In Conversation with Polina Ivanova and Mehdi Hesamizadeh

I met his­tor­i­an Polina Ivan­ova and artist Mehdi Hes­am­iz­a­deh in Yerevan, Armenia in Janu­ary 2020 when I trav­elled there to par­ti­cip­ate in Mejl­is Institute’s Per­sian Lan­guage and Cinema Winter Pro­gramme. Mejl­is Insti­tute was launched by Polina and Mehdi in 2019 as a non-profit organ­isa­tion with the aim to bring to life the pre­mod­ern mean­ing of the word ‘mejl­is’ — a social gath­er­ing for the pur­pose of recit­ing and dis­cuss­ing poetry, play­ing music and enjoy­ing good com­pany. In the spir­it of ‘mejl­is’ the prin­cip­al mis­sion of the Insti­tute is to provide a plat­form for such gath­er­ings, fos­ter­ing learn­ing through edu­ca­tion pro­grammes. The Insti­tute holds sum­mer and winter schools for an intens­ive study of lan­guages, such as Armeni­an, Per­sian, Turk­ish, Kur­d­ish and oth­ers, reg­u­lar lan­guage courses through­out the year, lec­ture series, work­shops, poetry read­ings, music per­form­ances, exhib­i­tions, book present­a­tions and film screen­ings. With its loc­a­tion in Yerevan, Mejl­is Insti­tute cel­eb­rates the his­tor­ic­al pos­i­tion of Armenia as a con­tact zone between dif­fer­ent cul­tures and lan­guages, and thus, aims to strengthen the role of Yerevan as a hub of inter­na­tion­al cooper­a­tion.

Entangled in the New Year’s cel­eb­ra­tions, my arrival to Yerevan on Janu­ary 1, just as the pur­pose of my trip, was mis­un­der­stood by almost every­one. My Airb­nb host has nev­er heard of any insti­tute in his his­tor­ic­al res­id­en­tial neigh­bour­hood of Aygest­an. He was also con­vinced that no one would show up the first day of classes, sched­uled at 9.00am on Janu­ary 2, because people would still be cel­eb­rat­ing New Year. Des­pite the forces of the New Year cel­eb­ra­tions, the course did com­mence as planned. Reflect­ing back, I under­stand that the scru­pu­lous nature of the course is an exten­sion of the aca­dem­ic rig­or pri­or­it­ised at Mejl­is Insti­tute. Per­son­ally, my aca­dem­ic exper­i­ence at Mejl­is Insti­tute was excel­lent: I achieved a tre­mend­ous pro­gress in my lan­guage skills in Per­sian and was intro­duced to unique works of Per­sian cine­ma­to­graphy. As a way of cel­eb­rat­ing the impress­ive begin­nings of Mejl­is Insti­tute, it is my pleas­ure to present the inter­view with Polina Ivan­ova and Mehdi Hes­am­iz­a­deh.

The neigh­bour­hood of Aygest­an, Yerevan, Armenia.

How did you come up with the idea to found Mejl­is Insti­tute?

Polina: There is a longer story, and there is a short­er story. The longer story may not be inter­est­ing for a wider audi­ence, because that is more of a per­son­al story. We were gath­er­ing with friends to read poetry for inform­al poetry nights. Then we thought it would be great to actu­ally form­al­ise it, so that we can invite more people and make it into a kind of insti­tu­tion that would con­tin­ue itself and do oth­er sorts of things, not just read­ing poetry for fun, but doing all kinds of cul­tur­al pro­grammes. So, this is kind of the long pre-story to the insti­tute, and it was two years ago.

Was the poetry read­ing in Per­sian or in mul­tiple lan­guages?

Polina: Actu­ally, we began with Greek and Romani­an poetry, and it was dur­ing the night devoted Lorca’s poetry that we decided to do some­thing lar­ger out of these gath­er­ings, which were around 10 – 15 people. Then, we began think­ing of Armenia and its place. This is deeply inter­twined with our per­son­al stor­ies. Intel­lec­tu­ally speak­ing, I came to Armenia from Anato­lia, because I was study­ing the Otto­man his­tory, and then, medi­ev­al Anato­li­an his­tory. Slowly, I became inter­ested in Armeni­an cul­ture as part of the oth­er cul­tures of the Middle East. Thus, I trav­elled to Armenia to learn Armeni­an lan­guage with aware­ness that the coun­try rep­res­ents cul­tures of the broad­er Middle East.

Mehdi: I came here because of a dif­fer­ent reas­on, but it is also a very per­son­al story. I came here from Iran as a musi­cian to work with the loc­al musi­cians. It is not acci­dent­al that I chose Armenia, because this coun­try is a cross­ing point for people from dif­fer­ent places: Syr­ia, Egypt, Rus­sia, Azerbaijan and etc. Work­ing in music, I trav­elled to dif­fer­ent places, but here in Armenia I feel at home. It is a small coun­try, but it is a point of inter­sec­tion of the lar­ger world sur­round­ing it.

Polina: Armenia is not unique in this; these kinds of con­nec­tions are an integ­ral part of any human soci­ety. No cul­ture is pure or isol­ated. It is always an amal­gam. Armenia is not dif­fer­ent. What makes Armenia in our eye spe­cial is that it is a hub geo­graph­ic­ally speak­ing: Iran is here; Anato­lia is here; Meso­pot­amia, and obvi­ously the Cau­cas­us.

The neigh­bour­hood of Aygest­an, Yerevan, Armenia.

Did you have any reser­va­tions about choos­ing Armenia?

There have been some prac­tic­al con­cerns. Armenia is still very much deal­ing with the leg­acy of the 20th-cen­tury nation­al­ism, which is not past and is still with us now. Armeni­an cul­ture remains still a very nation­al­ist­ic cul­ture. And for a good and bad reas­ons. Partly this has to do with the Armeni­an state hav­ing been built after the gen­o­cide, when cel­eb­rat­ing any­thing nation­al was a cel­eb­ra­tion of sur­viv­al. Yet, des­pite this envir­on­ment, the edu­ca­tion that chil­dren get in schools, the kind of his­tory that is being taught here, Armenia has quite an open soci­ety.

Doing what we are doing here, although it is in some ways may be a counter-main­stream under­stand­ing of his­tory and cul­ture, we do not feel threatened; we have not had any neg­at­ive reac­tions from any­one we spoke with. We think that people here are curi­ous. For example, people passing on the street and see­ing the name of our organ­isa­tion ‘Mejl­is’ will say: ‘Isn’t “Mejl­is” the name for the nation­al assembly of the Crimean Tatars?’

They will be puzzled more but they will not be neces­sar­ily aggress­ive. They will say: ‘This sounds like some­thing Muslim.’ We have not until today seen any aggres­sion. So, when think­ing of the ori­gin­al con­cep­tion, we con­sidered Armenia to be a good choice, where stu­dents from dif­fer­ent coun­tries can come togeth­er. It is a safe and wel­com­ing place.

Mehdi:  After the Soviet peri­od, it was dif­fi­cult to find an insti­tute, and place, where you can gath­er and have a simple intel­lec­tu­al con­ver­sa­tion. And that was our ini­tial con­cern. We know we can go to a dif­fer­ent place, but here, we feel and see the pos­it­ive feed­back.

Why and how did you devel­op the format of the Insti­tute?

Polina: We chose the format that we did quite con­sciously. At one point, we were think­ing of col­lab­or­at­ing with uni­ver­sity. Then we thought that we wanted to go a dif­fer­ent way. We decided to estab­lish it as a non-profit, basic­ally an NGO, in order to be free with our format. What does this mean? There was always this ques­tion mark: is this aca­dem­ic or is this not aca­dem­ic? Well, we then thought, we do not have to neces­sar­ily put ourselves into one frame. We can take from aca­demia what we like — being rig­or­ous, hav­ing high stand­ards, hav­ing high demands — but also avoid some things we find counter-pro­duct­ive in terms of intel­lec­tu­al life and com­munity, such as some aspects of com­pet­i­tion and hier­archy. We wanted it to be as much as pos­sible an open place, open to all kinds of stu­dents, not neces­sar­ily aca­dem­ics, but also to those who have genu­ine interest in learn­ing, so that we can have people of dif­fer­ent levels and from dif­fer­ent places come togeth­er — that is our primary con­cerns. In terms of the format, we did not want to do some­thing just aca­dem­ic. We wanted to be more interest ori­ented. Let’s say if we want to do some kind of sum­mer school or sea­son­al school…Mehdi is work­ing on cine­ma­to­graphy for a work­shop for filmmakers…why not? We can do it here, because it speaks to our goal of bring­ing people togeth­er, work­ing togeth­er on inter­est­ing top­ics. If we want to do a work­shop, like the his­tory of the mul­ti­cul­tur­al city, which is invis­ible today, we can do it work­ing with stu­dents, archi­tects, ama­teur his­tor­i­ans. We are not put­ting ourselves into some kind of chains of how things should be done in an aca­dem­ic insti­tu­tion.

Yerevan is cos­mo­pol­it­an. Here is the land of the Armeni­an people, but we want to make an import­ant point about Armeni­an people: his­tor­ic­ally, Armeni­ans are known to have been always mul­ti­lin­gual, with one foot in one cul­ture and the oth­er foot in anoth­er cul­ture, serving as trans­lat­ors. Hence, you have Armeni­ans speak­ing Armeni­an and Per­sian, Rus­si­an, Turk­ish, French and you can con­tin­ue this infin­itely. We want to cel­eb­rate the role of Armenia as a hub, Armenia as cross­roads, Armeni­ans as trans­lat­ors.

The Blue Mosque in Yerevan, Armenia.

How did you move from the con­cep­tu­al idea of the Insti­tute into its estab­lish­ment?

Mehdi: We liked the area of Aygest­an, because it is part of the old Yerevan and it is close enough to the centre but secluded enough as well. We were look­ing for a house and this one has a garden, and as an Ira­ni­an I can tell you that this is very import­ant for us. As meta­phors in Per­sian poetry have it, a garden is the part of the house, where you can be the garden­er of you soul. When we found this house, it was an aban­doned, ruined place.

Polina: This was six-months of hard work repair­ing the house with our own hands and those of our friends. We are still in the pro­cess of renov­at­ing oth­er parts of the house, but we made it ready for the sum­mer school in 2019. At the same time, we were man­aging the pro­gram, writ­ing emails to uni­ver­sit­ies and etc. to invite lec­tur­ers. It was all hap­pen­ing at once.

Any thoughts for the future?

In terms of fund­ing the pro­gramme, we are a non-profit, we just need money to pay the run­ning expenses and pay the salar­ies, and we would like to make it free for all par­ti­cipants. We would like this pro­gramme to be pos­sible not only for inter­na­tion­al stu­dents who have uni­ver­sity sup­port, but also for Armeni­an stu­dent, and spe­cially the Ira­ni­an stu­dents, for whom it is extremely dif­fi­cult to go abroad. They can come to Armenia, they don’t have a visa prob­lem, but accom­mod­a­tion in Armenia, even if it is reas­on­ably priced, is too expens­ive for them. Our goal is to be able to offer a simple, shared accom­mod­a­tion and a tuition-free study for dif­fer­ent kinds of stu­dents. Now we do charge tuition to cov­er the expenses of the pro­gramme, but it is a very open policy. We ask stu­dents, who come from uni­ver­sit­ies, who can sup­port them­selves or who oth­er­wise have resources, to pay tuition to sup­port us and make it pos­sible. But for stu­dent who do not have the resources we offer tuition waivers, because we will nev­er say no to any­one who would like to come. It is a good work­ing solu­tion for now, but of course in the future we hope we can have more sus­tain­able fund­ing.

Steps lead­ing to the Mesrop Mashtots Insti­tute of Ancient Manu­scripts, Yerevan, Armenia.

We are open to expand­ing in vari­ous ways. The sum­mer course has a ‘con­nec­ted his­tor­ies’ com­pon­ent to it, and we like that our group con­sists of stu­dents learn­ing Per­sian, Turk­ish and Armeni­an, and how they inter­act with each oth­er and learn in the con­text of these oth­er lan­guages being taught next door, and how they have lec­tures on con­nec­ted his­tor­ies. We hope to add Kur­d­ish to our list of lan­guages, and we would be happy to accom­mod­ate lar­ger ver­sions of this pro­gramme. This was a pilot pro­ject and we can do a month-long course on Per­sian and Per­sian cinema, or a poetry course. One of our policies is that we try to under­stand what the needs of the stu­dents are and then try to shape our pro­grammes in such a way that those needs are met.

What are your reflec­tions on the past pro­grammes you held? What worked? What did not work?

In the sum­mer we admit­ted 15 stu­dents, but three of them can­celled, so we ended up hav­ing 12 stu­dents. I would not say that everything worked, but one thing that worked very well was the idea of con­nec­ted lan­guages and his­tor­ies. We had stu­dents from Tur­key learn­ing Armeni­an and an Armeni­an stu­dent learn­ing Turk­ish, and Turk­ish stu­dents learn­ing Per­sian, mul­tiple lin­guist­ic over­laps, and when we had our cof­fee break in the garden, we would speak all of these lan­guages togeth­er and that was very sweet. This meant that stu­dents had an extra chance to prac­tice with a nat­ive speak­er and rein­force what they learned in class. That really worked very well, and we had a very inter­est­ing series of lec­tures and explored the notion of con­nec­ted his­tor­ies from archae­ology, ancient his­tory, music, medi­ev­al lit­er­at­ure. We will repeat the course, but it will nev­er be the same because we would invite dif­fer­ent lec­tur­ers, and of course, stu­dents would be dif­fer­ent, so there would be dif­fer­ent interests and focuses. It will be the same frame­work, but it will take a dif­fer­ent shape every time.

In terms of some­thing that did not work, well, I wish that our stu­dents from Iran could come. We had a few applic­ants from Iran, whom we wanted to invite, but most of them even on tuition waiver, could not come here. Even though they could come here by bus, accom­mod­a­tion here is really expens­ive for them, and even life, which does not seem expens­ive for someone from Europe is expens­ive for Ira­ni­an stu­dents. For us this is really the miss­ing link. We wish for Ira­ni­an stu­dents, teach­ers, schol­ars to come here and we hope we can find the resources to make it pos­sible. With loc­al stu­dents from Armenia, we would like to make ourselves more known here as an open insti­tu­tion, so that loc­al stu­dents would join us. These are our goals for this year and years to come.

Mejl­is Insti­tute is hold­ing a sum­mer pro­gramme between July 13 – August 14, 2020, which will con­sist of three par­al­lel lan­guage courses – Armeni­an, Per­sian and Turk­ish – and a series of sem­inars devoted to top­ics in con­nec­ted his­tor­ies of Armenia, Iran and Anato­lia.  I encour­age all inter­ested stu­dents to check out Mejl­is’ web­site. I thank Polina, Mehdi and Maryam (our Per­sian instruct­or) for all of their work. I per­son­ally had an amaz­ing time and I look for­ward to par­ti­cip­at­ing in Mejl­is in one capa­city or anoth­er soon.

Kushtdepdi of the Turkmen and Its Origins

Turk­men nation­al dance Kush­de­p­di

I heard singing with the dis­tinct “hu hu” breath­ing pat­tern, and instantly, a small circle of people gently formed in the middle of the crowd in the court­yard of the groom’s house. The people in the circle — chil­dren and adults — danced around the circle stamp­ing their right foot on the ground, and after­wards, jump­ing up and throw­ing both arms in the air. There was no bound­ary between the spec­tat­ors of the dance and its par­ti­cip­at­ors: people seam­lessly moved in and out of the circle. The energy cre­ated by the stamps, the claps and the singing was aston­ish­ing. These are my memor­ies of the Turk­men dance kusht­de­p­di.

Kusht­de­p­di is a Turk­men folk dance prac­ticed at wed­dings by the mem­bers of the cel­eb­rat­ing com­munity and is accom­pan­ied by spe­cial songs called ghazal or kusht­depme. To under­stand the vari­ous ways in which kusht­de­p­di is prac­ticed by the Turk­men we must dis­tin­guish between the con­cepts of ‘a dance in the field’ and ‘ethno iden­tity dance’, codi­fied by Anthony Shay — a schol­ar spe­cial­iz­ing in dances from East­ern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Cent­ral Asia. Accord­ing to Shay, the term ‘dance in the field’ rep­res­ents dances that form an organ­ic part of loc­al com­mun­al life while the term ‘ethno iden­tity dance’ refers to dances that are cho­reo­graphed or pre­pared for the stage.

The ori­gins of kusht­de­p­di in the field are ambigu­ous. There is strong evid­ence to sug­gest that until the 1970s, the dance was prac­ticed widely by the Yomut Turk­men on the east­ern coast of the Caspi­an Sea. We also know that in the fol­low­ing years, the dance spread in Turk­menistan both as a com­mun­al cel­eb­rat­ory dance and as a staged dance.[1] In terms of the ori­gins of the dance, the most prom­in­ent nar­rat­ive is advanced by Turk­men schol­ars. This nar­rat­ive sug­gests that the dance comes from dhikr heal­ing ritu­al asso­ci­ated with the Sufi mys­tic­al Islam. The uni­form­ity of the dis­cus­sions by these schol­ars cre­ates an impres­sion that the dance is an ‘inven­ted tra­di­tion’.[2] This in its turn rouses sus­pi­cion that their hypo­thes­is might in fact be a product of post-Soviet nation-build­ing efforts. In order to assess the valid­ity of this hypo­thes­is, the aim of the rest of this art­icle is to com­pare the ele­ments of the Sufi rite of afflic­tion prac­ticed among the Turk­men and kusht­de­p­di in the field. What we find in the end is the great like­li­hood of the ori­gins of kusht­de­p­di to lie in a Sufi heal­ing ritu­al.

Turk­men folk­lor­ists claim that kusht­de­p­di comes from a heal­ing rite. For example, Geldi­yev writes that kusht­de­p­di emerges on the basis of dhikr. Goch­muradov takes it even fur­ther to state, that indeed, dhikr itself is a form of folk art.[3] Addi­tion­ally, Otdi­yev and Atdayeva explain that kusht­de­p­di comes from porhan­chylyk, i.e.shamanic prac­tices.[4] Dhikr is ‘ori­gin­ally a Qur’anic word, com­mand­ing “remem­brance of God”, and an act of devo­tion dur­ing and after pray­er’. [5] Here, it is import­ant to note that while dhikr is strictly an Islam­ic notion, neither of the afore­men­tioned schol­ars attrib­ute dhikr to Sufism, and in fact, some assign kusht­de­p­di to be an exten­sion of sham­an­ism. Dev­in Deweese explains that mis­la­beling Sufi ele­ments as sham­an­ist­ic was a com­mon prac­tice by Soviet aca­dem­ics as a res­ult of the government’s hos­til­ity towards Sufis and their insti­tu­tions — poten­tial sources of oppos­i­tion.[6] This makes it clear why the Turk­men schol­ars, who fol­low the tra­ject­ory set by Soviet aca­dem­ics, nev­er expli­citly pin­point Sufism when refer­ring to dhikr and for this inquiry we must con­sider dhikr in the con­text of Sufism.

While the Turk­men schol­ars offer a hypo­thes­is on the ori­gin of kusht­de­p­di, their dis­cus­sions seem spec­u­lat­ive as they lack any nuanced explan­a­tion of the trans­form­a­tion of a reli­gious ritu­al into a codi­fied dance. Yet, it is cru­cial to recog­nize that such ana­lys­is is dif­fi­cult to accom­plish, because there is ‘no doc­u­mented his­tory of dance pri­or to the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury’ on the ter­rit­ory of present-day Turk­menistan.[7]Due to this lim­it­a­tion, the only viable meth­od of assess­ing the hypo­thes­is lies in ana­lyz­ing the trans­form­a­tion of the Sufi rite of afflic­tion into kusht­de­p­di by com­par­ing the two.

One of the most pro­found points of com­par­is­on of the Sufi heal­ing ritu­al and kusht­de­p­di is their vocal and phys­ic­al move­ment com­pon­ents. Dev­in Deweese ana­lyzes two eth­no­graph­ic stud­ies of the Turk­men which provide a primary source basis for the com­par­is­on: a study of a heal­ing ritu­al by Iomud Khan pub­lished in 1924 and a study of a wed­ding dance by Annaklychev pub­lished in 1960.

A vocal ele­ment dis­cern­ible both in the Sufi rite and kusht­de­p­di is the vocal inhal­ing and exhal­ing. Deweese illus­trates the vocal ele­ment of a heal­ing ritu­al described by Iomud Khan: ‘the ishan begns to utter “hu, hu”, and the people sit­ting around the tent join in; if they slack­en their cries, the ishan says “hu” again, and after awhile [sic] he says “Alla” and the people cease shout­ing and rest’.[8] Sim­il­arly, the phrase “hu, hu[9] was part of a wed­ding dance described by Annaklychev in 1960 and it is part of kusht­de­p­di  to this day. In fact, all of the kusht­de­p­di tech­niques which I wit­nessed in per­son or on video mater­i­als involve the vocal inhal­ing and exhal­ing.

The nature of Sufism in Cent­ral Asia explains the vocal cor­rel­a­tion between the heal­ing ritu­al and kusht­de­p­di. The most pre­val­ent Sufi order among the Turkic-speak­ing nomads was the Yasavi order, foun­ded by Ahmad Yasavi. A dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of the Yasavi order is the jahariya dhikr, or dhikr ‘prac­ticed aloud’. [10] Spen­cer J. Trim­ing­ham explains that Ahmad Yasavi ‘is said to have intro­duced the “rasp­ing saw” dhikr, a tra­di­tion which no doubt attests to its Cent­ral Asi­an ori­gin. For this the ha is expired very deeply, then hi aspired as low as pos­sible; and it sounds much like saw­ing’.[11] Both of the afore­men­tioned eth­no­graph­ic works refer to this ‘rasp­ing saw’ sounds. Indeed, jahariya dhikr ‘came to be adop­ted as a part of Turk­men heal­ing rituals in com­munit­ies in which saints of the Yasavi tra­di­tion were quite prom­in­ent’ [12] and ‘as an enter­tain­ing genre for wed­ding and house-warm­ing cere­mon­ies’.[13] While the verses of kusht­depmel­er adopt poetry of prom­in­ent Cent­ral Asi­an Sufis, such as Alish­er Navoyi, and repeatedly refer to the name of Sufi fig­ures, such as Ahmad Yasavi and Baha’ ad-Din Naqsh­bandi,[14] it is the ‘rasp­ing saw’ sounds present in both the Sufi ritu­al of afflic­tion and kusht­de­p­di that make their cor­rel­a­tion irre­fut­able.

Syr Darya oblast. City of Turkest­an. Gen­er­al view of Sul­tan Akhmed Yas­savi’s mauso­leum from the south­ern side. Syr Darya oblast. City of Turkest­an. Gen­er­al view of Sul­tan Akhmed Yas­savi’s mauso­leum from the south­ern side.

Com­par­is­on of the phys­ic­al move­ments of the heal­ing rite and the dance also unearths their cor­rel­a­tion. Accord­ing to the ana­lys­is of Iomud Khan’s descrip­tion of the heal­ing ritu­al, ‘the sick per­son is always seated in the cen­ter of the tent, with the oth­er people sit­ting in a circle around him’[15] and after the ‘rasp­ing saw’ chant­ing ‘at first they bow as they go, and then they begin to stamp their feet on the floor and jump in time to the singing’.[16] Annaklychev’s obser­va­tions of the wed­ding dance are sim­il­ar in that ‘sev­er­al people form a circle; one of them begins singing the “ghazal”, while the oth­ers begin the dance, stamp­ing their feet and jump­ing in time to the song.”[17] Kusht­de­p­di today is sim­il­arly prac­ticed in a circle while feet stamp­ing, bend­ing at the waist and jump­ing are all fun­da­ment­al cho­reo­graph­ic ele­ments of the dance. The com­mon move­ments prac­ticed by people dur­ing the rite of afflic­tion and the dance point to the con­nec­tion between the two. Iomud Khan’s obser­va­tion that dhikr which began to be prac­ticed for enter­tain­ment only fur­ther under­scores this con­nec­tion.[18] Fur­ther­more, the oral his­tory in the Turk­men com­munity, espe­cially among the Yomut, con­firms that kusht­de­p­di was once a heal­ing ritu­al.[19]

With the cor­rel­a­tion between the Sufi rite of afflic­tion and kusht­de­p­di estab­lished, the ques­tion remains: why did the ritu­al trans­form into a codi­fied dance? One pos­sible answer is that the young­er mem­bers of the com­munity began imit­at­ing the sham­ans for their enter­tain­ment.[20] Anoth­er explan­a­tion — per­haps a his­tor­ic­ally sound one — lies in the hos­til­ity of the Soviet gov­ern­ment towards ‘unof­fi­cial’ Islam, which included ‘ances­tral wor­ship, shrine ven­er­a­tion, pil­grim­age to shrines, pop­u­lar heal­ing, pray­er at unof­fi­cial mosques, per­form­ance of dhikr [emphas­is added]’.[21] Deweese con­firms that in Cent­ral Asia ‘the face of reli­gious life indeed changed dra­mat­ic­ally’ in the 1930s and 40s.[22] Geldi­yev adds, that with the com­ing of the Sovi­ets, the reli­gious schools were closed and the sham­an­ic activ­it­ies were ter­min­ated, and as a res­ult, kusht­de­p­di emerged.[23]

Inde­pend­ence Day Parade

Wheth­er the dance ori­gin­ated as a res­ult of reli­gious cen­sor­ship or imit­a­tion for enter­tain­ment, the cor­rel­a­tion between the Sufi heal­ing ritu­al and kusht­de­p­di, on the basis of shared vocal ele­ments and phys­ic­al move­ments, is con­vin­cing. Under­stand­ing the ori­gins of kusht­de­p­di is import­ant not only because the dance is under­stud­ied, but also because it helps to unravel its trans­form­a­tion from a dance in the field into and ethno-iden­tity dance. This in its turn provides a look into the present socio-polit­ic­al life of the Turk­men.


Annamuradov, R. Küšt­de­p­di. Ashgabat, 2007.

DeWeese D. “Sham­an­iz­a­tion in Cent­ral Asia.” Journ­al of the Eco­nom­ic and Social His­tory of the Ori­ent 57, no. 3 (2014): 326 – 63.

Geldi­yev, G. “Küšt­depmel­er.” In Türk­men Šahyrana Halk Dörediji­ligi, 257 – 65. Ashgabat: Türk­men Döw­let Neširÿat gul­lugy, 2003.

Goch­muradov, H. “Küšt­de­p­diler.” In Türk­men Halk Dörediji­ligi, 59 – 63. Ashgabat: Türk­men Döw­let Neširÿat gul­lugy, 2010.

Gross, Jo-Ann. “The Polem­ic of ‘Offi­cial’ and ‘Unof­fi­cial’ Islam: Sufism in Soviet Cent­ral Asia.” In Islam­ic Mys­ti­cism Con­tested: Thir­teen Cen­tur­ies of Con­tro­ver­sies and Polem­ics, edited by Fre­d­er­ick De Jong and Bernd Radtke, Vol. 29. Leiden: Brill, n.d.

Hobs­bawm, Eric., and Ter­ence. Ranger. The Inven­tion of Tra­di­tion. New York: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 2012.

Oraztagan­ov, Allab­erdi. Куштдепмелер. Edited by Gozel Aman­guli­yeva. Ashgabat: Turk­men State Med­ic­al Uni­ver­sity, 1998.

Otdi­yev, G, and N Atdayeva. “Küšt­depmel­er.” In Türk­men Halk Dörediji­ligi (Turk­men Folk Art), 62 – 68. Ashgabat: Türk­men Döw­let Neširÿat gul­lugy, 2010.

Radk­ina, N. P. “Turk­menistan.” In The Inter­na­tion­al Encyc­lo­pe­dia of Dance. Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 1998.

Shay, Anthony. Ethno Iden­tity Dance for Sex, Fun and Profit: Sta­ging Pop­u­lar Dances around the World. Pal­grave Mac­mil­lan, 2016.

Sul­tan­ova, Razia. From Sham­an­ism to Sufism: Women, Islam and Cul­ture in Cent­ral Asia. Inter­na­tion­al Lib­rary of Cent­ral Asi­an Stud­ies; 3. Lon­don; I B. Taur­is, 2011.

The World Fact­book — Cent­ral Intel­li­gence Agency,” accessed Octo­ber 17, 2018,

Trim­ing­ham, J. Spen­cer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. 1 online resource (xx, 333 pages) vols. New York: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 1998.

[1] G. Geldi­yev, “Küšt­depmel­er,” in Türk­men Šahyrana Halk Dörediji­ligi (Ashgabat: Türk­men Döw­let Neširÿat gul­lugy, 2003), 257 – 65.

[2] Eric. Hobs­bawm and Ter­ence. Ranger, The Inven­tion of Tra­di­tion., (New York: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 2012).

[3] H. Goch­muradov, “Küšt­de­p­diler,” in Türk­men Halk Dörediji­ligi (Ashgabat: Türk­men Döw­let Neširÿat gul­lugy, 2010), 59.

[4] G. Otdi­yev and N. Atdayeva, “Küšt­depmel­er,” in Türk­men Halk Dörediji­ligi (Turk­men Folk Art) (Ashgabat: Türk­men Döw­let Neširÿat gul­lugy, 2010), 62 – 68.

[5] Razia. Sul­tan­ova, From Sham­an­ism to Sufism: Women, Islam and Cul­ture in Cent­ral Asia, Inter­na­tion­al Lib­rary of Cent­ral Asi­an Stud­ies ; 3 (Lon­don ; I B. Taur­is, 2011), 137.

[6] DeWeese D., “Sham­an­iz­a­tion in Cent­ral Asia,” Journ­al of the Eco­nom­ic and Social His­tory of the Ori­ent 57, no. 3 (2014): 326 – 63.

[7] N. P. Radk­ina, “Turk­menistan,” in The Inter­na­tion­al Encyc­lo­pe­dia of Dance (Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 1998),

[8] DeWeese, “Sham­an­iz­a­tion in Cent­ral Asia,” 332.

[9] Ibid., 338.

[10] Lind­say Jones, Mir­cea Eli­ade, and Charles J. Adams, Encyc­lo­pe­dia of Reli­gion, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Mac­mil­lan Ref­er­ence USA, 2005).

[11] J. Spen­cer Trim­ing­ham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, (New York: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 1998), 197.

[12] Jo-Ann Gross, “The Polem­ic of ‘Offi­cial’ and ‘Unof­fi­cial’ Islam: Sufism in Soviet Cent­ral Asia,” in Islam­ic Mys­ti­cism Con­tested: Thir­teen Cen­tur­ies of Con­tro­ver­sies and Polem­ics, ed. Fre­d­er­ick De Jong and Bernd Radtke, vol. 29 (Leiden: Brill, n.d.), 533.

[13] R. Sul­tan­ova, From Sham­an­ism to Sufism: Women, Islam and Cul­ture in Cent­ral Asia, 95.

[14] Allab­erdi Oraztagan­ov, Куштдепмелер, ed. Gozel Aman­guli­yeva (Ashgabat: Turk­men State Med­ic­al Uni­ver­sity, 1998).

[15] DeWeese, “Sham­an­iz­a­tion in Cent­ral Asia,” 332.

[16] Ibid., 333.

[17] Ibid., 338.

[18] Ibid., 333.

[19]  R. Annamuradov, Küšt­de­p­di (Ashgabat, 2007).

[20] Otdi­yev and Atdayeva, “Küšt­depmel­er.”

[21] Gross, “The Polem­ic of ‘Offi­cial’ and ‘Unof­fi­cial’ Islam: Sufism in Soviet Cent­ral Asia,” 525.

[22] DeWeese, “Sham­an­iz­a­tion in Cent­ral Asia,” 339.

[23] Geldi­yev, “Küšt­depmel­er,” 257 – 58.