly visited Tashkent.

In 1982 the Greek government passed an Amnesty Law permitting the return and repatriation of the political refugees who had left Greece during the civil war. Many returned to their homeland. Others, however, had married and created a life for themselves in Uzbekistan and elected to stay. After Uzbekistan became an independent nation, further repatriations followed.

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Greek guys hanging around Tashkent, 1970s
Today there are about 6,000 Greeks in Uzbekistan. The Greek Cultural Association organises Greek classes, dancing and other traditional activities. Supported by the Greek Government, each summer it sends around 30 school children to Greece for a one-month stay and a small group of Uzbek-Greek pensioners visit their homeland.

The Greek Cultural Association is located at 30 A Yusuf-Hos-Hodgib Street 100031, Tashkent. Telephone: 998 971 256-28-03. It is not far from the Applied Arts Museum.

Update May 2015: For readers who wish to learn more about this fascinating topic, Elaina Lampropoulos recently published her excellent thesis Belonging to Greece and the Soviet Union: Greeks of Tashkent 1940 - 1974. Her research and its findings are based on oral histories and Greek-language newspapers published during the period as well as on memoirs of Greeks who lived in Tashkent.

Related posts:
Alexander the Great's March from St Petersburgh to Sydney 
Tashkent: A City of Refuge 
Uzbek-Korean Connections

Images courtesy of Maria Eustathiou, Tashkent, from her family album
Materials source: Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

White Silk Road - Snowboarding Afghanistan

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Poster from White Silk Road
White Silk Road tells the story of three Australian snowboarders who travelled to Afghanistan in February 2012 to carry the sport across new frontiers.

The guys, Clint Allan, Nick Gregory and Mitch Allan, must be very brave and a little crazy. They must also have paid a huge sum for travel insurance.

From the documentary's blurb:

They travelled to the town of Bamyan, in central Afghanistan, to explore the untouched peaks of the mighty Hindu Kush. Along the way they dodged riots, landmines, bombs and kidnappers to discover a side of the country usually ignored by the western media.

The spectacular natural beauty of Bamyan has endured through centuries of violence, and a culture of hospitality and optimism in the communities has prevailed through the previous decades of conflict. The snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush tower above the small town. All winter, they are covered in deep, dry powder. Most of them had never been ridden. With only their two legs to get them up the mountain, the snowboarders set about changing that.

In the foothills of the mountains, the riders met a small group of locals who had recently taken to the slopes with gumboots and wooden skis: forgetting the tribulations of the past and fostering a new tourist industry that could secure a brighter future. The boarders introduced them to snowboarding and helped them learn the fundamentals of a new sport and a new life.

It opened in Australia in July and will be playing at festivals in North America and Europe later in the year. The trailer below [2 mins] is extraordinary. Just look at those mountains. The soundtrack is put together by Fake Four Inc and Circle Into Square.

Related posts:
Uzbekistan as Film Location 
Cricket in Afghanistan and Tajikistan
Afghan Art - Tradition and Continuity at the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha 
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding 

White Silk Road: Snowboarding Afghanistan - Trailer from Lightbox Pictures on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Central Asia at the Paralympics 2012

Sharif Khalilov; image: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
Athletes from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are at London's 2012 Paralympics.

The 10-member Uzbek contingent are competing in four sports: track and field, swimming, power lifting and judo. Uzbekistan boasts a proud history of investing in sports training for both able-bodied and disabled athletes. In the  2009 Asian Youth Para Games, Uzbek athletes won four gold, three silver and one bronze medal. At the 2010 Amputee Football World Cup, held in Argentina, the team defended the champion’s title, winning gold for the second consecutive time.

Uzbek judoka Sharif Khalilov has become the first Uzbek paralympian medallist ever, winning a silver in the 73 kg category.

Seven Kazakh athletes are in three events: power lifting, swimming and track-and-field. In 1994, Kazakh Lubov Vorobieva won silver in cross-country skiing at Lillhammer's winter paralympics in 1994, which has been Kazakhstan's only paralympian medal.

Kyrgyzstan debuted in the Paralympics in 1994 and this year hopes for its first medal are pinned on its only competitor, power lifter Esen Kaliev. Afghanistan is also represented by one athlete: Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, a power lifter, who lost his right leg 18 years ago during the civil war. Fahim Rahimi competed at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, and this time he wants to bring home a medal.

Fahim Rahimi, Afghanistan's sole athlete; image: The Guardian
Turkmenistan has fielded five athletes: Sohbet Charyyev, although not a medallist, scored his personal best in the F13 men's long jump final. Tajikistan's Parviv Odinaev, his country's sole competitor, hopes to score in the men's 75kgs powerlifting event.

Uzbek Journeys wishes all the athletes success and joy at the Games.

Related post: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan at the 2012 Olympics.