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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.

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Issue 33, 2005 Great Exhibitions
£12.00 / $15.31 / €14.23
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 33
  • Walking the Taurus

    Kate Clow, creator of Turkey’s first official walking route, has done it again. Caroline Finkel joined her on the new St Paul Trail, which crosses southern Turkey’s giant Taurus range. The photographs in this stunning 14-page article are by Kate Clow with Terry Richardson

  • Simply Sensational

    The börek has an extensive place in Turkey’s culinary repertoire, and the choice of fillings is infinite. From cheese to spicy ground meat or suateéd meat cubes with nuts and raisins; from chicken or turkey to fish and lentils; from offal such as brain or tripe to vegetables – the list is almost endless.
    More cookery features

  • On Your Marques

    Brave new wines from Turkey. Kevin Gould on the independent spirit of Turkish wine makers. Photograph by Berrin Torolsan

  • Mezes: Starting from the top

    Old favourites and new attractions: Andrew Finkel samples Istanbul’s best meyhanes. Photographs by Simon Wheeler

  • Speechless in Samarkand

    The most wondrous tiled dome, the biggest and best-ever food bazaar, the most handsome man in the world… Uzbekistan, as Min Hogg discovers, inspires a profusion of superlatives, even if she tangles with the transport. In Samarkand, Tamerlane’s fabled capital, she finds herself lost for words. Photographs by Min Hogg

  • Riddle of the Runes

    After years of delving deep into the origins of writing and language Kâzım Mirşan has put forward an astonishing claim: that at the root of it all is an ancient, proto-Turkish mother tongue. Genius or dreamer? Christian Tyler meets a man whose hypotheses threaten to turn the very history of man on its head.

  • One Thousand Years of Splendour

    A special report on the Royal Academy’s amazing ‘Turks’ exhibition

Buy the issue
Issue 33, 2005 Great Exhibitions
£12.00 / $15.31 / 495.75 TL
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