Panel discussion on sacred site issues, 2005

Panel: Sacred Site Issues

Date: May 17, 2005
Place: Manas Ordo Complex, Talas oblast
Language: Kyrgyz

Apart from working with students, Aigine RC carries out regular work with people for whom mazar pilgrimage is an inseparable part of life. Some of them were concentrated in the organization “Archa Tamyr”; many are working individually and are not interested in any kind of mutual cooperation.

The idea of the roundtable came from the pilgrims, traditional practitioners and it stems from thier concerns:

  • Vulnerability of many sacred sites – when cattle pollute the springs and caves, damages trees and plants, and nobody does anything to prevent that;
  • Absence of any regulations that set out rules of behavior at mazars – in this respect, many natural sacred sites are turning into entertainment sites and the sanctity leaves these sites;
  • The biggest and well-developed mazar of the oblast “Manas Ordo” has become a commercial center in a way where people are admitted by buying tickets,
  • Some followers of Islam are very bellicose towards mazars and agitate against the sacred sites worshiping,
  • In a vast majority of cases, only the keepers and professionals are concerned with the future of sacred sites – the state and local authorities show no interest in them whatsoever.


  • To figure out problems, difficulties and contradictions of mazars in Talas oblast
  • To find solutions to mazars’ problems as defined by the roundtable participants

Discussion of all questions passed under a very emotional and arduous atmosphere. First of all, this had likely to do with the contingent of participants, who meet and listen to one another quite rarely.

Roundtable participants
The invitees included people related to mazars in this or other way: healers, doctors, government leaders, representatives of NGOs, Muftiat, Committee on Religion and Museum, researchers and our students.

Administrators. Administrative workers of different levels took part in the Roundtable: assistant governor, ombudsman, heads of various committees under the oblast kenesh, director of the museum under “Manas Ordo”, and others. Most of these people are sure that they are aware of all the problems and know solutions to them. To their minds money, which is always lacking, is the only problem. Many administrators are truly cut off the reality of mazars and cannot think it might be an object of state concern. Their attitude towards the professionals leaves much to be desired.

NGO representatives. In addition to the organization “Archa Tamyr”, there were representatives of non-governmental organizations who came with quite personal agenda: whether they could get any grant. The head of the organization “Manas 1000” even expressed surprise and displeasure with the fact Talas mazars are dealt with by non-Talas NGO “Aigine”.

Guardians. These were the most reticent and self-possessed group of participants. They spoke out only when it got specifically to their mazar: interpretation of the name, description of specificity and problems of protection.

Traditional practitioners. This was the most emotional group. Their speeches were impetuous, inconsistent but full of passionate meaning. They mainly shared their experiences of healing at mazars. The professionals are concerned that the followers of “pure” Islam are trying to cast doubt on their Islam. They are unanimous in claiming that they are Muslims and that their relation to mazars cannot put it in doubt. It is this group of people that through their experience and life philosophy creates (builds) the people’s Kyrgyz type of Islam whose organic element is worshipping and practicing at mazars.

Our students are currently observing the practices and patients of the professionals.

In general, the discussion of adherence to Kyrgyzchylyk [the system of traditional Kyrgyz beliefs, which includes worshipping mazars] and Islam showed that there is no dilemma Kyrgyzchylyk vs Islam for most of the visitors and those practicing at mazars. They have a holistic religious system and often ready, without any special education or theory, to explain it.

A special type of participants was represented by several people, official representatives of Islam (for example, moldo from Kokoi village), who visited mazars until recently and combined Islam and mazars without conflict.

The final roundtable session was dedicated to finding solutions to the problems discussed at the earlier roundtable. All participants were asked to divide in five groups to brainstorm over five problem areas. An interesting detail: almost all participants from the groups of administrators did not take part in this kind of work for different reasons. In contrast, mazar visitors who all day rather listened than spoke were very active in this work.

The working group
After presenting quite interesting projects, the roundtable participants elected a working group composed of five people, which will continue working on the proposed ideas. This group included the representatives of: а) the oblast administration, b) Muftiat (the official structure of Islam), c) professionals, d) “Manas Ordo” governmental complex, and e) the official representative of Islam visiting mazars.

The objective of this group is to draft a declaration on the mazars of Talas oblast. The Declaration of the solution the mazar problems will be developed by the working group based on discussions of the Round Table.

The meeting of the working group members should be held in August 2005 in order to discuss the final version of the Declaration and approve the solution to mazar problems.

Prepared by Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva