Creative Bishkek: Chihoon Jeong

‘I saw Bishkek as an unfilled linen can­vas; one that I want­ed to paint on’.

Chi­hoon Jeong is a South Kore­an entre­pre­neur based in Bishkek, Kyr­gyzs­tan. His Kore­an chick­en restau­rant Chick­en Star has quick­ly estab­lished itself as a cre­ative hub in the city, with reg­u­lar cul­tur­al events and local art on the walls (includ­ing works by Chi­hoon him­self). Recent­ly, Jeong also launched Flask, a cof­fee shop on the AUCA cam­pus, which is play­ing a cen­tral role in the city’s cof­fee rev­o­lu­tion. Both Chick­en Star and Flask will be expand­ing to Almaty this year. Through his com­mu­ni­ty-cen­tred, artis­ti­cal­ly moti­vat­ed approach to ser­vice and busi­ness, Jeong has left an indeli­ble mark in his short time in the Kyr­gyz cap­i­tal.

What led to you becom­ing an entre­pre­neur Kyr­gyzs­tan?

After com­plet­ing my master’s in Boston and work­ing as an artist for a short time, I was set to start a PhD in Man­ches­ter in phi­los­o­phy and art. I wasn’t con­vinced that I want­ed to be in the library for 5 years, how­ev­er, so I decid­ed to start trav­el­ling to help guide my deci­sion. Dur­ing this trip, I vis­it­ed my uncle, who has a busi­ness in Kyr­gyzs­tan. At this point I already felt that I had to do some­thing here. When I first went to Bishkek in Novem­ber 2014, I remem­ber think­ing how raw and organ­ic the city was – for exam­ple, there were amaz­ing­ly clean and fresh ingre­di­ents but only very few decent din­ing restau­rants, so I realised that I want­ed to cre­ate some­thing new there.

While liv­ing in the US, I was already inter­est­ed in direct and sus­tain­able busi­ness – so I only went or restau­rants with local­ly sourced ingre­di­ents or cafés with local­ly sourced milk. Despite lik­ing sus­tain­able busi­ness as a con­sumer, I nev­er thought about being an entre­pre­neur. Nev­er­the­less, I saw Bishkek as an unfilled linen can­vas; one that I want­ed to paint on. As a result, I went back to Korea and start­ed prepa­ra­tions for my new busi­ness, after telling my par­ents that I wouldn’t be return­ing to Eng­land to start my PhD. I decid­ed with my uncle to start a Kore­an fried chick­en restau­rant – it had start­ed to become pop­u­lar around the world. Addi­tion­al­ly, Kyr­gyzs­tan is vir­tu­al­ly the per­fect loca­tion for a chick­en restau­rant, as it used to be the Sovi­et Union’s prin­ci­pal chick­en sup­pli­er. Fur­ther­more, sun­flower oil is cheap­er than corn oil in Kyr­gyzs­tan because there are sun­flower seeds every­where – and so I thought that there are per­fect con­di­tions for a Kore­an chick­en restau­rant in Bishkek.

How dif­fi­cult was it to cre­ate Chick­en Star and organ­ise it in a per­son­al way?

It was very dif­fi­cult at the start. I didn’t have any local con­nec­tions and the bureau­cra­cy involved in set­ting up the busi­ness was tough too. There were also lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ties as I spoke nei­ther Kyr­gyz nor Russ­ian and so I had to rely on my first man­ag­er for trans­la­tion. Indeed, apart from the man­ag­er, none of the 7 peo­ple I orig­i­nal­ly hired could speak much Eng­lish, so he had to trans­late every­thing while I was train­ing my staff and explain­ing every­thing to them.

Chick­en Star’s ‘Star Art Space’ (SAS)

It was a lot of fun though, as it was my first busi­ness and I hadn’t done any­thing like it before. I orig­i­nal­ly just thought ‘let’s do it’, which I think is the best approach, as I would have oth­er­wise wast­ed lots of time learn­ing about the legal sys­tem and how stuff works in the coun­try, rather than learn­ing by doing.

A key aspect for me from the very begin­ning was my view that it should be a peo­ple-cen­tred busi­ness, with a strong focus on the team. I don’t want to give orders but rather expect every­one to be respon­si­ble and proac­tive. They should also not be afraid to make mis­takes. From the begin­ning my goal was for my staff to grow and so I helped them to expand their skills – I brought in Eng­lish teach­ers, for exam­ple.

I love the peo­ple, and espe­cial­ly the young peo­ple, in Kyr­gyzs­tan – they are all super smart but sad­ly there is a lack of oppor­tu­ni­ties for them. I am a for­eign­er, and I could have just gone to ‘do busi­ness’ but I want­ed to con­tribute some­thing to soci­ety. As a result, I focussed a lot on build­ing my team and a sys­tem, which required a lot of research before. I made sure to focus on team­build­ing in the first few weeks after hir­ing my staff – we spent hours every day talk­ing, clean­ing, shar­ing food and work­ing togeth­er – an impor­tant part of this for me was instill­ing the cul­ture and phi­los­o­phy that I want­ed for the restau­rant in my staff mem­bers. It was prob­a­bly quite tough for them at the staff, as they weren’t used to this work­ing cul­ture, but most were real­ly excit­ed about it.

What is your vision for Chick­en Star and Flask and how can you explain their suc­cess?

I have a clear vision for both. Chick­en Star’s aim was to make the world more joy­ful than the day before – to keep grow­ing and keep devel­op­ing. Human con­flict and suf­fer­ing come from our rela­tion­ships, but so do our hap­pi­ness and joy, so it all depends how we han­dle our lives and rela­tion­ships. Chick­en Star is relat­ed to the Bishkek com­mu­ni­ty so there’s a goal of build­ing a good rela­tion­ship with the city – who­ev­er walks in should feel joy and should be treat­ed well, even if they aren’t a client. This all forms my vision of build­ing a sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ty.

There are four aspects to Chick­en Star:

  1. Spe­cial – being spe­cial and cre­at­ing a unique atmos­phere and treat­ing every­one in the same way – every indi­vid­ual is spe­cial and has their own beau­ty.
  2. Tasty – main­tain­ing the qual­i­ty of the food, always con­trol­ling the taste and mak­ing sure the stan­dard remains high.
  3. Art­sy – the space is artis­tic. In my opin­ion, art inspires soci­ety and can help devel­op neigh­bour­hoods. I have exhi­bi­tions every month and sup­port local artists, includ­ing through 6‑month res­i­den­cy pro­grammes. This is a win-win, as I can sup­port their work and it can help make art more acces­si­ble, while also pro­vid­ing atmos­phere and inspi­ra­tion in the restau­rant.
  4. Respon­si­ble – with­out the com­mu­ni­ty, we can’t exist and make busi­ness, so we have done mul­ti­ple char­i­ty events. We’ve helped local orphan­ages and donate reusable food waste to a local com­mu­ni­ty organ­i­sa­tion, for exam­ple. We also try to recy­cle our trash and reuse as much as pos­si­ble.

My aim for Flask is sim­i­lar. Cof­fee is one of my pas­sions – I love how much one cup can change based on where the beans come from and then how you roast and brew them. There are also so many dif­fer­ent tastes – some are fruity, nut­ty, choco­latey etc. There’s also no alco­hol and so you can share the joy of the amaz­ing taste of cof­fee with every­one – and it isn’t that expen­sive. On top of this, I want to spark inno­va­tion. When I launched Flask I did a pitch to the AUCA say­ing that I don’t just want to be there to make a busi­ness but that I want to con­tribute to the AUCA com­mu­ni­ty. We always cre­ate a new menu and only serve high qual­i­ty cof­fee, tea and food prod­ucts.

We have also start­ed doing a lunch talk on Thurs­days, where every­one is invit­ed to come and share their sto­ries. I believe that inspi­ra­tion and inno­va­tion does not just come from famous entre­pre­neurs and sci­en­tists but from every­one and so I try to cre­ate a dia­logue. This was per­fect for the AUCA com­mu­ni­ty, but I also want to expand to the city cen­tre and oth­er cities in Kyr­gyzs­tan – I want to inspire peo­ple to tell their sto­ries because every­one has their unique sto­ry and unique abil­i­ty to sur­prise peo­ple.

This is why Chick­en Star and Flask are dif­fer­ent from oth­er cafes and restau­rants – I always want­ed them to be unique and to give some­thing to the com­mu­ni­ty in an inno­v­a­tive way and with great ser­vice. I real­ly encour­age my team to be friends with our guests – nat­u­ral­ly they have to give a ser­vice as our cus­tomers are pay­ing but I want them to be friends as it cre­ates a bet­ter atmos­phere.

Guests in Chick­en Star

What is Bishkek’s poten­tial and how can cre­ative-mind­ed peo­ple help the city achieve these goals?

Bishkek has a huge poten­tial, espe­cial­ly due to its free­dom of speech and cre­ative free­doms – this is why there are lots of artists here and why many Cen­tral Asian artists come here for their shows. As Kyr­gyzs­tan doesn’t have many nat­ur­al resources to rely on, art, cul­ture and start-ups should be respon­si­ble for dri­ving devel­op­ment in the coun­try. They cer­tain­ly have lots of poten­tial and peo­ple here often don’t realise that. Young peo­ple often tell me that they want to bring Star­bucks here, but I then tell them that I wish they could cre­ate some­thing like Star­bucks here and then take it to the world.

It will prob­a­bly take a long time for Bishkek to realise its poten­tial, how­ev­er. I also hope that devel­op­ment comes from with­in, rather than from big for­eign com­pa­nies that would take away oppor­tu­ni­ties from local peo­ple. I think it’s there­fore impor­tant for peo­ple to see the future and not just the present, which will enable them to launch their own projects. Peo­ple in Kyr­gyzs­tan are thirsty, and I think it is impor­tant for them to use this ener­gy for good here rather than leav­ing the coun­try and not com­ing back. Of course, life and oppor­tu­ni­ties are cur­rent­ly bet­ter else­where but if we pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple in Kyr­gyzs­tan, they will stay and will con­tribute them­selves to devel­op­ing the coun­try. As a result, the coun­try real­ly needs to focus on the human resources it has and should pay atten­tion to edu­ca­tion and seek to strength­en cer­tain areas, such as IT.

I think it’s real­ly impor­tant for there to be a focus on export­ing rather than import­ing in the coun­try. Import­ing ‘cool’ things is tem­po­rary – instead, the focus should be on improv­ing future poten­tial. This can be done by boost­ing Kyrgyzstan’s cur­rent strengths and look­ing for domes­tic solu­tions to its gaps. Cre­ative-mind­ed peo­ple are cru­cial to any future devel­op­ment, but they need to make sure that they remain patient and have a clear out­look for the future. If they suc­ceed in this, I think Kyr­gyzs­tan will have a very pos­i­tive future.

How impor­tant is the role of entre­pre­neur­ship in Bishkek?

There are a lot of young entre­pre­neurs in Kyr­gyzs­tan, includ­ing many peo­ple that I admire and respect, and I feel that I can learn a lot from them. I’m a part­ner of a group called Pro Art, which was start­ed by young entre­pre­neurs in Kyr­gyzs­tan. They cre­at­ed the group to help young stu­dents devel­op their edu­ca­tion and career, which in turn helps devel­op the coun­try and com­mu­ni­ty. They are all cre­ative entre­pre­neurs and when I talk to them I don’t feel any dif­fer­ence to the US. I just wish there were more peo­ple like them, as they do more for the com­mu­ni­ty than me. I just own a small restau­rant but since I’m a for­eign­er I get more atten­tion from the pop­u­la­tion, even though there are much more incred­i­ble entre­pre­neurs in Bishkek.

How do you ensure stan­dards and qual­i­ty in your projects?

I give my team many free­doms but I’m very picky, I guess you could call me a per­fec­tion­ist. The most impor­tant things are find­ing the right peo­ple, then train­ing them prop­er­ly and then putting them in the right posi­tion and con­tin­u­ous­ly giv­ing them a mis­sion and goals. It’s real­ly impor­tant to give free­dom and respon­si­bil­i­ty to your staff while ask­ing them to be proac­tive. For this to work, you have to make sure you clear­ly explain what your phi­los­o­phy and vision are, and you have to remind them reg­u­lar­ly what they are.

Any final com­ments?

I remem­ber some­thing my father told me when I was a child, 34 years ago in South Korea. He explained that the sit­u­a­tion in Korea was dif­fi­cult but that they were work­ing for the future and that their hard work would pay off in the next gen­er­a­tion. This is also impor­tant for Kyrgyzstan’s stage of devel­op­ment. Work­ing towards the future may be slow and you might not be able to taste glo­ry in your life­time, but you leave your lega­cy.

Peo­ple are nat­u­ral­ly the most impor­tant part of this process and so in my com­pa­ny I want all the part­ners and staff to be suc­cess­ful because their suc­cess is my suc­cess. If they tell me that they got offered a job from anoth­er com­pa­ny I tell them that I think that’s great. I may lose one of the best work­ers in my team, but it is what it is and I’m glad that they can progress. There’s also the moti­va­tion of being able to train new peo­ple which is fun and allows me to cre­ate the great rela­tion­ships with my team and the com­mu­ni­ty. If they real­ly care about their peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ty and future, busi­ness­es will solve prob­lems cre­ative­ly and peo­ple will react pos­i­tive­ly. A lot of peo­ple want to make mon­ey, which is under­stand­able. How­ev­er, if they shift their moti­va­tion towards improv­ing their com­mu­ni­ty, they are much more like­ly to solve prob­lems, which is a much bet­ter out­come for every­one.

I hope there will be many more young entre­pre­neurs that are pas­sion­ate about the future. I always tell my team to not focus on com­peti­tors and to only think about our guests, as they’re the peo­ple we meet every day. We don’t meet our com­peti­tors and a lot of our peo­ple are spend­ing too much time on this. It is bet­ter to focus on our guests in the restau­rant, as I want to cre­ate a beau­ti­ful expe­ri­ence for every­one that comes.

Re-Meet the Stans: How Post-Soviet countries in Central Asia are redefining their identities.

Although an exter­nal observ­er still tends to label the five major coun­tries of Cen­tral Asi­a’s vast region (Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Tajik­istan, Afghanistan, Turk­menistan, and Uzbek­istan) as ‘Post-Sovi­et’, it might just be the wrong prism to use.

The shift away from the ‘Post-Sovi­et’ and towards the long-hoped-for mod­ern­iza­tion, although not a rapid or uncon­tro­ver­sial one, is seen as a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment by the coun­tries’ younger gen­er­a­tion.

‘No one can deny the impor­tance of Sovi­et eco­nom­ic devel­op­ments and our shared cul­ture,’ — says a Kaza­kh stu­dent, who grad­u­at­ed this sum­mer and is cur­rent­ly an assis­tant at a local account­ing com­pa­ny, — ‘and with my grand­par­ents still nos­tal­gic about the Sovi­et times, all of the younger peo­ple are gen­uine­ly look­ing for­ward.’

Cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal bat­tles between the Stans’ Sovi­et lega­cies, and the grow­ing empha­sis on nation­al iden­ti­ties, have large­ly been won by the lat­ter.

Mod­ern Cen­ter of Dushanbe, Tajik­istan — from flickr.com

This has been seen in the demo­graph­ic changes. As the Kaza­kh cen­sus shows, ‘the num­ber of Rus­sians is on the decline’ (Dr. Mer­lene Laru­elle, 2018)[: the per­cent­age of Rus­sians in the total pop­u­la­tion has fall­en from ’37% in 1989’ to ’20% in 209’. The major­i­ty of Kaza­kh cit­i­zens — the over­whelm­ing ’95%’ — now iden­ti­fies with their Pre-Sovi­et Mus­lim beliefs, mov­ing away from Rus­sians’ Chris­tian­i­ty or Sovi­et athe­ism.

In Tajikistan’s cap­i­tal — Dushanbe -, city plan­ners tear down the build­ings that once man­i­fest­ed Sovi­et pres­ence in this tro­phy city.

In Uzbek­istan, 25 years of Karimov’s dic­ta­tor­ship was char­ac­ter­ized by attempts to present all Russ­ian and Sovi­et in the most neg­a­tive light, mov­ing towards his own per­son­al cult and nation­al­ism. The new Mirziyoyev’s reforms aim to reshape the infra­struc­ture and econ­o­my, try to pol­ish Tashkent’s rep­u­ta­tion and make the coun­try more com­pet­i­tive for invest­ment. The gen­er­al polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic trends show re-focus­ing on the future of the coun­try and build­ing on its Pre-Sovi­et cul­ture, not the Sovi­et one.

Nur-Astana Mosque in Astana, Kaza­khstan — from Wikipedia

While shar­ing the com­mon Sovi­et cul­ture, the five Stans are very dif­fer­ent. Tajik­istan and Uzbekistan’s land has seen one of the old­est civ­i­liza­tions, but Kaza­kh and Kyr­gyz cul­tures are that of nomads. Thus said, the eva­sion of the Sovi­et her­itage can, to a cer­tain extent, allow the coun­tries’ his­tor­i­cal iden­ti­ties to pros­per and enrich the glob­al under­stand­ing of their diverse cul­tur­al val­ues. How the Cen­tral Asian coun­tries’ dif­fer­ences are becom­ing more and more acknowl­edged is also empha­sized in this arti­cle (on the EU’s strat­e­gy? The one That Gera wrote?).

How­ev­er, it is not uncon­tro­ver­sial to sug­gest that all of these devel­op­ments are pos­i­tive: infra­struc­ture projects in Tajik­istan, for instance, lack prop­er city plan­ning and con­sid­er­a­tion for the impor­tant Sovi­et era’s influ­ence on the region. One might ques­tion whether it’s right to com­plete­ly wipe out such a huge and influ­en­tial part of the region’s his­to­ry as the Sovi­et era, which did deter­mine people’s lives and cul­tur­al aware­ness.

More­over, ‘Post-Sovi­et-ness’ is still present in a few places: Russ­ian is the most spo­ken lan­guage in both Almaty and Bishkek, while Stans still look up at Rus­sia for eco­nom­ic sup­port (Kyr­gyzs­tan, in par­tic­u­lar). Stans have a very long way to go.

Yurt, tra­di­tion­al form of hous­ing in Cen­tral Asia — from US Air Forces Cen­tral Com­mand

It is impor­tant that coun­tries change to allow progress, and cul­ture itself iss nev­er a sta­t­ic con­cept — it is always in flux. With the Stans’ aspi­ra­tions often held down by the fact that their inde­pen­dence has been so short and tur­bu­lent, this vast land of moun­tains, grass­lands, and desert lying on Eurasia’s cross­roads, should attract more for­eign inter­est as impor­tant play­ers with great poten­tial.

More impor­tant­ly, one might argue that Stans should no longer be defined by their ‘Post-Sovi­et-ness’, but by their dis­tinct iden­ti­ties.

Creative Bishkek: Aida Sulova

Cre­ative Bishkek: Aida Sulo­va is the sec­ond inter­view of the series intro­duc­ing the lives and work of tal­ent­ed and cre­ative peo­ple from Bishkek, who are help­ing to estab­lish Kyrgyzstan’s cap­i­tal as the region’s cul­tur­al hub

Kyrgyz artist and curator, Aida Sulova, developed Bishkek’s leading art centre: Asanbay.

She has helped pro­duce pub­lic art in the Kyr­gyz cap­i­tal and been involved in art edu­ca­tion in the city. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing in New York.

How did Asan­bay orig­i­nal­ly get cre­at­ed and what have the ear­ly chal­lenges been?

I returned to Bishkek after fin­ish­ing my under­grad­u­ate degree in New York and soon after I start­ed work­ing for Hen­ry Myer­berg, HMA2 Archi­tects, who is the archi­tect of the new cam­pus of the  Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty of Cen­tral Asia (AUCA), in Bishkek. While at the AUCA, I was engaged in a pub­lic art pro­gramme with local cura­tors and artists, in this time we pro­duced a num­ber of pieces and had an exhi­bi­tion curat­ed by Ulan Djaparov. This was how my engage­ment and col­lab­o­ra­tion with local artists start­ed. Not long after this, I was approached by local entre­pre­neurs and investors in the devel­op­ment and restau­rant busi­ness who showed me a 1800 square metre space, which they intend­ed to use for a brew­ery busi­ness with a dance space. My pro­pos­al was to found a flex­i­ble mul­ti-pur­pose place which can trans­form its space and resources for var­i­ous events. The main activ­i­ty of the Cen­ter are a strong art and edu­ca­tion pro­grams that are sup­port­ed by side com­mer­cial activ­i­ties such as a restau­rant and event hall. This was the orig­i­nal idea for cre­ation of mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary Asan­bay, which now has event spaces, a gallery and a Geor­gian restau­rant.

Bishkek’s lead­ing art cen­tre, Asan­bay, devel­oped by Aida Sulo­va

The mis­sion of the cen­ter is to be a flex­i­ble space for art, edu­ca­tion, and enter­tain­ment pro­grams for com­mu­ni­ties to enrich their cul­tur­al life. How­ev­er, not every­one react­ed enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly after we opened Asan­bay. Some peo­ple, for exam­ple, accused me of com­mer­cial­is­ing art by mak­ing it too acces­si­ble and by serv­ing food and drink in an art space. After I explained to them that most muse­ums in the world work like this, and have an addi­tion­al entrance fee, they start­ed to lis­ten, so I think it’s main­ly a cul­tur­al thing. Peo­ple need to under­stand that due to the cost of pro­duc­tion and rent, it is only pos­si­ble to have free exhi­bi­tions along­side these com­mer­cial activ­i­ties.

Asan­bay

Asan­bay is but one of Bishkek’s many excit­ing new cre­ative projects – do you think the cul­ture of the city is chang­ing and where do you see the city head­ing?

There’s been a dra­mat­ic change in the last cou­ple years and I see it as large­ly pos­i­tive. There is a real thirst and strife for a bet­ter life and the civ­il com­mu­ni­ty has become much stronger in recent years. There are now lots of peo­ple who are launch­ing their own cre­ative projects and the city’s start-up cul­ture is improv­ing. There is now even spec­u­la­tion that Bishkek is becom­ing the Berlin of Cen­tral Asia. My only con­cern here is that there is no cen­tral vision or mis­sion, so I hope the younger gen­er­a­tion will be able to pro­vide this. I real­ly hope that edu­ca­tion and cul­ture are seen as pri­or­i­ties – cul­ture is so under­es­ti­mat­ed in my opin­ion and I think it is real­ly impor­tant for peo­ple to under­stand that it is an effec­tive tool to bring social changes.

I think col­lab­o­ra­tive ini­tia­tives are extreme­ly vital – and not just from artists, but also from busi­ness­es, the gov­ern­ment and the cre­ative com­mu­ni­ty. I’ve already seen the chal­lenges involved in these ini­tia­tives at the Asan­bay cen­tre, as peo­ple often have con­flict­ing inter­ests and ideas. Nev­er­the­less, as Asan­bay shows, such col­lab­o­ra­tions can pro­duce very pos­i­tive results. I’m also hap­py that there are more ini­tia­tives like co-work­ing spaces, urban talks, research labs, etc. and that peo­ple in cul­ture are start­ing to bring inter­na­tion­al artists, cura­tors, and art man­agers to the city. Cul­tur­al exchanges such as these are ground­break­ing and so I think the city is head­ing in the right direc­tion, all things con­sid­ered.

Asan­bay

How dif­fer­ent is the process of being an artist in Cen­tral Asia com­pared to Europe or the Unit­ed States?

The con­tem­po­rary art scene is strong in Bishkek and I can see the thirst that artists in the scene pos­sess. Artists there are con­stant­ly pro­duc­ing art and the fact that there isn’t fund­ing and sup­port isn’t real­ly an obsta­cle for them. An artist in Kyr­gyzs­tan is an artist, where­as an artist in the States is an artist, man­ag­er, cura­tor, spe­cial­ist and PR man­ag­er – as such, artists in New York have much more knowl­edge about the art mar­ket and they are more expe­ri­enced in pro­mot­ing them­selves. I think this is about sur­vival though – the con­text in Kyr­gyzs­tan is dif­fer­ent as artists there are less focused on per­son­al pro­mo­tion. It is prob­a­bly more gen­uine in Kyr­gyzs­tan and their mes­sage is stronger. I have tried to pro­mote some Cen­tral Asian artists by mak­ing web­sites for them – not every­one under­stands the val­ue in this though.

Asan­bay

Do you think Cen­tral Asian artists will soon start to have this broad­er defined set of attrib­ut­es?

Sur­pris­ing­ly, it is the old­er gen­er­a­tion in Cen­tral Asia that have start­ed to get involved online and espe­cial­ly on Face­book. There are now artist groups like the Cen­tral Asian pavil­ion of con­tem­po­rary art – this shows that there has been a shift. Younger artists have increas­ing­ly start­ed to self-pro­mote on Insta­gram also. This is of course large­ly about eco­nom­ics and it is gen­er­a­tional. What makes Cen­tral Asian con­tem­po­rary art dif­fer­ent from the rest of the world is that artists in the region are not forced to come up with an issue because the issues are already all over – social issues, per­son­al issues, gen­der issues. The artists there tru­ly reflect open­ly and freely and this is chan­nelled in their art. Most of the work I see at Art Basel and the Venice Bien­nale, for exam­ple, strikes me as lack­ing sub­stance or a strong idea, which I don’t often find in Cen­tral Asian con­tem­po­rary art.

Have you per­son­al­ly curat­ed any Cen­tral Asian artists to show them to a broad­er audi­ence?

I have a foun­da­tion called “Kachan?” (trans­lat­ed from Kyr­gyz as “When?”) and through this I man­aged to bring a few Cen­tral Asian artists to Wash­ing­ton a cou­ple years ago. In Wash­ing­ton, there is lit­tle cul­tur­al knowl­edge of Kyr­gyzs­tan and so I want­ed to dis­play the works of two provoca­tive artists from the region – one was about the rev­o­lu­tion and was called the ‘Kine­mat­ics of Protest’ by Eugene Boikov, while the oth­er was called ‘Per­e­stroi­ka’ by Shai­lo Djek­shen­baev . This was the start of my cul­tur­al exchange pro­gramme.

Asan­bay

What oth­er projects have you been work­ing on recent­ly?

A few years ago, I did quite a few urban art projects on the street – as I didn’t go to art school and am not trained I pre­fer these kinds of projects to more clas­si­cal gallery pieces. One of my major projects was about how peo­ple react to sur­pris­es on the street and in the city envi­ron­ment, an idea which is known as hijack­ing the space. For exam­ple, I dec­o­rat­ed trash cans and bus stops in Bishkek as a response to the city’s garbage prob­lem.

Urban projects: dec­o­rat­ed trash can in Bishkek

I’m also cur­rent­ly work­ing for an archi­tec­tur­al firm, help­ing on projects in both Kaza­khstan and in the States, which I have been doing for a lit­tle while. Recent­ly, I have start­ed work­ing on a project to change the role of libraries in Bishkek, which I see as real­ly impor­tant. The library has changed its role and has become more of a com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre. As a result, librar­i­ans can become more like cura­tors and event organ­is­ers — peo­ple who pro­vide more knowl­edge than just giv­ing out books. I find this espe­cial­ly impor­tant as Bishkek’s libraries are emp­ty cur­rent­ly, even though they could be used by new star­tups, for exam­ple, who cur­rent­ly rent expen­sive stu­dios in order to be more like Sil­i­con Val­ley star­tups. I’m con­vinced the role of libraries can be enlarged and they can be used to cre­ate a stronger and hap­pi­er com­mu­ni­ty.

Urban projects: dec­o­rat­ed bus stop in Bishkek

Have your projects been par­tic­u­lar­ly inspired by any cities you’ve lived in or vis­it­ed?

Of course my projects have been inspired by places I’ve vis­it­ed but I do think that most of my ideas are fair­ly uni­ver­sal, rather than geo­graph­i­cal­ly bound. Peo­ple will say that I copied the idea of Asan­bay, but every large city has an art cen­tre with activ­i­ties. The con­cept behind Asan­bay was nat­u­ral­ly also influ­enced by expe­ri­ences I have had in New York, Berlin and Tbil­isi.

On a more per­son­al note, leav­ing to study in New York had a major impact on my out­look and per­son­al­i­ty. I like the fact that I was able to express myself the way I want­ed there, which hadn’t been the case before. In that sense, I was able to fol­low my own Amer­i­can dream. Nev­er­the­less, I always felt that I want­ed to return to Bishkek, in order to help devel­op the city. The inter­na­tion­al expe­ri­ences I gath­ered before return­ing were cru­cial in know­ing how to enact pos­i­tive changes there.

Urban projects: hijack­ing the space

Any final com­ments about Bishkek’s future and its cre­ative scene?

When I talk about my coun­try, I don’t want to talk about it in black and white terms – it’s cool and it’s doing well but some­times it gets the wrong lead­ers – I am how­ev­er hope­ful for the future and think we’ll see more pos­i­tive changes soon.


Creative Bishkek: Maksat Sydykov

Cre­ative Bishkek: Mak­sat Sydykov is the first inter­view of the series intro­duc­ing the lives and work of tal­ent­ed and cre­ative peo­ple from Bishkek, who are help­ing to estab­lish Kyrgyzstan’s cap­i­tal as the region’s cul­tur­al hub

‘I am trying to bring the world here’ — Maksat Sydykov reflects on his role in the world of contemporary Kyrgyz ballet.

Mak­sat Sydykov

Mak­sat Sydykov is a Kyr­gyz chore­o­g­ra­ph­er based in Bishkek, who has per­formed in bal­lets for many of the world’s lead­ing com­pa­nies. He is cur­rent­ly also the head of the Kyr­gyz pub­lic foun­da­tion Pro Art, which sup­ports art and cul­ture in Cen­tral Asia, espe­cial­ly in Kyr­gyzs­tan. While at Pro Art, Sydykov has been respon­si­ble for putting on sev­er­al ambi­tious pro­duc­tions, such as Romeo and Juli­et by Prokofiev and The Nut­crack­er by Tchaikovsky.

Since Pro Art’s launch in 2016, the foun­da­tion has invit­ed many of the world’s lead­ing chore­o­g­ra­phers to the Kyr­gyz cap­i­tal. Due to finan­cial lim­i­ta­tions, many young Kyr­gyz dancers are unable to trav­el, and so Sydykov set out to ‘bring the world to Kyr­gyzs­tan’. After many years of expe­ri­ence study­ing and work­ing in the UK at the Eng­lish Nation­al Bal­let and Europe, Sydykov decid­ed to return to his native land to ensure that Kyrgyzstan’s next gen­er­a­tion of artists would stamp their mark on the world map. 

Romeo and Juli­et staged by Pro Art

How was your expe­ri­ence study­ing in Lon­don and how has it affect­ed your career and lat­er cre­ative projects?

Study­ing in Lon­don was a great expe­ri­ence. The city real­ly opened my eyes to a lot of things, which was in large part to its being alive 24 hours a day. It is a fan­tas­tic cul­tur­al hub and I was for­tu­nate to see a lot of great pre­mieres, shows and muse­ums. Lon­don showed me the size of the world and how much is going on and it def­i­nite­ly allowed me to become more cre­ative and open as a result. This has def­i­nite­ly influ­enced my career and sub­se­quent projects.

Thanks to my expe­ri­ence study­ing in Lon­don and work­ing in Europe, I have been able to col­lab­o­rate with many crazy and cre­ative peo­ple, which has espe­cial­ly been the case in Ger­many. I was nev­er afraid to try new things and try to meet new peo­ple and this has also been ben­e­fi­cial to me, through col­lab­o­ra­tion with many dif­fer­ent peo­ple you can cre­ate some­thing amaz­ing.

Mak­sat Sydykov in Lon­don

This has inspired me with my aspi­ra­tion for Bishkek. I hope that my city will turn into a small Cen­tral Asian Berlin. Berlin isn’t a beau­ti­ful city but the peo­ple make it spe­cial: they pro­vide it its spir­it and atmos­phere and are the rea­son why so many peo­ple have fall­en in love with the city. A sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non exists in Barcelona and Por­tu­gal, where artists have helped cre­ate cre­ative hubs. Hope­ful­ly one day more peo­ple will start to cre­ative small cre­ative spaces in Bishkek and will spark a cre­ative shift in the city — this is why I believe artists and cre­atives are so impor­tant to cities.

What do you see as the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences in cre­ative edu­ca­tion in Cen­tral Asia and Europe and what do you see as Kyrgyzstan’s poten­tial in this area?

The Eng­lish sys­tem is very open and teach­ers in the UK tend to give their pupils max­i­mum free­dom to exper­i­ment. The focus is on guid­ing pupils while leav­ing them their free­dom. In Kyr­gyzs­tan, there is an old­er sys­tem where a teacher tells you what to do and guides you with­in cer­tain rules, which leaves pupils with less free­dom. One of my moti­va­tions in return­ing to Kyr­gyzs­tan was to try to encour­age young dancers to go beyond this strict sys­tem and to try some­thing new.

Mak­sat Sydykov in a con­tem­po­rary bal­let piece

I want to bring chore­o­g­ra­phers to the coun­try that can get young artists to expe­ri­ence a dif­fer­ent approach. This has been slight­ly tricky at times as some of the young dancers are very young — only 16 or 17 — and are often, as is com­mon in Kyr­gyzs­tan, some­what shy and con­ser­v­a­tive. The artists are very tal­ent­ed and dri­ven, how­ev­er, and thanks to the inter­net and the region’s inter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion, peo­ple in the region have start­ed to become a bit more open, as they can see what’s going on in oth­er coun­tries.

I do how­ev­er think that Kyr­gyz young peo­ple could do with more inter­na­tion­al expe­ri­ences and a more open mind­set. Sad­ly, due to the region’s eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion this is not pos­si­ble as many peo­ple can­not afford to trav­el. As a result, I am try­ing to bring the world here.

Nut­crack­er staged by Pro Art

Will Pro Art con­tin­ue to focus on Bishkek or are you look­ing to expand into oth­er areas?

We will just stay in Bishkek for now. It is a young foun­da­tion and so we should focus on turn­ing it into a suc­cess here for now. If the pro­gramme goes well, I think we can and should look into expand­ing, though. I would like to move it into Uzbek­istan, for exam­ple, which has an even more con­ser­v­a­tive cul­ture than here. The focus for now is on Bishkek though.

How do you fund the foun­da­tion?

I stage bal­lets in dif­fer­ent parts of the world and get paid for them. I then use this mon­ey to help fund the projects here. I also some­times get sup­port from friends. Sad­ly, sup­port­ing the arts is not so com­mon in Cen­tral Asia, unlike in the Unit­ed States or Europe, and so it can be a strug­gle some­times, but we get by.

What suc­cess has the foun­da­tion had so far?

We have staged a lot of pro­duc­tions already and have always used dancers from the big bal­let school in Bishkek, which has around 400 stu­dents. We always try to work with peo­ple that want to be artists in the future, to help fur­ther their careers and pro­vide finan­cial sup­port. We have staged some more clas­sic pro­duc­tions, like Romeo and Juli­et and the Nut­crack­er, as well as more con­tem­po­rary pieces. Sad­ly we have had dif­fi­cul­ties rais­ing mon­ey for the project at times, such as when our ambi­tious char­i­ty gala, for which we invit­ed 14 of the world’s best dancers, was unable to raise any mon­ey for future pro­duc­tions. The Swiss embassy real­ly helped a few years ago and thanks to their fund­ing we were able to fund future pro­duc­tions.

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juli­et, staged by Pro Art

In gen­er­al, is there a lot of sup­port for what you are doing?

I think so, yes. Peo­ple like what we are doing but we can’t always ask sup­port­ers for mon­ey and so we need to work towards becom­ing self-sus­tain­able. That’s why we always try to rein­vest the mon­ey we get from tick­et sales into new pro­duc­tions. It will take a few years for major pro­duc­tions to be finan­cial­ly viable and so I want Pro Art to work and I want it to be sus­tain­able. I want more finan­cial sup­port for the project but it is work­ing well so far.

How much of an impact has your strat­e­gy of ‘bring­ing the world to Bishkek’ had?

It has been cru­cial. I am cur­rent­ly the only mod­ern chore­o­g­ra­ph­er in the city and mod­ern dance does not real­ly exist in Kyr­gyzs­tan. I am also the only Kyr­gyz, as far as I’m aware, that has worked in big inter­na­tion­al com­pa­nies, such as the Deutsche Oper, and so nobody else has the required know-how here. It is thus also dif­fi­cult to form local part­ner­ships with oth­er groups, and so most of our local col­lab­o­ra­tions have been with local design­ers, cos­tume mak­ers and com­posers, rather than oth­er dance groups.

It was a slight shock for the dancers, as well as the audi­ence, when I start­ed to intro­duce con­tem­po­rary dance into the reper­toire. In the Sovi­et Union, the pri­or­i­ty was always clas­si­cal bal­let and there was nev­er any exper­i­men­tal dance, a lega­cy that has car­ried on. As a result, it was a chal­lenge for dancers ini­tial­ly, as you have to move dif­fer­ent­ly in mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary dance. A good case in point was when I invit­ed chore­o­g­ra­phers from New York, Switzer­land and Ger­many for a per­for­mance. Their cre­ativ­i­ty and free­dom in the stu­dio shocked the dancers ini­tial­ly. The dancers were taught to lis­ten to the music and to use objects to real­ly go into the piece — they were all trained dancers but had nev­er done any­thing com­pa­ra­ble. The effect was remark­able, espe­cial­ly men­tal­ly. Their lev­el improved by 200% after and it has also enabled them to become bet­ter clas­si­cal dancers, fun­ni­ly enough.


Romeo and Juli­et staged by Pro Art

Do you know many oth­er peo­ple that have spent many years abroad that have then gone back to launch their own projects in Bishkek?

Not many unfor­tu­nate­ly. Most peo­ple that leave Kyr­gyzs­tan want to stay abroad and don’t want to return. I do love meet­ing the rare excep­tions, how­ev­er. If you return to Kyr­gyzs­tan you tend to do so because of pas­sion rather than mon­ey, due to the country’s tricky finan­cial sit­u­a­tion.

My par­ents always ask me why I come back for exam­ple. I had a good salary and the free­dom to trav­el every­where and I worked hard for many years to get to that lev­el. I didn’t come back to Kyr­gyzs­tan for the mon­ey but rather to do some­thing good for my coun­try and the coun­try of my ances­tors. I want to help it devel­op. I want my chil­dren to be in a pros­per­ous, nice, friend­ly and open coun­try and I feel that it is part­ly my respon­si­bil­i­ty to cre­ate this future Kyr­gyzs­tan for the next gen­er­a­tion and I wish oth­er Kyr­gyz would think about it in the same way.

Romeo and Juli­et staged by Pro Art

Is there a brain drain away from Kyr­gyzs­tan? How could this sit­u­a­tion be improved?

Cer­tain­ly. In Kyr­gyzs­tan there is not an equiv­a­lent of the Kaza­kh Bolashak pro­gramme, where stu­dents receive fund­ing to study abroad on the con­di­tion that they return to the coun­try for five years after. This could be a good pro­gramme for my coun­try also — if you want pros­per­ous, cre­ative and dri­ven youth they should explore the world and learn abroad and then return and share this infor­ma­tion with every­one else.

Luck­i­ly I do feel that the coun­try is becom­ing more inter­na­tion­al — more peo­ple have start­ed to come and the coun­try is becom­ing more open. The youth here is hun­gry, peo­ple want to learn and become part of the glob­al soci­ety. This is in large part thanks to the inter­net — they want to see what the world is like in oth­er coun­tries and are now also glob­al cit­i­zens and want to see what hap­pens else­where. 

Mak­sat Sydykov in a con­tem­po­rary bal­let piece

There is also always a dif­fer­ence between urban and rur­al areas and so I want Pro Art to start to expand into rur­al areas, as they are often neglect­ed. Then youth can also see what hap­pens in cities. In gen­er­al, I have a pos­i­tive out­look for youth in the coun­try though. I work a lot with them and have noticed that they don’t need a lot and are hap­py — I just think that they need to choose a good pro­fes­sion and focus their atten­tion on this.

How easy is it to run cre­ative projects in Bishkek?

I don’t see many bar­ri­ers. There is a very open youth cul­ture, young peo­ple just need to get involved in projects — once they get involved in projects they can fol­low their own dream. This approach has been suc­cess­ful at Chick­en Star, a local Bishkek restau­rant, where the youth are encour­aged to launch their own projects after Chi­hoon, the own­er, has trained them. This is why he is so pop­u­lar, as he helps a lot of peo­ple devel­op through a kind of employ­ee edu­ca­tion­al pro­gramme. Peo­ple in Cen­tral Asia need an envi­ron­ment like Chihoon’s.

*answers have been light­ly edit­ed for read­abil­i­ty

The new recommendation

On the 5th of Decem­ber, the Eurasian Coun­cil of For­eign Affairs (ECFA) pub­lished the rec­om­men­da­tion for EU’s new strat­e­gy on Cen­tral Asia at the annu­al meet­ing in Clive­den House. As a stu­dent from Cen­tral Asia, I was extreme­ly excit­ed to be invit­ed to the meet­ing as a part of the Cen­tral Asia Forum (CAF) del­e­ga­tion and to be one of the first few to get to know the poten­tial roadmap of the future EU-Cen­tral Asia rela­tion­ships.

The press con­fer­ence was pre­sent­ed by ECFA Advi­so­ry Coun­cil Chair Dr Beni­ta Fer­rero-Wald­ner, For­mer For­eign Min­is­ter and Cham­ber Pres­i­dent of the Ital­ian Coun­cil of state Mr Fran­co Frat­ti­ni, the EU Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Cen­tral Asia H.E. Ambas­sador Peter Buri­an and the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Rus­sia and Cen­tral Asia at EBRD Ms Natalia Khan­jenko­va. Deputy Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs of Kaza­khstan Mr Roman Vas­silenko also con­tributed towards the dis­cus­sion.

Dr Fer­rero-Wald­ner sum­marised the main points of the new­ly pub­lished analy­sis: more focus on the ‘soft pow­er’, the reduc­tion of the num­ber of pri­or­i­ties and the results-dri­ven, more prag­mat­ic approach – com­bat­ing traf­fick­ing, ter­ror­ism and tack­ling the chal­lenges of water and ener­gy.

Mr Frat­ti­ni not­ed that the rec­om­men­da­tion is to learn from the past and step away from the ‘Christ­mas tree approach’, when too many goals are set, and the focus is wide­ly dis­persed result­ing in the low vis­i­bil­i­ty of the EU in Cen­tral Asia. Mr Frat­ti­ni also point­ed at the Euro­cen­tric ‘Teach and Preach’ approach that  “ in some cas­es made our inter­locu­tors quite reluc­tant to ful­ly engage in an open coop­er­a­tion with Euro­pean insti­tu­tions”. The rec­om­men­da­tion is that the new approach should be more prag­mat­ic, state-by-state with great vis­i­bil­i­ty to ordi­nary peo­ple.

From the left to the right: R. Vas­silenko, N. Khan­jenko­va, P. Buri­an, B. Fer­rero-Wald­ner, F. Frat­ti­ni — pho­to from Jibek Nur

Peter Buri­an reit­er­at­ed the need for the reduc­tion of the num­ber of pri­or­i­ties and point­ed towards the main objec­tives– secu­ri­ty and sus­tain­abil­i­ty. He also raised the­p­oint that there should be greater syn­er­gy with Rus­sia and Chi­na as influ­en­tial actors in the region.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Kaza­khstan, Mr Roman Vas­silenko­ex­pressed the enthu­si­asm about the future part­ner­ship and the desire for more ambi­tious plans. The region­al projects, he stat­ed, arewel­comed, espe­cial­ly on main­tain­ing the rule of law, edu­ca­tion, pri­vate enter­pris­es.

Rep­re­sent­ing the EBRD,which holds great inter­est in Cen­tral Asia, Ms Natalia Khan­jenko­vas­tressed the impor­tance of the EU sup­port for the invest­ment espe­cial­ly in pri­vate sec­tor devel­op­ment and edu­ca­tion or ‘capac­i­ty build­ing’.  The devel­op­ment projects, MsKhan­jenko­va out­lined, will also ben­e­fit from the greater con­nec­tiv­i­ty of coun­tries in the region as well as from the greater con­nec­tiv­i­ty of for­eign investors. She expressed pos­i­tive expec­ta­tions for investors syn­er­gy. Com­ing from the invest­ment forum in Bei­jing, she claimed that the Chi­nese investors are open for the coop­er­a­tion.

Over­all, the report is the result of the eval­u­a­tion of the pre­vi­ous 2007 strat­e­gy which was very broad. The rec­om­men­da­tion seems to pri­mar­i­ly focus on the devel­op­ment approach which could be great for the coop­er­a­tion as Cen­tral Asia nations great­ly wel­come this tra­jec­to­ry of the EU sup­port. The devel­op­ment projects, as the rec­om­men­da­tion urges, should be in a greater coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia and Chi­na, with­out the ‘unnec­es­sary com­peti­ton’.  After all the com­mon goal is to increase sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty in the com­ing future of the region.

 

 

 

Central Asia Between Eastern Europe and the Developing Asia: Academic Invisibility from a World Systems Theoretical Point of View

World sys­tems the­o­ry (WST) dates back to Immanuel Waller­stein, who devel­oped his under­stand­ing on world pow­er rela­tions by build­ing on Marx­ist con­cepts of cap­i­tal­ist world sys­tem and on the core-periph­ery mod­els of depen­den­cy the­o­ries.

WST sug­gests the divi­sion of the world (of any­thing) to cen­tral, periph­er­al and semi-periph­er­al agents. While most ana­lysts used WST to the descrip­tion of eco­nom­ic or polit­i­cal inequal­i­ties, I have suc­cess­ful­ly adopt­ed WST as a fram­ing tool for the descrip­tion of glob­al aca­d­e­m­ic odds in many of my for­mer analy­ses. In this short post I will argue that, in terms of aca­d­e­m­ic con­tri­bu­tion, Cen­tral Asia (CA) is a typ­i­cal periph­er­al region of the world sys­tem of glob­al acad­e­my which has been impact­ed between semi-periph­er­al world regions like East­ern Europe and the Devel­op­ing Asia.  I will use both his­tor­i­cal and empir­i­cal argu­men­ta­tion to show that CA is almost invis­i­ble in the map of glob­al sci­ence, and, which is a bad job, its min­i­mal con­tri­bu­tion con­sists of main­ly fake-inter­nal­i­sa­tion.

Obser­va­to­ry of Ulugh Beg ruler and astronomer in Samarkand

His­tor­i­cal­ly, from an aca­d­e­m­ic point of view, the most impor­tant fact about CA is that it con­sists of the for­mer Sovi­et republics of Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Tajik­istan, Turk­menistan, and Uzbek­istan, so it was part of the East­ern Bloc dur­ing the Cold War. The most obvi­ous con­se­quences of this fact are, from our point of view, that 1) teach­ing and learn­ing of Eng­lish as the lin­gua fran­ca of inter­na­tion­al sci­ence was con­traindi­cat­ed and, in some cas­es, even impos­si­ble; 2) the region was almost her­met­i­cal­ly exclud­ed from inter­na­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic asso­ci­a­tions; 3) it was very hard to reach West­ern aca­d­e­m­ic lit­er­a­ture, not to men­tion expen­sive West­ern peri­od­i­cals; and 4) the econo­met­ric indices includ­ing state fund on schol­ar­ship were way too low as con­trast­ed with those of the Glob­al North. As a result, for almost 40 years, it was very hard or even impos­si­ble to keep up with West­ern or inter­na­tion­al stan­dards of research, method­ol­o­gy and pub­li­ca­tion habits. So it is not at all sur­pris­ing that after the end of the Cold War, all regions of the for­mer Sovi­et Bloc found them­selves as periph­er­al agents of glob­al acad­e­my, and – sad­ly, with the con­sent and even the active oper­a­tion of the West – this sub­or­dained posi­tion hard­ly changed since then.

Al-Fara­bi Kaza­kh Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty ranked as 10th best uni­ver­si­ty in Emerg­ing Europe and Cen­tral Asia by QS World Rank­ings 2018

Kaza­khstan, that is, the biggest and aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly most suc­cess­ful coun­try of CA was placed nine­ty-ninth among 144 coun­tries in terms of qual­i­ty of sci­en­tif­ic research insti­tu­tions in 2014, while the oth­er three coun­tries, Uzbek­istan, Kyr­gyzs­tan and Turk­menistan, had even worse posi­tions. The Kaza­kh Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion and Sci­ence tried to raise the lev­el of aca­d­e­m­ic qual­i­ty by a rel­a­tive­ly stricter pub­li­ca­tion require­ment for Kaza­kh PhD stu­dents and fac­ul­ty mem­bers, but, as we will see soon, these attempts have not result­ed in seri­ous incline in terms of aca­d­e­m­ic out­put. Table 1 shows that if we con­sid­er the total sum of aca­d­e­m­ic arti­cles, CA trails after not just the devel­op­ing Asia but after East­ern Europe and even some African coun­tries.  Since we are dis­cussing on glob­al sci­ence, we con­sid­ered only Sco­pus-indexed arti­cles. Sco­pus (with Scima­go) is the most wide­ly used inter­na­tion­al data­base for the com­par­i­son of aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance, and it is more inclu­sive than ClarivateAnalytics’s Web of Sci­ence.

RegionCoun­tryDoc­u­ments (Sco­pus)Citation/documentH‑index
Cen­tral AsiaKaza­khstan19,4443.6181
Uzbek­istan10,5206.0983
Kyr­gyzs­tan2,0399.1955
Turk­menistan3469.4224
Devel­op­ing AsiaChi­na5,133,9247.64712
Malaysia248,4576.50249
Indone­sia75,2206.20196
North Korea74616.6455
Devel­oped AsiaJapan2,539,44115.38920
South Korea1,004,04212.25576
Hong Kong263,60219.06479
Sin­ga­pore265,45218.03492
AfricaSouth Africa241,58712.94391
Tunisia76,7917.20157
Ethiopia18,73810.48125
Chad49515.2339
East­ern EuropeRuss­ian Fed­er­a­tion956,0257.07503
Hun­gary174,35114.91390
Moldo­va7,1969.269.26
Mon­tene­gro3,3454.7745
The CoreUS11,036,24324.252077
UK3,150,87421.841281
The Nether­lands886,13525.58893
Switzer­land650,07926.50866
Israel346,37222.54624

Table 1 World regions in sci­ence and their aca­d­e­m­ic out­put. H‑index refer to the num­ber of arti­cles with at least a giv­en num­ber of cita­tions so, for exam­ple, H‑index 81 means that the coun­try has 81 arti­cles in Sco­pus with at least 81 cita­tions.

Our empir­i­cal data clear­ly show that even a small East­ern Euro­pean coun­try like Hun­gary has almost 5 times stronger inter­na­tion­al con­tri­bu­tion than the whole CA region, and semi-periph­er­al coun­tries of the devel­op­ing Asia like Malaysia or Indone­sia have even bet­ter per­for­mance. As a mat­ter of fact, even the sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly absolute­ly insignif­i­cant North Korea has more than 2 times more Sco­pus-indexed arti­cles than Turk­menistan. The most suc­cess­ful coun­try of the region, Kaza­khstan, has the same aca­d­e­m­ic out­put that the extreme­ly poor Ethiopia. The abyss that divides CA to the core regions is unut­ter­able: the small West­ern coun­try, the Nether­lands has more than 25 times big­ger sci­ence out­put than the whole CA region.

As a sum­mari­sa­tion of this present post I would con­clude that, from an aca­d­e­m­ic point of view, CA could be con­ceived as a rel­a­tive­ly unno­tice­able periph­er­al region of the world sys­tem of glob­al sci­ence and it seems like it hasn’t yet recog­nised that in order to brake out from the periph­ery it should get to the cen­tre by pub­lish­ing in core jour­nals. I hope that the data pro­vid­ed here could help CA schol­ars and their men­tors con­fronting these facts and they will try to set out more suc­cess­ful strate­gies in order to raise the vis­i­bil­i­ty of this very impor­tant and pre­cious region of the world.

An optimist about Central Asia – and for good reason

Suma Chakrabar­ti is pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Bank for Recon­struc­tion and Devel­op­ment

Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Bank for Recon­struc­tion and Devel­op­ment (image source: EBRD)

I am, by tem­pera­ment and out­look on life, an opti­mist. That makes me a strong enthu­si­ast for all the dif­fer­ent regions where the EBRD works.

I am, how­ev­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ed about the future of Cen­tral Asia – and not just because I was recent­ly in Bei­jing for a region­al invest­ment forum which we organ­ised there and which attract­ed hun­dreds of senior busi­ness exec­u­tives and pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

Today, Cen­tral Asia real­ly is one of our world’s most dynam­ic regions. This year, for exam­ple, we expect its economies to grow at an over­all rate of 4.6 per­cent. That’s the high­est growth in 2018 of any of the regions where we oper­ate.

But my opti­mism is based not so much on fore­casts of what is like­ly as on the sub­stan­tial achieve­ments we have already achieved on the ground.

The EBRD and our part­ners take con­sid­er­able pride in our record in Cen­tral Asia. We have been active in Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan Tajik­istan, Turk­menistan and Uzbek­istan ever since they gained their post-Sovi­et inde­pen­dence, and in Mon­go­lia from 2006.

We are the largest sin­gle investor there — with the cumu­la­tive sum now stand­ing at US$ 14 bil­lion. Our local knowl­edge is pro­found and, I would argue, with­out equal – which gives me even more cause for opti­mism about the future.

At the same time, stand back from the here and now for a moment and you can see how quick­ly the momen­tum for still more change is build­ing.

Giv­en its loca­tion, the region has always been cen­tral to the world’s geog­ra­phy. But for much of the last cen­tu­ry — and indeed fur­ther back in his­to­ry — it was a land apart, one large­ly iso­lat­ed and cut off from the glob­al econ­o­my.

Its sta­tus today is quite dif­fer­ent. Cen­tral Asia is assum­ing, once again, its ancient role as the bridge join­ing Europe with East Asia. A new Silk Road is tak­ing shape before our very eyes, one con­sist­ing of trade routes which are, of course, not so much new as redis­cov­ered. And thanks to these new trade routes, the region will be bet­ter con­nect­ed to and inte­grat­ed with oth­er regions than ever before.

This Cen­tral Asia will, I am con­vinced, be cen­tral not just in geo­graph­ic terms but to glob­al prospects for eco­nom­ic growth as well.

For now we at the EBRD are hav­ing major impact across sec­tors and bor­ders there: strength­en­ing finan­cial sys­tems; pio­neer­ing renew­ables; pro­mot­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy; mod­ernising infra­struc­ture; boost­ing small busi­ness­es and advanc­ing the cause of eco­nom­ic inclu­sion.

Note that none of this activ­i­ty is in the ‘tra­di­tion­al’ sphere of car­bon ener­gy-based and nat­ur­al resources. Instead, Cen­tral Asia is the region where we are rolling out some of our most inno­v­a­tive prod­ucts, ser­vices and ini­tia­tives.

They include: financ­ing wind and solar pow­er in Kaza­khstan and Mon­go­lia; pro­vid­ing cred­it lines and empow­er­ing female entre­pre­neurs in Tajik­istan; enhanc­ing access to health care in Kyr­gyzs­tan; help­ing SMEs in Turk­menistan and pilot­ing a Cul­tur­al Her­itage pro­gramme in Uzbek­istan to pro­mote sus­tain­able tourism.

To sum up, the oppor­tu­ni­ties to be involved in the suc­cess sto­ry that is Cen­tral Asia have, to my mind, nev­er looked more attrac­tive. I would thus urge any­one with a taste for adven­ture, opti­mist or not, to ‘Go East’.

A Thousand and one nights at the crossroads of the universe

Baghdad – A City of the Silk Road

By the riv­er of Tigris, home of the myth­i­cal mer­chant and sailor Sin­bad, Bagh­dad was at the heart of a com­plex net­work of trade routes and mar­kets: the Silk Road. This is rep­re­sent­ed in the var­i­ous sources and des­ti­na­tions of the trade activ­i­ty of the city includ­ing Chi­na, India, Cey­lon, Japan, Korea, Rus­sia, Sici­ly, Azer­bai­jan, Arme­nia, Samarkand, Egypt, East­ern Africa, Yemen, Hejaz. But how this metrop­o­lis emerged from the sand of desert to be one of the cap­i­tals of the Silk Road in the medieval age?

The city of Bagh­dad between 150 and 300 AH (767 and 912 AD) from Muham­madanism

Ambition of the Abbasids

The his­to­ry of Bagh­dad (also known as Mad­i­nat al-Salam, the City of Peace or Round City) starts with an assas­si­na­tion and ends with the down­fall of the Assas­sins.

After Omar, the Great had been assas­si­nat­ed by a slave, one dynasty rose to pow­er from the esca­lat­ing con­flict: the Umayyads. As they gained most of their sup­port from Syr­ia, they moved the cap­i­tal of the Caliphate from  Med­i­na, the Islam­ic reli­gious cen­tre, to Dam­as­cus. The House of Abbas, oppos­ing the Umayyads, retired to Per­sia to wait for the right time to over­throw the Umayyad rule.

This moment has arrived with Abu Abbas Abdul­lah who found­ed the Abbasid dynasty as the ruler of the Caliphate. His suc­ces­sor in pow­er was his broth­er, Jafar Abdul­lah al-Mansur, who extend­ed the rule of the empire to Per­sia, Mesopotamia, Ara­bia and Syr­ia. To rep­re­sent the tri­umph of his dynasty, he want­ed to cre­ate a new cap­i­tal, close to his Per­sian allies some­where at the heart of his empire.

As he sailed down the Tigris to find the per­fect place, he was advised of the most suit­able loca­tion by Nesto­ri­an monks, who had lived there ear­li­er than Mus­lims. Abun­dance of water and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of con­trol over strate­gic and trade routes of Tigris deter­mined the loca­tion of the new cap­i­tal: it was estab­lished on the coast of Tigris at the point where it is the clos­est to the Euphrates, the oth­er main riv­er of Mesopotamia. These two rivers linked the city to north with upper-Syr­ia and Asia Minor, and south with the Gulf of Bas­ra and fur­ther to India. It faced east towards the Iran­ian plateau and Cen­tral Asia. There­fore, it is not sur­pris­ing that accord­ing to ninth-cen­tu­ry Arab geo­g­ra­ph­er and his­to­ri­an Yaqubi, author of The Book of Coun­tries, the posi­tion of Bagh­dad on the Tigris close to the Euphrates gave it the poten­tial to be “the cross­roads of the uni­verse”.

Suq-al-Ghaz­al Minaret in 1911, the old­est minaret in Bagh­dad from MidEast Image

It is the ambi­tion of the Abbasids which erect­ed Baghdad’s tow­ers and walls and tempt­ed mer­chants and adven­tur­ers to its bazaars and ports. This is the city from which myth­i­cal hero Sin­bad set sail and where some of the tales of A Thou­sand and One Nights takes place. But how did the scene of Ara­bi­an Nights look like?

Inside the circle of flames

Reflect­ing Per­sian and Sasan­ian urban design, the city was built in a cir­cle sur­round­ed by walls. Con­struc­tion works start­ed on 30 July 762 as roy­al astronomers pre­dict­ed this day as the most favourable for build­ing work to begin. Mansur super­vised the whole pro­ce­dure rig­or­ous­ly: to ensure the most pre­cise work he placed cot­ton balls soaked in naph­tha along the lay­out on the ground and set alight to mark the posi­tion of dou­ble out­er walls. Being around a cir­cle three miles in diam­e­ter, it was con­sti­tut­ed by two-hun­dred-pound blocks of stones in a height of 90 feet and width of 40 feet. As Yaqubi men­tions, 100,000 work­ers got involved in the con­struc­tion process.

The round design was unique in that time and it proved to be effec­tive: four equidis­tant gates led to the city cen­tre through straight roads. The four gates are: Kho­rasan Gate to the north-east, Sham (Syr­i­an) Gate to the north-west, Bas­ra Gate to the south-east and Kufa Gate to the south-west. Kufa and Bas­ra opened at the Sarat Canal, a key part of water­ways that drained the waters of Euphrates into the Tigris. Sham Gate led to the main road to Anbar, and across the desert to Syr­ia. Kho­rasan was close to the Tigris and ensured the con­nec­tion with boats on the rivers.

The main roads start­ing from the four gates lead­ing to the city cen­tre were con­nect­ed with arcades crowd­ed by shops and stands of mer­chants from all along the Silk Roads. How­ev­er, the heart of the city was a roy­al pre­serve with the Great Mosque and the caliph’s Gold­en Gate Palace an expres­sion of the union between tem­po­ral and spir­i­tu­al author­i­ty. Only the caliph had author­i­ty to ride with­in this area. His palace rose above the build­ings with its emer­ald-coloured dome in 130 feet high, nick­named ‘The Green Dome’.

Buniya Mosque in Bagh­dad in 1973

As the city expand­ed with bazaars and shops set­tling out­side the walls, Al-Karkh dis­trict was formed at the south. The pros­per­ing city reached its zenith in the eighth and ninth cen­tu­ry where poets, schol­ars, philoso­phers, the­olo­gians, engi­neers and mer­chants raised the intel­lec­tu­al and eco­nom­ic of the city. Wealth poured from every cor­ner of the world to its mar­ket and build­ings, erect­ed high above the desert and the waters of Tigris. Its library had the largest repos­i­to­ry of books which lat­er could be the ground of the great achieve­ments of Ara­bic and Euro­pean sci­ence.

Court­yard of Mus­tan­siriya madrasa, an insti­tu­tion of high­er edu­ca­tion, estab­lished by Al-Mus­tan­sir in 1227

Hülegü and the end of an era

In the tenth cen­tu­ry, caliph Mu’tasim moved the cen­tre of the empire from Bagh­dad to Samar­ra, and the once cen­tralised empire began to demol­ish. Bagh­dad has nev­er reached that sta­tus it had under the ear­ly-Abbasids.
It was 1257 when the great­est polit­i­cal event first reached Bagh­dad – the Mon­gols. In Sep­tem­ber, Mon­gol Hülegü Khan sent an ulti­ma­tum to the caliph bid­ding him to sur­ren­der him­self and demol­ish the out­er walls of the cap­i­tal. As the caliph reject­ed, the Mon­gol con­queror set forth to pun­ish the city. He arrived to Bagh­dad in Jan­u­ary 1258 and defeat­ed the city in a month, which fell to the Mon­gols. Bagh­dad faced mas­sive destruc­tion of its build­ings and mas­sacre killing 800,000 of its inhab­i­tants.

This is how the medieval glo­ry of Bagh­dad passed away. It lat­er suf­fered from Tamer­lane and the war of two nomadic Tur­kic clans, the Black Sheep and the White Sheep. From 1534, after hun­dreds of years of Ottoman rule, the city became able to devel­op rapid­ly again in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, but that is anoth­er sto­ry.

A celebration of history and culture: the World Nomad Games

Nomadic cul­ture leaves a deep and colour­ful imprint on Eurasian his­to­ry. Nomadic empires first arose as shad­ow empires in response to the cen­tral­i­sa­tion of Chi­na accord­ing to one of the main aca­d­e­m­ic debates.

On the east­ern side of the steppe, neces­si­ty forced the nomads into cre­at­ing a cen­tral­ly-admin­is­tered Mon­go­lia to con­duct poten­tial­ly vio­lent busi­ness with Chi­na in order to main­tain their exis­tence. They did not have the capac­i­ty to fight Chi­na head-on as their exis­tence was built around their mobil­i­ty in small num­bers — entire­ly dis­tinct from the seden­tary cities of the Chi­nese empire. Nomadic groups aimed to pre­serve their mobile lifestyles, yet not in con­quered lands. They adopt­ed an impe­r­i­al-style admin­is­tra­tion sys­tem where they ruled indi­rect­ly through boyars or Russ­ian noble­men col­lect­ing tax­es for them.

Some argue that the arrival of the Mon­gol Empire con­tributed to the emer­gence and con­struc­tion of the Euro­pean nation state. In con­trast, to the west of the steppe, nomads made a liv­ing not by vio­lent nego­ti­a­tions but by dom­i­nat­ing the trad­ing net­work. These groups cre­at­ed the polit­i­cal frame­work for the Silk Route through poli­cies pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty to the car­a­vans cross­ing Eura­sia, ensur­ing the smooth work­ing of the trade net­work that poten­tial­ly con­tributed to Euro­pean uni­ty.

The World Nomad Games thrives to revive, pre­serve and devel­op this unique his­to­ry and eth­no­cul­tur­al par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of the nomadic civil­i­sa­tion in order to fos­ter more tol­er­ant and open rela­tion­ships between peo­ple in the age of glob­al­i­sa­tion and amidst the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic region­al trans­for­ma­tions.

Turk­menistan’s per­for­mance at the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny of the II World Nomad Games

Every two years, begin­ning from 2014, the Games take place in the lake­side town of Cholpon-Ata, in the Issyk-Kul province of Kyr­gyzs­tan, although the host­ing loca­tion is set to change for future games. This year, ath­letes from 74 coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ed in 37 tra­di­tion­al nomad games, involv­ing horse games, wrestling, mar­tial arts, archery, hunt­ing and intel­lec­tu­al games. The zeinth of strength and show­man­ship is found in horse game of Kok Boru (some­times known as Buzkashi). The game is described as a fusion between rug­by and polo, with two teams com­pet­ing to throw a head­less car­cass of a goat into a goal at each end of the field. Tra­di­tion­al­ly the win­ner would take the car­cass home and cook it up in a feast.

Er Ernish, anoth­er Kyr­gyz sport, sees two ath­letes wres­tle on horse­back seek­ing to dis­mount their oppo­nent. Wrestling is the most rep­re­sent­ed sport at the Games with fif­teen dif­fer­ent types on offer from the par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries, includ­ing Alyh, or belt wrestling, where the par­tic­i­pants throw the oppo­nent on the ground by grab­bing their belt around their waist.

Par­tic­i­pants do not only com­pete in eth­nosports but also in every­day activ­i­ties of nomads, such as yurt build­ing, hunt­ing with a gold­en eagle (Burkut Saluu), fal­con­ry (Dal­ba Oyno­tuu), dog rac­ing, and hunt­ing (Taigan Jarysh).

Kaza­kh ath­lete with his gold­en eagle

While Cholpon-Ata hosts the sports games, the cul­tur­al base is the town of Kyrchyn Jailoo in the moun­tains, dis­play­ing per­for­mances of Kyr­gyz cus­toms, enter­tain­ment and games and those of the par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries. These eth­no­cul­tur­al shows intro­duce the dances, fash­ion, bazaars, and music of the nomads — embrac­ing their orig­i­nal­i­ty and diver­si­ty. In the exten­sive yurt camp set up both by the offi­cial organ­is­ers and local Kyr­gyz fam­i­lies as accom­mo­da­tion, guests can expe­ri­ence Cen­tral Asian hos­pi­tal­i­ty, tra­di­tion­al cui­sine, horse taxis, and hot air bal­loon rides in the moun­tains.

Nomadic yurt vil­lage at the Games

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the 2018 World Nomad Games were won by Kyr­gyzs­tan, with Kaza­khstan in sec­ond, and Rus­sia on the third place. At the clos­ing cer­e­mo­ny, Kyr­gyzs­tan cer­e­mo­ni­al­ly hand­ed a ves­sel of glacial water ‑the totem of the Games sym­bol­is­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly both life and the dif­fi­cul­ty of find­ing fresh water — and the book of great win­ners to Turkey, who will host the next Games in 2020.

The World Nomad Games were broad­cast­ed all over the world in over 60 coun­tries, the sports, tra­di­tions, cul­tures and lives of nomads reached hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple. With such an exten­sive cel­e­bra­tion of the nomadic cul­ture and his­to­ry the com­men­ta­tor of the sec­ond Games was right: ‘If Genghis Khan were alive, he would be here’.

Walking in forgotten lands: conservation in Kyrgyzstan

The rur­al climbs of Kyr­gyzs­tan are leg­endary. They are also under threat. Brett Wil­son has been work­ing as part of an inter­na­tion­al effort to secure the future of Cen­tral Asia’s unique native flo­ra.

One of many stun­ning views encoun­tered in Kyrgyzstan’s Sary-Chelek Bios­phere Reserve.

Cen­tral Asia was once the focus of trade across the world. The Silk Road ran from Chi­na across into Europe span­ning the moun­tains and val­leys of Asia’s cen­tral region. How­ev­er, as this region became absorbed into the USSR, its links to the West­ern world were bro­ken and the trans­fer of knowl­edge regard­ing this region’s bio­di­ver­si­ty was, unfor­tu­nate­ly, lim­it­ed due to ris­ing ten­sions between coun­tries. Today, after the breakup of the Sovi­et Union and the inde­pen­dence of coun­tries such as Kyr­gyzs­tan and Kaza­khstan, the sci­en­tif­ic and envi­ron­men­tal depart­ments of these coun­tries are grow­ing and the amaz­ing species diver­si­ty that these areas hold is becom­ing appar­ent.

I worked in the Repub­lic of Kyr­gyzs­tan in one of the bio­di­ver­si­ty hotspots of the world, the wal­nut-fruit for­est. These forests are thought to be the ori­gin of an incred­i­ble vari­ety of fruits and nuts such as apples, pears, apri­cots, wal­nuts, and pis­ta­chio nuts as well as a range of flow­ers includ­ing tulips. Due to the his­to­ry of these coun­tries, lit­tle research has been car­ried out in these forests espe­cial­ly with regard to some of the more Endan­gered species. The land­scapes where these species are found are heav­i­ly utilised by the local human pop­u­la­tion. The resources gath­ered from these forests have helped sup­port local com­mu­ni­ties for thou­sands of years and con­tin­ue to be an excep­tion­al­ly impor­tant part of local cul­ture and life.

Farm­ing and for­est are nev­er far apart in the Kyr­gyz land­scape. 

The for­est ecosys­tem, how­ev­er, is under pres­sure due to over­har­vest­ing of resources and exces­sive live­stock graz­ing with­in the for­est land­scape. This is great­ly lim­it­ing the regen­er­a­tion capac­i­ty of the for­est and may mean that these areas are not sus­tained for future gen­er­a­tions. As the local pop­u­la­tions con­tin­ue to increase, this prob­lem also esca­lates. The remain­ing habi­tat frag­ments are becom­ing more dam­aged and pop­u­la­tions of many fruits and nuts are declin­ing dra­mat­i­cal­ly. Numer­ous species locat­ed in these forests have been iden­ti­fied as threat­ened and in need of urgent con­ser­va­tion action. How­ev­er, lim­it­ed infor­ma­tion on these for­est sys­tems and the species with­in great­ly inhibits the tar­get­ing and there­fore the effec­tive­ness of any action planned.

I stud­ied the apple species Malus niedzwet­zkyana, already on the Endan­gered list, with the hope of reduc­ing the knowl­edge gaps sur­round­ing threats to this species and its ecol­o­gy. The apple is unique as it has a red pig­ment which per­me­ates through its leaves, flow­ers and fruit leav­ing red-tinged leaves, a deep red fruit from its skin through to its flesh, and pink flow­ers. This red pig­ment is a type of antho­cyanin which has been shown to have ben­e­fi­cial health prop­er­ties, with anti-inflam­ma­to­ry and anti-viral being two of the most sig­nif­i­cant. Its unique genet­ic make­up high­lights it as a crit­i­cal species to pro­tect as it has impor­tant poten­tial use in devel­op­ing new apple vari­eties.

The red fruit of the Niedzwetzky’s apple tree. The unique pig­men­ta­tion of this species makes it iden­ti­fi­able against oth­er apple species.

Work­ing with Fau­na and Flo­ra Inter­na­tion­al and Impe­r­i­al Col­lege Lon­don, I col­lect­ed data in four for­est frag­ments that were known to be strong­holds of the wal­nut-fruit for­est ecosys­tem and where local com­mu­ni­ties were will­ing to pro­vide sup­port to con­ser­va­tion prac­tices. Dur­ing my trip, I locat­ed around 150 indi­vid­u­als [the largest dataset known glob­al­ly] and record­ed the extent of threats from live­stock graz­ing and fire­wood col­lec­tion across these areas. I also explored the basic ecol­o­gy of the species and devel­oped a species dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el to inves­ti­gate his­tor­i­cal for­est cov­er and try to devel­op evi­dence for past habi­tat loss.

By gath­er­ing this infor­ma­tion, I have been able to con­tribute to the pro­tec­tion of an icon­ic Cen­tral Asian land­scape and change the fate of one of its more unique species.

My research high­light­ed that all for­est frag­ments were great­ly affect­ed by humans.  How­ev­er, in the sites of Sary-Chelek Bios­phere Reserve and Kara-Alma Forestry Unit, there was poten­tial to strength­en excep­tion­al­ly stressed pop­u­la­tions through sapling plant­i­ng projects. I iden­ti­fied south-west slopes with rel­a­tive­ly open canopy as good areas to plant saplings. Using the species dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el, I pro­vid­ed evi­dence that the his­tor­i­cal range of this species was much larg­er than its cur­rent range, high­light­ing the effect of habi­tat loss. This affects not only Malus niedzwet­zkyana but the whole com­mu­ni­ty found in the wal­nut-fruit forests.

By gath­er­ing this infor­ma­tion, I have been able to con­tribute to the pro­tec­tion of an icon­ic Cen­tral Asian land­scape and change the fate of one of its more unique species. This work is crit­i­cal in design­ing the con­ser­va­tion actions that will pro­tect this species in the future and the com­mu­ni­ty in which it grows. To have been able to explore a scarce­ly known cor­ner of the world, walk­ing through the forests where few have been before, was a tru­ly remark­able expe­ri­ence. The con­trast of Russ­ian and Turk­ish influ­ences along­side the unique tra­di­tions of the region make this a ver­i­ta­ble cul­tur­al melt­ing pot. This region, hid­den from the world I grew up in, is full of incred­i­ble peo­ple, excit­ing nature, and won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties, a land which I hope the rest of the world will come to appre­ci­ate as I have done.


Brett Wil­son car­ried out his research with the sup­port of Fau­na and Flo­ra Inter­na­tion­al, The Roy­al Botan­ic Gar­dens, Kew, and Impe­r­i­al Col­lege Lon­don, with fund­ing from the Glob­al Trees Cam­paign. His inter­ests lie in tree con­ser­va­tion research and he is cur­rent­ly an intern at Botan­ic Gar­dens Con­ser­va­tion Inter­na­tion­al where he works on pro­tect­ing tree species world­wide.

All pho­tog­ra­phy by the author.