A JOURNEY TO BATKEN OBLAST BY ALEXANDRA TACEA

On Thursday, the 11th of August, Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva, Aibek Samakov and I started our trip to Batken oblast. At 9 o clock in the morning our plane went off, for the 1 ½ hour- journey from Manas airport, Bishkek, to Batken, the capital of Batken oblast, sited next to the Uzbek border.

The first impressions, when you get off the plane, are the overwhelming heat and the astonishing beauty of the Pamir mountain range. At the airport our group is divided into Dr. Aitpaeva and Aibek Samakov on the one hand and me on the other hand. Abdylahat Matiraimov, the son of a good acquaintance of Dr. Aitpaeva, at whose family I will be staying, is waiting for me, as well as Aiibkhan Akhmatov, who worked as a surgeon for twenty years, whereafter he started to heal with the help of Islam. He is running the “Batken Blood Donour Centre”, where people can be healed with the help of orthodox medicine, as well as with the power of the holy Quran. He will be my first and also last interview partner; since his time is limited we will meet him twice.

The environment in which I am going to spend the next week is very different from Bishkek and, as far as I can judge, the North of Kyrgyzstan. Outside of the villages the roads and hills are sandy and dusty, but the places cultivated by the inhabitants of the villages are dressed in green and red, containing a great variety of different trees, flowers and crops. The animals, which are mainly held are goats, sheep and donkeys, sometimes also hens, whereas horses are not to be found. I am overwhelmed by the hospitality the people expose towards me, especially at my host family’s home.

The following six days will be filled with visiting thirteen spiritual healers in six different villages, out of which two will not be willing to talk to Abdylahat and me, due to the fact, that their way of healing must be kept secret. Another two simply do not have the time to talk. The remaining majority of nine healers agree to be interviewed and although all of them have their own story of becoming “коез ачык” or “тааб” or “парихан”, these ways can still be placed into a common wider context of heterodox Islamic believe systems.

Abdylahat provides the addresses of the different healers, asking friends and relatives in different villages if there are spiritual healers around. An interesting fact is, that especially some of the people who claim to be followers of orthodox Islam, doing the namaz five times a day and being on orozo, first refuse to take us to the spiritual healers, saying that what these people are doing is not compatible to Islam. Eventually they agree anyway, but with resentiments towards the people we are going to meet. In spite of the doubts that other people might have towards them, all of the interview partners claimed to have a strong faith, most of them fasting and reading the holy Quran in order to heal.
The procedure of interviewing is always very similar, after the reason of my research and the topic as itself have being briefly introduced, we are, mostly very warmly, welcomed into the home of the “коез ачык”. We are invited to have tea and nan, sometimes also lunch, while conducting the interviews.

I ask my questions in English, whereafter Abdylahat asks them in Kyrgyz. When the healers respond to the question they are being retranslated into English by Abdylahat.

The majority of the informants are very eager to talk, telling a lot of anecdotes even without being asked to, whereas others give only very short answers to the questions. Some of them claim to have known already, that we would be coming, seeing us in dreams or in visions.

Besides the rich information gained through the interviews, I also learned a lot about the Muslim worldview, especially the different creatures mentioned in the holy Quran ( humans, angels, djinns and devils), which is very helpful for the further understanding of the nature of the helping spirits and other metaphysical contacts of the spiritual healers.

In the morning of Tuesday, the 16th of August, I conduct my last interview, again with Aiibkhan Akhmatov. This marks the end of a very informative and extraordinary interesting week, among people living in between two worlds. Around midday we start our trip back, on the dust road to Osh.

Prepared by Alexandra Tacea