Building the Collective Memory about Outstanding Contemporary Guardians of Traditional Wisdom, 2016-2017

Grant Outcomes: 

Strengtnen commintments to pluralism, diverse identities, and locally adapted ways of life among the peoples of Kyrgyzstan through sharing and learning results of a decade of work on sacred geography of the country and associated efforts that celebrate and give voice to the spiritual, cultural, artistic, and natural heriatge as well as its stewards, and through the production and dissemination of a film and a series of nation-wide events.

Main directions of further organizational development of Aigine CRC identified, its ling-term vision and strategies revised and restarted.

Pursuing the goal to strengtnen commintments to pluralism, diverse identities, and locally adapted ways of life among the peoples of Kyrgyzstan through sharing and learning results of a decade of work on sacred geography of the country, Aigine CRC has conducted the Nationwide Ccompetition on Sacred Geography – Kasietyy Jer-Ene (Sacred Motherland).

In December 2015, Aigine CRC organized a nationwide competition entitled, Kasietyy Jer-Ene (Sacred Motherland), in joint cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science and its regional Department of Schools and Kut-Bilim newspaper.

In the course of its long-term research, throughout 2005-2014, Aigine CRC came to understand that sacred sites are an integral part of cultural and natural heritage of diverse ethnic group living in Kyrgyzstan. Today, the ancient tradition of pilgrimage to the sacred sites continues to develop in a variety of forms, thus, serves an example of sustainable folk practice and resilience in adapting to modern times and conditions. Based on the concept, that traditional knowledge and values related to sacred sites have rich educational and ecological potential, Aigine CRC initiated and offered an idea of carrying out a nationwide competition on Sacred Motherland among high school students to the Regional Department of Schools under the Ministry of Education and Science.

The main idea of the competition was to awaken the interest and to attract the attention of middle/high school students and their teachers to the Sacred Geography of Kyrgyzstan, as well as to involve youth in the process of studying sacred sites located in their surrounding areas. Since Kyrgyzstan is home to many ethnic groups, the competition was open to representatives of all groups and selection committee accepted works written in native language of every contestant. Strategically, the competition was aimed to make a contribution into community-based education development.

The publicity campaign was excellent thanks to efforts of the Kut-Bilim newspaper that operate under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Science. Opening call for paper submission started in May and ended in November 2015. Works were submitted from all regions of Kyrgyzstan and mainly were in the four languages – Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik and Uzbek. Both, Aigine CRC and main representative of the Regional Department of Schools were responsible for accepting the submitted works. A panel of judges consisting of nine people was formed in order to evaluate the works and select the winners. The judges were teachers of Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik and Uzbek languages; a representative of the Ministry of Education and Science; two editors of the Kut-Bilim newspaper and Aigine CRC’s staff member, Aibek Samakov. It took the judges one whole week to process all the submitted works. As a result, 78 works were considered among all, 15 of which were selected as the winners.

Sadly, quality and the level of submitted works reflect the overall level of education in the country. But most importantly, all the works were centered on sacred sites located in/nearby the participant’s locale. 

The awards ceremony took place on 18 December 2015 at Seitek, the National Center for Children and Youth. The winner-students were invited to attend the ceremony together with their teachers. They represented difference regions of the country – Uzbek schools from Osh province, Tajik school from Batken province, Russian schools from Bishkek city and Kyrgyz schools from Naryn and Yssyk-Kul provinces.The awards were presented by Kochkor-Ata sacred site guardian – Siezdbek Kalkanbaev, Ata-Beyin sacred site guardian – Bayizbek Duultaev, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education and Science – Kalysbek Shadykanov along with several other ministry staff. Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva, director of Aigine CRC, made a video presentation on Sacred Geography of Kyrgyzstan: The Territory of Common Values and Hope, followed by an interactive quiz-game on “Why do certain sites become sacred?”. Quiz winners from the audience received books on sacred sited published by Aigine CRC.

The ceremony was finalized by a wonderful performance, where the beneficiaries of the projects, supported by TCF in 2011-2012, – graduates of School of Novice Manaschys and En-Belgi system – presented their impressive achievements. Through this kind of presentations, Aigine CRC also has been taking the approach to connect young representatives of different ethnicities devoted to study and preserve their traditional heritages.

To give voice to cultural and artistic heriatge as well as its stewards, Aigine CRC has initiated a nation-wide event aimed to safeguarding the Master’s Legacy.

Aigine CRC holds warm memory of its long-time partner, genius musician and bearer of traditional wisdom – Nurak Abdrakhmanov. In spring 2016, Aigine CRC conducted an online contest – Invigorating Legacy of Nurak, aimed at safeguarding and cognizing the musician’s rich music legacy. The conditions to participate did not have age, gender, enthicity, nationality, status as well as any other limitations. According to terms of the contest, each participant was to play one of Nurak Abdrakhmanov’s melodies on komuz and/or sing one of his songs, then video record it and download on any social network and share the the special link of Aigine CRC. As a result, 21 people submitted their video performance; five best individual performances and one group performance were selected as winners and awarded with books and epic trilogy’s video version published by Aigine CRC. It’s worth mentioning that the 1st place was awarded to Mirlan Karybaev – contestant from Beijing, China for heartfelt and outstanding performance of Ata-Murasy (Father’s Legacy) – one of the complicated melodies of the master. It’s quite symbolic that among all the others this particular performance and melody was selected by the jury.

During his lifetime, Nurak Abdrakhmanov made it his life mission to transmit komuz playing. Based on a long-time search rooted in the traditional domain, Master Nurak developed an En-Belgi music system. It is of utmost significance to learn that his legacy is alive and recognized by young generations as well as to contribute in this process.

To celebrate the spiritual and cultural heritage, a film Jaryktan Jaralgan Adam (A Person of Light) has beenproduced and disseminated at a nation-wide scale

Kultaev Alymbek-Haji was the guardian of the Sulaiman-Too sacred site in Osh. Aigine CRC began working with Alymbek-Haji back in 2005, and starting from 2009, he became the member of the Advisory Board. Alymbek-Haji has been a good friend, close associate and invaluable advisor to Aigine CRC. Alymbek-Haji was a bearer of profound wisdom. Kyrgyz traditional notions and beliefs were harmonized with Islam religious concepts in his religious and spiritual philosophy. And in our currently polarized and split society Alymbek-Haji took a courage to share that system publically. In his honor, Aigine CRC prepared and produced a documentary movie entitled Jaryktan Jaralgan Adam, A Person of Light. The documentary’s main goal is to remember Alymbek-Haji and to introduce to general public his adherence to Islam and unique ability to syncretize it with traditional Kyrgyz belief system, customs and tradition. We would like to draw on Alymbek-Haji’s example and emphasize that there are local intellectuals, bearers of wisdom, harmony and light living among us.

Preparation of the documentary began in February 2016 and took place in Osh, at Sulaiman-Too sacred site, and in Bishkek. Doolot Sydykov, manaschy, became the film’s script writer, while Yrys Okenova became the film director. Alymbek-Haji’s family members, followers and friends participated in the video shooting. Some of the Aigine CRC’s archived video materials and some video footages of Aibek Alikulov, Alymbek-Haji’s apprentice, were used in the movie.

First public presentation of the documentary and Alymbek-Haji’s commemoration took place on June 12, 2016 at the Historical and Archeological Museum of Sulaiman-Too in Osh. Immediate family members, spiritual practitioners, sacred site guardians and Osh State University students of the Theology Department attended the event. Three more presentations took place in Bishkek. In July-September,2016 the documentary will be broadcasted on a number of state TV channels (First National TV and Radio Channel, Sanat TV and the Channel of Culture, History and Language).

Aigine CRC strongly believes that the life story of Alymbek Hadji is an excellent case of maintaining the traditions which are harmoniously embedded in modernity. Making and disseminating the film Jaryktan Jaralgan Adam, A Person of Light, we contribute in fostering a public understanding that the traditional knowledge and wisdom did not emerge at certain time to be fixed forever. Like other forms of human activities they should also be constantly discovered, developed and transmitted by dedicated people. It is a message of acknowledgement and respect for our Advisor as well as other current practitioners.

Identifying main directions of further organizational development of Aigine CRC, revising and restarting its ling-term vision and strategies.

Activities on search of new perspectives of Aigine CRC’s developmet for the upcoming 5-7 years became one of the main objectives of the reporting year. The the following activities conducted in 2015-2016 are directly related to addressing the abovementioned objective.

Cooperation with diverse international structures of UNESCO and working at regional and international levels as the directions of further development.

In 2011, Aigine CRC has started cooperation with the UNESCO National Commission in Kyrgyzstan by participating in regional workshops and sharing the experience on implementing projects supported by TCF. Shortly after, Aigine CRC staff members began providing voluntary consultations on enlisting the elements of Kyrgyz cultural heritage. Thus, in 2012-2015, Aigine CRC proactively participated in inscribing such elements of Kyrgyz cultural heritage as the epic trilogy “Manas. Semetei. Seitek”, Kyrgyz yurt, and aitysh into the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

During the work of the 10th Session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee in November 2015, Aigine CRC received unanimous approval of the Committee members to be accredited under the UNESCO Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage. Thus, Aigine CRC became the first NGO in Central Asia to receive accreditation under this Convention. The accreditation enables the Center to have a full right in taking part and shaping the UNESCO policies in cultural matters and receiving direct financial aid when participating in various events.

In 2015, Aigine CRC began cooperating with different international UNESCO structures. Thus, in 2015 director of Aigine CRC, Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva, took part in an expert meeting held in Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia conducted by the International Research Center on Intangible Cultural Heritage in Asia-Pacific, IRCI, Japan. Dr. Aitpaeva’s presentation sparked genuine interest of other participants of the meeting. Her talk was focused on safeguarding Kyrgyz epic trilogy, Manas, Semetei, Seitek, by digitizing the epic and distributing the video version among all the high schools of the country. During the work ofthe meeting, Kyrgyzstan was selected as the next country to host the expert’s meeting. Thus, on December 8-9, 2015, IRCI together with Aigine CRC organized and hosted expert’s meeting on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bishkek.

Experts and culture specialists from Bangladesh, Fiji, Japan, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam took part in the meeting. During the event, they presented analysis of resources on issues of safeguarding elements of intangible cultural heritage.

In 2016, Aigine CRC started its collaboration with Traditional Knowledge Department under the auspicious of UNESCO. As a result, Siezdbek Kalkanbekov, guardian of the Kochkor-Ata sacred site, together with Aigine CRC’s researcher, Aibek

Samakov, participated in IPBES dialogue – Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which took place on January 11-13, 2016 in Paris, France.

In May 2016, Aigine CRC together with the International Information and Network Center of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Asia-Pacific under the auspicious of UNESCO, ICHCAP, South Korea, conducted a symposium Sacred and Cultural Space of Central Asia: Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage and Strengthening Identity in Dushanbe. The main goal pursued by Aigine CRC in initiating this symposium was to build a Central Asian network of organizations and individuals interested in safeguarding and supporting sacred space of the region. Specialists on sacred space and practitioners from Central Asian countries and Mongolia participated in the symposium. Participants discussed different types of sacred sites, from mountains to architectural monuments, as well as ways to understand the concept of sacredness and forms/ways of its manifestation. Dr. Emil Shukurov delivered a presentation on Meaning and Value of Sacred Space in Central Asia. Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva focused her talk on Sacred Geography of Kyrgyzstan: Diversity and Resilience of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The presentation was a summary of research projects conducted in 2005-2014 with support of TCF. As a result of the symposium’s work, ICHCAP stated its readiness to support the work of organizations and experts from Central Asia on sacred sites and practices. Thus, at this stage, Aigine CRC took up its work to the Central Asian level.

Academic way of promoting biocultural diversity as an important direction of further development.

In November 2015, director of Aigine CRC, Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva, participated in 4th International European Society for the Study of Himalayan and Central Asiatic Civilizations (SEECHAS) Colloquium. The event was held in Heidelberg, Germany and was entitled Religious Revivals and Artistic Renaissance in Central Asia and the Himalayan Region – past and present. Dr.

Aitpaeva’s presentation was on Sacred Geography of Kyrgyzstan: Linking Spirituality and Art, and was based on Aigine CRC’s research results conducted in 2005-2014 within the framework of TCF projects. The talk was focused on considering the Sacred Geography of Kyrgyzstan as a domain of social life. This domain generates efforts and justice in society, and socially-oriented spiritual and artistic practices get developed within this domain. These practices are aimed at introducing positive changes in socio-political life in the country.

In the fall of 2015, Aigine CRC’s staff member, Aibek Samakov, received his MA Degree from the Institute of Natural Resources of the Manitoba University, Canada. A seminar on Biocultural Diversity organized back in 2012 by BDC KNAU and supported by TCF, laid foundation for academic collaboration between Aigine CRC and Aibek Samakov’s academic advisor, Dr. Fikret Berkes. Aibek Samakov’s MA thesis is a scientific product that emerged from Aigine CRC’s research on sacred sites conducted in 2005-2014 with TCF’s support. The author, in his work, reviewed two models of safeguarding biocultural diversity: traditional or community based – a phenomenon of sacred sites, and contemporary or state – creating biosphere territories. The main approach of the work complies with Aigine CRC’s mission on integrating traditional wisdom with contemporary practices. An ancient form of preserving and safeguarding the nature and its diversity in the form of sacred sites is based, first of all, on emotional ties of an individual with a place and on spiritual unity with certain space or time. In author’s opinion, today, this approach could bring new perspectives into state schemes of environmental protection on the example of the Yssyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve. And Aibek also emphasized that while syncretizing the traditional and contemporary models of safeguarding biocultural diversity, legal status of biosphere reserve could, in its turn, foster legal protection of sacred sites. Aigine CRC strongly believes that Aibek’s academic research represents one of the most effective models in activating and promoting wide range of traditional empirical materials that have been collected by many TCF grantees over a long period of time.

In May 2016, Aigine CRC in partnership with the American University in Central Asia (AUCA), French Institute for Central Asian Studies (IFEAC) and Central Asian Studies Institute (CASI) held an international scientific conference Rethinking of the 1916 Uprising in Central Asia. The year 2016 marks the centenary of the 1916 Uprising in Central Asia, which is seen as the largest and the most violent national protest against the Russian colonial rule. The workshop was held in the format of thematic sessions and discussion, which allowed to fully illuminate the various aspects of the conference theme. The meeting included a thematic concert where rare works were presented, such as poetry of Ysak Shaybekov “Kayran el” (“

Suffering people”, 1916), performed by the group “Marjan” and Nurak Abdrakhmanov’s composition “Үrkүn” (Exodus 2009) in the performance of his apprentices. As a result, number of participants expressed their desire to organize such academic platform for the exchange of information and analysis of key historical events in the region on a regular basis. On the other hand, after the conference, Michael Hall, the regional director for the Caucasus and Central Asia at the Open Society Foundations, visited Aigine CRC with the invitation to consider applying to OSF to continue this kind of academic events.

Usage of Mass Media means and publications to promote traditional practices and values.

After completing in 2014 its long-term research on the Sacred Geography of Kyrgyzstan, Aigine CRC has been working on dissemination this phenomenon for a wide public through diverse mass media means and different types of publication. This work is considered as an important direction of the organizational further activities. In the reporting period, the members of

Aigine’s team have taken part in 9 TV programs. Also Aigine CRC published the calendar familiarizing wide public with the main rituals that are performed by pilgrims of Kyrgyzstan at sacred sites. Today, all currently existing rituals are undergoing influence of the modern era, however, many rituals continue to preserve elements of antiquity and authenticity.