Conference on Meaning and Role of Sacred Sites Today, 2005


Date: November 18-19, 2005
Place: Talas town, Talas oblast, Kyrgyzstan
Language: Kyrgyz

Goal: To provide a detailed report to the public about 9 months activities of “Aigine” in Talas oblast, to share and discuss the main outcomes of the project.


  • shaiyks, mazar custodians and visitors, teachers, administrators, and non-governmental associations of Talas oblast
  • foundations and associations sponsored by the TCF (Public and Business Forum, Ak Terek, Anthropology Center (Tadjikistan), artists G.Kasymalieva and Murat
  • other public foundations and associations from Bishkek related to mazars (El bilge,  Tengirchilik, Aitysh, Dinara Chochunbaeva),
  • related foundations and people, as well as associations from all oblasts of the country: Issyk-Kul, Osh, Jalal-Abad and Chui oblasts
  • advisors
  • students of the Talas, American and Turkish universities
  • representatives of press and television from Bishkek and Talas.

Overall, the number of invitees was 160. 115 people took part in the conference. From the organizations supported by the TCF the Public and Business Forum accepted the invitation and sent its representative. At the conference there were representatives from Issyk-Kul, Osh, Jalal-Abad and Chui oblasts. From the representatives of mass media there were the Kyrgyz State Television, Talas Oblast Television, Radio Station “Azattyk”, and newspapers “Vecherny Bishkek”, “Bishkek Times” and “Talas turmushu”.

Under the initial plan, the conference was supposed to take place in Bishkek. However, this plan was changed due to the following: a big number of people from Talas wanted and had to take part in the final event of “Aigine”. The budgetary expenditures for the conference with that number of participants would have exceeded the allocated amounts if the conference had been to take place in Bishkek. It proved more cost-efficient to invite 30-35 people to Talas.

The principle for inviting people from Talas was the same as the principle for inviting participants to the last two participatory workshops: students working in the oblast made lists of informants who had visited mazars for many years. The biggest concern was that all conference participants had nothing to do with academic life and took part in such an event for the first time. Despite a thorough preliminary preparation, I was very much concerned whether we would be able to manage a hundred of very specific people with no experience of conference participation, whether some unpredictable conflicts might arise between extrasensory people, whether the presenters might get frustrated in front of a large audience. Somewhere deep inside I was ready for the worst case scenario with people leaving already in the second half of the first day or with a mass.

The very beginning was already worrisome, when during the registration participants started initiating activities out of the program. For instance, upon their insistence we had to commence the conference with reading Koran. This honorary right the Talassians delegated to Alymbek-ajy – a representative from the South, a worker of the holy mountain Sulaiman-Too complex, head of the shaiyks of Osh City.

A welcome letter to the conference participants on behalf of the Secretary of State of Kyrgyzstan, Dastan Sarygolov, was read right after the reading of Koran. Dastan Sarygulov expressed interest in the conference and asked to send him “Aigine” materials about this project.

Fortunately, what happened next did not correspond to the worst expectations and was far above my most optimistic expectations.

The oblast governor, Iskender Aidaraliev, came to the conference and came just in agreed time (10.40 a.m.). His speech was extremely relevant and free of any formalities. He spoke like a person who knows about mazars not by hearsay. One of the main leitmotivs of his speech was as follows: if mazar worshipping was inherent in our ancestors, there is no reason why it should be alien to us. The warm and substantive speech of the governor gave rise to a similar reaction in the conference room. People were touched by respect of the official authorities to the traditions of ancestors and sacral part of their life.

Again, a surprisingly high motivation and involvement of people in the process was observed. Mainly illiterate people that primarily do unskilled labor became fully-fledged participants of the conference: they listened to presentations attentively, asked many questions, made subtle and relevant comments and even observed the time limits in general.

Individual presentations were made by the representatives of the sacred sites of Sulaiman Too (Osh City), Safet Bulan (Jalal-Abad); also participants from the Issyk-Kul and Chui oblasts and an “Aigine” advisor Bakyt Amanbaeva made presentations.
However, most of the time was dedicated not to individual presentations, but rather to panel sessions of shaiyks and custodians; visitors and healers, manaschys and students, as well as to the work in sections and presentations of section work at the general conference.

The panels comprised 8-12 presenters. Herewith, the groups at the conference were formed quickly and unexpectedly. Of course, “Aigine” had conducted preliminary work to identify panel participants, their topics, time limits, etc. But we did not expect that so many people would volunteer to present and insistently join the panel, and that the representatives of Southern mazars, especially Alymbek-ajy, would consume much time in panel discussions.

All panels were interested and unique on their own. I listened to our Talas students very attentively. The presentation made by Nazira Jusupova about the link between the names of sacred sites and populated settlements of Kara-Buura rayon was a definite godsend. Given some additional work, this presentation could become a basis for an excellent article to the future book about Talas mazars. One of the students even read a poem dedicated to what she had learnt through the work with “Aigine”. For all our students from Talas this was also the first experience of making a presentation at the conference.

There were seven sections. Each section was moderated by two students from Talas, American and Turkish Universities.

  • The reasons for visiting Sacred Sites. Moderators: Baktygul Tulebaeva and Nazira Jusupova
  • The interweaving of Kyrgyzsizm and Muslimism. Moderators: Guljan Kudabaeva and Manas Ishenkulov
  • The development of subjects about the world of Sacred Sites. Moderators: Eliza Isabaeva and Aida Egemberdieva
  • The types of Sacred Sites. Moderators: Nazgul Asanakunova and Bubuzina Mamekova
  • The rituals conducted at Sacred Sites. Moderators: Zemfira Inogamova and Zarina Osorova
  • The rights and responsibilities of Shaiyk and guardians. Moderators: Damira Imanalieva and Elnura Kulova
  • The biodiversity and ecology of Sacred Sites. Leaders: Nazira Satisheva and Aman Monolbaev

Overall, students from the Talas and American Universities played the key role in organization of the conference. Their assistance was invaluable in making the lists of participants; delivering invitations in the context of no telephones, no telegraph and no regular transport lines between remote villages; registering participants; preparing the conference room and section rooms; and audio recording.

There was prepared a brochure “The ancient mazars of Talas province” for the conference. It includes:

  • information about “Aigine” and The Christensen Fund;
  • list of 153 mazars that the students and “Aigine” staff visited themselves and described;
  • a typical description of these mazars;
  • a list of shaiyks and custodians;
  • their life stories;
  • a map of mazars comprising 172 sacred sites;
  • my article about some results of the project; and
  • pictures of some workshops, shaiyks and rituals.

In the foreword to the documentation, it was stated that this material is published for the first time and one of the main goals of this publication is to involve the local community in the joint work on making the presented results more exact, complete and correct. “Aigine” invited all who would like to participate in this process to join in, in order to make the book planned for the next year a book of high precision in terms of factology.

“Aigine” also showed a 20 minutes movie about the main phases of its activities in Talas developed by a volunteer Meder Aalyev and Aida.

During the conference, we also distributed information billboards to those custodians and shaiyks at whose mazars mini-projects were completed.

The conference finished its work two and half hours later than anticipated by the program.

A challenge.
A real challenge for conducting this conference was Talas City itself – a town without conditions for holding such big events in cold season. Big hotels inherited from the Soviet times have no heating; there is virtually no public transport; concluded agreements are not fulfilled. Mini-buses that are supposed to arrive at 8 o’clock actually arrive at 9; the mountain pass Otmok connecting Bishkek and Talas is dangerous for transporting a big number of people in late autumn; the steppe road through Kazakhstan requires almost a visa regime. All these made the preparation and organization of the conference a hard and nervous work. Perhaps, these factors somewhat diminished the positive impression about the event of people who had to wait for transport for a long time, change accommodation, etc.

However, the atmosphere of the conference, the enthusiasm and energy of its participants and the materials and results that we produced exceeded all our expectations and justified our innovative searches in Talas.
Prepared by Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva