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

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

In Search of a New Home

by Jesko Schmoller

The former Jewish quarter in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent is a quiet neighbourhood: old-style houses with generous courtyards surrounded by wooden-columned arcades stand next to flashy, palace-like constructions that could serve as settings for a Bollywood romance. “After the Jews left, the Azerbaijanis came,” an inhabitant tells me. “By now, the Azerbaijanis have made way for the new Uzbeks [the nouveau riche segment of the population].” Continue reading

Railways in Central Asia

by Alexander Morrison

The first time I went to Tashkent, in October 2001, it was by train: the “Uzbekistan” express left Moscow’s Kazan station near midnight. I had a coupé, which I shared with a middle-aged Russian visiting his father in Tashkent, an indestructible Ukrainian grandmother returning to her home in Namangan, and an elderly Tatar gentleman in high leather boots travelling back to Khujand in northern Tajikistan, which he still referred to by its Soviet name of ‘Leninabad’. We talked about politics and travel, made each other tea from the samovar at the end of the carriage in the little blue-and-white pot provided, and munched on the salo (salted pig fat), of which our babushka’s bag turned out to contain incredible quantities. I can still remember her satisfied sigh of ‘poryadok’ (order) as the tablecloth was straightened and the rubbish removed, and her voluble insistence that true hospitality had disappeared from Russia, and was now only to be found in Central Asia, where she had lived since her 20s. Continue reading