Uzbekistan Shrines and Bazaars

التقييم 3.0 بواسطة (1) قارئ 9 قراءة

Uzbekistan... Shrines and Bazaars

From Bukhara to Tashkent, and from Shakhrisyabz to
Samrkand, historic cities you pass through on your journey... Cities of imams
and emirs and capitals of arts and architecture. They are also the home of glory
and resistance and the seat of the schools of the elders and the mosques of the
faithful. Every city has more than one story to tell: one relating its history,
another introducing its youth, a third foretelling the future. You are now... in

What we saw was nothing but a basalt statue, which, though silent,
told us a lot! At five o clock on the morning of 26 April 1966 an earthquake
measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale hit Tashkent. Though only 15 people were
killed, 300,000 became homeless in a matter of seconds. In the heart of the city
stands this statue of a man protecting his wife and son. In the background,
people coming from the republics of the former Soviet Union to help the city
recover. But that was not the only earthquake to hit Tashkent, as the city is
being hit by other earthquakes historical, social and economic. Is it able to
overcome them? A question haunting the city which celebrates the 2200th
anniversary of its foundation.

It was past midnight when we arrived at Tashkent airport. My fellow
photographer and I were the only Arabs on board the plane flying from Chinese
territories on its way to the capital of Uzbekistan, one of the republics of the
former Soviet Union which officially restored its independence on January 1,
1992. Despite all prior arrangements with the authorities concerned in
Uzbekistan and the Uzbek embassy in Kuwait, we were left at the mercy of long
arrival formalities which even frequent flyers are not familiar with. Most of
the Uzbek plane s passengers were middle-class who travelled to Urumchi (the
capital of Xinjiang in northwestern China) to buy many cheap goods: TVs,
satellite dishes, toys, kitchenware, curtains, tablecloth, bedcovers, clothes
and even fruit boxes- you name it, as if they were coming from a barren desert.

Days later, we discovered the reason. Our fellow passengers bought
such cheap things from China to help them make both ends meet in a country where
the cost of living is constantly on the rise, and its currency (the som) being a
big problem, as one euro is equivalent to a thousand som. No wallets can hold
such heavy, big banknotes which carry pictures of Amir Temur and Uzbek
antiquities. People therefore use rubber bands to hold banknote bundles together
and stuff them into their pockets. In the maze of this currency, I found a way
to help me handle it upon payment: to bundle every ten thousand som together. I
expect that Uzbekistan will venture to cancel the six zeros from its currency.
That perhaps will be the subject of a forthcoming Exploration!

The alphabet tremor

Another tremor is shaking Tashkent and other Uzbek cities as well
as many other former republics of the Soviet Union, namely the alphabet tremor.
Before the Russian Revolution and annexation of these republics, which were
Muslim entities successor to previous empires with no political boundaries,
Uzbekistan, like many of its neighbours, used the Arabic alphabet, being the
origin of their heritage and Muslim civilization.

The Arabic alphabet was not just used in writing, but it was a
cultural identity as well , and many conservative Muslims and extreme
nationalists alike seek to restore it backed by other countries which use it,
such as Iran and Pakistan (The Arabs are absent in this formula). Later, the
Cyrillic alphabet was imposed by the Soviet Union and was used for seventy
years. Many generations were educated in Soviet institutions and so only read,
write and think in it. They are in favour of retaining this alphabet in order to
maintain academic and economic relations. However, supporters of the Latin
alphabet, which is used in Turkish, have eventually won the battle, as it is
universally recognized worldwide and considered by many to be the gateway to a
secular society, which is supported by Turkish nationalists who promote
openness, democracy, liberal economy and westernization.

The memory of Islamic civilization

The alphabet tremor was on my mind while I was browsing through
Tashkent s manuscripts in many of its institutions. Most -if not all- of these
manuscripts are in Arabic, and that drove me to ask Mr. Mansourov, the Uzbek
Minister of Culture, how communication with memory, history and civilization can
be maintained. His answer was That s not difficult. On the contrary, I find
knowledge of the three alphabets a big advantage. What we don t know we can
learn . He showed me a notebook with exercises in Arabic in his own handwriting
and told me he was learning how to read, write and pronounce Arab letters and

Those involved in culture are not the only persons required to
learn the Arabic alphabet, as there are over ten thousand antiquities and
historic landmarks all over the country (the second greatest number after
China), half of which according to the Minster, have been lost, carrying
inscriptions in Arabic and Persian, Turkish and Uzbek (in the Arabic alphabet),
in addition to manuscripts, as Mr. Rahmanove, Director of Culture, says,
constitute the documents of the Silk Road, a project revitalized from
Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan through Iran, India and Pakistan and sponsored by the
International Centre for the Preservation and Archiving of Cultural Heritage.
Completion of a substantial part of the project is scheduled for 2015.

We met Mansourov and Rahmanov in a small building with a historical
look and then we went to a literary where rare books and manuscripts are kept.
To our astonishment and joy, the titles were in several languages, but the
intense heat dispelled our joy because it endangered the safety of those
treasures which need a certain body to promote and write about. Only one 50-page
cultural magazine, Moziydan Sadok (the Echo of History), is published by the
Ministry of Culture in English, Uzbek and Russian, in addition to occasional
publications about a city, an antiquity or an event.

Al-Bayrouni alive

Our sorrow turned into admiration when we visited the Abulrayhan
Al-Bayrouni Institute for Orientalism and met its researchers: Tashov
Nouryaghdi, Ilmoradav Israel, Abdov Bakhtyar,Raiq Bahadirov and Kaseem Khanif
(Hanif) The institute holds 30,000 volumes with one manuscript or more each, all
put in cases in good condition in terms of temperature and ventilation. In 1945,
the institute started an indexing and classification process by subject.
Furthermore, there is a brief guide to the manuscripts in English classified
according to period of history, as well as an annual modest book called 'Sharq
Shana Slik'.

We know that Al-Bayrouni s legacy for mankind consisted of 181
books, treatises, translations and encyclopedic works, including 26 books about
India. Only 42 books of this treasure have survived, including one in Sanskrit,
which he mastered, about the effect of stars. This prominent figure deserved to
have the institute named after him. In addition, his name and the names of other
Uzbek scholars are inscribed on the institute walls. The institute, which is
affiliated to the Academy of Sciences and was founded in 1943, attracts students
from all over the world to investigate its rare manuscripts about Islamic
culture and civilization in its hey day. In addition to the institute s, there
are manuscripts in the Department of Uzbek Muslims library, Ali Shir Navai
Museum of Literature, Tashkent Islamic University, Imam Bukhari Institute and
the National Library.

Langer Ata Mosque Quran

Manuscripts are not limited to rare copies of the Holy Quran,
including the Uthman Codex, but there are manuscripts about history, literature,
arts and science in Arabic, Persian, Uzbek, Tajik, Azeri, Tartar, Uighur (the
language of Xinjiang), Turkish, Urdu, Pashto and other languages. These were
written by some renowned Muslim scholars, such as Al-Razi, Avicenna, Al-Farabi,
Al-Zamakhshari, Al-Khwarezmi, Khoja Ahraz Wali, Abdul-Rahman Jami, Ali Shir
Navai, Al-Ferdowsi, Amir Khisro and, of course, Al-Bayrouni.

On one of our visits to a historical school in Tashkent we met
Uzbek scribe Habibullah Salih, who is proud of a well-known achievement: making
two copies of the Holy Quran, known as the Langer Quran , the first of which
was kept in Langer Ata Mosque. The original copy, it was said, contained 160
pages, and it has been dated at the 13th or 14th centuries AD. Only 16 pages
have survived and these are kept in the Religious Department of Uzbek Muslims.
One page is kept in the Al-Bayrouni Institute library and another two in
Avicenna Library in Bukhara province. The other copy is kept in the Islamic
University of Tashkent. These manuscripts make Tashkent the phoenix of Muslim
cities because they represent its mind and secrets which never die.

This 22-century-old city never ages. It was born on Chirchik River
basin as an agricultural town and a settlement for villagers beyond the Jayhoun
River named Shashtiba. Those early settlers used iron and bronze to make their
implements and they wove their cloth. Fortresses were built in a town that
replaced Shashtiba with Kank, which is 70km from modern Tashkent, as its
capital. It was referred to in Chinese historical records as 'Yuni' and 'Shi'.
From the third century AD it became the capital of the state of 'Chachnab' (the
Chach people) and was cited for the first time in the inscriptions of Shapur I
on the Zorostrian antiquities in Iran in AD 263. It became part of central Asian
empires when the Iftalitians annexed it to their state in the fifth century. In
the following centuries the Turkish khanate replaced the Iftalitians, and the
Chinese historians changed the local name 'Chach' to Ji-Chi' or 'Shi', meaning
'stone' and it assumed the Turkish name :Tash Qand' (the stone city). But the
city has never been like that, as its view from its highest towers confirms.
Archaeological excavations in the city revealed coins of eastern and western
empires from China to Byzantium which indicate that the Chach's capital was a
leading centre for international trade, and a major part of the Silk Road later.

Tashkent's transformations made it Arabic when its predecessor
Shash joined the caliphate under caliph Ma'amun ( AD 813-823), and Arabic
sources in he ninth and tenth centuries called it 'Benkat'. Al-Astakhri said:
'Most mercury, gold and other metals come from Transoxania/Maverannahr'. Other
metals include silver, copper, iron and tin. The city then became Turkish in a
new political union with the Qarkhanian Khanate, and its Turkish name is
mentioned for the first time in Abdulrayhan Al-Bayrouni's writings when it, like
all other cities in Turkestan, joined the state of Khoresm Shah. Later it was
conqured by the Mongols under Chagatai, Genghis Khan's son, until it become
during the region of Amir Temur, who became ruler of Maverannahr, a center of
culture and home of civilization. The city has grown over the ages and become
famous for its markets, the largest of which, Rajistan, was connected to all its

The American traveller Eugene Skyler, who visited Tashkent in 1873,
described it as an unrivalled city in terms of variety, with winding streets
which go up and down ending at a high wall or minaret. But that was 13 centuries
ago and has changed; the Soviet Union planned modern Tashkent according to the
style of its own cities: wide streets, buildings with grey facades, gardens,
statues. Will it continue like that after 17 years of independence? Is it
preparing for a further architectural upsurge? Questions that crossed my mind as
we were leaving this city on our way to Samarkand: Questions about the new
architectural style which has replaced one-and two-storey buildings with
high-rise towers, as if the April 1966 quake had been forgotten. Questions about
the rising cost of living which is strongly felt in a cosmopolitan city and
makes us wonder how to cope with it by working in causal jobs or in agriculture
(as our driver Bakhtiar said). Thoughts continued to occur to me on the road
with its green, beautiful scenes we reached the outskirts of Samarkand.

The Gardens of Samarkand

Everywhere you go in Samarkand, art is around you: impressive
buildings, the great art of miniature painting. In the book entitled History of
Amir Temur (an account of major events during the age of Temur), the writer Ibn
Arabshakh said: 'By order of Temur many beautiful gardens, and magnificent
palaces were built. Everything was impressive, extremely beautiful, exquisite
and fascinating. The gardens' supports were decorated with beautiful fruits and
ornamental plants. They were called 'the Garden of Eden' , 'Ornament of the
World', 'Paradise', 'the Northern Garden' and 'the Heavenly Paradise'.

An important art which makes us look carefully at Samarkand's
edifices are the drawings which today's artists try to emulate from the
manuscripts of Shahname and 'Taher and Zahra'. The formations are uniquely
portrayed; they are decorated with the 'Zarafshan' style: Golden particles are
sprayed, and the pattern is repeated and the painting is completed in its core.
This technique has developed over the ages and was used in creative works in the
schools of the art of miniature painting in Tabriz, Herat and Samarkand in
particular and in the works of Muzafar Ali and Mahmud Mazhab. This technique
easily shows the underlying contradiction with the main theme of the painting.
Following the development of the old Zarafshan style, decorations were sometimes
used in the margins of the paintings with symbolic and abstract features.
Miniature paintings are not confined to books, but Uzbek artists put their
paintings on nearly everything.

On a rectangular box called 'the Oriental Theatre' painted by
Bolatov in the background of Rajistan complex in Samrkand, the artist
illustrates the performance of four marionette artists who ably move the puppets
by strings. At the same time the artist skillfully shifts the symbolic views of
the theatre curtain which he uses to contrast the expressive and the
inexpressive, the material and the spiritual, the ostensible and the sublime, as
well as an agent among the many forms of reality. The curtain is shown as a
sacred symbol representing the whole world and at the same time hides something
more important, which is difficult to express or reach.

Artist Shah Mahmud Muhammadinov is an important model of the
contemporary art of miniature painting. He has developed this art, which he
started practicing since he was 13 at the Ali Shir Navai Museum of Art. As a
young pupil he used themes from old Uzbek literature, particularly the works of
the encyclopedic scholar Mahmud Qashjari, the author of 'The Languages of
Turkmen Nationalities', which appeared in the eleventh century AD and contained
legends, songs, lyrics and epics. The young artist wanted to do a series of
miniature paintings portraying events in the past up to the present.

In 1968, on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of writer
Ali Shir Navai in Uzbekistan, Muhammadinov made fifty basic drawings in water
colours emulating miniature paintings. His tutor Sulaimanov praised his work and
called him 'Bahzad of the Twentieth Century' and invited him to work in the
museum and produce free creative works and afforded him the opportunity for
technical education at the Benkov School of Art in Tashkent.

The artist uses five or six basic colours: red, gold, white, dark
blue and green, and sometimes makes them more brilliant by mixing them with
denser colours of the same degree and material, which makes his works more
decorative. His colouring is based on one shaded colour for each painting. From
the clever addition of the colour and the painting frame and theme it can safely
be said that Muhammadinov belongs to the school of old masters; however, he is a
contemporary creative artist. 'Kalila and Dimna', the collection of classical
Indian tales, follows the principles of this 'technique'.

The art of miniature painting depicts the real world and is not
confined to the lives of kings or literature. In his miniature painting called
'Uluk', painter Shamsuddin portrays 'Nowruz' (new year), spring celebrations:
funny and brave games, blue spring sky, green trees, horse trotting and imminent
danger, all of which takes place a long way from the tent of the great commander
Amir Temur, who watches the events with his intimate friends. The painting
reflects a festive, cheerful mood through the use of a brilliant colour shade.
The clear blue spring sky is washed in a spring light decorated with thick
clouds, while the onlookers are awaiting the result of the game.

Shakhrisyabz: Marriage the Timurid way

The road to Shakhrisyabz, the birthplace of Amir Temur or Timur
Lenk, as he is recorded in the annals of history is a reflection of the present
in Uzbekistan. How? You may think you are in East Europe as you are stopped by
grim-faced policemen carrying a baton which lights at night at a checkpoint
every few kilometres. Or you may feel you are passing through an Arab village on
the banks of the Nile or in Iraq with smiling women selling their goods on the

You may imagine you were in South Korea, as all cars are of a
single Korean model (Daewoo) and in various colours, except red, made in a
factory in Uzbekistan! Green-eyed, blonde -haired girls make you imagine you
were in the heart of Moscow. Having lunch in certain restaurants makes you feel
as if you were in Istanbul or Tehran, and the sight of flocks of sheep with
their shepherd makes you imagine you were living a nomadic life!

Finally, you may think you are in Cairo or Beirut when you have a
meal in some restaurants and hear oriental music and Arab singers, such as Ahmed
Adawiya, Ihab Tawfiq, Nancy Ajram and Elissa. Some Uzbek youth dance to such

However, the youth are not stirred by music or preoccupied with
languages alone, but are also inspired by history. On a hot summer morning,
newly weds go to the statue of Amir Temur, the symbol of their nation, in front
of his ancient palace Ak-Saray to take memorial photos at the start of their
married life and lay a wreath there.

Timur... the warrior Amir

Shakhrisyabz (meaning the green city in Persian), which lies south
of Samarkand, was formerly named Kesh when Timur was born there in 1336. He
spent his childhood with the Birlass tribe, the home of his forefathers, where
he mastered warfare. When Kazghan, the last of Turkestan's Il-Khanids died in AH
758 (AD 1357) Tugluck Temur, the ruler of Qashghar in Xinjiang (see Al-Arabi,
September 2008) invaded. Mavernnahr and made his son Ilyas Khoja commander of
the campaign and sent Timur with him as a minister. But the relation between
them broke off and Timur ran away and joined his brother-in-law Prince Hussain,
Kazghan's grandson and mobilized an army to fight Khoja, but they both failed
and fled to Khorasan and entered the service of King Muezzudin Hussain Kart.
When Tugluck learnt about that he asked Muezzudin to extradite them, but Timur
and his companion fled to Kandahar, then to Sistan whose wali attacked them.
During the attack Timur was seriously wounded and his right foot disabled.
That's why he was called 'Timur Lenk' (Timur the Lame)!

Disputes then arose between Timur and his brother-in-law in which
the former was the winner. He entered Samakand on 12 Ramadan 771 (14 April 1370)
and declared himself ruler and claimed to be a descendant of Genghis Khan,
wanting to restore the glory of the Mongols. He established a consultative
council consisting of senior princes and scholars.

Later, Timur mobilized a huge army manily of Turks to fulfil his
expansionist ambitions. He invaded and annexed Khoresm having destroyed it in
relentless attacks. He also captured Gafjaq desert which stretches from Sayhoun
to Khoresm Sea and the Caspian Sea. He sent his 14-year-old son Miranshah to
control the whole Khorasan region and Afghanistan.

In 1385 he marched into Mazandaran, which surrendered without
resistance, then conquered Azerbaijan and the Persian region. He raided Isfahan,
which had revolted against his viceroys, where there were 70,000 dead. In 1388
Tokhtamysh, king of Qafjaq attacked Mavernnahr. The people of Azerbaijan
rebelled against Timur and changed allegiance to Tokhtamysh. Timur stopped his
expansion plans and turned to Azerbaijan to quell the rebellion. Tokhtamysh
fled, and Timur entered Khoresm, which was said to be so completely destroyed
that there was no wall left to rest in its shade. It was deserted for three
years after which Timur ordered that it be rebuilt.

When Tokhtamysh repeated his assault against Maverannahr in 1389
Timur chased him to the Mongol land and Qafjaq desert and defeated him and
appointed his son Miranshah ruler of Khorasan and his grandson Beer Muhammad
ruler of Ghazna and Kabul.

Next, the expansionist warrior proceeded to Iran in Ramadan 794
(August 1392) in a campaign designed to crush the revolts, which lasted for five
years. These are called the 'Five-Year Wars', during which he first conquered
Gorgan and Mazindan, then marched to Iraq, where he occupied Wasit and Basra and
other towns. He later conquered Armenia and Georgia. Then he marched to Moscow
with a 100, 000 strong army and occupied it for one year! Though he turned sixty
then, he continued his conquests. He proceeded to India on the pretext that the
Tuglucks were lenient with the Hindus as far as Islamic issues were concerned.
His large army attacked Mahmud Tugluck's forces in December 1397 and occupied
the Tugluks' capital Delhi. Timur then went back to Samarkand with a lot of
spoils and seventy elephants carrying stone and marble from Delhi which he used
to build a mosque in Samarkand.

He did not stay long in Samakand after his triumphant return from
India and planned to continue his conquests. He launched the 'Seven-year
Campaign ' (AH 802-803/ AD 1399-1405) to punish the Mameluke sultan Faraj Berquq
for assisting Ahmed AL-Jalairi, Baghdad's Khan in his war against Timur and to
punish the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid I who ruled eastern Asia Minor. He sacked
Georgia (in the Caucasus) in AH 802/ AD 1399, then marched into Intab and
proceeded to Aleppo which fell after a four-day battle which left 20,000 dead
and more than 300,000 prisoners. In the following year he marched to Baghdad,
destroyed its walls and burnt its houses until it fell. He then continued his
march towards Asia Minor where he invaded Sivas and Anatolia, after which he
returned to Samarkand. Finally, he invaded China in the autumn of 1404, but he
and his army suffered bitter cold weather, and he died of fever on 18 February
1405. At the time of his death his empire stretched from Delhi to Damascus, and
from Aral Sea to the Arabian Gulf. Following his death his body was carried to
Samarkand, where he was buried in his mausoleum known as 'Gur-e Amir', the
Amir's Tomb.

Ak-Saray: the palace and its generous hands

We arrived at Ak-Saray, the literal translation of which is the
white palace , but the word Ak may also mean generous or majestic . The palace
was founded during the happy hours predicted by astrologists. It is said that
when Amir Temur conquered the capital of Khoresm (in Turkmenistan now), he sent
many master craftsmen and artists to build imposing edifices, including this
palace, in his birthplace. Work on the palace began in the spring of 1380 and
was completed in 1396. According to the ambassador of Castile, decoration works
continued for eight years following the completion of the palace.

The palace's relics show extravagance unknown at the time. Only the
great gate, on which a swimming pool was built, survived. Timur ordered that
palaces be built surrounded by orchards. The palace contained many paintings
depicting the meetings held by Timur, portraying him from different angles end
in different moods: laughing, extremely angry. The works of art also depicted
the battles he shared in and the meetings and negotiations he held with princes,
scholars, notables and senior officials, as well as the meetings with sultans
and their envoys and foreign ambassadors. The paintings also showed the natural
and secret locations he used to go to, the battles ranged in India, Kipshak,
steppes and Persia and his victories and retreating enemies. There were also
portraits of relatives, grandchildren, princes and generals. The painting also
portrayed entertainment and wine sessions, notables' parties, Timur's singers
and single and married mistresses, as well as different poets, in addition to
intervening and connected events in different places.

All these paintings were designed to depict events as if they were
real without exaggeration, to make viewers imagine as if they were witnessing
them. Timur also created two gardens: One farther than the other, named 'Boji
Boldi' and Boji Delkosh', respectively. He ordered that the path from the latter
garden to Fairuz Gates be lined with poplar trees. The big building 'Ulug Koshk'
was also erected in the same garden with paintings on its walls portraying
Timur's battle in Hindustan.

The cotton incident and other things

As far as the eye can see, cotton fields stretch between each two
cities in Uzbekistan's 13 provinces which are represented on its flag,
rekindling the memory of a major incident which happened in 1984 and involved
the 'white gold' which grows on the green fields.

That year, the Soviet Public Prosecutor sent interrogators to
Uzbekistan who arrested many civil servants on charges of mismanagement of the
growing and manufacturing of cotton. That aroused Uzbeks' anger, particularly as
Brezhnev singled out Uzbekistan in this respect. For the first time Uzbek
authorities allowed the Uzbek press to criticize Moscow for imposing a
single-product culture on Uzbekistan, which damaged its environment and made it
rely only on selling it to the Soviet Union. The Uzbeks were forced to grow
cotton at the expense of other products. The cotton mania made the Soviet Union
even divert half of the water of Aral Sea on Uzbekistan's northern border for
irrigation of cotton fields. That is why all Uzbeks welcomed independence from

But the serious consequences were not limited to the world's fourth
largest lake. Diverting Syr Daria and Amo Daria Rivers which used to flow into
Aral Sea for irrigation of cotton fields made water reach the outskirts of
Bukhara and Samarkand and threaten their historic buildings. That may explain
why many minarets collapsed and others leaned (as in Samarkand where they look
like the Leaning Tower of Piza, but without supports to prevent a disaster). The
diversion also made the water reaching the huge lake so polluted that 30,000 km2
of its land is covered with chemicals. In 1991, Uzbekistan announced that it
would sell the cotton to Russia in hard currency, and when Moscow refused,
Uzbekistan had a problem about selling it. It signed a friendship treaty with
Russia under which cotton was sold at international prices. However, that
threatened cotton factories in Uzbekistan itself, and the two countries agreed
to swap Uzbek cotton for Russian oil at international prices.

Following independence from the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan and its
neighbours attempted to regulate their relations. They farmed the Commonwealth
of Central Asian Nations in late 1991. The member states were Uzbekistan,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan (which left shortly afterwards). The
organization was renamed the Economic Union of Central Asia in 1994 and was
renamed further the Economic Cooperation of Central Asia in 1998 when Tajikistan
joined it. It was finally renamed Organization of Central Asian Cooperation in
2002which Russia joined in 2004. In 2005 there was talk about combining this
group with the Euro-Asian Cooperation, which was formed in May 2001 by Russia,
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and which Uzbekistan joined and
in August 2006. In addition, these countries are members of other regional
associations, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (which was formed
in 1991) from eleven former Soviet republics, including the republics of Central
Asia, but Turkmenistan left in 2005 and maintained a cooperative, observer
status only).

Mention should also be made of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization as the main organization which regulates the relations between
central Asian countries and the neighbouring region, and the group which
combines China, Russia and central Asian countries except Turkmenistan, as well
as the Summit of Turkik States (established in 1992), another framework for
inter-central Asian countries' relations. Among the other organizations which
combine these countries are Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the
Organization of Islamic Conference and the Organization of European Security and
Cooperation, which barely succeed in the stated objectives of resolving the
problems of these countries with their neighbours.

Bukhara: imams and emirs

Architecture and miniature paintings were not the only things that
accompanied us on our tour of Uzbek shrines and bazaars. Music, as well, caught
our attention and interest to a great extent as we were approaching Bukhara.

By the end of the sixteenth century Bukhara had become the capital
city of an independent emirate with the same name and a cosmopolitan world with
booming markets and a busy transit trading center. The 'chash' key began in the
emir's court in Bukhara as a distinctive feature of both Tajik and Uzbek music
and culture. The scene is illustrated in miniature paintings which portray
musicians sitting on the ground with their musical instruments, such as
double-string lyres, in front of princesses. The literal translation of 'chash'
is 'key', and the six keys are the same as those of oriental music and its

Before the chash is played we listen to introductory Sufi songs by
a single performer who passionately expresses love, hope and sorrow, with his
voice rising and falling. The best performer of the shash key in the classical
tradition is singer Munajat Yulshiva, who sings love pomes of prominent Uzbek
poets to the music of her master Shawkat, who always accompanies her. Yulshiva
has a high, sonorous, impressive voice. She was born in Fergana Valley (south
of Tashkent) in 1960. She started singing as a child and her talent led many to
advise her to give up classical singing and take up the opera as a career, but
she insisted on being the voice of her culture and people, and a quarter of a
century of singing made her the symbol of Uzbek music and culture. Life
rejoincing and rituals are the main feature of Central Asian music. The Uzbeks
hold a forty-day celebration of the birth of a boy during which the baby is
circumcised and is pronounced Muslim. There are similar celebrations of weddings
at which Muslim families' traditions are observed: Women do not sit beside men,
and the young sit behind the old.

Each city has its own special singers and musicians who perform at
weddings, and people attend these weddings to see these artists, one of whom is
Shir Ali Gorayev. Intersetingly, some bless the bride and the bridegroom, which
is a tradition in Uzbekistan and has different names in Bukhara, Samarkand,
Khoresm, Tashkent and Fergana.

The Uzbeks' Sayyid Darwish!

Today's music in Uzbekistan is not restricted to that of Yulshiva
or satellite TVs or at restaurants from Russia, the Arab East and elsewhere, but
it also includes the music of the street. By that we refer to one of the
pioneers of Uzbek music: Abdul-Aziz Rasulov (1852-1936), the icon of Uzbek and
Tajik music.

Rasulov's music and keys were inspired by street signers and
musicians. What surprised him was the talent of musicians who performed the keys
on lutes. He was a frequent traveller to the Arab East, and in Baghdad he
admired a blind musician who played the saz. He remembered that piece and
composed it to be played on the double-string lyre, calling it 'Gadoiy'.

He was also inspired by another piece he heard in Egypt about
eighty years ago, and in 1930 and 1931, the Uzbek composer Mironov wrote these
two pieces on sheet music and published them later. They became an object of
study played on the lyre and other instruments by Rasulov's pupils. In addition,
Doni Zakirov made 'Gadoiy' a model for traditional Uzbek musical instruments.
Rasulov has another well-known song called 'Qurban Olum', which he composed
influenced by Iranian and Azeri music. His love of popular music made his
performance a source of rejoining.

The traveller s dictionary

After days of stay and travel around Uzbekistan your ear will pick
up many words of foreign origin, mainly Arabic, Turkish and Persian. Uzbek,
which was written in the Arabic alphabet until 1920, is a descendant of Turkish.
New literary Uzbek, which combines urban and rural dialects, replaced the old
language in 1923. The new language developed, thanks to the entry of Arabic,
Persian, Russian of course, besides Turkish words and terms. Interestingly, we
notice that all signs at historic sites were new, whereas the walls carried
traces of the old signs put by the Soviets who had carried out the main digging
and restoration work. This replacement meant sovereignty, which changed the
language of the signs to Uzbek and its alphabet to Latin.

Light from the sky

In our visit to an ancient mdrassah (school) in Bukhara to attend a
traditional music performance, we expected to see something different from what
we saw everywhere namely shrines turning into bazaars, but in vain! The
performance began with traditional music and popular dances in folkloric dress
worn by Uzbek girls as well as girls with Russian features. Dinner plates were
served with each tune, but a paper with the menu confirmed the shrine and bazaar
duality. The paper said that the clothes worn by the dancers were for sale at
the shops around us. We sat at one of the fifty plus tables in the lobby of the
school (or what used to be a school). The classrooms were turned into handicraft
workshops and shops for goods and traditional products. There were chess pieces
featuring Amir Temur, his ministers, soldiers and regions, traditional hats,
scarves and clothes, cosmetic boxes, wooden stands for the Holy Quran and tens
of other goods. At the school gate there was a small bank where two girls were
exchanging dollars and euros into the local currency. Strangely enough, there
was no tourist infrastructure at such historic sites.

It used to be said light usually descends from the sky , but in
Bukhara it rises into the sky . This saying may be attributed to the fact that
it is the seat of learning and knowledge, with its hundreds of schools, tens of
mosques with their minarets, and the imams and emirs who lived in it. But that
was in the heyday of its prosperity and glory, when it was the melting point of
different ethnic communities before its lakes were filled up with earth, and its
Islamic civilization scholars deserted it. Bukhara will not regain its status
unless it regains its place, and it will then have its own light which rises
again into the sky.

Ashraf Abul-Yazid

A green oasis in the heart of Tashkent as seen from the city’s
tower surrounding impressive buildings of business and official institutions in
the Uzbek capital. Houses are rather low, for fear of a new earthquake recalling
the memory of the 1966 one
Singer Munajat Yulishiva singing to the music of her master
Shawkat love poem of prominent Sufi Uzbek poets. She has a high, sonorous,
immersive voice. She started singing as a child. She was born in the Fergana
Valley (south of Tashkent) in 1960
A statue of a man protecting his wife and son. In the
background, people coming from he republics of the former Soviet Union to help
Tashkent recover following the massive earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter
scale which hit the city on the morning
A statue of poet Ali Shir Navai who wrote epic poems, the most
famous of which is 'Ferhad and Shireen”, in the middle of Uzbek National Park in
Tashkent which is named after him. The statue is erected on an elevated shady
pole to which many visitors
Hadhrat Al-Imam Complex in the centre of Tashkent, whose
reconstruction work was completed in 2007 to celebrate the choice of the city as
the capital of Muslim culture. Inside the ground mosque
Domes of the famous Sufi Khoja Ahrar in Tashkent which was
built in 1990
At the Religious Department of Uzbek Muslims, in front of a
copy of the Uthman Codex
Uzbek scribe Habibullah Salih who made two copies of the Holy
Quran known as 'Langer Quran”
There are markets for Uzbek products of all materials
everywhere. This pottery in traditional clothes is smaller than the little
Rajistan complex in Samarkand, where minarets were
reconstructed or rebuilt. But a close look shows that they are in danger, as
they are clearly learning. This square is used for big celebrations and is a
popular destination
The art of miniature painting was associated with the art of
book drawing and was influenced by classical oriental poetry. An artist working
on a new painting that may take a week to complete, inspired by classical
oriental literature
One of the scenes that astonished us in Samarkand was the
dense smoke (left) near the antiquities which our guide said were coming out of
a faraway factory
The dome of Bibi Khatun in Samarkand. But for the car, the
dome would be thought to be centuries old
Samarkand University’s mural painting commemorating prominent
figures in science, arts and history
The facade of Samarkand University, which maintains the flow
of science and arts for the coming generations
Two cleaners cleaning a colossal statue of Amir Temur, or
Timur Lenk, as he is known in Arab history, the ruler of Maverannahr and the
most famous conqueror
Marriage the Uzbek way. A bride and a bridegroom on their way
to lay a wreath at the statue of the warrior Amir in his birthplace,
Shakhrisyabz, the green city and take memorial photos at the start of their
married life
Decorations on the walls of Ak-Saray which Temur built in
Shakhrisyabz in the fourteenth century AD
Ak-Saray, the literal translation of which is 'the white
palace”, but the work 'Ak” may also meen 'generous” or 'majestic”. The palace
was founded during 'the happy hours” predicted by astrologists. It is said that
when Amir Temur conquered
The facade of the grand mosque in Bukhara. Only a handful of
worshippers say their prayers there on weekdays, but many do so on Fridays and
Muslims holidays
Nadir Divon Begi Honako in Bukhara founded in AD
A young girl sewing with gold threads
A young man engraving Uzbek antiquities on
A woman displaying a bedcover. At every shrine you find a
bazaar and skilled craftsmen and carpenters… this is the common sight at
historical sites
A fashion model in Uzbekistan showing clothes to music in
Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah. After the show you will be told that the clothes are
for sale
At the gate of the Ark-Ancient Citadel in Bukhara from which
the whole city can be seen. From its balcony the emir of Bukhara watched
parades. To shoot this photo, Al-Arabi’s photographer had to climb a water tank
in a manual lift opposite the citadel
The Samanids’ Mausoleum, built by Ismail, the powerful ruler
of Maverannahr in his capital city Bukhara in the ninth and tenth centuries AD.
Its four facades are identical with arches in the middle, with its internal and
In the streets of Bukhara and all the streets in Uzbekistan
there are bazaars where miniature paintings, pottery, clothes, even records and
traditional weapons are sold
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