Extract

Tribe and Tribulation

How the Kırghız came to Van

After years of wandering in western China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a group of Kirghiz have finally made a lasting home in the highlands of eastern Anatolia. The historian Hasan Ali Karasar, who as a boy in Van witnessed their arrival, recounts their extraordinary tale. Photographs by Jonathan Henderson

A few years ago, eastern Anatolia acquired a piece of living archaeology in the newly built village of Ulu Pamir. To find it, drive northwards from the town of Van and turn off after eighty kilometres or so and you come to this Kirghiz village, whose inhabitants are a calling-card from the Turkic past. They are not just Kirghiz, from far away in Central Asia, on the Chinese border. They represent the Kirghiz way of life as it was before the Soviet Union all but extinguished it in the 1920s and 1930s.

The village was named Ulu Pamir, meaning Great Pamir, because the Kirghiz inhabited the Pamir mountain ranges of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Nowadays, these former Soviet republics are independent states, but three generations of sovietisation reduced the Kirghiz culture there to little more than folklore. That is why musicologists and other people in search of authentic Kirghiz culture as it used to be descend on Turkey’s Kirghiz village.

For the Turks and Kurds around Ulu Pamir, the Kirghiz must be as distinctive as are the Amish to the ordinary citizens of Pennsylvania. Women of obviously Asiatic origin shop in the small towns of the area dressed in traditional Kirghiz red skirts. But the villagers have no difficulty speaking good Anatolian Turkish. By a strange twist of migration dating back hundreds of years, Kirghiz is linguistically closer to Anatolian Turkish than are other Turkic languages, such as Kazakh or Uzbek, spoken in countries geographically nearer to Turkey.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 33

Issue 33, 2005 Great Exhibitions
£12.00 / $16.73 / 68.45 TL
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Buy the issue
Issue 33, 2005 Great Exhibitions
£12.00 / $16.73 / 68.45 TL
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