Thursday, October 26, 2017

Afghanistan Mourns Honorary ‘Grandmother’ Nancy Hatch Dupree

afghanistan nancy dupree, nancy dupree afghanistan center kabul, central asian tours
Afghan muralists of the ArtLords group paint Nancy Dupree, calling her "My hero.
The honest Guardian of Afghanistan’s culture".
American historian Nancy Dupree spent half a century working to preserve Afghanistan's heritage from the ravages of the Soviet invasion, the civil war and the Taliban era.

Her Herculean efforts were not forgotten by the country's citizens when she died last month in the capital Kabul.

Even at age 90, Dupree was still focused on running and organizing the Afghanistan Center Kabul University (ACKU) where 60,000 Afghan documents are housed.

She wrote five guidebooks on Afghanistan, dying following a protracted battle with heart, kidney and lung problems at a hospital in her adopted city.

Days after her death, Afghan government officials along with foreign diplomats, colleagues and friends packed out a memorial ceremony, and praised her legacy at the Afghanistan Center Kabul University where the ceremony was held.

She had amassed a huge collection of valuable books, maps, wartime photographs and rare recordings of folk music at the ACKU where she also lived. Now the desk she worked at stands unoccupied, but honoured.

Afghans mourned Mrs. Dupree by posting condolences on social media. Both the current and former presidents of the country expressed their deep sorrow over losing her, as well as countless ordinary citizens.

afghanistan nancy dupree, nancy dupree afghanistan center kabul, central asian tours
Nancy Dupree
Dupree came to Afghanistan as the wife of an American Diplomat in 1962. Born and raised in India, Dupree graduated from high school in Mexico City and attended Barnard College and Columbia University, studying Chinese history.

She began writing about Afghanistan shortly after arriving in the country, where she met Louis Hatch Dupree, an archeologist and anthropologist, who soon became her editor.

They were both married at the time, but would go on to divorce their spouses and spend decades traveling Afghanistan together.
Their book on Afghanistan "Five o’clock Follies" brought them international fame.

When Soviet troops were deployed to Afghanistan in 1979, the Duprees were forced to leave the country. Louis was briefly imprisoned after the communist government accused him of spying for the C.I.A.

Rather than return to the United States, they moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, a hub for displaced Afghans. Here they were shocked to find that documents and books of cultural value were being sold and used for fuel.

In order to preserve as many documents and books as possible, they founded the Agency Coordination Body for Afghan Relief, and collected all documents related to Afghanistan’s history and culture.

Louis Dupree died of cancer in 1989, just as the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, but Nancy continued their vision. Waiting out the civil war and the Taliban occupation in Pakistan, she tried to preserve Afghan heritage by forging contacts with moderate Taliban officials, although these efforts bore little fruit.

afghanistan nancy dupree, nancy dupree afghanistan center kabul, central asian tours
New faculty builing at the Afghanistan Centre, Kabul University
In 2005, Nancy returned to Kabul, taking the material she had collected during her stay in Peshawar to Kabul in hessian sacks.

A building of Afghan marble, stone and cedar, Afghanistan Center Kabul University, became her safe harbour. Here the books, photographs, maps, and other rare documents, she and Louis had collected were digitized so as to be accessible to other universities in cities such as Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Mazer-e-Sharif.

Dupree continued curating thousands of documents reflecting years of conflict and political upheavals, refugee work and international involvement in the war-torn country.

“One of our focuses is to promote the whole concept and methodology of doing decent research,” Dupree told the Guardian in 2013. She also established the Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation, aiming to promote the history and culture of Afghanistan.

In an interview with Washington Post, she explained the motivation behind her organisation's battle to strengthen Afghan heritage.“What we are trying to do is inject this idea that to have a sense of identity is what makes you strong,” she said.

This article was first published on 29 March 2017 on Global Voices Online. It was written by Ezzatullah Mehrdad and reposted with permission.

Related posts: 
Hidden Treasures from the National Museum of Afghanistan
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding
Duke Ellington's Kabul Gig 1963

afghanistan nancy dupree, nancy dupree afghanistan center kabul, central asian tours
Reading room at the Afghanistan Centre, Kabul University

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From Kremlin to Kremlin: African Americans in Uzbekistan Part #2

American actor Wayland Rudd, moved to the USSR
in 1932 and made a very successful career in theatre and film

This post concludes the remarkable story of African Americans who worked in Uzbekistan and other Soviet repulbics. The first part appeared here in August; it was first published on RFE/RL in April 2016.

You Don't Know Your're Black?

Yosif Roane's sometimes diffuse recollections narrow to a laser-like focus when he discusses certain anecdotes from his childhood, like exploring nature in Uzbekistan and creeping around Red Army barracks in the Soviet republic.

He's less mobile these days, his walker compensating for a bad right leg. During a recent interview, Yosif shuffled into the room wearing a brown tweed jacket, a white tie, and a black shirt with gray stripes that matched his thinning hair and neat mustache and soul patch.

He erupts in laughter after telling about a time he saw a man from Africa on a bus he boarded with his family in Tashkent. "I said: 'Mama, Mama, look! Look at that black man!' And everybody on the bus cracked up. I was almost as black as he was. And everybody said, "You mean to tell me you don't know you're black'" Yosif says.

 Like many other black Americans who came to the Soviet Union during this period, Yosif's father said that he experienced less racism there than back home. He told journalist Yelena Khanga that the only incident he could recall was when two white Americans hurled racial slurs at him in a Moscow barbershop and were thrown out after the barbers learned what they had said.

The elder Roane extended his contract to work in the Soviet Union in 1934 and was sent to Soviet Georgia to work at a tomato cannery. The family remained for another three years before Soviet authorities delivered an ultimatum to the group of African-American agronomists: Give up their U.S. citizenship and stay, or leave the country.

George Tynes and family
This turning point came in the fateful year of 1937, at the height of Stalin's Great Terror.

This campaign is estimated to have resulted in more than 1 million killings by the Soviet state amid an atmosphere of rising paranoia. According to Khanga, it nearly ensnared her grandfather and Joseph Roane's recruiter, Oliver Golden.

She writes that Golden learned that the Soviet secret police had come in the middle of the night to arrest him while he was away on vacation in southwestern Russia. When he returned home, Khanga writes, he went to the local secret service office and asked to be arrested "if you think I'm an enemy of the people." "Comrade Golden, don't get so upset. We've already fulfilled the plan of arrests for your area. Go home and work in peace," she quotes the police official as responding.

According to Yosif, the increasingly perilous political situation in the Soviet Union played no role in his father's decision to bring his family back home. He says Joseph Roane's mother was ill. "He wanted to come back here quickly to get to see what he could do for my grandmother," he says. "My father loved his mama."

Speaking to Khanga, Yosif's father portrayed his return as bittersweet. "In just a few years -- you'd be surprised -- you could forget what segregation was like," she quotes him as saying. "When Golden spoke at my college, I didn't believe him when he said there was no segregation in the Soviet Union. Why should I? But it proved to be absolutely true."

Soviet propaganda poster: Under Capitalism (left), Under Socialism (right)
'Nobody Called Me Stalin' Yosif was not the first child of an African-American to be born in the Soviet Union.

In the late 1920s, a few years before Yosif's birth, Golden fathered a son named Ollava who went on to become a ballet dancer and choreographer and died in the Russian city of Vladimir in 2013, at age 87.

But based on open sources and research published by Carew, he was the first whose parents were both African-Americans. "I'm the first black American born in the Soviet Union," Yosif says emphatically.

Almost all of the children born to these African-American expatriates in the 1920s and 1930s had Soviet mothers and were Americans only on their father's side. "They all practically stayed in the Soviet Union," says New York-based filmmaker Yelena Demikovsky, who has interviewed numerous descendants of these African-Americans for her film Black Russians: The Red Experience, which is in postproduction.

Yosif, however, returned with his family to Kremlin, Virginia, at age 5 and settled in the clapboard home that he still owns. On a recent visit to the house through rolling fields of green spring wheat, a rusty windmill -- once a sign of the Roane family's self-sufficiency and affluence -- creaked and whined as it twirled.

Langston Hughes with a group of Soviet writers, 1933

Yosif's father became a widely respected local educator, teaching at A.T. Johnson High School in the nearby town of Montross, one of the first high schools for African-American students in the area.The school, which opened the same year that the Roane family returned from the Soviet Union, was turned into a museum under the direction of Marian Ashton.

She co-produced the documentary Kremlin To Kremlin along with Jon Bachman of Stratford Hall, a museum that is part of the Virginia Historical Society. "My passion for sharing to introduce and engage the minds of all persons, especially the youth," Ashton says. "Hopefully they notice that these are ordinary people who just happened to have done some extraordinary things."

The schoolhouse museum that Ashton runs features a small exhibit space that includes artifacts from Joseph Roane's life, including a fur hat and vest that he brought back from Uzbekistan.
Sitting amid the relics of his father's life, Yosif says that he did not speak English -- only Russian -- when he returned with his family from the Soviet Union. "When my mother and father didn't want me to know what they were talking about, they spoke English," he says.

Nearly eight decades later, Yosif knows only a few words of Russian. Greeting a reporter at the museum, he says, "Idi syuda" -- or "come here" -- with a decent Russian accent. He rattles off the word for dog -- "sobaka" -- and kitty-cats -- "kiski" -- and adds that he once had a dog named Tuzik, a Russian analogue to popular English-language canine names like Fido or Rover.

Students, USSR, 1930s
After serving in the U.S. Navy, Yosif followed in his father's footsteps and became a teacher, had a family, and ran a barbershop as well.

As for his name, Yosif says: "Nobody called me Stalin. In fact, a lot of people don't know, even right now, don't know nothing about Stalin. It didn't matter. It's just a name."

He seemed unclear precisely why the Uzbek doctors added Kim to his birth certificate as well. The name, in fact, is a Russian acronym for the Young Communist International, the youth branch of the Communist International. It was among the newfangled names that became popular during Soviet times, many of which were based on Bolshevik leaders and buzz phrases.

Less clear are the origins of the name of his town in Virginia. According to Khanga, the elder Roane's hometown nearly prevented him from renewing his American papers at the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Moscow after the establishment of U.S.-Soviet diplomatic ties in 1933.
She writes that a low-level U.S. diplomat initially refused to believe that he hailed from a town called Kremlin and grudgingly signed off on the paperwork after cables with Washington confirmed his story.

An authoritative history of the county in which Kremlin is located -- titled Westmoreland County, Virginia 1653-1983 -- sheds little light. "Besides being the citadel of Russian government, Kremlin is a suburb of Paris," the book notes. "How the name came to be applied to a place in Westmoreland is unknown."

Below is the trailer for Yelena Demikovsky's film Black Russians: The Red Experience. [ If this clip does not appear on your device, please go directly to ]

Related posts:
From Kremlin to Kremlin: African Americans in Uzbekistan Part #1
Langston Hughes: An African American Writer in Central Asia in the 1930s
Remembering Muhammad Ali’s Visit To Uzbekistan
Sidney Jackson - An American Boxer in Uzbekistan

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: Social Entrepreneur Finds Foothold in Tien Shan Foothills

Awning of Fat Cat Karakol
Early on a summer morning, customers begin to filter onto the shaded patio in front of Fat Cat Karakol. By noon, the sun will hang high overhead in the surrounding Tien Shan Mountains, but it is still early — and loud. The cafe faces a noisy street.

Zhamilia Sydygalieva scurries over to a patio table where two men in World Wildlife Fund shirts sit down. She takes their orders: cheesecake with berry compote. It is an unlikely breakfast in these parts, but so is this cafe’s mission of "Coffee, Food and Giving Back"– the message written across the awning.

Kyrgyzstan is progressive for Central Asia, but Sydygalieva pushes that notion somewhere new with her cafe, Fat Cat Karakol, which opened last August in the town at the eastern edge of Lake Issyk-Kul. Sydygalieva envisions the restaurant as a vehicle for community activism and social responsibility.

"The idea of the cafe is not just to serve tourists or work as a business, but to be a business model," Sydygalieva said. "We are trying to introduce social responsibility to Karakol, so that other local businesses can do some social activities and social work."

In Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, new forms of businesses are starting to blossom – cafes and craft breweries are opening and grocery stores are offering better-quality produce and food. Karakol, by contrast, has lagged behind. Sydygalieva sees it as her job to bring an end to this neglect, to show her community and the surrounding villages that they are not overlooked or forgotten.

The remarkable Zhamilia Sydygaliev, the driving force behind Fat Cat
"I wanted to remind people what is more important, that compassion and caring for the others without knowing them is what’s important, to be able to give a hand in need and share is what’s important," said Sydygalieva. "After all, kindness and the good deeds is what’s left after us, these are the things that are of value."

The customers who visit Fat Cat are a mix of locals, backpackers and tourists, along with a healthy dose of Peace Corps volunteers, she said, adding that word is getting out.

The menu is rich in items that are not easy finds in Kyrgyzstan: chili con carne, banana bread, grilled cheese, french toast (which, she said, is a popular item people order all day long). The bedrock of her business is coffee, although the beverage has traditionally not been popular among locals, she says. But she has noticed that tastes are starting to change.

"Apart from the tourists and the expats, a lot of the locals are beginning to enjoy [the coffee], too," she said. "I like watching how the culture of coffee drinking is slowly adapting in Karakol."

Between taking orders from customers and preparing coffees, Sydygalieva runs back to the kitchen, where she teaches her only employee how to make a pizza. It is a space just big enough for the two of them. They work back to back, so close that not even a sheet of paper could slide between them. The young woman rolls out the dough while Sydygalieva grates the cheese and cuts up some vegetables. She is a victim of domestic violence, a problem so widespread it was part of what inspired Sydygalieva to open the cafe.

"I have grown up in an abusive family, and the domestic abuse is considered as a norm," Sydygalieva said. Her father was emotionally and physically violent. He abandoned her and her mother when Sydygalieva was 19, presenting a chance for the mother-daughter pair to rebuild their lives.

Far Cat dishes: hummus, baba ganoush, and warm lavash.jpg
Sydygalieva went on to study at the American University in Central Asia in Bishkek before completing her masters in Germany. Her mother found her calling by opening Arjun Karakol, one of only two shelters in the Karakol region for domestic violence victims, they say.

Though Sydygalieva could have carved out a path for herself in one of Europe’s strongest economies, she instead decided to return to Karakol to work with her mother’s shelter.

She loved Germany, but it was not her motherland, she said. Still, her experience was an eye-opener.

"In Germany, social responsibility is a norm. [Here], the value of helping others and compassion is low, and I wanted to change this," she said.

Since opening its doors almost a year ago, Fat Cat has started several charitable causes, including teaching baking skills to women from her mother’s shelter, and organizing a school supply drive for the underprivileged families in the villages.

To do so, Sydygalieva sells additional items that she displays on the counter: apple pies, tres leches cakes, red velvet cupcakes – treats that introduce new flavors and ingredients to the local community, making them as radical as the cafe. Hanging on the wall behind the counter are coffee mugs with spunk and character – decorated with sayings like "Screw It, Pour Me Another Cup." All of the proceeds from these sales go toward the cafe’s social projects.

It is more than local culture and taste buds that have been a challenge for Sydygalieva. The area’s harsh winter tends to hurt her cash flow. Despite the hassles, Sydygalieva persisted.

"Some days I feel like a Jehovah’s Witness trying to talk about … how not only I but they can help serve the community and encourage others," Sydygalieva said. "But as time goes by, there are more people who know about Fat Cat, know about the concept and the goals of this place, and we have more locals who are willing to help even, with the smallest amount."

Fat Cat's maple latte and pumpkin soup
Not long after the cafe opened, Sydygalieva received a call from a local official. "He asked me, ‘I want to help, but I don’t know how,’" she said. Sydygalieva offered him the contact information of those who need assistance most.

Businesses, too, have caught a case of Sydygalieva’s community spirit. Around the New Year, Sydygalieva partnered with three local hostels, a beauty salon and a local taxi company.

Together, the companies raised money to bring gifts and holiday cheer to special needs and orphan children, food baskets for low-income and single-mother families, and toiletries for psycho-neurological women’s center in nearby village.

In addition to selling charity cookies, the proceeds of which went to the fundraising, Sydygalieva tried a different platform: she went on the radio.

Scroll through Fat Cat Karakol’s Facebook page, and you will see posts about the good deeds to be done in the community, organized meet-ups for locals, or celebrations of events like Kindness Week or International Women’s Day.

The charity bake sales are ongoing, and other recent fundraising included a Kickstarter campaign for a young girl battling spinal muscular atrophy in need of special equipment that the local children’s rehabilitation center, named Ornok, could not afford or provide for her treatment.

"This is a grassroots fundraising. It’s slow moving, it’s frustrating at times, but we are progressively increasing awareness of the underprivileged in the community and how we can help them," Sydygalieva said. "The mission of Fat Cat was not only doing good in the community but encouraging others to do the same."

Watch this 2-minute clip, in English, about Sydygalieva's inspiring venture. [ If this does not appear on your device, go directly to: ]

Related posts:
All-Woman Brewery Brings Craft Beer to Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz Woman Singer Remakes Poem Traditionally Sung By Men
Kyrgyzstan: Yurt Preschools Reach Nomadic Children
Tea with Bread and Jam – a Traveller’s Appreciation of the Finer Things in Kyrgyz Life
This article, written by Alexandra E Petri, was first published on 14 July 2017 on