Between 30 November and 11 December this year, the leaders of the world are meeting in Paris for 21st session of the COP (Conference of Parties) to the UNFCCC, which is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Together with Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) have a special status and interest in negotiations about climate change. While SIDS are mostly threatened by a rise of water-levels due to climate change, LLDCs experience serious threats due to the melting of glaciers, their only water source. Obviously, the whole crowd of ‘stans’ is part of the latter category and Uzbekistan is together with Liechtenstein the only doubly landlocked country in the world.
While in Paris, the country representatives pledge to provide more money, commit to measurable goals etc. to manage the human-made catastrophe of climate change, there are of course also human forces that, mostly for the sake of profit, continue to work in favor of climate change, such as the Goldmining industry in Kyrgyzstan, which contaminates water resources and, together with already melting glaciers poses a threat of a flood for the country. In this post, I will address another water-related issues in Central Asia and its human origins: the Aral Sea catastrophe in Uzbekistan.
The first time I (left) ever wore the headscarf was in Cairo in spring 2012
This picture was taken in Egypt and it was the first time that I ever wore the headscarf. Since then, I have talked to many people about it, I have worn it again several times in several countries, with different people and facing different reactions. It is still always kind of an adventure for me to put it on, because I know that people react differently to women wearing the headscarf. Therefore this is a call to try to see the headscarf differently and unveil it from the whole political and religious assumptions with which it has been covered for at least the last 12 years!
Some time ago, I’ve been to Uzbekistan. It’s an amazing country, full of beautiful mosques, madrassahs and mosaics. I’ve been there for ten days but traveled five cities. That’s usually not my style of traveling, as I like to have more time to get into the atmosphere and lifestyle of a city. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to do this one time and I saw a lot of amazing buildings and got an impression of the huge differences in architecture and culture in this big country.
But, because of our ambitious travel planning and the size of the country (see box), we spent a long time in cars, trains, marshrutkas and even a propeller-driven plane. So, before talking about the amazing buildings and history of this fascinating country, I want to give you an impression of our “roadtrip”, and some lessons we learned. A somewhat sarcastic “road”-experience:
Just coming back from Uzbekistan might be the best time to give you an update about my personal impressions, highlights and disappointments in my time abroad, since right now I have another external view on the country (contrasting it with its neighbour) and at the same time just realized how I already felt like coming back home when crossing the border on foot and seeing the red national flag…
Mosque in Issyk-Kul region with obligatory aluminium ribbed roof
As I already mentioned in previous posts (see ByeBye MZB), the main religion in Kyrgyzstan with about 75% followers is Islam (followed by 25% Russian Orthodox). When I arrived in Bishkek, Ramadan was already about to begin. As you will probably know, Ramadan (Рамадан or Рамазан) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and an entire month of fasting. This year it coincided with the hottest time of midsummer. Interestingly in Central Asia, the exact days can vary in the different countries depending on the decisions of the муфтияти (Muftiates – special Islamic commissions or Spiritual Boards) that are responsible for the religious administration of a certain region and were installed already under Tsarist rule. In Kyrgyzstan this year fasting time (пост) began in the night from July 8 to July 9 and lasted till August 8. In short, Ramadan is about celebrating the time when Mohammed received the word of the Qur’an. Therefore, following Qur’an, all Muslim people should fast during this month (except for sick or elder persons, children, pregnant women, fighting soldiers and travelers), which means they are not allowed to drink, smoke, eat or have sex during day time. Every evening, the day is closed with breaking the fast – mostly this includes eating a lot and inviting neighbors (unfortunately my neighbors apparently weren’t following as we only shared cigarettes during day time ;-)) and relatives.
So, in the beginning of July, I was totally prepared for shops being closed due to Ramadan because people shorten their working days to have more time to concentrate on their religious duties. I was also ready to stop drinking on the streets in order to not offend people or disturb their fasting. But then – surprise: in Bishkek I almost didn’t notice Ramadan at all. Continue reading
Dear honorable readers, today we are up to 42 degrees, I’m suffering in the office and since I want you in прохладная Европа (cool Europe) to suffer too, I am coming to the heavy stuff. Why would you rarely read about Central Asia on the “International” News (except if some Chechen Kyrgyz guys kill three people in Boston). Might be that there is just nothing going on? Everyone lives a peaceful life in harmony in the beautiful mountains or relaxing in the steppe or trading romantic goods (and/or drugs) on the former Silk Road? I am not so sure – here a glimpse into one hot topic: borders
Although Kyrgyzstan has only 4 borders (see map), there is some quarrels going on about them.
Central Asia on nationsonline.org
one week ago an incident near Jalal-Abad at the border region between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan took place during which one Uzbek border guard was killed, another injured. According to the News and the largely unexcited reactions of my acquaintances (“well, it’s crazy”), this is no exception to happen, since quarrels near the border are quite common (on 20 June for example a Kyrgyz citizen was killed by Uzbek guards – circumstances unclear). As always in such cases, the explanations vary widely, depending on the different Uzbek and Kyrgyz sources. While Uzbek officials stated that the Kyrgyz guards had been drunk and invaded Uzbek territory, according to a Kyrgyz official the Kyrgyz guards had been dragged onto Uzbek territory after a verbal discussion about the border details (messy topic!) with Uzbek guards starting the shooting.
Although I am not in touch with any of this – means I don’t have first-hand information – I want to give you an impression of the ongoing disputes based on newspaper information and conversations with Bishkek inhabitants.