INVESTIGATION OF SACRED SITES IN TALAS OBLAST, 2005

Sacred Sites Phenomenon in Kyrgyzstan in case of Talas oblast
The main goal of the project is to:
 
1. Understand the phenomena of sacred places and sacredness in the Kyrgyz culture through:
  • Survey of the sacred places of Talas oblast;
  • Life-stories of pilgrims and the role of sacred places in it; ideas of spirituality among Kyrgyz people;
  • Visiting sacred places together with its guardians and visitors to see the world of sacredness through their eyes, to learn the sacredness through understanding of these people.
 
2. Protect and support the culture of sacred places pilgrimage
Plan for 2005:
  1. To organize and educate the working group consisted from students of Talas StateUniversity to: a) collect data on sacred places (description and photo); b) to draw the map of sacred places of Talas oblast.
  2. To collect life-stories of guardians and long-term pilgrims of sacred places
  3. To prepare the first draft for the book on sacred sites.
  4. To organize the first conference on the issue of sacred sites.
Preparation for the project start
The implementation of the project “Sacred Sites Phenomenon in Kyrgyzstan in case of Talas oblast” began in January 2005.
Labor Contract. In order to build constructive and predictable relationships with all prospective partners, Aigine RC developed several labor contracts for different types of personnel: advisors, students, members of the working group and others.
The first individual meetings with the advisors of Aigine RC were held in early January. The purpose was to discuss project implementation options and advisors’ role in this process. During the meeting, specific responsibilities of advisors were discussed and contracts were signed with four of them. The fifth advisor, Doctor of Pedagogy, Prof. Lev Sheiman died in January 2005.
Also, the whole January was dedicated to working group formation and negotiations with potential group members: cartographers, education specialists, ethnologists and others. The procedure and criteria for selecting local students were discussed.
First difficulties. Already at this initial stage, there some difficulties emerged: In particular, the deaths of the adviser Lev Sheiman and the specialist in geophysics and cartography C.V. These two highly valuable persons were educated and socialized under the Soviet system where they believed that the quest for understanding and collegial relationships was more important than money or other forms of material compensation. Both of them liked the idea of studying sacred sites with Aigine RC very much and none of them discussed the question of future salary.  They were ready to take part in the project because I asked them, their old colleague and friend, and because it fit their spiritual interests.
 
Finding replacement specialists of their professional level and experience for the salary, which had been determined counting on those people, turned out to be impossible. People in the country were determined to mentor new people who valued themselves quite high.
First success. However, in the second area of involving students from Talas region in the project was much more successful and straightforward than expected. This was, probably, due to the following factors: a) all Aigine RC members were active teachers, b) the theme of the project concerning sacred sites are an integral and organic part of the culture of this region, and c) the remuneration for student work.
 
Students
 
Research and educational significance. The idea of involving students in this phase of the research resulted from another research goal.   Aigine needed to have students to collect quantitative data on sacred sites in the oblast. A group of researchers from Bishkek could not cover the whole oblast within a few months. At the same time, the idea to involve students from the region had an educational significance.  That was to provide provincial students with access to a new field and train them in new skills. Gradually, as the collaboration progressed, the cultural importance of this cooperation also emerged: that being to bring students into the history of their culture.  Additionally, there were a variety of social roles including teaching of students to work in a team and to manage time and money.
Selection. In January, the selection procedure of students was developed. It consisted of three stages: 1) a survey, 2) an interview, and 3) selection seminar.
Survey. Advisor Dr. Bakyt Amanbaeva played an important role in this process. She worked with the rector and deans of Talas University and got an official permission to survey students. This helped avoid a lot of bureaucratic procedures and allowed surveying many students.
The questionnaire was developed by Aigine RC employees in cooperation with advisor Ms. Madeleine Reeves. 157 students took part in the survey. 50 of them were selected for interviews. Out of these 50, 28 passed to take part in the set-up seminar.
Interviews were conducted on March 1, right before the seminar. Interviews were conducted by the trainers and observers that came to the seminar: three Aigine RC employees; head of Anthropology Branch under the Central Asia Resource Center Dr. Brian Farley; director of the “East-West” Center under the American University of Central Asia Dr. Russel Kleinbach; director of Anthropology Center in Tajikistan Dr. Mahmadali Muzaffar; administrative director of this center Ms. Firuza Tursun Zade; and Aigine RC advisor, psychiatrist Dr. Duishon Adylov. Twenty-eight (28) people out of 50 were invited to participate in the set-up seminar.
 
The Set-Up Seminar in Field Research Methods for students of Talas States University – members of Aigine’s working group, March 2005
The seminar was aimed to train students in the basic field research methods. There was developed a Manual for field methods in Kyrgyz language by Mukaram Toktogulova and Gulnara Aitpaeva. The structure of the seminar was built according to the structure of Manual. There were invited a few practitioners for a practical use of interview methods within the seminar. Additionally to the basic knowledge on research methods there was developed a plan for the monitoring the whole Talas oblast. There were also discussed and signed the labor contracts with members of the working group at the end of this seminar.
For more details please see
 
Second Seminar for the working group on mapping skills, Takas town, April 2005
The goals of the seminars to prepare student for the map drawing and to analyze the outcomes, challenges and problems of the first month of the field research.  There was prepared the Manual on the basic mapping skills in Kyrgyz language. Students also had a practical session at Chynar Terek sacred site near by Talas town. And they discussed the fist difficulties of the field work they started at the end of March.
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Third Seminar for the working group was conduced in Talas town on May 12-14, 2005.
This seminar was aimed to discuss the current state of field research in Talas oblast. The main result of two months of field work was the list of 200 sacred sities of Talas oblast gathered by the working group: 61 sacred sites in  Manas district; 51 sacred sites in Kara-Buura district; 67 sacred sites in Talas district; 36 sacred sites in Bakay-Ata district. There were defined seven sacred sites for deeper analysis and main directions for further work at these seven sites.
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Results of Two Months Field Research:
  • identification of approximate numbers of Sacred sites in the oblast
  • obtaining necessary data for mapping the Sacred Sites
  • description of fixed Sacred sites
  • identification of the guardians
  • defining the seven Sacred sites to undertake a multi-facet analysis
The First Roundtable on the issue of sacred sites
This round table became the first event the logical structure of which became the main for almost all further events of Aigine: bringing together representatives of different, sometime polar statuses, backgrounds and views, such as traditional practitioners and scholars, representatives ofKyrgyzchylyk and Musulmanchylyk.
 
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Focus on the Guardians
One of the focuses of the research were guardians of sacred sites. According to the current for that moment data 13 from around 200 sacred sites had guardians. From the identified guardians only two have been received official salaries – these are the workers of the state complex “Мanas-Ordo”. There were five women from these 13 guardians. There were recorder life stories of these guardians, their stories about sacred sites, rituals and their memories about people who visit sacred sites. In results of this dimension Aigine made some observations and conclusion on the institute of Shaiyk (guardians of sacred sites), were extracted common characteristics as possess certain abilities called Kyrgyzchylyk, etc. Based on the experience of Talas guardians, it can be suggested that gradually the continuity of generations among shaiyks is being formed in the country. At least one of the current guardian’ children is inclined to continue serving sacred sites. In some cases, these are daughters even though there are sons in the family (sacred site Nyldy Ata).
Support of the guardians. Since June 2005, Aigine began to closely cooperate with the guardians of the oblast. Two members of the working group have been directly working with the guardians to collect detailed information. Also, information is cross-checked for those sacred sites that the students could not get to during the first phase. Since July 2005, all guardians, except for theshaiyks of Manas Ordo, have signed cooperation agreements and were paid from Aigine RC during few months. That was a way Aigine considered as a possible support of guardians.
 
Mini-projects
Support of sacred sites for their improvement and protection was initiated by the representatives of Talas region and that was another area of Aigine RC work. For Aigine, making practical contributions to the protection and development of traditions and life principles is of fundamental importance. In 2005 we initiated a project to improve the conditions of life in pilgrimage sites and to protect sacred sites.  In 2005 in Talas a whole series of activities were undertaken to support the initiatives of local communities: these included building a fence, cleaning springs, and fundamental repairs to ritual buildings.
 
Presentation of preliminary results
Aigine members presented preliminary results at the international conferences in Japan andKenya. In late May-early June 2005 Gulnara Aitpaeva took part in the symposium “Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: The Role of Sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes” inJapan and her paper was published in the materials to this conference. In September of 2005 Gulnara Aitpaeva and two students of the Cultural Anthropology and Archeology Department of theAmerican University of Central Asia Zemfira Inogamova and Aman Mongolbaev took part at the international seminar on mapping in Nairobi, Kenya. One of them Zemfira Inogamova became a member of Aigine later. They informed about Aigine’s research during discussions in the course of the seminar.
 
Results of the first year of research in Talas oblast
  • Field work materials: list, descriptions, and map of the sacred sites, life stories of guardians and pilgrims of sacred sites
  • Range of sacred sites, where the worn on improvement and protection have been done
  • Established contacts with local people who have relations with sacred sites
  • Trained and now experience working group, consisted from selected students of the TalasState University
 
Prepared by Dr.Gulnara Aitpaeva