Exhibition "Struggles and Dreams of Central Asia"

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EXHIBITION

Struggles and Dreams of Central Asia

This exhibition features vignettes exploring the lives of multiple people throughout Central Asia. The photographs arranged here present the lesser-known struggles that the numerous peoples of Central Asia have been burdened with. Many of these problems have been ongoing for generations, but each is inherently modern as well, bridging the chasm between the traditional troubles of old and the issues of the modern day.

This exhibition features vignettes exploring the lives of multiple people throughout Central Asia. The photographs arranged here present the lesser-known struggles that the numerous peoples of Central Asia have been burdened with. Many of these problems have been ongoing for generations, but each is inherently modern as well, bridging the chasm between the traditional troubles of old and the issues of the modern day. Whether this be the patriarchal societal structures that reserve for women only the roles of housekeeper, caretaker, and guardian of the family’s honor; age-based hierarchies that invalidate the ideas of the youth; and the destruction of the region’s many critical ecosystems in the pursuit of short-term profits, all of these issues shed light on the lattice of social, legal, economic and environmental concerns that have weighed the region down and have littered its path to development with stones and potholes.

The exhibition Struggles and Dreams of Central Asia features 10 photographic series created by artists, activists, civil society actors, journalists, and photographers around such topics as gender and women’s rights, environment and climate, democratic youth organizing, security and resilience. Though these topics may be separate from each other, they cannot be understood independently, as they all explore a common set of problems: neo-liberal capitalism, patriarchy, and colonial heritage.

Moreover, rather than making these problems the focal point, this exhibition seeks to shed light on the people who struggle and fight to bring much-needed changes to Central Asia.

The guests of the exhibition are invited to learn about how local groups, organizations, activists, and artists organize themselves, as well as the methods they use to raise awareness and start dialogs about these pressing issues.

We invite our guests to learn more about Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and to reflect on their own positions as citizens from the Global North.

This exhibition was created by Central Asia Solidarity Groups (CAG) and co-curated by Saltanat Shoshanova, an Art Historian and independent researcher from Kazakhstan, currently based in Berlin. It was created with financial support from SIDA and managed through ForumCiv. ForumCiv/SIDA do not necessarily share the views expressed in this exhibition. This exhibition started touring Sweden in the fall of 2022 and will continue doing so throughout the upcoming years.

Index

About Central Asia 4 Central Asia Solidarity Groups 5

Part 1. Gender and Women’s Rights 6

Part 2. Democratic Youth Organizing 14

Part 3. Climate and environment 28

Part 4. Security and Resilience 44

About Central Asia

Central Asia comprises five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The countries attained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and pursued their own paths toward nation-building and self-determination in the international arena as independent states. Central Asia is located in the heart of the Eurasian continent and has extensive untapped reserves of gas and oil, as well as coal, chrome, zinc, and uranium. Those natural resources have attracted the attention of China, the USA, Russia, and the European Union, which all pursue different interests and have different influences in the region.

As a relatively young region with only thirty years of independent history, Central Asia is still forming its complex political systems and societies. The region continues to undergo political readjustment from the old socialist policies of the Soviet Union to new democratic systems. These systems are often subject to high levels of authoritarian rule and corruption in both business and politics. In the international arena, Central Asian republics have unflattering reputations when it comes to human rights, freedom of expression, suppressive legislation that limits the operation of its civil societies, torture, and persecutions, as well as many other issues.

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Central Asia Solidarity Groups

Central Asia Solidarity Groups (Swedish: Centralasiengrupperna, abbreviated CAG) is a politically and religiously independent non-profit organization founded in 2012. Our goal is to promote a democratic Central Asia with a strong, active, competent and inclusive civil society that contributes to human rights being respected, marginalization removed and social justice achieved. Our geographic focus is on Central Asia, which consists of the five post-Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

Since 2009, Central Asia Solidarity Groups have experience in the fields of development cooperation focusing on long-term solidarity work and close cooperation with civil society actors in Central Asia. We operate within four thematic working areas:

1. Gender and women’s rights

2. Democratic youth organizing 3. Climate and environment

4. Security and resilience

As a logical continuation of CAG’s work, these four topics became focal points for the exhibition. The organization exhibits the work of local actors, who are involved in the work of organizations, initiatives, artist collectives dealing with those problems in Central Asia. CAG wishes you an insightful journey through the region!

How You Can Support

You can become a member of CAG. This ensures a stable budget for our long-term efforts in Central Asia. Within CAG, funds such as membership fees are used directly to cover the costs of our projects and collaborations in Central Asia. In other words, it is thanks to your support that we can facilitate people’s struggle for influence, democracy, and rights in post-Soviet Central Asia. The membership fee is 25kr a month or more, paid by monthly direct debit. You can apply for membership online at www.centralasien.org

You can support these initiatives through a donation of any amount to the CAG bank account: Swish: 1233698479

For your Bankgiro: 316-1338

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Part 1. Gender and Women’s Rights

In June 2020, a shocking case of domestic violence shattered Kyrgyz society. A video of a man torturing his wife — in which she is beaten up and has a bucket of cold water poured on her while being forced to wear heavy car tires filled with stones — was spread on the internet. The couple lives in the small village of Suzak. After the woman filed a police report, the husband was detained for 15 days, however she later recanted and the case was closed. Such outcomes are often the case when the victim is blamed and coerced into silence by both family members and the police as a result of social norms and the widespread idea that domestic violence is a family matter.

Equal rights for women, non-binary and trans* people do not exist anywhere in the world. However, in some parts of the globe, these groups are deprived of basic needs and freedoms in both the private and public spheres. In Kyrgyzstan, despite its illegality, the practice of ala kachuu – bride kidnapping – still remains a widespread problem. Young girls usually cannot escape from their abductors and are pressured into marrying a stranger. For many, marriage at a young age forecloses educational and professional opportunities later in life. Bride kidnapping is often

accompanied by rape and other forms of violence. According to UN Women statistics, experiences of some form of gender-based violence have been reported by around 30% of women in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and nearly 20% of women in Kazakhstan. While there is no official data available on genderbased violence in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, reports suggest that the issue is a major problem in these countries as well. One can argue that these statistics may be even higher than officially claimed. For comparison, Swedish statistics are also unsettling: more than a third (34%) of all Swedish women have experienced sexual violence at least once since their fifteenth birthday. However, in Sweden, different definitions of gender-based violence are used in addition to more or less responsive institutions. This leads to a higher percentage of registered cases. In Central Asia, the lack of institutional and governmental support of women, in regards to inequality and violence, makes it impossible for them to report and escape abusive environments.

The story from Suzak gained a wide response in the Kyrgyz society, especially among activist and artistic circles:

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[This is] surreal. I don’t even want to imagine that somewhere women live in such conditions. I didn’t read the articles. I don’t want to remember names and other details. I don’t want it to become a part of my life. I just want the bastard to burn in hell.

— Alongside these words, artist Tatyana Zelenskaya posted an artwork A Woman from Suzak (2020) on her social media.

Zelenskaya depicted a woman standing alone on the hill. Her hands are tied behind her back and car tires weigh down her upper body. We do not see her face; she is broken, dehumanized by the atrocities of her husband and the government’s inaction.

Kyzyl Kamchy Synysyn (2020) by Altyn Kapalova provides us with a more optimistic call to action. In this work, the artist stands on a field of broken car tires, as a reference to the Suzak case, holding a sign that says “Let the Red Whip Break”. In the Kyrgyz language, the term kyzyl kamchy, or “red whip”, is a generic term that is used to describe men who beat women. Kapalova uses this sign as an artistic intervention and puts it out everywhere — in villages, at rallies, in scorched fields, on roadways, etc. She has been doing this since the 2020 Women’s Day March in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; the event was infamously stormed by groups of conservative, right-wing men, who were followed by police officers that brutally dispersed the marchers. In Central Asia, feminist movements are neither supported nor welcomed by the state. Furthermore, such movements are blamed for the introduction of so-called “western values” and are thus perceived as an assault on the traditional values of Central Asian societies. Discourses containing terms such as ‘domestic violence, ‘nondiscrimination’ and ‘gender topics’ are thereby discredited for breaking the traditions of the country. Despite this pressure and a lack of support in some cities such as Bishkek and Almaty, Women’s Marches are still happening.

In 2021, Ayday Tokoeva presented a performance titled No Femicide! (2021) during the march. She began her performance with the following words:

Kyrgyz people say – “girls should be respected and revered for their forty braids”. But for some reason you rarely hear that from people nowadays. Today more often you’ll hear – “girls are banned from forty different places”.

Simultaneously, two other women braided Tokoeva’s hair and tied it with white ribbons on which the motives of the men killing their wives or partners were written.

In this case she was beaten by her husband and dragged into a cold house, and when his heart had measured out [the love for her], he set her on fire to hide his shame, Tokoeva continued. Finally the artist cut her braids in protest against the violence of the patriarchy.

Over the course of the past 10 years, CAG has supported initiatives, organizations, and activists in their struggle to uphold and promote the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community in Central Asia. CAG’s collaborations are tailored to the needs of our partners in the region. For example, in 2018 CAG supported the initiation of the first 8th of March demonstration in the Kyrgyz city of Osh together with our partner organization Novi Ritm. The demonstration resonated in the southern region of Kyrgyzstan and sparked debate regarding the rights of women and also laid the foundation for the next year’s demonstrations. CAG also provided support to a network of organizations in the region working with questions about gender and cyber security routines to ensure that activists and organizations are able to work in safer environments. It is important for CAG to create long-term collaborations that are based on mutual trust, common ideas, and a common mission. This sustainability is what we have successfully achieved during our years of working in the region.

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Altyn Kapalova (Kyrgyzstan, b. 1983)

Let the Red Whip Break (2020)

Kyzyl Kamchy Synysyn ( in Engl.: Let the Red Whip Break) is a series of art-protests against patriarchal violence. The Red Whip is an euphemism for violent men who beat their wives and partners. Artist and activist Altyn Kapalova was detained by the police during the Women’s March in 2022 and deprived of her right to protest. Since then she puts up this poster everywhere: in villages, at rallies, in scorched fields, on roadways, etc.

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Tatiana Zelenskaya (Kyrgyzstan, b. 1984)

A Woman from Suzak (2020)

A Kyrgyz artist and illustrator Tatiana Zelenskaya created her piece A Woman from Suzak as a reaction to a violent and shocking case of domestic violence that took place in a small village of Suzak. A video of a man torturing his wife — by beating her up and pouring cold water out of a bucket on her, while she is forced to wear heavy car tires filled with stones — was spread on the internet and shattered Kyrgyz society.

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No Femicide! (2021)

On March 8, 2021 a peaceful protest for women’s rights took place in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Around 600 people took part in the march. It concluded with a performance by activist Ayday No Femicide! which aimed to raise awareness of gender-based murders in Kyrgyzstan. Photo documentation by Lex Titova.

(Kyrgyzstan, b. 1994)

No Femicide! (2021)

Tokoeva reads her manifesto, while two other women braid her hair with white ribbons on which the motives of the men killing their wives or partners were written. Photo documentation by Lex Titova.

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Part 2. Democratic Youth Organizing

Ruslan loves colorful makeup, jewelry, and gendernon-conforming clothes. To look like this while going through the city of Tashkent would be impossible due to the physical danger it would put the wearer in. Ruslan’s safe spaces are his work, home, and his photo studio, where he can express himself freely. As a continuation of those spaces, he dreams of “developed and tolerant countries, where people think differently”. With her series If There Were No Society (2021) photographer, Kamila Rustambekova explores young people’s desires and dreams. These young people live in Uzbekistan and constantly feel society’s pressure on how to look, how to behave and to self-express.

A post-soviet, oriental environment is aggressive towards everything new and bright. In our society, where oriental mentality and religion dominate, it can be physically dangerous to look the way you feel comfortable. For a couple of hours my heroes appeared before me in their desired looks in places where they feel safe.

— The author explains the idea behind the project.

Similar to Ruslan, Hristina also idealizes Europe as the place to be, and dreams of a full body tattoo mimicking zebra stripes. However, in her environment tattoos are considered to be a mark of belonging to marginalized groups and are associated with prison culture. Dima turns his gaze to the past, to the 18th century “Dreamy Asia” as he calls it, a symbol “of something infinite and wise as the desert, subtle and mysterious as a half-moon in the night, texture in its identity”. In this self-exoticized dream of a fairy-talelike past, where some other mode of existence was possible, one can find refuge and freedom. Marked by age-based hierarchies, Central Asian societies grant only little voice to young people.

Decisions that affect them and their futures rarely embrace perspectives coming from the youth. Intensive socio-economic and political transformations that affected the region in the past decades severely limit the ability of young people to actively and meaningfully participate in civil society. The youth of the region, who make up 24 % of the overall population of the Central Asian countries, are particularly exposed to poverty as a result of unemployment, health issues connected to bad infrastructures and environmental degradation, problems related to sexual and reproductive health, and lack of civil rights due to persistent state corruption. Limited knowledge and poor advocacy channels cause youth in the region to experience difficulties in being able to exert influence on their life situation as well as claim their human and democratic rights. Adolescent boys and young men are often forced into labor migration (particularly to Russia) where they are subjected to underpaid work under inhumane conditions. Girls are forced into early marriages in many parts of the region, and as a consequence are deprived of educational and work opportunities and exposed to physical and reproductive violence.

Despite the fact that the legal age to marry for both women and men is 18 years old, arranged and early marriages are often carried out within tight-knit communities with the involvement of religious leaders. It is often the case that marriages are considered legitimate only if they are bound by a nikah ceremony (a religious ceremony for a Muslim couple to be legally wed under Islamic law), even if they ignore governmentmandated registration processes. This puts women in an extremely vulnerable situation since they are not usually entitled to any inheritance from their families. Their new family usually refuses to enter into any bonding contracts or agreements, which leads to situations in which women are forced to stay with an abuser under the threat of being left homeless, jobless, and rejected by their community and families.

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While men are less harmed by these practices, they often cannot express their opinions on the marriage since it is the parents of both sides that have the final say. This practice also deprives young men from being in control of their lives. In addition, homosexuality is punishable by law in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the majority of gay men end up either leaving their arranged marriages or committing suicide.

A prominent photographer from Uzbekistan, Umida Akhmedova, started her series titled Mothers and Daughters-in-law in 2011, in which she captures recently married young women with their mothers-in-law. Despite some shifts from the traditional engagement processes, there is still a high percentage of marriages that are arranged by parents. Mothers-in-law choose future brides for their sons and often are left to live with them if men leave the country for work. Akhmedova portrays the women embracing each other in front of suzani — embroidered tapestry covers and pillows — traditionally gifted during the engagement process and the wedding or brought by a bride as a part of her dowry. Women are photographed wearing traditionally embroidered dresses and headwear; brides display earrings and rings they were gifted by the groom’s side during the engagement.

After the wedding, the bride becomes a kelin, a daughter-in-law, and finds herself at the lowest position in the family hierarchy. This is typical for every country in Central Asia, even the word kelin is universal across the majority of languages in Central Asia. In traditional families, a kelin lives with her husband’s family. Her duties include all household chores, including serving her husband’s parents, her husband, her own children and the children of her husband’s brothers if they live under the same roof. In this case, the housework could be divided among several daughters-in-law. A kelin must obey not only her husband’s will, but also that of other older family members. Mothers-in-law often abuse their powers and create unbearable conditions of living for their daughters-in-law:

The first period lasts from one to three years, until the mother-in-law, so to speak, “calms down” and stops picking on everything she can. You have to be “on the hizmat” (on the serve) all the time and not in any way disobey the older woman at home. In Khujand, you can see this in every other married couple. I myself was able to last three years with my mother-in-law, and then my husband and I moved out to a separate apartment.

My husband’s older brother had two wives, and both couldn’t stand it, one after the other they ran away from the oppression of their mother-in-law.

— Zebo, a woman from Tajikistan recalls in her interview to a media outlet Azzatyk.

Although kelin is a life long status, later in life a woman can become a mother-in-law herself and get her own kelin, which in some cases creates a vicious circle of perpetual abuse.

Given the challenges that the young people face across Central Asia, CAG has been providing long-term support to a number of organizations. For example, CAG has been deeply involved and supportive of the Kyrgyzstani organization Novi Ritm Novi Ritm is a place where young people can get together to discuss, exchange ideas and develop their leadership, teamwork skills and get knowledge on human rights, gender equality, environmental issues, climate change, and conflict prevention. CAG has provided Novi Ritm with capacity building, financial support, coaching, training, and exchange program opportunities for the youth leaders of the organization. One area that CAG focuses on is the foundation of democratic structures within organizations. Many youth organizations are organized in a top-down, hierarchical manner that reflects the tendencies of the societies they emerge from. CAG seeks to discourage these types of organizational structures, and opts to instead support the creation of democratic spaces that function as multicultural meeting places and safe spaces for marginalized communities that can act as incubators for human rights-based youth work and much more. Through our collaboration with Novi Ritm, activists have highlighted this aspect again and again – the value of having a physical place where youth can be and become themselves; where they can develop knowledge, skills and abilities; collaborate and build various initiatives; make an impact on the local and national context. In addition to providing direct support to organizations, CAG has involved young people in long-term internship programs and exchange cycles to promote active democratic engagement, as well as to learn about new contexts and the working methods of grassroots organizations and movements in Sweden.

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Kamila Rustambekova (Uzbekistan, b. 1998)

If There Were No Society. Dima (2020)

A young photographer Kamila Rustambekova asked teenagers and young adults from Uzbekistan a simple question: What would you do if there were no society? Dima’s answer is: I would change my looks every day, but in most cases I’d embody my “Dreamy Asia” mood.

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Kamila Rustambekova (Uzbekistan, b. 1998)

If There Were No Society. Hristina (2020)

A young photographer Kamila Rustambekova asked teenagers and young adults from Uzbekistan a simple question: What would you do if there were no society? Hristina’s answer is: I would wear everything zebra and would even get a zebra print all over my body.

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Kamila Rustambekova (Uzbekistan, b. 1998)

If There Were No Society. Ruslan (2020)

A young photographer Kamila Rustambekova asked teenagers and young adults from Uzbekistan a simple question: What would you do if there were no society? Ruslan’s answer is: I would go out with makeup, I would like to wear makeup all the time, dress beautifully, and emphasize my figure.

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Umida Akhmedova (Uzbekistan, b. 1955)

Mothers- and Daughters-in-Law (2011)

In 2010, prominent photographer Umida Akhmedova was convicted of “slander of the Uzbek nation” for her media projects that touched upon gender and human rights issues in rural areas of Uzbekistan.

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Kamila Rustambekova (Uzbekistan, b. 1998)

Mothers- and Daughters-in-Law (2011)

The charges against Akhmedova for her photographic and documentary work carried a prison sentence of up to three years. However, the judge granted her an amnesty in honor of the 18th anniversary of Uzbek independence. Since 2010, she can not participate in any official exhibitions in Uzbekistan.

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Umida Akhmedova (Uzbekistan, b. 1955)

Mothers- and Daughters-in-Law (2011)

Despite all the controversy, Akhmedova continues to shed light on the lives of women from rural areas. In this series, she examines the complicated relationships between newlywed women and their mothers-in-laws affected by the traditions and patriarchal structures of Uzbek society.

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Part 3. Climate and environment

What kind of imagery comes to one’s mind when thinking about Central Asia? An idyllic steppe against the backdrop of magnificent mountains, a green jayloo (highland pasture) under a blue sky with heavy white clouds, cattle grazing here and there, white specks of yurts — these are the kinds of sceneries one usually associates with Central Asia. But if you look closer and see beyond the blooming poppies, the waters of the river will turn out to be not as clean as they appear, the mountains will turn out to be man-made hills of garbage, and the clouds will turn out to be swirls of smoke produced by trash fires.

The Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan gained their independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and have since been facing a growing number of economic, social and political challenges. While discussions regarding regional security and economic growth remain in the spotlight, the growing threat of climate change is largely being overlooked or ignored. According to the German Agency for International Cooperation (2017), the Central Asian region is suffering more than other regions of the world from the consequences of climate change. It is predicted that the expansion of deserts and arid areas – which already make up 80 percent of the region’s total territory – will continue. On top of that, above-average increases in temperature combined with water shortages are also being observed. In a longitudinal study, Zhang et al (2019) concluded that the annual mean temperature, mean maximum and minimum temperature in the region significantly increased at a rate far higher than the increasing rates either globally or across the Northern Hemisphere.

The exhibition shows photographs made by Vlad Ushakov and Iskender Aliev, who are a part of the civil society movement Ecostan. This movement aimed at informing and involving the population in the solving

of environmental problems, strengthening the role of public control over the use of natural resources, and increasing the responsibility of businesses for environmental violations. These three photographs were made at a landfill near the village of Altyn-Kazyk in Kyrgyzstan:

A twenty-minute drive from the center of Bishkek [the capital of Kyrgyzstan] and you already see the smoke of the landfill, you breathe it in. When we got to the residential area [nearby] the smell made me sick at first. Then you get used to it and sometimes it’s not so strong, depending on the direction of the wind, but landfill smoke is a part of everyday life for locals. The landfill is smoking around the clock, and in the evening, in addition to the smoke, it is also lit by the fire. You breathe in these acrid fumes mixed with the dust of the unpaved roads. Tonight I dreamt that the landfill was a part of Bishkek. Even though it’s really a part of Bishkek, we either don’t know about it or pretend to not know since it is hidden from our sight and smell for the most part. In reality we are all affected by it in varying degrees of intensity. For some of us it is lethal.

— artist and activist Diana Ukhina wrote as a reflection on her work with the people of Altyn-Kazyk.

Ukhina is one of co-founders of an artistic and activist initiative called Bishkek School of Contemporary Art (BiSCA). The school for several years organizes TRASH Festival, which addresses problems of environmental equality and creates a conscious dialogue between artists, activists, scientists, politicians, and the public.

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In 2021 the festival took place in Altyn-Kazyk, which is located very close to the Bishkek city dump. There is a drastic difference between the two worlds of Bishkek, the relatively clean and metropolitan capital city, and Altyn-Kazyk, where people live without clean water, cultural centers, libraries, cinemas and much more. The festival included lectures, performances, happenings, workshops, and an exhibition:

<...> art can raise political questions and involve people in saving the fragile balance of the environment. And it’s a great example of the struggle against reality when Power and Big Capital destroy Nature in their quest for superprofit. Twelve years ago, <...> we initiated the environmental festival TRASH. At the time, we had no idea how this experience would change our lives, not only with knowledge, but also with a worldview and sensitivity to the essence of life.

— another founder of BiSCA , Bermet Boronbayeva wrote about the festival.

The same approach to environmental problems was chosen by artists from Kazakhstan, who during the past few years have constantly brought people’s attention to a variety of local problems. One of them is the situation regarding the Taldykol Lakes in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. In 2020, the city administration announced plans to implement a project to build a park near the Big Taldykol Lake, and at the same time to drain the lake system of Small Taldykol, which consists of 7 water ponds. On this territory, they planned to build residential houses, social facilities, business centers, as well as a 2 Billion Euros tourist quarter. Eco-activists and concerned citizens of the city advocated for the preservation of Small Taldykol. Specialists also spoke out against the elimination of water pounds since it could lead to greater environmental problems connected to the complicated system of ground waters. Rare species of birds such as flamingos, pelicans and swans have long considered the lake their home. They eat there, live there and breed there.

In 2021 the artistic group Kadmii Qyzyl in cooperation with Artcom Platform, a contemporary art and public engagement initiative, held a performance in defense of Small Taldykol. Several women (some of them local residents) dressed in white, holding a long white cloth, began their procession along the lake. They were walking to the place where the backfilling of the Small Taldykol was being carried out. A truck drove toward them. The women got in its way, so the driver had to stop. Then they wrapped a white ribbon around the truck, and invited present spectators to hold hands and stand around it:

White clothing is the symbol of swans. A kimeshek [a headdress] is the kindness of our mothers. We did a performance: we walked around Taldykol, came to the backfill, stopped the truck. And with this white ribbon around it we made a nest,

— creator of the performance Aliya Kanibekova commented.

In March 2022, the administrative court of Astana imposed a ban on the construction along the perimeter of the lake. However, by June, activists reported that Lake No. 4 was not only being backfilled, but it was also having its water pumped out of it, draining the lake in the process. The fight for the Small Taldykol continues.

CAG primarily supports initiatives and groups working within four main areas: ecological restoration, environmental protection and conservation, climate adaptation for vulnerable communities, and the revival of ecological cultures. For example, CAG also partnered with the organization Little Earth from Tajikistan to support a number of these objectives: the improvement of living conditions of local communities; the sustainable use of local natural resources through the introduction of sustainable energy technologies; the raising of awareness among the local communities; and the empowering of local women in the Alichur community in Eastern Pamir, Tajikistan.

In addition, CAG ’s partners in Kyrgyzstan work to strengthen the capacity and ability of local communities of Cholpon rural municipality in the Kochkor district of Naryn province in the Kyrgyz Republic. They claim their rights and take control of their lives through sustainable governing, protecting and preserving the wetland ecosystems of Son Kul Lake, which is one of the International Bird and Biodiversity Areas The Institute for Sustainable Development Strategy provides opportunities for local communities, especially for women and youth, to exercise their rights to a healthy environment and equally participate in decision-making processes that affect their livelihoods, communities and environment. The exhibition shows what the pastures of Son-Kul are like. In the first photo, one can see vast meadows rich in vegetation, including medicinal plants and cereals. The pastures of Son-Kul are an important part of the food base for both waterfowl and other animals living in this area. The second photo shows land which has degraded due to overgrazing. Pasture degradation contributes both to desertification and an increase in the number of undesirable weeds. Climate change processes directly affect desertification and the shrinking of pasture areas, which leads to the destruction of the species diversity of wetlands.

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Art Group KADMII QYZYL (Kazakhstan)

ŞALQYMA (2021)

On the evening of September 14, 2021 with the support of the Artcom Platform several artists, members of the creative group KADMII QYZYL (in Engl.: cadmium red) held a performance Şalqyma (in Engl.: jubilation, the name of a folk tune) in defense of the lake Small Taldykol.

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Art Group KADMII QYZYL (Kazakhstan)

ŞALQYMA (2021)

The artists of KADMII QYZYL dressed as swans, representing the birds of the lake, demanded an immediate stop to the lake’s backfilling and called for the protection of biodiversity and the entire ecosystem of the natural lakes of Small Taldykol. Artists walked around the lake and built a nest from the white cloth.

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Ecostan Society Movement (Kyrgyzstan)

Altyn-Kazyk Landfill (2021)

Ecostan is a civil society movement that informs and involves the population in solving environmental problems. Co-founder of the movement and photographer Vlad Ushakov captured the landfill near the village AltynKazyk in Kyrgyzstan.

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Ecostan Society Movement (Kyrgyzstan)

Altyn-Kazyk Landfill (2021)

Poppies blooming against the background of a smoking landfill near the village AltynKazyk in Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Vlad Ushakov.

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Ecostan Society Movement (Kyrgyzstan)

A Garbage Sorter (2021)

A female garbage sorter walks on a smoking landfill near Altyn-Kazyk village in Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Iskender Aliev.

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ISDS (Kyrgyzstan)

The Pastures of Son-Kul (2021)

The Institute for Sustainable Development Strategy (ISDS) is a non-governmental organization that promotes the concept of sustainable development. In 2021 ISDS went to Son-Kul together with scientists from the National Academy of Sciences, where they monitored the state of the flora and fauna of the area. The pastures of Son-Kul are vast meadows rich in vegetation, including medicinal plants and cereals.

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ISDS (Kyrgyzstan)

The Pastures of Son-Kul (2021)

Due to overgrazing, the pastures are degraded. Such degradation is both a process of desertification and an increase in the volume of weeds. Son-Kul is an important part of the food base for both waterfowl and animals living in this area. Climate change processes directly affect desertification and the reduction of pasture areas, which leads to the destruction of the species diversity of the wetlands protected by the Ramsar Convention

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Part 4. Security and Resilience

The region of Central Asia, home to around 140 ethnic groups that have spread across five countries, is marked by rich history and traditions. Since the earliest of times, Central Asia has been at a crossroads between different civilizations. The Silk Road that passed through the region connected the peoples of Europe, India, and China. During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was predominantly Iranian. Later, it was dominated by the Turkic people. Eventually, Central Asia became part of the Soviet Union, and all five countries became independent nations in 1991. Given their complex pasts, unresolved economic issues and a plethora of political challenges caused by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, each country has approached development in its own unique way.

Independence brought not only economic and political challenges, but also challenges regarding national security and the well-being of the many local communities and ethnic minorities that call Central Asia home.

A range of conflicts have taken place across the region since its independence, including armed border conflicts, inter-ethnic clashes, the rise of nationalist rhetoric, extreme climate change, the political instability that manifested in revolutions and coups, low-level human development indexes, poverty,

and the unequal distribution of natural resources. These threats are complex and vary from country to country, but are often interlinked. One of the biggest security threats in the region is the increasing control over and oppression of civil society organizations. The absence of a secure environment in which Central Asian civil society can actively exercise and protect their human rights also inhibits the democratization processes of the region. Though local civil society organizations represent local communities and are in the position to address the root causes of a given conflict, persistent state-led opposition to these groups makes it difficult for them to perform their necessary roles. Increasingly, civil society organizations have been forced to close down and operate in the gray zone, which hinders their capacity to act and endangers their long-term sustainability.

The partners of CAG actively work with a wide range of target groups in the region such as youth, women, state and educational institutions, decisionmakers, and the general public. Each collaboration aims to bring a positive change to a given target group. For example, by tackling climate-related issues in the region, we contribute to a more resilient community that is not prone to conflicts that are caused by scarcity.

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Similarly, by working with the rights of women and encouraging women to influence policy-making processes, we contribute to a more equal, democratic society, which is less prone to conflict.

The stencil named Brother (2018) represents a patriarchal social norm in which society expects girls to be subordinate to their brothers, regardless of their age. Families typically put the opinions of men far above the opinion of their sisters. They likewise do more to encourage and support male family members in their various aspirations, such as getting a better education and employment. The stencil was created by young girls, depicted in the photo, during a workshop organized by CAG and local partner organization Novi Ritm in collaboration with Russian artist Victoria Lomasko. For some of these girls, this was the first time they had reflected upon their positions in society, their families and their local communities, and understood that the power to change these positions lies, to some extent, in their hands.

The two photos on the display Permaculture gardens in Kyrgyzstan depict the participants from Manjyly location learning to develop kitchen gardens with diverse crops, in a semi-desert location, where land is degraded, saline, and is prone to flooding. The local communities learn how to retain flood water to irrigate their land and use the land in a more efficient manner.

Adaptation to climate change is a challenge given the destructive impact industrial agriculture is having on local ecosystems, , unequal land rights, and lack of support from the government. Such initiatives increase the income of families, promote youth employment, and ensure sustainable livelihoods, food sovereignty and diversified diets.

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Participants of a Stencil Workshop (2021)

is a place where young people can get together to converse, exchange ideas and develop their leadership, teamwork skills and learn about human rights, gender equality, environment and climate change and conflict prevention. Novi Ritm conducts different activities and events; such as workshops, meetings and training programs for teens and young adults.

This stencil was created by young girls, depicted in the photo, during a workshop organized by Novi Ritm in collaboration with Russian artist Victoria Lomasko.

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El Too (Kyrgyzstan)

Permaculture gardens in Kyrgyzstan (2022)

The community-based organization

El Too, based in Bokonbaevo, North-East Kyrgyzstan runs projects in many thematic areas including environment protection, raising ecological awareness and developing ecotourism. In cooperation with CAG, El Too implemented a pilot project on permaculture initiatives among women.

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El Too (Kyrgyzstan)

Permaculture gardens in Kyrgyzstan (2022)

Within the framework of the project initiated by CAG and El Too, rural communities in NorthEast Kyrgyzstan learnt how to develop kitchen gardens with diverse crops, in a semi-desert location, where land is degraded, saline, and is prone to flooding.

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