Wu-Stan Clan: Central Asia’s ancient rap tradition

It’s all about improvising. Who has the sharpest verses with the most musicality and rhythm and wisdom and wit?”

That’s Alagushev Balai, a Kyrgyz inter­viewed thir­teen years ago by the author Peter Finn. He’s describ­ing aity­sh, Cent­ral Asia’s adversari­al, ad-libbed per­form­ance tra­di­tion that’s half music and half sick flow.

Did­ar Qam­iev, born 1988, is a cel­eb­rated mem­ber of Kazakhstan’s new gen­er­a­tion of akyns.

Aity­sh is a con­test between two par­ti­cipants, or akyns. They sit across the room from each oth­er, impro­vising rhythmic, rhym­ing rebut­tals on sub­jects sug­ges­ted by the audi­ence. Though good-natured and often comed­ic, aity­sh has teeth. When one akyn needs to diss anoth­er, noth­ing is off lim­its: there’s a long-stand­ing cus­tom that allows akyns all forms of slander. They make back­han­ded polit­ic­al state­ments, cri­ti­cise each other’s style, flirt, and flat-out insult one anoth­er.

Dur­ing an aity­shakyns sing their songs in turns,” said Balai. “It is a music­al dia­logue, like a debate. When one akyn starts an argu­ment, the second one should con­tin­ue it start­ing a new rhyme or fol­low­ing the competitor’s one.”

The akyn’s goal is to con­vince his audi­ence that’s he is the bet­ter per­former. Just as in a rap battle, a crowd of onlook­ers is cru­cial in decid­ing the vic­tor.

The tra­di­tion is art­ful too, and often cut­tingly satir­ic­al. Polit­ics and mor­als have alwasy been cent­ral to aity­sh, and it’s as philo­soph­ic­al as Dylan, as gritty as Nas, and — some­times — as ego­ma­ni­ac­al as Kanye.

No one seems to know exactly where aity­sh came from, but it’s been a fix­ture for at least a thou­sand years. In the pre-Soviet days of major­ity illit­er­acy, akyns played a vital cul­tur­al role. They were the agents of social and his­tor­ic­al iden­tity, but also helped each gen­er­a­tion to expound its zeit­geist, cel­eb­rate its her­oes and hold its lead­ers to account.

Dur­ing the Soviet peri­od, unusu­ally, aity­sh wasn’t entirely scrubbed from Kaza­kh and Kyrgyz cul­ture, but requisi­tioned as a way to adapt old legends to the new rulers.

A lot of atten­tion was paid to akyn and the com­mun­ists used it as a pro­pa­ganda loud­speak­er,” said Balai. “Akyns sang about Len­in and the revolu­tion and the achieve­ments of the party.”

It was dan­ger­ous to be an akyn in Com­mun­ist Cent­ral Asia.

Dur­ing the Soviet peri­od, akyns and their poetry were strictly con­trolled,” the young per­former, Aaly Tutkuchev, told author, Elmira Köchümku­lova. “The KGB told them to write down the text of their poetry before they went out to sing in front of people.”

So tightly did aity­sh come to be asso­ci­ated with com­mun­ism, that by the col­lapse of the Soviet Uni­on the akyn art was almost extinct. Accord­ing to Finn, Kyrgyz­stan had only four akyns left in 1991. An influx of West­ern music — some of it, let’s hope, from Queens­bridge and Compton — gave aity­sh all the cachet of mor­ris dan­cing and oom­pah.

As the new nation states matured, how­ever, young people began to redis­cov­er the tra­di­tion. Across the board, by the early 2000s, Cent­ral Asia’s cul­tur­al her­it­age gained a new import­ance. In 2003, UNESCO added the akyns to its list of intan­gible cul­tur­al her­it­age. In 2001, Kyrgyz pub­lic fig­ure, Sadyk Sher-Niyaz, estab­lished the Aity­sh Pub­lic Fund, a char­it­able organ­isa­tion that pub­li­cises the art and has trained over a hun­dred new akyns.

Now, Kyrgyz and Kaza­kh akyns par­ti­cip­ate in the demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al pro­cess — passing from vil­lage to vil­lage to deliv­er a com­ment­ary, soap­box-style.

Akyns have always giv­en heart to the Kaza­kh people in times of hard­ship and misery,” Kazak akyn, Did­ar Qam­iev told the research­er, Jangül Qojakh­met­ova. “Dur­ing the Great Pat­ri­ot­ic War, in 1943, an aity­sh in Almaty raised people’s spir­its and hopes. Con­tem­por­ary aity­sh enlight­en people and enrich them spir­itu­ally.”

The natural and unnatural wonders of Central Asia

In terms of space, Central Asia has a lot of it.

With a com­bined land area of 3,926,790 square kilo­metres, the Five Stans cov­er 2.63 per­cent of the world’s land­mass. Although that is an area far lar­ger than India, Cent­ral Asia has a pop­u­la­tion dens­ity of just eight­een people per square kilo­metre. India, by com­par­is­on, is 25 times as densely pop­u­lated. What is in all of that space in-between the people? What does the nat­ur­al world con­jure across Cent­ral Asia? In this art­icle we take a trip to six of the most extraordin­ary centres of the nat­ur­al (and unnat­ur­al) world of Cent­ral Asia, to dis­cov­er how the people of Cent­ral Asia are both shaped and shap­ing the vast envir­on­ment around them.

Pamir Mountains (Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan)

It makes sense to begin with the “Roof of the World” — the Pamir Moun­tains. Writ­ten about in the West since the time of Ptolemy, cen­tur­ies ago three branches of the Silk Road used to cross the Pamirs. Whilst most of the range lies with­in Tajikistan, its fringes seep into Afgh­anistan, China and Kyrgyz­stan. A diverse array of soci­et­ies live in semi-autonom­ous and autonom­ous areas of the moun­tains. Many are small nomad­ic com­munit­ies of Tajiks, but size­able pop­u­la­tions live in small cit­ies such as Kho­rog.

Climbers in 1978 pose for a pho­to­graph with ‘Peak Com­mun­ism’, as the highest point in Cent­ral Asia was then known.

The tallest peak of the Pamirs — Kongur Tagh — is not in Cent­ral Asia, but China. Ismoil Peak is the highest in the region, at a mod­est 7,495m — the fiftieth tallest moun­tain in the world. Formerly known as Peak Com­mun­ism, the moun­tain was more formerly still named after Joseph Stal­in, but gained its cur­rent name in the late twen­ti­eth cen­tury to com­mem­or­ate the Saman­id emir, Ismail Samani.

Gates of Hell (Turkmenistan)

‘The Gates of Hell’, which for the past four dec­ades has been a bench­mark for ‘The hot­test thing in Turk­menistan since…’

From the heights of heav­en, we jour­ney to the Gates of Hell. Yes, the door to the under­world can be found in Turkmenistan’s Karak­um Desert, 275km north of the country’s cap­it­al. The Dar­vaza Gas Crater emerged in 1971 fol­low­ing a Soviet drilling acci­dent. In an attempt to extract oil, engin­eers rup­tured a nat­ur­al gas pock­et unearth­ing an enorm­ous crater, and swal­low­ing up the rig. Imme­di­ately, tox­ic gas spewed from the 230 feet-wide crater and anim­als in the area soon began to per­ish. In an attempt to cull the spread of meth­ane, geo­lo­gists opted to set the crater on fire, and thus the Flames of Hell came to Earth. It is not unusu­al for gas craters to be set on fire but, usu­ally, they extin­guish with­in a few weeks, months, or at most, years; no one knows when, or even if the Dar­vaza Crater will stop burn­ing. Today, the Gates of Hell is a pop­u­lar tour­ist attrac­tion, which Google help­fully informs us is “Open 24 Hours”.

Aral Sea (Kazakstan and Uzbekistan)

The fam­ous ‘dis­ap­pear­ing lake’ act.

Tragedy hit Cent­ral Asia in the 1960s, in what many experts believe to be one of the greatest eco­lo­gic­al dis­asters of all time. The Aral Sea was one the world’s fourth-largest lake — the second largest in Asia. Cov­er­ing 26,000 square miles, it truly was one of the nat­ur­al won­ders of the region, divid­ing a chunk of bor­der between Kaza­kh­stan and Uzbek­istan.

Fish, and thus the loc­al fish­ing industry, has declined immensely since the dis­ap­pear­ance of water. This pho­to­graph of a beached fish­ing ves­sel in the Bay of Zhalanas, Aral­sk, Kaza­kh­stan, illus­trates the point.

Today, that bor­der requires not a boat to cross, but feet. In the 1960s, as part of the Soviet eco­nom­ic plan to make Cent­ral Asia the world’s largest pro­du­cer of cot­ton, the two great rivers of Cent­ral Asia were diver­ted for an irrig­a­tion pro­ject. The Amu Darya and the Syr Darya had fed the Aral, but cata­stroph­ic neg­li­gence rap­idly depleted the sea’s water sup­ply. By 1990, the sea split in two, and by 2003, the depth had fallen by 72 feet. Even­tu­ally, the Aral held just one-tenth of its ori­gin­al volume. Fish­ing ports turned to bar­ren waste­lands and dust bowl­ing swept up sand and chem­ic­al residues from the now exposed seabed. Although a glob­al effort led by the World Bank has sought to rein­vig­or­ate the North­ern Aral Sea, many experts believe that the vast major­ity of this once great lake will remain bar­ren. The Aral Sea dis­aster provides a stark and rather apo­ca­lyptic pre­quel to the world’s loom­ing water crisis.

Fedchenko Glacier (Tajikistan)

At elev­en times the length of Canada’s Ath­abasca Gla­ci­er, the Fed­chen­ko Gla­ci­er is the world’s longest non-polar Gla­ci­er.

2000km away from the Aral is Fed­chen­ko Gla­ci­er, the world’s longest non-polar gla­ci­er. First dis­covered in 1878, it is by far the biggest gla­ci­er in the Pamir range and its run­off even­tu­ally trickles into what is left of the Aral Sea. The ice on Fed­chen­ko Gla­ci­er, found in the east of Tajikistan, is 1000m thick in parts and meas­ures 77km in length. Put in per­spect­ive, Canada’s fam­ous Ath­abasca Gla­ci­er is just 7km long. The source of Fed­chen­ko is found in Gorno-Badakh­shan province upon Revolu­tion Peak, the highest point in the east­ern part of the Yazgulem Range.

Sharyn Canyon (Kazakstan)

Kazakstan’s great Canyon will most likely become grand in the next few hun­dred mil­lion years.

Close to the bor­der with China is one of Cent­ral Asia’s more unusu­al sites: Sharyn Canyon. The val­ley began to be formed rather recently – just 90 mil­lion years ago. Its most fam­ous point — The Val­ley of Castles — provides the off the beaten track tour­ist with some truly epic pho­tos for their Ins­tagram. Although it is dwarfed by the Grand Canyon for length, it is still nearly 100km long, and holds some remark­able eco­lo­gic­al sites. A pre­his­tor­ic forest, for example, con­tain­ing a large num­ber of Sog­di­an Ash, a par­tic­u­larly rare spe­cies of Ash. Sharyn Canyon Nation­al Park is 120 miles east of Almaty and the stag­ger­ing views of the ancient dust-orange rock canyon walls are a key attrac­tion for Kazakstan’s incip­i­ent tour­ist industry.

Chuy Valley (Kazakhstan)

Kaza­kh­stan is the alleged birth­place of can­nabis, and in the Chuy Val­ley, 400,000 hec­tares have grown wild in amongst the Tien-shan moun­tains. Ever since the restrict­ive drug policies of the Soviet Uni­on, this has been some­thing of a polit­ic­al head­ache; where­as nature was defeated in the Aral Sea, the hardy nature of wild can­nabis has allowed the crops to sur­vive mul­tiple erad­ic­a­tion attempts, mak­ing can­nabis Kaza­kh­stan’s most potent per­en­ni­al weed. Under the cov­er of night, loc­als are known to des­cend into the val­ley to col­lect small quant­it­ies of wild can­nabis – which is famed for a low potency and con­sequent lack of hangover effects. Large-scale har­vest­ing is inhib­ited by an annu­al police crack­down on efforts to organ­ise col­lec­tion efforts – as such, organ­ised crim­in­als rub shoulders with bohemi­an enthu­si­asts, with no groups hav­ing a mono­poly on the region of nat­ur­al abund­ance.

A ‘high’ val­ley in Kaza­kh­stan. Photo: Mari­usz Kluzniak.

There is your heav­en to hell then — a whistle-stop tour of the nat­ur­al won­ders of Cent­ral Asia. Though it would rarely come to mind when we think of the epic of our nat­ur­al envir­on­ment, Cent­ral Asia pos­sesses some of the most remark­able examples of the undis­covered, the unbe­liev­able, and unfor­tu­nately, the unnat­ur­al. Whilst the Dar­vaza Gas Crater is an example to poke fun at, the Aral Sea dis­aster is not. Per­haps the great meas­ure Cent­ral Asia’s nat­ur­al won­ders is, then, humankind’s utterly fra­gile rela­tion­ship to the nat­ur­al world.

Fact File: Kyrgyzstan

Name КыргызстанQırğız­stan
Pop­u­la­tion 6,019,480 (2016)
Cap­it­al city Bishkek
Offi­cial lan­guage Kyrgyz (offi­cial), Rus­si­an
Reli­gions Islam (80%), Rus­si­an (17%), oth­er (3%)
Life expect­ancy 67.2 (men), 75.1 (women)
GDP $7.061 bil­lion (2017)
HDI 0.655 (120th)
Gini 27.4
Pres­id­ent Sooron­bay Jeen­bekov (incom­ing)

 

Almost entirely covered by the Tian Shan range, around 90% of Kyrgyz ter­rit­ory rests over 1500m above sea level. Nestled beneath smog-shrouded sum­mits of the Ala Too moun­tains, Bishkek acts as the cul­tur­al and polit­ic­al hub of Cent­ral Asia’s most open demo­cracy. With a rich nomad­ic cul­ture tangled with a Soviet his­tory, Kyrgyz­stan is in a peri­od of cul­tur­al trans­ition as it forms a new iden­tity going into the twenty-first cen­tury.

A track leads to Issyk-Kul, a Kyrgyz land­mark and endorheic lake, which sits beneath the Tian Shan moun­tain range.

History

Each soci­ety needs its found­a­tion myth — where issues of what should have happened are pri­ot­ised over what prob­ably happened. This is no dif­fer­ent in Kyrgyz­stan: the forty rays stem­ming from the sun on the Kyrgyz flag rep­res­ent the forty tribes united under the epic hero Man­as, who (at some point between 1000AD and 1800AD), conquered the Uighur to the east and the Afghans to the south to define the land of the Kyrgyz

The 500,000 line Epic of Man­as, which out­lines this tale, has been updated and changed at vari­ous points (espe­cially dur­ing the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury), has been used as a tool to shape and mold Krygyz nation­al iden­tity through col­lect­ive memory.

In 1876, the land that is now Kyrgyz­stan was integ­rated into the Rus­si­an empire. Come 1917, this war­ran­ted a dir­ect trans­ition into the USSR — although giv­en the remote nature of Kyrgyz­stan, Soviet con­trol did­n’t reach Bishkek until 1919. Dur­ing this peri­od — agri­cul­ture was col­lect­iv­ised, edu­ca­tion was stand­ard­ised, and the ethno-cul­tur­al dynam­ics of Kyrgyz­stan fun­da­ment­ally changed; in 1989, only 22% of Bishkek was eht­nic­ally Kyrgyz.

Bishkek’s pala­tial state-run bus ter­min­al lies mostly unused now that enter­pris­ing minicab oper­at­ors have out-priced inter­city buses.

Fol­low­ing the implo­sion of the Soviet Uni­on, the former USSR region­al powers retained con­trol of gov­ernance — yet in 2005, the ’Tulip Revolu­tion’ saw the over­throw of the uncon­tested pres­id­ency, and the instilla­tion of a more com­pet­it­ive demo­cracy. Riots — fuelled by cor­rup­tion alleg­a­tions — led anoth­er pres­id­ent, Kur­man­bek Baki­yev, to flee the office. In 2017, Krygyz­stan saw Cent­ral Asia’s first suc­cess­ful com­pet­it­ive demo­crat­ic han­dover of power.

Culture

Focal to Kyrgyz cul­ture is its nomad­ic his­tory. Tra­di­tion­al sports — typ­ic­ally equine based — are still pop­u­lar, with nation­al hol­i­days often entail­ing vari­ous horse­back sports, such as Tyin Emmei, where riders attempt to pick up a coin from the ground at full gal­lop. Fal­conry, both for sport and as a part of life — remain cent­ral to Kyrgyz cul­ture. Moreover, the yurt (an intric­ate nomad­ic tent), remains so integ­ral to Kyrgyz iden­tity that a bird’s eye view of a yurt is fea­tured on the centre of the post-inde­pend­ence flag; indeed, the Kygyz nomad­ic games team holds the world record for yurt assembly, in just over two hours (knock­ing almost 24 hours from the pre­vi­ous record).

A hunter takes a mid­day break in the high­lands above Issyk-Kul with his horse, hound and eagle.

Nowruz, the Per­sian new year, is cel­eb­rated each year between 21 and 23 March, with a series of music­al and culin­ary fest­iv­it­ies. Typ­ic­al cent­ral Asi­an dishes, such as plov and sam­sas, are pop­u­lar through­out Kyrgyz­stan — with the south­ern city of Osh act­ing as an offi­cial culin­ary cap­it­al. Moreover, cer­tain Kyrgyz-spe­cif­ic meals, such as Naryn (some­thing to the effect of horse­meat with noodles) bear a not­able pres­ence. Of the Kyrgyz nation­al beers, Arpa, is sur­pris­ingly pop­u­lar amongst beer con­nois­seurs — not­ably for its hoppy pale ale char­ac­ter­ist­ics (rather than being a simple lar­ger). Cognac is also very pop­u­lar in Kyrgyz­stan, yet giv­en the expens­ive price of imports, Nash Cognac (‘our cognac’) is dis­tilled in Kyrgyz­stan. Nat­ur­ally, vodka retains a strong pres­ence as one of many Soviet hangovers.

Some corners of Kyrgyz cul­ture remain some­what con­tro­ver­sial. Although not strictly ‘tra­di­tion­al’, bridal kid­nap­ping remains pre­val­ent through­out rur­al Kyrgyz­stan, yet giv­en its illeg­al­ity and grow­ing unpop­ular­ity, attempts have been made to erad­ic­ate the prac­tice.

Politics

In 2017, Kyrgyz­stan became the first Cent­ral Asi­an coun­try to have a suc­cess­ful com­pet­it­ive elec­tion, with the rul­ing Social Demo­crat­ic Party can­did­ate won just over half of the pop­u­lar vote in the first round of elec­tions, mean­ing that there will be a peace­ful han­dover of power in Janu­ary of next year, a not­able step for a coun­try that has had two pop­u­lar revolu­tions since inde­pend­ence in 1991. Kyrgyz­stan form­ally oper­ates as demo­crat­ic uni­cam­er­al gov­ern­ment, how­ever, per­vas­ive Rus­si­an influ­ence, restric­tions to free speech (such as anti-gay rights advocacy laws) and cer­tain weak­nesses in the rule of law — cause Kyrgyz­stan to be con­sidered only a ‘partly free’ coun­try by Free­dom House, with an index score of 37 (com­pared to three in Uzbek­istan, or 78 in Seneg­al).

Con­flicts between Uzbek and Kyrgyz eth­nic groups have often flared into viol­ence over recent years — occa­sion­ally rising to a level that threatens civil war. How­ever, these issues have been broadly quelled over recent years.

Kyrgyz­stan remains the most open of cent­ral Asi­an coun­tries, with com­par­at­ively expans­ive journ­al­ist­ic freedoms, and visa-free travel to and from many oth­er coun­tries. How­ever, the state tax col­lec­tion base remains slim, thus squeez­ing pub­lic expendit­ure pos­sib­il­it­ies and leav­ing open a large inform­al eco­nomy.

Economy

Kyrgyz­stan remains the second-poorest Cent­ral Asi­an nation, and des­pite com­par­at­ively high levels of equal­ity, per-cap­ita income remains low. This is largely a con­sequence of hav­ing lost the Soviet Uni­on as a large export mar­ket. Moreover, it seems that most Kyrgyz people have not benefited from the trans­ition to a mar­ket eco­nomy, indeed, many have found their stand­ard of liv­ing to have fallen as pub­lic ser­vice qual­ity has declined. Non­ethe­less, prof­it­able Kyrgyz export indus­tries, such as a min­ing and pro­spect­ing, have allowed for the inflow of for­eign cur­rency, if not for­eign invest­ment. It remains to be seen wheth­er this cap­it­al inflow will gen­er­ate many jobs.

Rice fields near the vil­lage of Choy­un­chu, Leilek Dis­trict, Kyrgyz­stan. Agri­cul­ture remains a back­bone of the Kyrgyz eco­nomy.

Fact File: Kazakhstan

Name Қазақстан Республикасы
Pop­u­la­tion 17,987,736 (2016 estim­ate)
Cap­it­al city Astana (moved from Almaty in 1997)
Offi­cial lan­guage Kaza­kh (offi­cial), Rus­si­an
Reli­gions Islam (70%), Chris­tian­ity (26%), oth­er
Life expect­ancy 62 (men), 73 (women)
GDP 133.7 bil­lion USD ‎(2016) (42nd)
HDI 0.788 (56th)
Gini 26.4
Pres­id­ent Nur­sultan Naz­ar­bayev

 

As the largest, richest and most well-known of the Cent­ral Asi­an nations, Kaza­kh­stan is often referred to as ‘land of the wan­der­ers’.

From the icy-cli­mate of Kazakhstan’s indus­tri­al­ised north to the oil-rich low­lands of the country’s west­ern fron­ti­er, the country’s geo­graph­ic diversity has been a bless­ing and a curse. The country’s enorm­ous min­er­al wealth, des­pite the chal­lenges presen­ted by its vast­ness, have helped to off-set some of the pains of a post-Soviet integ­ra­tion into the glob­al eco­nomy. Great­er ties to the US and China have fol­lowed invest­ment in the oil-eco­nomy.

The Mauso­leum of Khoja Ahmed Yas­awi in Hazrat‑e Turkest­an, one of only three UNESCO World Her­it­age sites in Cent­ral Asia.

The nation­al flag of Kaza­kh­stan, chosen in 1992 after the col­lapse of the Soviet Uni­on, was designed by Kaza­kh artist Shaken Niyazbekov. It depicts a golden sun shin­ing above a golden steppe eagle in full flight. The steppe eagle is an import­ant cul­tur­al sym­bol for the Kaza­kh people. It is a migrat­ory spe­cies, but breeds on the cent­ral Kaza­kh plains. As for many nations, it rep­res­ents free­dom, strength and dig­nity. Both sym­bols are placed on a sky-blue back­ground, a col­our cent­ral to Ancient Turkic reli­gious belief. On the hoist-side, a ‘koshkar-muiz’ (the horns of the ram), a tra­di­tion­al orna­ment­al pat­ter, is presen­ted.

A short history

  • Between the first and eight cen­tur­ies both Turkic-speak­ing peoples and Mon­gol tribes settle in mod­ern-day Kaza­kh­stan.
  • By the late fif­teenth cen­tury the Kaza­khs emerge as an iden­ti­fi­able eth­nic group.
  • Dur­ing the eight­eenth cen­tury the Khans of the Three Zhuzes become a de facto Rus­si­an pro­tect­or­ate.
  • In 1917 fol­low­ing the Octo­ber Revolu­tion in Rus­sia, civil war breaks out in Kaza­kh­stan.
  • By 1920, Kaza­kh­stan becomes a self-gov­ern­ing repub­lic of the USSR.
  • Between 1954 – 62 around two mil­lion people, mainly eth­nic­ally Rus­si­an, settle in Kaza­kh­stan as part of Soviet-lead­er Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘Vir­gin Lands’ pro­ject.
  • In 1986, thou­sands protest the appoint­ment of an eth­nic Rus­si­an as head of the Com­mun­ist Party of Kaza­kh­stan by Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • In Decem­ber 1991, Kaza­kh­stan declares inde­pend­ence from the USSR fol­low­ing the land­slide pres­id­en­tial elec­tion of Nur­sultan Naz­ar­bayev, who has remained in power since.
  • May 2004 sees a deal signed with China over the con­struc­tion of an oil pipeline from Kaza­kh­stan to China.

Culture

With just under 18 mil­lion people, com­prised of 131 eth­nic groups, spread out over a mil­lion square miles (mak­ing Kaza­kh­stan the largest land­locked coun­try) — Kaza­kh­stan under­stand­ably has a remark­ably diverse cul­tur­al com­pos­i­tion. Des­pite a brief inter­lude of state athe­ism under the Soviet Uni­on — Islam has remained the dom­in­ant reli­gion in Kaza­kh­stan since the eight cen­tury AD. Islam, how­ever, is one of many ten­ets that com­prise a Kaza­kh cul­tur­al his­tory rooted both in its pos­i­tion as a glob­al cross­roads, and the dis­tinctly nomad­ic and pas­tor­al qual­ity of his­tor­ic Kaza­kh life. As such, while glob­al­ised sports, such as foot­ball, are pop­u­lar (the Kaza­kh foot­ball team came twenty-second at the 2016 Rio Olympics, nar­rowly beaten by Uzbek­istan), tra­di­tion­al nomad­ic sports — typ­ic­ally equine based — remain alive in Kaza­kh soci­ety. One such game, Kyz kuu, (chase the girl) is an elab­or­ate game of kiss chase on horse­back.

Riders play the tra­di­tion­al Kaza­kh game of ‘Catch the Girl’ in a demon­stra­tion of their eques­tri­an her­it­age at the open­ing cere­mon­ies of Cent­ral Asi­an Peace­keep­ing Bat­talion, 2000.

Kaza­kh cuisine often reflects nomad­ic tra­di­tions centered around the rear­ing of live­stock; with meat and dairy act­ing as the lynch­pin of typ­ic­al dishes. Vari­ations on pilaf (plov) are pop­u­lar in Kaza­kh meals, and are usu­ally accom­pan­ied by soups and vari­ous appet­isers. Fer­men­ted mare’s milk is a pop­u­lar alco­hol­ic bever­age — the Cent­ral Asi­an For­um makes no judge­ment as to its taste

Politics

Kaza­kh­stan oper­ates as a bicam­er­al unit­ary repub­lic – with the pres­id­ent Nur­sultan Naz­ar­bayev as the head of state. The pres­id­ent is required to renew their man­date through nation­al elec­tions every five years. Wheth­er by charm, luck, skill or oth­er­wise, Naz­ar­bayev — the former Soviet première of Kaza­kh­stan – has won each elec­tion since inde­pend­ence with over 90% of the vote. Naz­ar­bayev’s Otan party cur­rently hold a major­ity of seats in both houses.

For nearly two dec­ades of his twenty-six year ten­ure, Nur­sultan Nazarbayev’s (centre) Rus­si­an coun­ter­part has been Vladi­mir Putin.

Economy

As the eco­nom­ic power­house of the Cent­ral Asi­an region, Kaza­kh­stan car­ries sig­ni­fic­antly more eco­nom­ic clout in the inter­na­tion­al scene than her neigh­bour stans. Eco­nom­ic growth has been driv­en primar­ily by exports of min­er­als and fossil fuels. How­ever, efforts have been made post-inde­pend­ence to break Kazakhstan’s reli­ance on extern­al demand for raw mater­i­als by diver­si­fy­ing their eco­nom­ic activ­ity. One such effort has been the Nurly Zhol ‘path to the future’ policy, which has sought vastly increased infra­struc­ture spend­ing so as to foster eco­nom­ic rigidty in the face of chan­ging glob­al cir­cum­stances. Kaza­kh­stan 2050 is an eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment pro­ject announced in the 2012 annu­al pres­id­en­tial address — it is a mul­ti­fa­ceted pro­gramme which seeks to estab­lish Kaza­kh­stan amongst the world’s ’top-30’ eco­nom­ies by 2050, it fol­lows on from a sim­il­ar Kaza­kh­stan 2030 scheme.

Min­ing and steel pro­duc­tion remain import­ant in Kaza­kh­stan, and are dom­in­ated by ArcelorMit­tal — a com­pany with strong Brit­ish ties.

Fact File: Turkmenistan

Name Түркменистан
Pop­u­la­tion 5,662,544
Cap­it­al city Ashgabat
Offi­cial lan­guage Turk­men (offi­cial), Rus­si­an
Reli­gions Islam (89%), East­ern Ortho­dox (9%), oth­er
Life expect­ancy 65.74 years
Pop­u­la­tion growth 1.7%
GDP $36.18 bil­lion (2016)
HDI 0.692 (2015) (111th)
Gini 0.41
Pres­id­ent Gur­b­an­guly Ber­dimuhamedow

The ‘Doors to Hell’ – a col­lapsed Soviet oil rig – has been burn­ing for over 40 years, far longer than the anti­cip­ated few weeks.

History

Bordered by Kaza­kh­stan, Uzbek­istan, Afgh­anistan, Iran, and the Caspi­an sea, present-day Turk­menistan has been at a cross­roads of world civil­iz­a­tions for a mil­len­ni­um. The city of Merv was one of the great Islam­ic cit­ies, and until the fif­teenth cen­tury was an import­ant stop on the Silk Road, a trad­ing route that con­nec­ted Europe, Asia, and Africa. This region of cul­tur­al milieu was fur­ther emphas­ised by a his­tory of dif­fer­ent rulers, includ­ing Alex­an­der the Great’s Per­sians, Islam­ic rulers, Turks, Mon­gols, and finally Rus­si­ans in the eight­eenth cen­tury. Des­pite fig­ur­ing prom­in­ently among regions opposed to Bolshev­ism, Turk­menistan became a Soviet repub­lic in 1924 and only gained inde­pend­ence at the break-up of the USSR in 1991. A recent his­tory of Rus­si­an rule has meant that like oth­er cent­ral Asi­an states, Rus­si­an lan­guage has remained the Lin­gua Franca post-inde­pend­ence.

Culture

Although there have been attempts to homo­gen­ise Turk­men iden­tity since the 1930s, cul­ture still has dis­tinct unique clan-based char­ac­ter­ist­ics, each with their own dia­lect and style of dress. As a nation, Turkmenistan’s most famed cul­tur­al export is its Turk­men rugs (often known as Bukhara rugs in the rest of the world). Through­out Turk­men mater­i­al cul­ture, clan dif­fer­ences can be observed in the styles and col­ours employed, most obvi­ously in cloth­ing, jew­elry, and domest­ic dec­or­a­tions. Anoth­er dis­tinct­ive mani­fest­a­tion of Turk­men cul­ture are the large black sheep­skin ‘Telpek’ hats often worn by men, some­what resem­bling an afro hair­style. Although the nation­al cuisine of Turk­menistan pos­sesses strong con­tinu­ity with the rest of Cent­ral Asia, one unique ele­ment is the elev­ated pos­i­tion of mel­ons; once the major sup­pli­er to the Soviet Uni­on, mel­ons are a sub­ject of nation­al pride, and are com­mem­or­ated dur­ing the Mel­on Day hol­i­day.

A woman dis­plays a series of intric­ate car­pets at a mar­ket in Balkanabatt. Car­pet weav­ing forms such an import­ant part of Turk­men cul­ture, that car­pet design is even fea­tured on the nation­al flag.

Politics

Des­pite elec­tions tak­ing place in 2012 and 2017, it is widely agreed that Turk­menistan is an auto­crat­ic single party pres­id­en­tial repub­lic, demon­strated by cur­rent pres­id­ent Berdimuhamedow’s abil­ity to win over 97% of the vote. A con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment in 2016 allows life­time pres­id­ency. Human Rights Watch have des­ig­nated Turk­menistan as ‘among the world’s most repress­ive and closed coun­tries’, where the ‘pres­id­ent and his asso­ci­ates have total con­trol over all aspects of pub­lic life’. This includes access to inform­a­tion, where the state con­trols all print and elec­tron­ic media, and where journ­al­ists who attempt to pub­lish mater­i­al con­trary to gov­ern­ment sen­ti­ment are at risk of impris­on­ment and/or viol­ence. Polit­ic­al dis­sid­ents are com­monly incar­cer­ated or forced into exile, and even in exile, there is risk of gov­ern­ment repris­als for con­tin­ued open gov­ern­ment dis­sent. A supreme legis­lat­ive body known as the Halk Mas­la­haty, com­prised of up to 2,500 del­eg­ates (some of whom are elec­ted by pop­u­lar vote) is entirely made up of mem­bers of the Demo­crat­ic Party of Turk­menistan, and is chaired by the pres­id­ent for a life term.

A giant golden statue to Turk­menistan’s first pres­id­ent – Sap­ar­mur­at Niyazov – stands over­look­ing Ashgabat.

Economy

Extens­ive nat­ur­al gas reserves, the fourth largest in the world, mean that since 1993 cit­izens have received elec­tri­city and nat­ur­al gas free of charge by the gov­ern­ment. These vast reserves also dic­tate the country’s inter­na­tion­al rela­tions. A pipeline con­nect­ing China and Turk­menistan has ensured China is the nation’s most import­ant eco­nom­ic part­ner, how­ever plans for a trans-Caspi­an pipeline that would carry gas to Europe and a pipeline head­ing towards South Asia are demon­strat­ing a desire to expand exports bey­ond Iran, Rus­sia, and China. Des­pite these ambi­tions, and a pos­it­ive bal­ance of trade, Turk­menistan is still con­sidered a par­tic­u­larly isol­a­tion­ist state. How­ever, Turk­menistan remains one of the fast­est-grow­ing eco­nom­ies in the world, and has become one of the top ten glob­al pro­du­cers of cot­ton in an attempt to diver­si­fy. Cent­ral­ised state own­er­ship of the eco­nomy per­vades most large indus­tries includ­ing fin­ance and nat­ur­al resources, how­ever since Turkmenistan’s inde­pend­ence there has been a move­ment towards privat­isa­tion in trade, cater­ing, and con­sumer ser­vices, and private sec­tor own­er­ship forms the major­ity in agri­cul­ture, trade, and trans­port.

Fact File: Uzbekistan

NameOʻzbek­iston Respub­likasi
Pop­u­la­tion32,979,000 (2017 estim­ate)
Cap­it­al cityTashkent
Offi­cial lan­guageUzbek (offi­cial), Rus­si­an, Tajik
Reli­gionsIslam (88%), East­ern Ortho­dox (9%), oth­er
Life expect­ancy68.45 years
Pop­u­la­tion growth 1.7%
GDP $67.22 bil­lion (2016)
HDI 0.701 (105th)
Gini 0.45
Pres­id­ent Shavkat Mirz­iyoyev

History

Bor­der­ing the oth­er four Cent­ral Asi­an “Stans”, Uzbek­istan has a rich and col­our­ful his­tory of move­ment, con­quest, and res­ist­ance. After Alex­an­der The Great conquered the region in fourth cen­tury BC, Uzbek­istan wit­nessed sev­er­al dis­tinct phases of extern­al influ­ence. Turkic nomads arrived in the sixth cen­tury AD and by the eight cen­tury Islam was intro­duced by the Arabs. Per­haps most fam­ously the Mon­gol Empire, under Genghis Khan, con­sumed the region in the thir­teenth cen­tury. With the steppes united, trade, com­mu­nic­a­tion and even dis­eases spread massively in the fol­low­ing cen­tur­ies. Uzbekistan’s major cit­ies, such as Bukhara, reaped the bene­fit of rein­vig­or­ated East-West trade links.

The Mon­gols and the Silk Road put the coun­try firmly on the map, but it wasn’t until the early six­teenth cen­tury was invaded by the Uzbek. Under the lead­er­ship of Abdul­lah, the empire took in parts of Afgh­anistan and Per­sia, but soon broke down. That lack of unity left the Uzbek­istani prin­cip­al­it­ies at the mercy of the expand­ing Rus­si­an Empire in the lat­ter half of the nine­teenth cen­tury. In the wake of the Rus­si­an Revolu­tion, the Uzbek frac­tured between Soviet sup­port­ers and the Bas­ma­chi, with the lat­ter even­tu­ally suc­cumb­ing to Sta­lin­ist policies. Col­lect­iv­isa­tion, indus­tri­al­isa­tion, and indi­gen­isa­tion were all pur­sued by the Uzbek Soviet Social­ist Repub­lic dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Soviet industry shif­ted from vul­ner­able pos­i­tions in West­ern Rus­sia to Uzbek­istan dur­ing WWII, whilst in the post-war years a drastic drive toward mass pro­duc­tion of cot­ton led to sev­er­al major eco­lo­gic­al dis­asters. With the col­lapse of Com­mun­ism in 1989, Uzbek­istan even­tu­ally secured its inde­pend­ence in 1991, after sev­er­al cen­tur­ies of Rus­si­an rule.

Art­work on the rooftop of the Tilla Kari madrasa in Samarkand, Uzbek­istan. Photo by Patrick Rig­gen­berg.

Economy

Uzbek­istan is cur­rently wit­ness­ing a moment­ous peri­od eco­nom­ic growth. Accord­ing to the World Bank, Uzbekistan’s eco­nomy is set to grow faster than any Cent­ral Asi­an or East­ern European nation between now and 2019. State invest­ment in gas, gold and cot­ton pro­duc­tion has cre­ated a boom­ing export eco­nomy. The future for­tunes of exports are largely tied to the per­form­ance the Chinese and Rus­si­an eco­nom­ies, and their gen­er­al down­turn has con­cerned Uzbek­istani policy makers. Yet even with that con­sidered, a strong small busi­ness sec­tor has lif­ted large sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion out of poverty and into employ­ment, a sign that the country’s eco­nomy is shift­ing toward a great­er reli­ance on intern­al rather than extern­al mar­kets.

Food

The meal is a cent­ral pil­lar of Uzbek cul­ture. Tan­door baked bread (tandir) holds a sac­red place at the meal, and can only be torn by hand and nev­er thrown out. Palov (plov or pilaf) is per­haps the most fam­ous dish in the region — and across Cent­ral Asia. Often con­sidered to be the old­est dish in Uzbek cuisine and it is believed Alex­an­der the Great was served palov after cap­tur­ing Marakanda. Cooked in a large pot, palov is a rice based dish cooked with lamb, rais­ins, and entire bulbs of gar­lic, seasoned with tur­mer­ic, cori­ander, and cumin.

Pilaf (plov) is a pop­u­lar dish through­out Uzbek­istan and the Cent­ral Asia region. Photo Jarda Pulao.

Music

Music is omni­present in Uzbek soci­ety. Whis­pers of the ancients can be heard in tra­di­tion­al recit­als at funer­als and com­mem­or­ative cere­mon­ies, dis­tinct from European music in its mono­phon­ic tex­ture. Uzbek­istan boasts some incred­ibly influ­en­tial musi­cians in the region. Ari Babakhan­ov is amongst the most fam­ous. Known for his immense con­tri­bu­tion to tra­di­tion­al Bukhara music, he also tran­scribed and noted down extens­ive amounts of Per­sian poetry and pop­u­lar Uzbek and Tajik works. Today, Uzbek­istan has a diverse music scene, with rock and rap the most pop­u­lar forms.

Customs

Close friends or fam­ily of the same sex greet each oth­er with a kiss on both cheeks. At a meal, guests are expec­ted to take a turn as toast­mas­ter, prais­ing the host for wel­com­ing them into their home. Fam­ily and com­munity is of immense value in Uzbek­istan. Com­munit­ies are gov­erned by the mahal­lya, a self-gov­ern­ing unit of neigh­bours and fam­il­ies sup­port­ing one anoth­er. Most girls marry before the age of 21, and wed­dings involve the entire com­munity; hun­dreds of guests are typ­ic­ally invited.

Politics

2016 wit­nessed the elec­tion of a new pres­id­ent, Shavkat Mirz­iyoyev in Uzbek­istan. Pri­or to Mirziyoyev’s elec­tion, the nation had been ruled by Islam Karimov, a deeply con­tro­ver­sial who was con­sist­ently cri­ti­cised by the inter­na­tion­al com­munity for extens­ive human rights abuses in the coun­try. For example, the United Nations has found tor­ture to be insti­tu­tion­al­ised in the coun­try. Press cen­sor­ship remains a major issue and many west­ern news out­lets are not allowed to func­tion in the coun­try. How­ever, whilst human rights abuses remain a key issue, the gov­ern­ment has taken steps to erad­ic­ate human traf­fick­ing and cul­tiv­a­tion of opi­um for export pur­poses.

Fact File: Tajikistan

Name Repub­lic of Tajikistan
Pop­u­la­tion 8,734,951
Cap­it­al city Dush­anbe
Offi­cial lan­guage Tajik, but Rus­si­an is widely used in the gov­ern­ment­al and busi­ness sphere
Reli­gions Sunni Muslim (85%), Shia Muslim (5%), oth­er (10%)
Life expect­ancy 69.7 Years
Pop­u­la­tion growth 1.62%
GDP $6.9 bil­lion
HDI 0.627 (129th)
GINI 30.8 (133rd)
Pres­id­ent Emomali Rah­mon

Geography

Situ­ated in the heart of Cent­ral Asia, the Repub­lic of Tajikistan is bordered by Uzbek­istan from the west, Kyrgyz­stan from the north, China from the east, and Afgh­anistan from the west, which provides a polit­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­ant loc­a­tion to the coun­try. Its com­plex land­scape is paired with a sharply con­tin­ent­al cli­mate, includ­ing areas with desert and sub­trop­ic­al cli­mate. Ninety-five per cent of the sur­face is covered with moun­tains, the two most sig­ni­fic­ant being the Pamir and the Alay Moun­tains, which are the sources gla­ci­er fed rivers, upon which the country’s hydro­power eco­nomy is built. Tajikistan is rich in oth­er nat­ur­al resources as well, such as urani­um, which allows for an influ­en­tial polit­ic­al stand­point, a vari­ety of pre­cious metals, namely gold and sil­ver. Its envir­on­ment­al fea­tures con­sid­er­ably influ­ence the chal­lenges Tajikistan faces, par­tic­u­larly fre­quent flood­ing and land­slides com­ing from the melt­ing gla­ciers due to cli­mate change.

The Pamir Moun­tains, viewed from the Pamir High­way, Tajikistan.

History

Tajikistan has always been at the cross­road of mag­ni­fi­cent cul­tures. The Tajiks emerged as a dis­tinct eth­nic group in the eight cen­tury. At the same time, Arab invaders conquered Cent­ral Asia, intro­du­cing Islam to the region, which still has a prom­in­ent influ­ence today. East­ern, espe­cially Chinese cul­tur­al effects influ­enced the region through the trade on the Silk Road, which had three main routes cross­ing the cur­rent ter­rit­ory of Tajikistan. Dur­ing the course of cen­tur­ies a wide vari­ety of cul­tur­al forces influ­enced the area as a res­ult of its annex­a­tion to the Per­sian, the Mon­gol, and the Timur­id Empire, before fall­ing under Rus­si­an rule in the 1860s, and becom­ing part of the Soviet Uni­on in 1921.

After more than a hun­dred years of Rus­si­an dom­in­a­tion, pro-demo­crat­ic protests emerged in Dush­anbe, and with the fall of the USSR, Tajikistan declared inde­pend­ence on the 9 Septem­ber in 1991. As a res­ult of the protests, the first dir­ect pres­id­en­tial elec­tions were held. How­ever, a year later, anti-gov­ern­ment protests swept through the streets of Dush­anbe escal­at­ing into a civil war which took 20,000 lives, and demol­ished the indus­tri­al and agri­cul­tur­al sec­tors of the eco­nomy. Sub­sequently, Emomali Rah­mon became the new head of state, and is still serving as pres­id­ent to the present day.

Culture

The gov­ern­ment act­ively pro­motes defin­ing and defend­ing the tra­di­tion­al Tajik cul­ture. Rus­si­an-style sur­names are out­lawed, and even though 85% of the pop­u­la­tion is Sunni and 5% is Shia Muslim, Arab­ic-style beards and hijabs are banned, as they don’t reflect reli­gi­os­ity, and people should ‘love God with their hearts’. Women are encour­aged to dress in tra­di­tion­al, bright col­oured cot­ton dresses and long skirts, while men wear caps lined with black lamb skin.

An early col­our pho­to­graph by Sergey Prok­ud­in-Gor­sky shows Tajik boys and men, prob­ably around 1910.

The Tajik cul­ture, with its legendary hos­pit­al­ity, is very fam­ily cent­ric. Wed­dings were his­tor­ic­ally cel­eb­rated over the course of sev­en days, how­ever this is now restric­ted by the gov­ern­ment as a res­ult of the huge expenses such fest­iv­it­ies incur. Today, the most widely cel­eb­rated fest­ivals are reli­gious ones, such as the Muslim New Year, or Qurb­an Eid, for which entire vil­lages get togeth­er and pre­pare tra­di­tion­al dishes, such as the ‘kabuli pulao’, which is a rice based dish with shred­ded yel­low turnip or car­rot, meat, and olive oil. The Tajik cul­ture has dif­fer­ent music for dif­fer­ent occa­sions, but tra­di­tion­ally, there is a solo instru­ment, such as the ‘daf’, for per­cus­sions, that can be traced back to the four­teenth cen­tury, accom­pan­ied by singing. The clas­sic­al nation­al dance, which is emo­tions driv­en and ener­get­ic, is also an essen­tial fea­ture of cel­eb­ra­tions.

The Tajik lit­er­at­ure is a prom­in­ent com­pon­ent of the cul­ture too. Whilst dur­ing Rus­si­an rule, lit­er­at­ure had to com­ply with the offi­cial views; pro­du­cing pieces about the civil war, indus­tri­al­isa­tion and col­lect­iv­isa­tion; the most well-known epic poetry ori­gin­ates back to long before the USSR, to the tenth cen­tury. Shahname, trans­lated as the Book of Kings. It is the world’s longest poem cre­ated by a single poet, Fir­dowsī. His piece has been the inspir­a­tion for many Tajik movies made in the country’s own film stu­dio, which was estab­lished, along with numer­ous theatres and museums, by the art-favour­ing Soviet Uni­on. Tajik people are fond of sports as well, the most pop­u­lar being foot­ball, with the nation­al team com­pet­ing in FIFA. Giv­en the geo­graph­ic­al con­di­tions, hik­ing, climb­ing and ski­ing are favoured as well.

Politics

The state of Tajikistan is a pres­id­en­tial repub­lic with a dom­in­ant party sys­tem. The head of state is Emomali Rah­mon sice 1992, who has recently declared him­self a Lead­er of the Nation. Ori­gin­ally, pres­id­ents are elec­ted for a max­im­um of two terms, each which lasts sev­en years, how­ever, Rah­mon has held a ref­er­en­dum which allowed him to serve four con­sec­ut­ive terms. Elec­tions are inter­na­tion­ally cri­ti­cised as neither fair, nor free, espe­cially since ban­ning the main oppos­i­tion party. The pres­id­ent cap­tures every oppor­tun­ity to con­sol­id­ate his power, which is also expressed by build­ing a tea house worth 1% of GDP, a new city in the desert, and set­ting up the tallest flag pole. Moreover, inde­pend­ent press is restric­ted, along with web con­tent.

Due to the unstable domest­ic polit­ics, edu­ca­tion and pub­lic health­care are not suf­fi­ciently sup­por­ted. Access to edu­ca­tion is lim­ited by indi­vidu­al resources, and health­care is only present in the urb­an areas, push­ing most people into prim­it­ive liv­ing con­di­tions. With regards to inter­na­tion­al polit­ics, Tajikistan is geo­pol­it­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­ant. The state has co-oper­ated both with Rus­sia, with respect to counter-extrem­ist and drug-traf­fick­ing meas­ures; and the United States, in provid­ing non-mil­it­ary assist­ance for their oper­a­tions in Afgh­anistan. Moreover, their trade in resources with China has perked both polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic interest in Tajikistan. Islam­ic extrem­ism — espe­cially as a res­ult of spillover from the Afghan war, has become an increas­ing secur­ity threat in Tajikistan. Counter-meas­ures, such as cur­tail­ments of cul­tur­al expres­sion, have often been repress­ive, and poten­tially counter-pro­duct­ive.

Economy

Tajikistan is the poorest coun­try in the Cent­ral Asi­an region. How­ever, it has secured an exem­plary track-record in alle­vi­at­ing poverty, hav­ing halved rates of indi­gence since inde­pendece. Almost half of its GDP is made up of remit­tances sent home from over a mil­lion Tajiks work­ing is Rus­sia and Kaza­kh­stan, mak­ing Tajikistan the most remit­tance-depend­ent coun­try in the world. Hence, the eco­nom­ic uncer­tainty of Rus­sia poses a great threat to the Tajik eco­nomy, lead­ing to socio-polit­ic­al instabil­ity, if the migrant work­ers have to return home.

The main eco­nom­ic sec­tors are agri­cul­ture and industry. Two-fifth of the pop­u­la­tion works in agri­cul­ture, which is mainly focused on cot­ton pro­duc­tion, rais­ing live­stock, and cul­tiv­at­ing fruits, veget­ables, grains, and rice. In spite of the sig­ni­fic­ant role of agri­cul­ture, food insec­ur­ity is a fierce chal­lenge for the coun­try, rely­ing highly on food import. With regards to industry, light industry is centered around agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion; hence, tex­tile and food-pro­cessing sec­tors are crit­ic­al to the intern­al eco­nomy. Heavy industry pre­dom­in­antly con­cerns coal min­ing and oil extrac­tion. The energy sec­tor is the prin­cip­al invest­ment sec­tor in the Tajik eco­nomy, and it has garnered increas­ing inter­na­tion­al atten­tion over recent years, espe­cially from China. Chinese invest­ments have pro­moted eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and trade in the region, largely in order to pro­mote and main­tain socioeco­nom­ic sta­bil­ity. One recent pro­jects to this end is the One Road, One Belt pro­ject, which aims to recon­struct the Silk Road, and build up a trad­ing link run­ning from China to Europe, through Cent­ral Asia.