Saturday, May 23, 2015

Religions of Central Asia


In central Asia Religion like other aspects of its culture are an overlap between East and West. Buddhism reached China from India and Central Asia, Nestorian Christianity came west to Iran and Central Asia because of suppression by the Byzantine Church, and Islam went west - not always by the sword, as is so often proclaimed, but largely by wandering Sufis who were not always welcome at the courts of the caliphs for their unorthodox views. Manicheism - the state religion of the Uighur kingdom in the 8th century - died out in the 20th century from its beginnings in Iran in the 3rd century AD. For a thousand years Zoroastrianism flourished throughout Central Asia but disappeared except for small communities in Iran, Pakistan and India.

Muslim Religion - Islam, meaning in Arabic "giving oneself up to God, submission" was founded at the beginning of the 7thc. AD on the Arabian Peninsula during the period of formation of the Arabian state of classes.   Islam was influenced by Christianity and Judaism, and partly by Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism. To be a Muslim you must accept the "five pillars of faith".

The first of them is utterance of the symbol of faith: "There is no God besides Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet".  Muslims are also committed to praying every day, keeping the fasts, giving alms (zakat), and to making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives (hadj). Other religious ceremonies and rituals of Islam such as the Muslim holidays as well as the "pillars of faith" are of great importance for preserving and increasing influence of the religion over its believers.

Since its birth, Islam, like other religions, has been constantly changing. The division of Islam into three different sections- the Sunni, Shi'a and Sufi sects, stimulated the ideological development of the religion. With the exception of  small groups of Persians, and Kurds living in Turkmenistan and the Bukhara region of Uzbekistan, all the Muslims of the Central Asia are Sunnis. Shiites also live in the Gorno - Badakhshan autonomous province of Tajikistan, within a sect called Ismailites. Groups of followers of varieties of mystical and ascetic Moslem teachings of Sufism (Muridism) which can be  both Sunni and Shia are active in Chechnya and Ingushetia, and in some districts of Dagestan and Kazakhstan.

The Mir-Arab Madrasah in Bukhara where students are trained to become Muslim clergy, also has a school where Shiite clergy students are taught. Madrasahs are also found in Samarkand. There is an Al-Bukhari Muslim Institute in Tashkent.


Sufism is a religious and philosophical Muslim teaching developed in the Arab countries in the 8thc.

The cause for the development of Sufism was the state of social conditions in Muslim countries. Sufism contains elements of New Platonism, Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and particularly Buddhism. In essence, Sufism propagates asceticism, pantheism, and mysticism. According to Sufism there are four steps leading to the state of perfection.

The first step is Sharia, or Muslim law, which requires unquestioning compliance. The second step, called "tarikat", requires the complete obedience of apprentices to their teachers and strengthening of the willpower by rejecting material interests. Having gone through this step, the third step, "marifat", can be reached when a man must use his heart and soul, not his intellect, to realize that the existence of the universe is in God, that the World is God's emanation and that the meaning of goodness and evil is relative, not absolute.

The fourth step, called "khakikat" (truth), can be reached only after the previous three have been mastered. "Achieving, knowing the truth" means "the end of the Sufi as a personality", his attaining enlightenment and merging with God into one being, which provides eternal existence. Sufis have to practice special exercises (meditations) to attain these goals.

Sufism spread over the countries of Near East, northern India, Indonesia, and Southwest China. In Maverounahr (covering neally all of Uzbekistan), Sufism became widely practiced during the period of the feudal wars in the second half of the 9th to the beginning of the 10th centuries. The first Sufi chief in Maverounahr was Yusuf Khamadaniy (the 12thc.). Later followed such highly respected Sufis as Abdulkhalik Gizhduvaniy and Akhmad Yassaviy.  During the 14th and 15th centuries "Naqshabandiya order" founded by Bahovutdin Nukshbandiy in Bukhara became the dominant Sufi order.

In Khorezm the rise of Sufism was aided by its isolation whilst its neighbours in Persia had converted to the Shiite branch of Islam, Khiva stayed Sunni. This led to Khorezm, already a remote location surrounded by two deserts, becoming even more detached from much of the western Sunni world, leaving Islam in Khorezm to develop in relative isolation. Although native scholars such as Al Khorezmi travelled extensively and many pious Khivans would make the haj to Mecca, the greatest outside religious influence on Khiva arrived as result of the wandering Sufis whose extensive pilgrimages took them to the city. They would share news from the outside world and update the religious community on new practises.

Buddhism in Central Asia - During the Kushan period various religious systems were widespread in Central Asia. These were the local cult of Mitra and Anahit, Zoroastrian pantheon (Ormuzd, Veretzanga, etc.) the Greek pantheon (Jupiter, Heliosis, Celen, etc.) and the cult of local heroes (Siyavush in Khorezm and Sogd) and Buddhism.Buddhism was banished from Iran in the 2nd- 3rd centuries and found support in Central Asia, where Buddhism became widely practiced. According to Chinese chronicles Buddhism came to China in 147 AD from the country of the "big yue dzhi", and thanks to the Kushan missionaries Buddhism was adopted as the official religion of the court of the Chinese emperor, Khuan-Di (147-167).

During the archeological excavations in Khorezm (Bazaar-Kala, Gyaur-Kala, Gyaz-Kala) and Sogd (tali-barzu, Zohak-i-Maron castle, Er-Kurgan and others) it was found out that many settlements and castles dated back to the Kushan period. But the largest number of traces of Buddhist culture during the Kushan period today is found in Tolharistan "old Termez" were architectural fragments dating back to the Kushan period have been found.

Zoroastrianism is a system of religious beliefs, which spread through the territory of ancient Iran and Central Asia in the 7th-6thc. BC. Zoroaster (Zaraustra) is the prophet of Zoroastrianism he lived approximately in the first half of the 6th c. BC. He wrote the most ancient part of the holy book of Zoroastrianism "Avesta" in Khoresm. According to legend, Zoroaster lived and preached in Khoresm and Bactria when King Vishtasp ruled there. The king was the first monarch to adopt Zoroastrianism.

In the following chapters of Avesta Zoroaster was described as a legendary fighter who had not only used words and miracles, but also material weapons against evil spirits. Uzbekistan and the holy sites of Zoroastrianism are inseparable: in Samarkand is found the ancient settlement called Afrosiab, which is the name of the hero from "Avesta"; Bukhara is one of the most ancient Uzbek towns, and was founded on a sacred hill of spring offerings worshipped by ancient Zoroastrians, at the tomb of saint Siyavush.

Throughout the centuries, Zoroastrianism has changed, both in meaning and in form. During the rule of the Arshakids and the Sasanids in Central Asia, Zoroastrianism was the official religion. The most ancient site in Bukhara is the Ark fortress, which was built no later than the 1st millennium BC. The fortress dates back to the time when Afrosiab and Siyavush, the legendary hero mentioned in Avesta, ruled. According to the legends, Siyavush was buried inside the fortress beside its eastern gate, where Bukhara Zoroastrians laid their offerings. In Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, Chilanzar Ak-Tepa was the cult centre of the Zoroastrians.  Khoresm is considered by Zoroastrians to be integral to the survival of the religion, in part as it was the Khorezm King Vishtaspa who welcomed the fleeing Prophet Zoroaster and after conversion became a vital patron of the faith.

Christians in Central Asia  - The original christians in Central Asia were made up of sects that had been branded heretics and driven out of Christendom, these included the Marianites, (who believed that the Holy Trinity was made up of Father, Son and Holy Virgin Mary) the Collyridians, Ebionites, Eutchyians, Monophysites and Arians. However, it was the Nestorians who became the largest, most influencial and most widely spread of these Christian sects, leaving Central Asia with a millenium of Christianity. Born out of a theological schism in the Church regarding the deity of Christ the followers of Nestorius moved first to Turkey and then east to Persia and beyond.

Christianity, like Buddhism and Islam, travelled along the trade routes of the Silk Road, moving ever Eastwards. The Nestorians are credited with teaching various Turkic groups to read their own languages. In Hojelli, near Nukus, still contains ruins with crosses on them located near sacred burial sites.

In 644 the King of Merv, (in modern day Turkmenistan) converted and by the eighth century Christianity was well entrenched in Bukhara and the region around the Oxus river. Crosses and other Christian imagery appear on the coinage of that region. The Arab invasion of Central Asia led to many, including some Christians to convert to Islam.

Nestorian Christianity is also thought to have influenced Islam due to the meetings of the teenage Mohammed with a Nestorian Monk in Syria. They had many theological discussions which may have led to Mohammed's sympathy with the 'people of the book'. He is also thought to have been influenced by the Nestorians strong opposition towards images, rejecting icons and crucifixes. Al Beruni, the historian from Khiva, referred to the Nestorians as the most civilised of the Christian groups under the Caliphate. They are reputed to have passed on Greek medical, mathematical and other academic knowledge to the Arabs who in turn were to reintroduce them back to Europe.
Today's Christians in Central Asia consist primarily of Europeans – mainly Russians, Germans, Poles, Armenians, and Greeks. At present, large Orthodox communities exist in Kazakhstan (4,500,000), Kyrgyzstan (600,000), and Uzbekistan (at least 500,000), with tens of thousands in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. These communities have close ties to members of the majority Muslim population are well accepted.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union unfortunately there was an element of fundamentalist missionary activity that attempted to introduce alien western culture into the region and whose activities in some instances clearly was linked to US hegemony rather than spreading the word of God. On a human level these so called missionaries attacked local culture by attempting to break the strong family links which are so essential to the well being of these societies (much the same as they have done in other parts of the world). Due to these activities they are no longer generally welcome in Uzbekistan and a number of other Central Asian states.

Sources: and

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The First Man Gayomard (Adam) the Zoroastrian Creation Story

Archaeological Complex of Mizdakhan and the Zoroastrian Creation Story

According to the  ancient Zoroastrian Cosmology (the worlds first monotheist religion)  Mashya and Mashyana were the man and woman whose procreation gave rise to the human race.

In the beginning, there was nothing in the world except Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, who lived in the Endless Light. And the Evil Spirit, Ahriman, who lived in the Absolute Darkness. Between them lay only emptiness.

One day, Ahura Mazda decided to make different creations. First He shaped the sky made of metal, shinning and bright. Second, He made the pure water. Third, the Wise Lord created the Earth, flat and round with no mountains and valleys. Fourth, He made the plants, moist and sweet with no bark or thorn. Fifth, he created the animals, big and small. Then he created the First Man, Gayomard, bright, tall, and handsome. And lastly, he created Fire and distributed it within the whole creation. The Wise Lord ordered Fire to serve the mankind in preparing food and overcoming cold.

The Evil Spirit peeked out of his dark world to see the Wise Lord’s beautiful creations. The Wise Lord called him and said, "Evil Spirit! Aid my creatures and give them praise so that you will be immortal."

The Evil Spirit snarled, "Why should I aid your creatures? Why should I praise them? I am more powerful! I will destroy you and your creatures for ever and ever." Then he crawled back to his dark side to shape demons, witches, and monsters to attack the Endless Light.

The Wise Lord was All-knowing. He knew the Evil Spirit was making demons to destroy His good creations, and He also knew there would be a great battle with the Dark.   So the Wise Lord fashioned six Spirits-the Holy Immortals- to guard His creations against the Endless Dark. The Wise Lord shaped the Holy Immortals from His own soul, each having His own nature.

The first Holy Spirit was Khashathra, the Righteous Power, who became the guardian of the sky. Then the Wise Lord created Haurvatat, the Peace and Perfection. She became the protector of waters. Next was Spenta Armaiti, the Holy Devotion. She guarded the Earth. The other Holy Spirit, Ameretat, the Immortality, became the protector of plants. Vohu Manah, the Good Mind, was the fifth Holy Spirit. He chose to protect the animals. And Asha Vahishta, the Justice, became the guardian of Fire. Lastly, the Wise Lord made His own Holy Spirit the protector of the mankind.

Ahriman saw the Wise Lord’s Holy Immortals and was enraged. He cried, "Ahura Mazda! I will destroy you and all your creations. You will never be victorious!"
So, he and his demons attacked the God’s creations one by one.

They tried to destroy the water but they could only bring bitterness to it. They tried to destroy the Earth but they could only put mountains and valleys. They tried to wither the plants but the plants only grew thorns.

The Evil Spirit and his demons brought sadness against happiness, pain against pleasure, pollution against purification and death against life. They attacked Gayomard, the First man, and gave him sickness and death. The Evil Spirit thought he had destroyed the mankind and became victorious against the Light! But he was ignorant and foolish.

When Gayomard, the First Man, died from his bones grew a rhubarb plant. After forty years, a man and a woman, Mashya and Mashyana, grew out of the rhubarb plant. Mashya and Mashyana promised the Wise Lord that their children would help Him in His battle with Ahriman. They promised to aid him in his battle with Ahriman, and Mashyana gave birth to fifteen sets of twins which scattered around the Earth and became the races of mankind.

Legend has it that the tomb of Adam (muslim name for Garyomard) lies within the ancient settlement of Mizdakhan which is located on three hills on the outskirts of Khodjeyli (19km south of Nukus). The historical and archaeological complex Mizdakhan was likley the City of Mazda that is mentioned in the "Avesta", named in honour of Ahura Mazda. On one of the lower hills of Mizdakhan contains majestic ruins of the ancient city Gyaur-kala - "Fortress of infidels", The Arabs named this fortress due to the 70-year resistance of the Zorastrian priest caste against the imposition of Islam. Archaeologists have determined that a ten-meter cultural layer of Gyaur Kala covers the period of the 4th century BC – the 13th century AD until the city was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan.

Al-athar al baqiya (Vestige of the Past) by Al-Biruni (MS 161): Ahriman Inducing Mashya and Mashyana to Eat the Fruit (Zoroastrian version of Adam and Eve story)  School of Tabriz

(ED: In the Uzbek language the word “Adam” has still preserved its original meaning - “adam” from Uzbek is translated as “man”. The legend of Adam's apple is still pronounced as a direct prohibition of God - “Do not take!” (“olma” from Uzbek is translated not just as “apple”, but also as a verb in negative form - “do not take”, “ol” means “take”, “ma” is a negative suffix)).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Congratulations with Victory Day - Great Patriotic War (WW2)

Great Patriotic War (WW2)

Congratulations with Victory Day  

Поздравления с Днем Победы !

Go to the Savitsky Karakalpakstan Art Museum  facebook site to see a full size version of  "I'm back". Bekanov J. 1975., oil on canvas ("Я вернулся". Беканов Ж. 1975г., холст, масло) and other great artworks that are on display at the Museum in Nukus, Karakalpakstan.

On June 22, 1941 Germany in violation of the non-aggression pact suddenly attacked the USSR. During the years 1941 - 1943 the Uzbek SSR was to receive and place some one million displaced people from the Russian SSR, Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR. Among them 200,000 children.  By mid 1941 more than one hundred industrial enterprises were moved to Uzbekistan including the Leningrad factory for textile machinery, Rostselmash, "Krasniy Aksay" Stalingrad Chemical plant, Moscow factories "Podemnik", "Elektrostanok", and many others. By early 1942 nearly all of these relocated enterprises were once again operating at or above full capacity. In addition during the years 1941 - 1945 some 280 new industrial enterprises were also put into operation. Enterprises such at Tashselmash (locomotive repair), Chirchik (electrochemicals), Bekabad (metallurgical) and Almalyk (copper mining) opened in these years. Uzbekistan also became one of the leading arsenals of the country supplying aircraft, aircraft engines, armoured trains and other military machinery and large amounts of munitions. There were also relocated scientific research institutions and institutes of higher education. By late 1944 some 22 scientific institutions and 41 institutes of Higher education were functioning.  More than 20,000 specialists were trained during the war at those institutions. About one million citizens living in what is now Uzbekistan also fought in front lines. Tens of national force units were created. Many of them were awarded with orders and military rank of guardsmen. The soldiers of Uzbek SSR took part in the defence of Brest fortress and the cities of Kiev, Smolensk, Odessa, Sevastopol, Moscow and many other battles. (Ed: Military losses from the Uzbek SSR during the war at some 400,000 were greater than that of the United States).

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Disappearing Balbal Statues of the Steppe

Ancient nomads are virtually invisible in the archaeological record, as they left few traces of their lifestyle behind. Unlike sedentary populations, nomads did not have permanent structures, nor did they use pottery and ceramics, which are easily breakable for people on the move.

Nevertheless, across the Eurasian steppe, ancient nomadic populations did leave a lasting mark on the world - the mysterious Balbal statues which stand like sentries in the vast plain of land that stretches from Ukraine to Mongolia.

In the Eurasian Steppe, the nomadic Turkic and Mongol tribes were said to have had a variety funerary customs. Apart from burial and cremation, these nomads also practised abandonment and the exposure of corpses in trees.

It is claimed however, that there was a change in practice around A.D. 628, as the Annals of the Suei record that the Turkic nomads changed their funerary customs from cremation to burial.

Some burial sites were unmarked, most famously perhaps in the case of Genghis Khan. Other burials, however, were more conspicuous in the landscape, and marked with the erection of a temple, inscribed stelae or balbals.

The word balbal exists in several languages of the Steppe region, including Russian, Ukrainian and the Kazakh/Karakalpak language. It has been suggested that balbal is derived from the Turkic word baba, meaning ‘father’ or ‘ancestor’.

Generally speaking, balbals are pieces of stone or wood stuck into the ground. They would often depict a human figure. Most balbals are between half a metre to two metres in height, and are depicted standing upright.

Although both male and female balblas exist, the former are much more numerous than the latter. On one hand, there are relatively plain balbals, in which a flat body is topped by a head with facial features carved on it.

On the other, there are balbals with lots of fine detail. For instance, some balbals are depicted holding bowls, whilst others are carved with weapons on their belts, yet others are shown with jewelry, such as ear-rings.

Althrogh there are numerous balbals across the Eurasian Steppe, archaeologists are unable to agree on whom the balbals were depicting. Judging from the objects depicted on the balbals, it has been suggested that these were high status or famous warriors in their tribes.

“The Comans (a Turkic nomadic tribe) raise a great tumulus over the dead, and set up a statue to him, its face to the east, and holding a cup in its hand at the height of the navel.”

On the other hand, it has been speculated that the balbals actually depict the enemies vanquished by the deceased, or who were executed during the funeral. There are also those who believe that the balbals are cult objects that possess magical powers.

In the south of Kazakhstan, for example, locals have been offering sacrifices to the balbals in order to appease the spirits. It is also believed that the balblas there have the ability to resolve problems brought before them.

By the 10th century, the production of balbals, particularly in the steppes of Central Asia, declined drastically. This due to the arrival of Islam, which forbade the depiction of human images. Nevertheless, the balbals made in earlier centuries have survived until today, an indication of the region’s pre-Islamic past. The number of balbals has been decreasing each year, as they have been stolen, broken up and even destroyed.

This problem was highlighted as early as the middle of the 20th century by the Kazakhstani scholar Alkei Margulan, and is still persisting today. It is vital that the balbals are preserved so that the heritage of the ancient nomads of the Eurasian Steppe may be handed down to future generations.