‘How do I get across?’: Food in Central Asia

by Malgorzata Biczyk

Malgorzata-BiczykA man named Nasreddin had been sitting on a river bank when someone shouted to him from the opposite side, “Hey! How do I get across?” Nasreddin responded with “You are across”.

In the context of Central Asian cuisine, ‘crossing the river’ might have also the meaning of crossing over some basic truths. Food has by nature the capacity to keep a memory vivid. However, the longer I eat and smell Central Asian food, the more I get the feeling of a kind of food-related romantic paradox. Everyone wants to cross the river to taste the food of others, whilst forgetting about the value of their own local specialties. Take osh (a form of Central Asian rice) for instance. Whose osh is better is probably a question that is, if not as old as the world, then at least as old as the city of Osh itself. Continue reading

Death of a Travelling Merchant: A Weimar Ghost Story

by Jesko Schmoller

Schmoller_op150What happened to Izomshoh, the wealthy merchant from Bukhara that fateful night in the early 1920s when he arrived in Berlin, the capital of the Weimar Republic? Was he the victim of an accident or did he become a target for the Soviet secret service by interfering in the political affairs of the young state? His family today would still like to know. The account I hear comes from my colleague Zufar Ashurov, a lecturer at Tashkent State University of Economics and the great-great-grandson of Izomshoh. According to family history, the latter left his native soil on a mission by Fayzulla Xo’jaev, head of the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic. He was supposed to financially support a group of Central Asian students in Germany but his premature death prevented him from accomplishing this task. Before Izomshoh left Bukhara, he told his wife that his destination was Hamburg in Northern Germany (my colleague deduces that he travelled by train to Moscow and Petrograd, and then took a ship for the final part of his journey). So why would the family assume that he ended up in Berlin? Continue reading

High Politics and Low Politics in Central AsiaHigh Politics and Low Politics in Central Asia

by Edward Schatz

schatzThe British historian Lord Acton once claimed that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and it is easy to find examples—historical and contemporary—that confirm our worst fears about politics and politicians. If it is a nasty game with sky-high stakes, then it logically follows that the most effective politician is one who flies high and plays nasty.by Edward Schatz

schatzThe British historian Lord Acton once claimed that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and it is easy to find examples—historical and contemporary—that confirm our worst fears about politics and politicians. If it is a nasty game with sky-high stakes, then it logically follows that the most effective politician is one who flies high and plays nasty. Continue reading

The Invisible Tenants

by Kishimjan Osmonova

kishimjanAstana, the new capital of Kazakhstan since 1997, has become a major migrant destination attracting thousands of internal as well as external migrants from neighboring Central Asian states. The city’s population tripled in the last decade making it number around one million residents today. The migrants are a diverse group with different backgrounds, professions, and places of origin. Most of them are young and ambitious people seeking better opportunities in the futuristic capital, which is referred as the City of the Future. Inspired by the capital’s shimmering look and construction boom many are determined to stay and create their prosperous future. Realizing this goal is not easy and one of the problems they face is propiska. Continue reading

Words of Love and Poetry

by Jesko Schmoller

Schmoller_op150It is still early in the morning and sitting by the train window, I cannot see further than a few meters, as a dense layer of fog hangs over the meadows. Eventually the sun breaks through, causing the autumn leaves to shine in bright green, yellow and red. I am on my way to the East German city of Leipzig, an unlikely place to meet a master musician from Uzbekistan. Having arrived at the station and approaching my destination, I pass low buildings of pre-fabricated slabs. Taking in some of the street life I see two teenage boys ride by on their skateboards; Ska Punk music booms from a parked car. Ari Babakhanov, the man who appears from the entrance to one of the blocks, may – with his almost 80 years of age and interest in traditional music – be an exceptional resident in the neighbourhood. And while it is typical in Uzbek homes to come across a form of protection against the evil eye, when entering Babakhanov’s flat I notice a mezuzah (small case containing verses from the Torah) in the doorframe. Continue reading