№13 November 2010
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Alice Janvrin visits Kyrgyzstan’s psychiatric hospitals and mental institutions, finding rays of hope at the end of a gloomy
The Spektator Magazine
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Falconry in Kyrgyzstan has been given a shot in the arm due to the initiatives of a hunter from the sleepy village of Bokonbaeva. Dennis Keen heads to the shores of Lake Issyk Kul to witness the revival of one of the country’s timeless traditions.
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This Month News and Views
Sticking to your Own
The new parliament convenes, Mayor Myrzakmatov is still stirring the pot in Osh and Bishkek’s city dump is out of control.
The Spektator’s resident anthropologist and general know-it-all Winston Olsen considers the genetic implications of the ‘Butun Kyrgyzstan phenomenon’.
Out & About Residents at the World’s End
What drives a man to alpinism? The upper reaches of Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan are a mountaineer’s heaven, while the Djangart section of the range is a special paradise preserved for the sport’s most ambitious fundamentalists.
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ON THE COVER: ‘Feeding Time’ (Dennis Keen)
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This Month 4 With Joomart Saparbaev, A New Generation Enters Kyrgyz Politics DAISY SINDELAR BISHKEK, November 10 (Eurasianet.org) According to tradition, the first session of the new Kyrgyz parliament was chaired by its oldest member, 65-year-old Tashpolot Baltabaev of the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Socialist Party. But as lawmakers assembled for the historic first seating of the country’s newly empowered Zhogorku Kenesh, many eyes were on its youngest members - including Baltabaev’s party colleague, 25-year-old Joomart Saparbaev. In a cynical season of gray-haired powerjockeying in Kyrgyzstan, Saparbaev’s prominent placement high on the Ata-Meken list was a signal that parties are looking to their younger members for new appeal. “When I was put down as fifth on our party list, I heard a lot of crazy things from our party bosses, from different politicians from different political parties,” says Saparbaev, cheerful and confident in a crisp gray suit on a recent night in Bishkek. “They said it was kind of an insane experiment to put me so high on the list. But it happened. Our party leaders understand that we need young blood, we need new ideas. We need the next generation.” Ata-Meken is not the only party to promote its younger members. Rival parties like Respublika and Ata-Jurt - which are among the five parties to enter the new parliament - have also sought to bring fresh faces to parliament, promoting some candidates as young as 22. Members of the new parliament show their ID documents during the landmark first session in Bishkek. Saparbaev, however, argues that his political credentials outweigh the rest. He is already a six-year member of Ata-Meken, the party led by Omurbek Tekebaev that is seen as the critical force behind Kyrgyzstan’s shift to a parliamentary democracy. In that time, he spent three years heading the party’s youth wing, spearheading efforts to make Ata-Meken the first political party in Central Asia to join the Socialist International, a worldwide grouping of social-democratic, socialist, and labor parties. “Sometimes they listen to me,” he says of his party elders, smiling.
if it’s impossible, maybe you could do this. But not right at that moment, right after the revolution. Kulov didn’t even try; he just tried to get rid of all his problems. This is how our social activities started. This is how we started fighting the Bakiev regime.” His activism grew even more determined following his country’s 2007 parliamentary elections, when claims of massive vote rigging prompted Saparbaev and thousands of student activists to stage regular public protests under the slogan “I don’t believe.” Saparbaev was ultimately thrown in jail, albeit briefly, for his opposition activities - a chapter he calls “more fun than dangerous.” But the adventure cemented his opposition to the Bakiev regime and his fidelity to Ata-Meken, independent Kyrgyzstan’s oldest major political Taking On Bakiev party and the only group that he says puts ideolDuring that time, Saparbaev was also active in ogy before clan loyalty. youth movements that successfully fought an attempt by Felix Kulov, then the country’s new Representing Kyrgyzstan prime minister, to add Kyrgyzstan to the list of Saparbaev, who grew up the youngest of two countries seeking debt relief from the Interna- sons in a small village outside Bishkek, had no tional Monetary Fund and World Bank. automatic entree into the world of Kyrgyz poliSuch a move, Saparbaev believed, had been tics. At a time when his fellow high-school studevastating for other impoverished countries dents were obsessing over “business and monand would have spelled certain doom for Kyr- ey,” he became a self-taught political thinker, gyzstan, which was just emerging from the 2005 devouring Machiavelli and Henry Kissinger at Tulip Revolution and the rise of President Kur- his local library, before moving to the capital to manbek Bakiev and his allies like Kulov. study political science. “We had a new government that, in trying From there, he spent a formative year at to get into this program, was trying to rid it- Minnesota State University-Mankato, where self of its responsibilities,” he said. “I mean, why he volunteered with the Democratic Party and wouldn’t you try to fix it yourself first? And then, found himself serving as an impromptu instrucNovember 2010 The Spektator
tor on Kyrgyz issues when the Tulip Revolution suddenly catapulted his country into U.S. media headlines. Now, he likes to think, there are a lot of people in south-central Minnesota who know more than the average American about Kyrgyzstan. Since returning home, Saparbaev says he’s had several opportunities to leave his country for good. But the young lawmaker, who is married with a 4-month-old daughter, says he’s determined to stay in Kyrgyzstan and fight for the nascent parliamentary system, created in the wake of the country’s latest political overhaul, the April revolt that ousted Bakiev. “It’s my ambition to create a real political system,” he says. “A system that doesn’t depend on only one leader.” Speaking just minutes after today’s first parliament session, Saparbaev admitted to feeling slightly overwhelmed by what he called the “gigantic responsibility” of tackling the economic and political challenges ahead - including the very basic task of keeping Kyrgyzstan’s new parliamentary democracy on track despite massive resistance from fellow parliamentary parties, like Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys, that favor a return to a presidential system. “It’s a big moment. It’s not getting the mandate I’m excited about. I’m excited by what’s going to happen in there,” he said. “We have Ata-Jurt ex-Bakiev people. How are we going to work with them? The nature of parliament is to find a compromise, and I’m just so interested to find out how we’re going to compromise with these guys that we were fighting against. We’ll see.” www.thespektator.co.uk
5 Felix Kulov: A trip to Moscow doesn’t mean a meeting in the Kremlin This Month
DAVID TRILLING AND NATASHA YEFIMOV BISHKEK, November 12 (Eurasianet.org) Though he was no friend of the former regime, veteran politician Felix Kulov has also been critical of Kyrgyzstan’s interim government since it seized power in April. The chairman and face of the ArNamys (Dignity) party, Kulov ran for parliament on a law and order platform and criticized the new constitution approved in June, saying the country needs a strong, centralized leadership. When Kulov, 62, flew to Moscow shortly after the polls, the trip prompted widespread speculation the Kremlin had selected him as its favorite for prime minister, a position he held after 2005’s so-called Tulip Revolution and one that has been strengthened by the new constitution. Yet as parties close to the interim government discuss forming a ruling coalition, the charismatic Kulov – a former KGB officer, interior minister and Bishkek mayor – now looks set to lead the country’s opposition. Kulov spoke with EurasiaNet’s David Trilling and Natasha Yefimov in his Bishkek office on November 12. This interview has been edited for length.
the fuel supplies. And I believe this has damaged the United States’ reputation in the eyes of the Kyrgyz public. Everyone’s heard about the size of bribes for high-placed officials from the families of the two [former] presidents, but at the same time everyone sees that the US administration is trying to hush this whole thing up. EurasiaNet: Should Kyrgyzstan challenge the award? And if so, who should get it instead? Kulov: We know that certain political forces have a vested interest in continuing the [fuel-supply] arrangements that existed before in order to have money that will then be used for political battles against their political opponents. Anyone deeply involved in these arrangements will defend them by any means necessary in order to avoid criminal prosecution. This will be a hotbed of political instability. So I believe there should be maximum transparency and public hearings, which result in concrete conclusions about who should handle these supplies. But without official results of investigations into corruption under the two former presidents, it’s impossible to say that the [fuel-supply] arrangements will be clean. Since there have been no official investigation results yet, and since this [new contract] is being done without public hearings, I think the government will have to challenge it. At any rate, in parliament, the issue will definitely be raised.
EurasiaNet: Yesterday, President Roza Otunbayeva appointed the Social Democratic Party (SDPK), headed by Almazbek Atambayev, to form a majority coalition. Most likely, that will leave you in a minority. Do you think she is right to appoint what was formerly her own party – a party that came in second in the October 10 polls – as the coalition leader? EurasiaNet: Many have suggested that Moscow Kulov: The proposal that she give first dibs in form- would like to see the Manas base closed. Is Moscow ing the government [to SDPK] came from me per- worried about an American presence in the region sonally – primarily to uphold the authority of our and would it really want to close the Manas base, president. She’s in a tough situation, where she has when it’s used for fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, to choose from among several factions, whom to a threat to Russia? appoint, and so for her not to experience difficulties, Kulov: I’ve met with representatives of various [RusI proposed that she nominate her allies. sian] security-related bodies – in the past, as prime However, we cannot say with 100 percent cer- minister, and as head of the party – and I’ve never tainty that Mr. Atambayev will be able to form the heard anyone say outright that the base should be [ruling] coalition. Because creating a coalition is al- closed. Moreover, Russia has allowed transit of carways a complicated, painful process when positions go to our base. Personally, I believe the status of the and platforms have to be sorted out and aligned. base should be more transparent than it is today. EurasiaNet: Could you say specifically what might Take, for example, the Russian base in Kant, which be standing in his way? simultaneously fulfills the function of defending Kulov: There are always personal reasons. When the our airspace: Every plane that lands at that base and question of who gets what position crops up, it’s not takes off from there is met and accompanied by always possible to reach agreement. You know that our border guards and customs officers. What gets a minimum of three factions must make up the coa- brought to or taken out from the American base lition and each faction stakes its own claims, has its we don’t know. Kyrgyzstan has no customs or borown desires. It’s hard enough to do with two; with der officials there. So various rumors crop up, from three it’s even harder. So will they manage to reach al-Qaeda prisoners being brought there to drug an agreement within the two-week time frame? It’s smuggling – in short, all sorts of rumors that we can neither deny nor confirm. The Americans, naturally, not 100 percent certain. don’t pay much attention to Kyrgyz press reports. EurasiaNet: Last week, the Pentagon announced it EurasiaNet: Kyrgyzstan voted for a parliamentary will continue to use the same controversial compasystem in June’s referendum. You say you want to ny to supply fuel to US troops at the Manas Transit return to a presidential system. However, the past Center despite an ongoing Kyrgyz government intwo presidents turned into greedy tyrants. Why do vestigation into possible improper business practicyou think a third time could be any different? es concerning fuel operations there. How does this bode for the future relationship between Bishkek Kulov: We support a presidential-parliamentary sysand Washington? And what do you see as the ideal tem of government. Our aim is not to give the president absolute power; our aim is that the president solution? have rights equal to his duties, including responsiKulov: There’s been a lot of scandal surrounding bility for security in the country. Put it this way: Towww.thespektator.co.uk
day, we have a weak president, a strong prime minister and government, and a strong parliament. We want there to be a strong president, strong prime minister and strong parliament. We don’t want to grant the president enormous powers. The only additional powers we want to give the president are determining domestic and foreign policy; that he be accountable for ensuring the country’s security; and also create an independent judiciary. And [he should] not interfere in the government’s work on the economy. The president’s powers would be enhanced just a bit, while the former presidents weren’t accountable for anything and at the same time had unlimited power. Of course, we don’t want authorities like that. EurasiaNet: You campaigned on a law and order platform. Has the trial of the Alfa troops accused of unlawfully killing protesters during the April 7 uprising hurt the morale of the security forces? And has low morale affected their functioning during this year’s instability? Kulov: To some extent, it has. […] The most frightening thing is that the people [of Kyrgyzstan] no longer fear anything or anyone, not the law, not anything. They believe mob rule now ranks supreme. That’s the most frightening thing – for the state, for democracy. EurasiaNet: What role has Moscow played in the coalition building in Kyrgyzstan? Kulov: Absolutely none. And Moscow can’t facilitate this process in any way. It’s unrealistic. In terms of Moscow’s influence, I think its role in this gets greatly exaggerated. How can Moscow determine or make peace between people with rocky personal relationships? If someone’s been insulted by someone else, is Moscow really going to say, “But you’ve got to form a coalition with him”? It’s unrealistic for Moscow to influence anything. We know each other better than any advice Moscow can give. EurasiaNet: You said you went to Moscow for personal reasons after the elections, but it’s no secret you have met with very highly placed officials in the past. Did you have a chance to meet with them again? If so, what did you discuss? How did you and two other party leaders -- Respublika’s Omurbek Babanov and top vote-getter Ata-Jurt’s Myktybek Abdyldayev -- end up on the same flight? Kulov: I’ve really got nothing to hide. It was a personal trip, to see my friend who was recovering from an operation. A trip to Moscow doesn’t necessarily mean a meeting in the Kremlin. […] Someone else was on that flight with me. I don’t remember who. Oh yes! It was Mr. Abdyldayev. He was going to visit his spouse’s relatives. They live in Moscow. His wife is Russian. And the reason we all flew at the same time is very simple: Up until then, we had all been busy. Once the election campaign ended, we got some free time. That’s it. Unfortunately, there’s no other way except through Moscow. I always raise this issue! We need direct flights to Europe. Talking about investment when investors from Europe can’t fly here is nonsensical. Now I’m going to Kiev through Almaty and I’ll be returning through Moscow. And then everyone will ask, “What were you doing in Moscow?” November 2010 The Spektator
Bishkek Confronts a Waste Management Dilemma CHRIS RICKLETON BISHKEK, November 9 (Eurasianet.org) Blurred by smoke and putrid steam, eagles and flocks of ravens hover overhead and swoop down to feast on colonies of rats. On the ground, a solitary pig roots through household debris, its snout buried in discarded plastic and rotting cardboard. This unappealing ecosystem in Kyrgyzstan is not merely home to wild animals: the Bishkek municipal dump, deemed a health hazard by ecologists, is also work site for human scavengers, mostly economic migrants from rural parts of Kyrgyzstan. Single parent Aizat Isabekova and her four children one day recently could be seen sifting through the discarded bits of food and dead animals looking for plastic bottles to recycle. A migrant from southern Jalal-Abad Province, she has been living on the outskirts of Bishkek in informal accommodation for over two years. “You get used to it,” she says of the plumes of smoke that rise out of the rubbish mounds even in winter. “I can’t find work this profitable in the city.” With the help of her children, who do not attend school because as a migrant she does not have the necessary documents to register them in Bishkek, Isabekova says she can bring in more than 500 soms (USD 11) a day. She sells plastic bottles for 30 tiyin to middlemen who resell them for 50 tiyin (one US cent) to vendors who wash and fill them with homemade dairy products and condiments. Kemal, 43, and his wife Nurgul, 40, both of whom refused to provide a surname, have resided at the dump’s nearby novostroiki – new settlements – since migrating to Bishkek eight years ago. Kemal says his seven children live with their grandparents at home in Osh Province, where they go to school. “They don’t need to know how their parents earn a living,” he said. Nevertheless, the couple admitted there are advantages to working at the dump. As she sorted through a bag of “perfectly good” discarded clothes, Nurgul said she used to work at a sausage factory but quit because scavenging for recyclables was more profitable. “What you can find here, you can sell. You don’t have to wait for a salary. Also, it is warm enough at the dump. Even in January and February, there’s no snow on the ground here.” This phenomenon concerns ecologists. Dmitri Vytoshkin, a program coordinator at BIOM, a local environmental non-profit, explained why the dump “smokes” even in deep winter. The fumes “are the result of a chemical reaction. The sun heats the mass of waste up, and the layers of plastic and glass prevent that heat from escaping. Without any oxygen, the waste beneath the surface neither burns [fully] nor decomposes, but smolders all year round,” he said. Vytoshkin estimated that temperatures at the bottom of the rubbish mounds were between 60-70 degrees centigrade. The problem is festering. According to Gulnara Ibraeva, an expert from the Social Technologies Agency, a Bishkek-based NGO researching social and gender issues, the dump has expanded from 10 hectares to over 25 hectares over the last eight years, and is now encroaching on the city limits. “The site has grown out of control. As many as 500 people work there now. MuniciNovember 2010 The Spektator
Above A lorry brings fresh pickings to the municipal dump (David Trilling for EurasiaNet.org) pal authorities arrive periodically with heavy-duty packing machines to try and consolidate the waste, but young men working at the dump chase them away. Even the police are afraid of them,” Ibraeva told EurasiaNet.org. Many trash sorters have organized themselves into militant brigades in order to defend territory and economic interests. Explaining why a pitchforkwielding man chased two EurasiaNet.org correspondents from the site, Kemal said; “People don’t want their relatives to know that they work here. It can be seen as a disgrace. Perhaps he thinks you want to show Kyrgyz people in a bad light.” Environmentalists are eager to find a solution, but realize they may have to choose between the lesser of two evils. In the last five years, Italian and Japanese investors have made separate offers to build a waste-incineration plant. The government announced at one point that both bids were successful, but so far there has been no more movement toward construction of such a plant. More
recently, a domestic initiative to solve the problem by the end of 2010 has been delayed by ongoing political uncertainty. Vytoshkin is one of many observers who feel the dump is an environmental time bomb. “Naturally, waste incineration factories [produce] their own negative environmental consequences; any plant would have to be in compliance with international standards,” he said. “But the alternative – no system of waste management at all – is worse. Here, livestock carcasses are dumped in the same place as household waste. No one knows what diseases these animals might have.” While efforts to take decisive action have lost political momentum, Nurgul and her husband remain firmly opposed to any plans that might institutionalize waste management in the city. “What we do here might be dirty, but it is honest,” she said. “Why does the government want to prevent me from making a living? I don’t interfere with them, why should they interfere with us?”
Mayor of Kyrgyz City Criticizes Home Reconstruction Plan OSH, November 4 (RFE/RL) The controversial mayor of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, says homes damaged or destroyed in interethnic clashes in mid-June are being rebuilt without his consent, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reports. Myrzakmatov told journalists on November 4 that the majority of the Osh city homes damaged in June are situated in “complicated” areas from a seismological point of view. He said he and his associates have been raising that issue since construction of the new houses started, but “no one took those concerns into consideration.” Myrzakmatov added that some areas inhabited mainly by ethnic Uzbeks have been reconstructed in the same way they were before the riots during which they were burned down. “Nobody burnt each of the houses in the Uzbek districts, they were just built in such a way that if one of the houses is set on fire all the other houses [nearby] will catch fire easily, and
some of the new houses are being built in the same way,” he said. Myrzakmatov added that all Osh residents whose new homes are not ready by winter will be given shelter in local sanatoriums and hotels. Myrzakmatov is considered controversial due to his connections with ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who appointed him to his post, and his severe criticism of interim government officials in Bishkek. The interim government tried to remove him as mayor earlier this summer, but after protests by locals, he remained in office. He took an extended vacation and was not seen at his office for several weeks after an August meeting with President Roza Otunbaeva in Bishkek. Osh was shaken by deadly clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in mid-June. More than 400 people died and hundreds were injured in the fighting in Osh and the neighboring Jalal-Abad region. www.thespektator.co.uk
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Sticking to your
Above ”If your surname is ‘Butun’ clap your hands!” (archive)
AVING ATTENDED a series of protests held by the nationalist political party ‘Butun Kyrgyzstan’ (One Kyrgyzstan), I was alerted to the striking results of ‘sticking to your own’. Missing out on entry into parliament by a whisker, Butun’s supporters were in restive mood, yet I found myself less concerned by this than by the evidently detrimental effects of generations of inbreeding. Kyrgyzstan is a small country (population under 5,000,000), of which the titular nationality, the Kyrgyz, comprise roughly 70%. That 70%, in turn, is riven by internal divisions predicated on politics, regional kinship patterns and some of the most daunting, isolating mountain passes in the world. Naturally, as a nomadic people who gradually drifted South from the Yenisei in southern Siberia, the Kyrgyz have their own rich genetic heritage. Due to patterns of conquest and confluence, a DNA sample of the average Kyrgyz a hundred years ago may well have revealed notable recessive genes belonging to groups such as the Chuvash and the Uighurs, as well as a dominant Mongol base attributable to names that time forgot; Naimans, Khitans and Keraits, amongst hundreds of other more or less distinct groups. Nevertheless, research in Albania has shown that in small countries subject to significant tribal and geographical divisions (Albania’s predominant division is also North/South), the result of a transition from nomadic to sedentary patterns of existence ultimately results in one thing: Gene pool stagnation. This can manifest itself in physical characteristics; eyes of unusual colour (an almost luminous shade of green is typical amongst inbred people), misshapen ears, stunted growth, or behavioural defects and dangerously below average Intelligent Quotients (IQs). In the Soviet period, the institution of the kolkhoz (collective farm) actually helped cement certain endogamous trends, as did the enforced absence of pre-Soviet traditions such as brideknapping. Despite the ideological emphasis on a ’union of peoples’, cross-cultural marriages were relatively rare in most parts of Soviet Central Asia,
a non-tendency that independence and nascent nationalism have since strengthened. In the ancient and medieval world, of course, gene pool stagnation was much more of a problem than it is today. It affected not only poor villagers, whose lack of socioeconomic and actual mobility denied them the opportunity to breed with people beyond their own tightly-knit communities, but monarchs, who actively chose inbreeding as a means of conserving their accumulated wealth rather than squandering it on ‘outsiders‘. Over time, these tightly concentric patterns of reproduction displayed negative consequences. Royal families, like those of their ordinary subjects, produced an alarming number of simpletons. This in turn had damning implications for social and material progress - an inbred nation produces little in the way of inventors, philosophers and entrepreneurs. The medieval period as a whole was one of long, fruitless grind. In those darker times, genetic overhaul was eventually ensured by war. War, with its twin atrocities of rape and population displacement helped break up ’genetic communities’ and introduce random patterns into stagnant pools. Nowadays, that function is provided in a more benign and civilized fashion by the ‘scattergun effect’ of the city. Writing in 1992 for his classic travelogue ‘The Lost Heart of Asia’, Colin Thubron noted: ‘A rural invasion of Kirghiz was infiltrating the suburbs and crowding the shops [of Bishkek]…some of them looked like pantomime peasants…But within a generation they could refine to a tenuous urbanity, and these other Kirghiz too were all about, running small businesses in the liberalised economy, percolating the civil service...’ Cities provide rural migrants not only with an opportunity to earn more money than they could do in their home villages, but also a more socially and genetically competitive environment that offers a chance of producing stronger offspring. In Kyrgyzstan, only Bishkek and possibly Osh contain populations large enough and cosmopolitan enough to produce a genuine scattergun effect. Certainly, for instance, families with one parent from southern Kyrgyzstan and another parent
November 2010 The Spektator
from northern Kyrgyzstan are more likely to have formed in Bishkek than anywhere else. In a city of a million, cultural pressures on young men and women to marry into a certain kinship group meet a powerful counter in terms of the sheer range of different potential reproductive partners in the vicinity. Towns such as Talas and Naryn, by contrast, are better understood as large villages whose lack of economic opportunity results in almost no inward migration and thus no disruption of intra-community breeding patterns. The startling outcome of this could be seen on April 7th and 8th, when ‘the country visited the city’; the biological advantages of urban life, as well as the socioeconomic ones, cruelly displayed. As the ethnic group which controls the levers of power in domestic society, there are few immediate incentives for Kyrgyz to ‘marry out‘. Moreover, kinship groups or ‘clans’ are powerful associations which can make the distance between an unemployed peasant in the country and an influential political figure in the city relatively small. Yet in the long term, ‘sticking to your own’, at least in the in the narrowest sense, has damaging consequences. Conversely, inter-ethnic unions often result in offspring that are more than the sum of their parts. One need only look at the example of the United States of America, a ‘migrant hybrid’ with a nearabsent ‘native’ population, to see that successful, prosperous societies are often those that are sexually as well as politically more inclusive. Still, Kyrgyz folks are happy enough to acknowledge and mock their own reproductive nepotism. One local anecdote a Bishkek friend told me runs thus: The farmer father of a young man has told him that the time has come for him to get married. “What about Gulnara?” the father asks hopefully. “She is strong and able - she will milk well.” But the young man refuses the suggestion. “Or Aizat, perhaps? She is very pretty.” But the young man says he finds Aizat boring. “You know, papa,” he says, “there is a boy in the next village, his name is Sergei...” But the young man’s father cuts him off abruptly, disgusted. “Son, how can you even think of that? Sergei is Russian!” www.thespektator.co.uk
Out & About
Climber and journalist Jamie Maddison set out to document the audacious attempt of a mountaineering team to ‘christen’ one of the peaks in the little-climbed Djangart region of the Tien-Shan. The following is his account of how three of his companions braved a challenging ascent to the top of a mountain now known as Peak HowardBury (4766m).
Above Base camp in the Djangart valley is stunningly beautiful, but frightfully boring after a time (both photos Jamie Maddison) Right Climbers Mathew Traver (UK) Dan Clarke (US) and Mike Royer (US) returned from the end of the world victorious November 2010 The Spektator
MYRIAD OF STONES slip away under foot. Up above, the track, broken and washed out, winds its way around more sets of switchbacks, fading out of sight behind yet another rise in the still distant huddle. The wind is bitter, and tears mercilessly through a thin T-shirt, my sole layer of protection thrown on carelessly earlier in the day when the weather was perfect, and the distance to the valley’s pass a mere happy guess. Now the sun is setting, dragging the temperature down with it. The trail has turned out to be much longer and steeper than expected, and, at four thousand metres and completely unacclimatized, I struggle deeply for breath. Looking back down the sweeping moraine lined on either side by sheets of once dazzling white snow, now slowly turning grey in the dim evening light, the blurred image of my climbing partner, Dan, can just be made out lying on a rock several hundred meters away; he’s obviously in a similar state, completely and utterly exhausted. I had flown into Bishkek a week earlier to report upon a joint Anglo-American mountaineering expedition aiming to climb several new peaks in a remote area of the Tien Shan called the Djangart. The Djangart, part of the Kokshaal-Too (literally the ‘Forbidden Range’; an area of mountains that was a closed military zone until the late 1990s), forms part of the ridge line along Kyrgyzstan’s southern border with China. The area had received little previous attention, with less than three visits ever being made to the region by mountaineers. Although slightly lower in elevation than its popular neighbour, the Western Kokshaal-Too, the Djangart still boasts more than a dozen mountains over 5,000 metres, a significant height for any aspiring alpinist to tackle. At the time, all but one of these peaks remained unclimbed, something that the team hoped to rectify with their own visit to the region.
The journey out was harsh. Confined to a Russian ex-military truck which, by the look of it had probably seen action in Afghanistan, we quickly became bored with the absolute lack of things to do. Watching the ever-changing scenery was our hobby, trying to avoid receiving a concussion every time the truck catapulted us airborne as it passed over a bump in the road. Time dragged on despairingly slowly. Upon reaching camp on the first night Matthew Traver and myself, repulsed by the further effort erecting a tent would exact, simply dragged our sleeping bags underneath the truck and spent the night there; stars peeping through the gaps in the engine overhead, accompanied later by the gentle drip of fine early morning rain as we slept. The scenery altered from the deep blues of Lake Issyk Kul, to the luscious green alpine valleys around Barskoon and later, the dried, dead steppe of the Kara-Say area. The roads deteriorated the further east we went and Sasha, our driver, was constantly forced to divert in and around the glacial torrents, which poured off the sides of the encasing mountains. It was with much relief, and severely bruised bones that we approached the final checkpoint, military camp Ak-Shyyrak. This last outpost of humanity, situated firmly in the restricted zone between China and Kyrgyzstan’s high Tien-Shan border, was once a sizeable Soviet mining town. Now, since the closure of the mines, less than twenty families remain; keeping lonesome vigil over the few comings and goings that this area of the border receives. Permits in order, we were allowed to proceed, up the Kaichi valley and to the end of the first phase of our laborious journey. Tomorrow we would head up, over the pass and finally into the Djangart. Back on my feet, I stumble onward. After what seems like a never-ending passage of time, the top of the pass finally comes into view. It really is www.thespektator.co.uk
Out & About
a depressing place; a barren wasteland, populatThe initial start, although technically easy, ed by a scattering of abandoned concrete pipes, was nevertheless a frustrating chore due to deep remnants of a long obsolete mining exploration. snow and unhelpful weather conditions. Matt The wind picks up, whittling its way over this gap was to take the lead in this and made steady in the mountains. Shivering violently, I dive into a progress over the first two hundred metres, up tube, jamming my rucksack into one end in a vain gradually increasing snow slopes. As the ground attempt to block out the frightening cold. Sitting, behind them began to drop away, so the diffihuddled in a ball inside this little concrete coffin; I culties faced by the team began to increase. “By do nothing but wait for my climbing partner Dan. now, snow was tumbling off the higher slopes; After an age, he finally appears, not, it has to be never enough to take you down but enough to said, in the best of states, hyperventilating from keep you on your toes,” Mike was to tell me later. too rapid a rise after too “Sloughing snow is actulittle acclimatisation. “Sloughing snow is actually ally a welcome sign, as it Enough’s enough, and means it isn’t accumulatwe beat a hasty retreat a welcome sign, as it means it ing to unload as a larger, down the other side of isn’t accumulating to unload as potentially lethal avathe pass into this new lanche later.” valley, the Djangart, a larger, potentially lethal avaThe onslaught of spread out before us, steeper sections forced lanche later” Mike Royer beautifully bathed in the group to take out the golden glow of a dying sun. their second rope to begin belayed climbing. On The day lasts more than a hundred years, as easy ground a team of mountaineers can often the famous Kyrgyz author Chinghiz Aitmatov get away with ascending on a single line, tied so eloquently put it. Nearly a week later and I’d on to each person. As the group climbs, pieces come to well and truly know the meaning of that of protection are placed between them. In the phrase. Sitting alone in a sodden tent in the mid- event of a fall that protection stops the moundle of the rain swept unknown, devoid of all but taineers from sliding off the face of the mountain, a single book. Time stretched out, lengthening to and then the world itself. The technique is called ridiculous and previously unfathomable propor- simulclimbing, and is by far the fastest means tions. And yet, whilst I sat and railed against the of ascent, albeit less equipment-heavy and thus slow passage of days, they were advancing in- riskier than other techniques. If, however, the credibly swiftly for climbers Mathew Traver (UK) ascent becomes too severe, then a second rope Dan Clarke (US) and Mike Royer (US) who, high must be used; one climber leading upward on up in the valley above me, were preparing to both ropes whilst the other belays him from an make their first attempt at one of the surround- anchored position. Lead climbing, as this second ing unclimbed peaks. A rocky pyramid of a moun- technique is known, is a safer, but much slower tain, they later found out (having lost their topo- form of upward progression. graphical maps at the time) that this was Pt 4766, It was at this point, grey-white slopes spreading a prominent peak sitting at one of the central gently away to the glacier far beneath them, and exdividing points for the Djangartynbashi glacier. panses of steeper, just off-vertical ice towering www.thespektator.co.uk
the Doing Djangart
Firstly, trips such as this are not for the weekend adventurer. They can take hundreds of hours’ worth of preparation and organisation, and can cost thousands of dollars in expenditure. If however, you are really dedicated to exploring areas such as the Djangart (and have the mountaineering proficiency to do so safely) then your first step should be to touch base with an organiser. Our expedition used the company ITMC Tien-Shan (http://www. itmc.centralasia.kg/) and they were nothing short of fantastic; providing us with transport, communications equipment, accommodation in Bishkek and dollops of advice. Such companies can help plan an expedition around your given ideas, time constraints and budget. Once the structure of the trip is arranged you can get down to the task of organising small details, such as procuring food and equipment. The bazaars are an excellent place to stock up on cheap provisions for the expedition, just remember to buy a modest amount of vodka and cigarettes to ease crossings though the border permit checkpoints. If in need of more specialized equipment, mountaineering shops such as Red Fox (Sovietskaya/Kulatova) usually have enough to meet the needs of most mountaineers. Lastly, if you want a bit of extra help around base camp, then you might wish to consider hiring someone . Taking on local interns from the Alpine Fund charity (http://www.alpinefund.org/) is not only cheaper than the guides provided by the logistics companies, it is also a great way of helping out Kyrgyzstan’s underprivileged and orphaned youths. November 2010 The Spektator
Out & About
Above Peak Howard-Bury, an eminent, yet previously unclimbed peak in the Djangart section of the Tien-Shan range (all photos Mike Royer) Centre Matt Traver plots a lonely path in the couloir. Speed is synonymous with safety in the mountains, but too quick an ascent can lead to poor acclimatisation and exhaustion Right Snow drifts off the mountain face on the ascent to Peak Howard-Bury November 2010 The Spektator
high above, that the group began to lead climb. “Dan led the first pitch, but didn’t get very far before the green rope ran out,” Mike recounts. “We thought it seemed a bit odd, but maybe the scale of the face screwed with our perception of distance, a common issue on exposed mountains. Often two half ropes aren’t exactly the same length as well, so with little concern I just ran off to the next belay.” But as Matt took his turn for the lead after, Dan realised something was quite wrong indeed: “I was re-stacking the ropes so Matt could have an easier belay, but all of a sudden I got to the end of the green rope. There was masses of other rope, but none of the green; it must have been perhaps as much as twenty metres short.” In the mountains speed is tantamount to safety; the less time one spends on the face, the less likely avalanches, rock fall, falling ice or lethal storms are to hit you. The rope, which the group later deduced was probably cut by the local horseman seeking a thicker cord for lashing our equipment to their horses on the journey over the pass, was now roughly a third as short. This meant that in their current style of ascent they would only be able climb two thirds as far on each pitch, increasing time spent on the mountain to dangerous proportions. Mike then suggested the much riskier option of all three simulclimbing over the now difficult ground using only the one rope. Devoid of any other options they had no choice but to employ this risky style. On the trio progressed, a single slender thread now tracing between them as they tackled the ever more challenging obstacles that lay in front. Then, as the sun was setting, the ridge line that marked the end of difficulties and the path to the summit, finally came into view. “Eager to finish, I placed my last screw and yelled down that I was going to gun it for the ridge,” Mike remembers. “But, after Matt expressed his concern,
I relented and traversed to the other side of the couloir (mountain gulley). I threw in a sketchy nut, pounded in a marginal piton (metal spike), and shoved my shoulder into a corner of the wall that arched over the couloir.” Mike then belayed Matt and Dan up to that frigid stance. That one last difficulty surmounted, nothing remained but the trio’s final rush for the summit, witnessed only by the masses of storm clouds that had begun to gather overhead. Mike was the first to reach the top: “Suddenly I was there; scrambling over the final few metres, I just threw my arms up and let up a shout.” Relieved and quite exhausted, he proceeded to belay Matt and Dan up to the summit. The storm crashed around the peak, but they had done it! The mountain, formally Pik 4766 (designated according to its elevation above sea level) became Peak HowardBury, named after an early British explorer who had visited the region in 1913. It was the second mountain in the entire area to be climbed - the first being Peak Letaveta (5280m) summited in 2008 by a Russian expedition - and the first peak to be summited by Western mountaineers in the region. At an alpine grade of Difficile +, the seven hundred metre line ranks as hard as many of the super classic routes of the European Alps. Back in the lonely rain-swept valley, I was to wait another full day before the battered three made their return to base camp. They collapsed into the main tent, exhausted, sunburnt and stinking to high heaven. Yet, their smiles blunted any concerns of mine over their physical well-being; they joked freely about the adventures just experienced, content that all their efforts, planning and hard graft had finally come to fruition. Over the next two weeks the team was to climb a further two new mountains in this area of unknown beauty and intrigue. Heading home early, I left these pioneers planning their next and final summit, happy in life, residents at the world’s end. www.thespektator.co.uk
White Walled Worlds ALICE JANVRIN
Western perceptions of Soviet mental health institutions arrived through the filter of terrifying accounts provided by literary dissidents and Gorbachevera rights activists. Alice Janvrin, who visited several psychiatric hospitals in Kyrgyzstan, found that conditions are slowly improving, but that much work still remains to be done.
Above The linoleum floor of a newly renovated ward gleams for the cameras (all photos Alice Janvrin) Above Right Patients at one of Kyrgyzstan’s largest psychiatric facilities enjoy an amble in the sun For donations, please contact Mental Health and Society at email@example.com. November 2010 The Spektator
MAGINE YOURSELF expatriated to Bishkek after the violence you have witnessed in your native city of Osh or Jalalabad. It is not surprising that you are anxious. This anxiety may increase as time goes on; you relive your experiences over and over again and avoid any situation which may remind you of your trauma. You have got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which eventually prevents you from leading a normal life, going to work, providing for your family, paying rent, and even undertaking the most basic activities such as washing or any sort of social interaction. Eventually your neighbours find out about your condition but instead of sympathising, they discuss you behind your back and criticise and avoid your family. The plight of mental health in Kyrgyzstan is not an easy one to bear. Once you develop a mental disorder, the options are limited. The first point of call might be the Neuropsychiatric Dispensary, situated in the heart of Bishkek. Once you walk through the large doors up the stairs, a commission made up of different doctors decides your fate. If you need rest and medical attention, you will be allowed to attend the day clinic on a first floor ward. The rooms there are bright and clean, the linoleum on the floor has been refurbished recently, and there are plants and quiet rooms for you to sleep in and doctors and nurses to attend to your needs. However, if your case is more severe, you might be sent to a closed ward to spend an average of fortyfive days. These wards consist of large rooms on the ground floor, with bars at the windows and a lonely line of beds as the sole furnishings. The conditions for men seem worse than those for women; no mattresses on the bed, a thin eiderdown, a television which blares neglected and dozens of men, young and old, suffering from schizophrenia, dementia and various types of depressions skulking around looking bedraggled and gloomy, shorn of activity and purpose.
In contrast, the closed wards for women appear better off; real mattresses on beds, a piano where manic women play hyperactive tunes and evidence of art therapy: sculptures made of beads, sewing and knitting. Patients in these wards are allowed outside to walk around a fenced off area in the hospital’s grounds, but are otherwise kept indoors where family members are allowed to visit twice a day. The stigma attached to having a mentally ill relative is a hard burden to bear and it is reported that families often refuse to pick up the patients once their treatment in the hospital is over. If this is the case, patients can be sent to institutions, or “neurological asylums”. These asylums are situated behind high walls, secluded from the outside world. The reason for this isolation dates back to Soviet times, when, in response to an international outcry against the Soviet Union’s many political prisoners, the regime certified many such prisoners “insane” and transferred them from the gulag to mental asylums. Many investigations, notably over the course of research for the report on ‘The Budget of Mental Healthcare’ by Bishkek-based non-profit Mental Health and Society, have exposed the far from pretty conditions in such institutions. Living in often decrepit conditions, patients barely get access to medical help, despite the fact that they are the most susceptible to physical diseases and death via tuberculosis, epilepsy or worsening “diarrhoea“. Institutions are frequently understaffed, doctors are often elderly, and nurses work 24 hour shifts and oversee too many patients for it to be humanly possible to do an adequate job; furthermore, they are untrained in psychiatric medicine, and, having been exposed only to out-dated modes of practise, they provide care that ignores the legal, social and medical rights of their patients. Reports of patientbeating are not rare occurrences. Social workers educated in the Humanities University of Bishkek www.thespektator.co.uk
are proficient in theoretical knowledge, but have no practical experience. When we visited, conditions in Iskra Institution proved a positive surprise; yet the general absence of patients and the fact that we were only shown the recently renovated wards begs the question: What are the other wards like? Corruption in this sector is rife since the position of director in psychiatric hospitals is generally sought for its monetary rewards and accompanying political influence. Horror stories appear alarmingly regularly, such as one concerning a former director who embezzled the food money and fed his patients cattle feed. When exposed through a press conference set up by human rights activists, he accused the activists of stealing the food in order to incriminate him. The government gave the Askri Institution, situated near Tok-Mok, five million Kyrgyz soms for refurbishment in 2006 – to this day, there is no evidence of any improvement. Reports of patients used as slaves in both hospitals and institutions are not irregular, for example one hospital set up a ‘Labor Therapy Workshop‘, using funds from the food budget in order to make bread. This bread was then sold, the profit from which disappeared down the black hole of healthcare corruption. Whenever capital is invested, institution officials tend to put it towards repair work (often using patients as free labour) rather than medicine. Families are often required to provide giant bribes to secure adequate conditions for their relatives. However, as bleak as the picture appears, it is improving. Human rights activists and NGOs are appealing to the government to improve the system. Article 38 of the 1999 Psychiatric Care Law, requires the government to provide a service overseeing the protection of human rights in the healthcare sector. Although such a specific service was never set up, ten years of harsh battle by human rights activists, amongst whom the bulldozing Burul Makenbaeva, www.thespektator.co.uk
leader of Mental Health and Society, resulted in the creation of the Ombudsmen of the Kyrgyz Republic in October 2009. This organisation was installed all over the country to oversee the protection of human rights and provide advocacy and legal representation for clients in the education, penal, legal and medical sectors. The Ombudsmen has a clear presence in the Neuropsychiatric Dispensary of Bishkek: members of staff visit each ward every week, and know individual patients personally. There are letter boxes fixed to the wall of wards where patients can post anonymous requests or criticisms of the care they receive – it was reported that recently the posts
‘Horror stories appear alarmingly regularly, such as one concerning a former director who embezzled the food money and fed his patients cattle feed’ were mostly thank you letters. This organisation also successfully fired a doctor who hit a patient in Iskra Institution, near Tok-Mok, and another patient there reported that “beatings were less frequent” since new management came into place in February. By law, directors of all institutions and hospitals are obliged to work with this human rights organisation. Other NGOs, local and international, are present throughout the country to help people affected by mental health. For instance, homes for disabled children such as the German Nadezhda (Hope) centre, are an alternative to children’s institutions and provide a family atmosphere where children are cared for and may have access to education. However, such homes are often expensive
and do not provide a solution for the majority of disabled children who end up in institutions where their physical disabilities often become psychiatric as a result of neglect. Mental Health and Society set up the first outpatient mental health clinic in Kyrgyzstan. It welcomes around forty clients suffering mainly from schizophrenia but also various types of depression and other mental health disorders. Providing a warm and welcoming environment, this centre is a source of support and therapy without stigmatisation. It offers different types of rehabilitation activities, from individual therapy to family therapy, group art therapy and education sessions. Many success stories come out of this centre, for instance one lady, who once suffered from severe bipolar disorder, attended the centre for two years. Today, she speaks good English, writes poetry, draws and has held down a job for the last six months. She defies social stigma by proving that, despite a mental disorder, she can function successfully in the working world of Bishkek. Tilegen, now an assistant at the centre, is another positive result for this programme. Once suffering from schizophrenia, he now provides essential help to clients by manning the office and finding jobs for patients who are well enough to work. Reform in the Kyrgyz mental health system must start at governmental level – yet jumping through the corruption hoops is no easy business. It remains uncertain whether or not recent political changes in the country will provide a government more responsive than those which preceded it. Nevertheless, following a catalogue of politically turbulent events that climaxed with the June events in southern Kyrgyzstan, psychological health and mental healthcare in the country should be high on the new administration’s list of priorities. November 2010 The Spektator
Fulbright scholar Dennis Keen came to Kyrgyzstan in search of eagles. Finding that the nation’s age-old tradition of hunting with birds of prey was well on the mend, the main catalyst and obstacle in his research revealed itself as being one and the same; the High Priest of Falconry in Kyrgyzstan, an uncompromising sage named Sary.
HE DRIVE to Issyk Kul is supposed to be scenic, but the cliffs, rivers and mountain passes had all been blotted out by a whirring white void. My translator Abay told me “S pervym snegom!”, the Russian congratulation on the first snow of the year. We were headed to the sleepy side of the lake - the southern side - where a little town called Bokonbaevo had emerged as the centre of Kyrgyz falconry. There would be a hunting festival in the hills above the town that weekend and a small hunting museum hid in its dusty streets. All of this was the result of one man, a man with a plan; a man named Almaz Akunov. Almaz met us in the centre of town and drove us to a homestay that he had arranged. When I met him the previous weekend he had been cold and dismissive, unsure of my intentions and disappointed that the “Request for Financial Aid” he had sent me last fall had been met with months of no reply. Now that we were in his hometown, and it was clear we were there for research, he brightened up considerably. Driving his jeep over potholes and into riverbeds, Almaz took us up into the mountains and told us of his vision. Ten years ago, he said, falconry in Kyrgyzstan had been in a sorry state. Though the tradition of hunting with eagles Top Falcons are the most common hunting had been a part of Kyrgyz culture for centuries, birds. Eagles are harder to come by and harder it had dwindled to a solitary pursuit enjoyed by only a handful of hunters. What if we could to tame (all photos Dennis Keen) take this lonely hobby of a man, his bird and the Right Nothing beats watching the eagles on a mountains, and make it into a public spectacle? Saturday afternoon There could be competitions with judges and November 2010 The Spektator
point systems, held in the open for all to see. A few years ago Almaz organized his first hunting festival, and started a new hunting tradition that would draw dozens of interested people from all over Kyrgyzstan, and even an American boy from across the sea. With the sun long gone and the chill of the night setting in, we arrived at our home for the night. It was a house of adobe that had appeared unannounced out of the darkness, and I had lost all sense of where we were. The mystery of the place was deepened by its legendary caretaker, the master to Almaz’s apprentice. His name was Sary, and he was 81 years old. He first learned to hunt under Stalin in 1943. He was the high priest of Kyrgyz eagle hunting, a living encyclopedia of the traditional knowledge that had been handed down through his family for generations. Now he was living in the mountains with his grandson, himself a master hunter. They invited us in. We would be their honoured guests. His family was gathered around a low table, anxious to meet this strange man from a distant land. A Russian movie was playing on the television, and in the corner a falcon was perched over a canvas, covered in shit. It eyed me nervously and flew towards the door, flailing against the leash that tied it to the ground. With the nonchalance borne from sixty eight years of taming raptors, Sary waited for the bird to calm down and gently stroked its head. It closed its eyes slowly, comically relaxed. His family set the table with bread and jam, and the family matron, his grandson’s wife, pushed a bowl my way. “Chai eech,” she said – drink tea. www.thespektator.co.uk
After the customary bread and apples, Sary asked us if we had any questions for him. I took out my recorder and he opened up his mind. It was astounding. He told us about the dangers of catching eagles from cliffs, how to tell a good falcon by the blue on its beak, how to catch pigeons in the night and set them in traps for raptors. He showed us an instrument he had made himself for grabbing the snagged bird. He had learned to make it from his grandfather, who was born in the 19th century. He unloaded these insights as if in a reflex, the mere surface of a vast, deep lake of information I would have the fortune of skimming. Friday morning, I woke up to Abay gently nudging my shoulder, grinning madly. “Dennis, look!” He held his sheets balled up in his fist, and something was inside, scratching. I was semiconscious. This might not be happening. Abay flicked the lump of sheets at the end of his hand and, sure enough, something inside rustled about. “I woke up and felt something tickling my shoulder, so I grabbed it. Look!” He opened up the sheets and out poked a little mouse head, whiskers twitching. “Falcon food!” We bundled up and went out into the morning to show Sary our find. He smiled and untied his bird. Kneeling on the ground, Abay kept the mouse in his handkerchief, and Sary unhooded the falcon. Abay opened the cloth and the critter darted out. With a quick flap of its wings the falcon was on the chase. Both animals moved so fast I wasn’t sure what had happened. I looked in its talons and saw that they were empty. The www.thespektator.co.uk
mouse must have crawled to temporary safety under the house. After a little breakfast (bread and tea again), Sary had to head to a celebration, or toi, in another town on the lake. A relative was getting circumcised, and as the eldest member of the family his presence was requisite. Without our subject to interrogate, Abay and I went for a walk down the road. Shepherds waved us on our way to Issyk Kul’s teal swell, and then we were
‘Sary claimed his family had kept the dragon’s ear in a chest for years, but gave it to another family to use as a good luck charm during a pregnancy. They are still seeking its return’ in no man’s land, a desert buffer before the lake. Abay told me to taste the air. It felt familiar. Here we were in the middle of Asia, and we had come across a saline sea. A tree stood starkly against the sky, and rain clouds drifted towards us from the other side of the lake. On the way back, I sang softly to myself as Abay smoked a cigarette. A flock of sparrows swarmed a bush, and I made a film of it with my camera. A man was watching his sheep in the field adjacent, and called out to ask what I was doing. “Just filming the birds,” Abay answered
for me. The shepherd shook his head, amused. Behind us rumbled a tractor, and as we stepped out of the way, Abay looked at me and shouted “Country taxi!” Before I really understood what that meant, he hopped on the back and dragged me in after him. We hitched a ride all the way back to Sary’s. Three boys were crammed behind the wheel, and they looked at us from the rear window, laughing. Back at Sary’s ranch, grandson Rustam tied up a donkey and retrieved a felt bag from a shed. He was headed up into the hills to check some traps he had set, and asked if we’d like to join him. We stumbled up rocks to a ridge overlooking the house, where a strangely serene-seeming pigeon had been tied up as bait. Around him they had perched four sticks from which a homemade net, or tor had been strung. They hoped that a fly-by raptor would see the bird and carelessly get snagged in the surrounding strings as it dove down to catch its dinner. It seemed an improbable hypothesis, but they had apparently already caught countless birds this way. On this occasion, they lacked for luck and the sacrificial bird remained unscathed. Looking across a gorge with his binoculars, Rustam announced that the other traps he had set in the surrounding hills were just as falconless. We headed back, defeated. As the sun was setting, a car careened into the courtyard, and out came a group of very inebriated men. Sary was among them, buoyed by drink and his role as an overseer of ceremonies. Once in the main room of the house he plopped November 2010 The Spektator
down in the corner and stroked his beard gleefully. Sary’s son came in too, and decided to tell us everything we already knew about falconry. He wasn’t a hunter himself, and Sary told him to shut up. Old men here are called ak sakals, or white beards, and their authority is absolute. Sary’s son stumbled out of the room. I figured our chances for collecting more material that evening had vanished, but our hunter insisted he was up for it, so after eating more plov we headed to a quiet room in the other building to ask our questions. Abay conducted the interview in Kyrgyz, and I sat nodding encouragement at moments that seemed appropriate. Soon, though, it seemed Sary was growing combative, and Abay rubbed his temples in frustration. I didn’t really know what was going on, because the backand-forth continued without translation. After a while, my assistant explained. Sary had worked with other Westerners before, and he wasn’t sure he could trust us. It seemed that they had come and picked his brain and left with their pickings, never to return. It bothered him that he was such a source of knowledge, but all the knowledge he dished out left the country in the researcher’s notebook. The Kyrgyz people don’t even know about this tradition, he said, and you plan to take everything you learn from me and bring it to California? I felt ashamed, scolded by the white-beard. I paused and spoke with Abay for a few moments, and from that brief exchange came a series of revelations. I had told him I wanted to write a book about Kyrgyz eagle hunting, but we decided it would be impractical to write a primNovember 2010 The Spektator
er on a Kyrgyz tradition in a language most Kyrgyz couldn’t even understand. What if we could instead publish a book of Sary’s knowledge in his own language? What if we could take everything he had learned from oral tradition, passed down from his father and generations before, and make it available to anybody who was interested? Sary liked the idea of his name in print, his sagely reputation enshrined. He told us he feared he would die soon, and felt like he needed to leave something of himself behind. Together we could write his story, and Abay could help put it all together in Kyrgyz. I was thrilled
‘The bird’s bones were crushed; it’s head hung limp. The boy took the bird in his hands and ran off, crying. Onlookers recorded the tragedy with camera phones’ at the prospect of this new project. Then Sary said he would be honoured if I would be his first Western apprentice, so he could pass the tradition on across nations. A delirious handshake spanned oceans and continents. Everything was coming together. The morning of the festival I woke up to a snowy surprise. The ground and the hills that had stood barren and brown the day before now shone brilliant white. Abay was worried that the snow might cancel the eagle festival, but I was enjoying the scenery so much that it hardly mattered to me. I wandered around the orchard, enrapt.
One of Sary’s great-grandsons, Shamil, appeared from nowhere with a dead pheasant and a rabbit in hand, a smirk of pride on his face to match. It was breakfast time for his hawk. Tying a rope to the pheasant’s legs, Shamil threw it on the ground and stood at a distance. Sary stood across the yard with the hawk, and when he unhooded it, his grandson pulled the rope and the lifeless carcass sprung across the yard. Seeing it’s bright colours move through the snow, the hawk pounced. Next it was the rabbit’s turn, and it’s head was soon on the snow, severed. Sary picked up the rabbit’s foot and fed it to his bird like a drumstick. Before heading off for the big event, we went back into the hills with Rustam to check the pigeon traps. There was no good news. One pigeon had been mauled through the net by a fox, and the other was simply gone. We did come across a half-dead rabbit snagged in a metal trap, one of a handful that Rustam had set earlier in the week. He took a proud photo and shoved it in his canvas bag. As we walked from trap to trap, he would point out various tracks in the snow. That one’s a rabbit, that one’s a fox, that’s from this morning, that’s from last night. He had memorized the exact location of the traps, even though they were hidden under the snow. At the festival, Sary held court. The other hunters gathered around him, holding out their birds for appraisal. No matter how old or experienced, they waited their turn to hear the master’s assessment. With barely a glance he could discern the age, health, and type of the eagle. He would point to spots on their tail feathers www.thespektator.co.uk
and tell them they were eating too much liver, or count the bumps on their claws to determine their age. Abay and I followed him around with our recorder. Afterwards I bought him lagman for lunch, and at intervals he would depart with his smoking buddy Abay, the young man and the sage, sharing a vice. In one rather informal event, Sary stood on stage and took turns rating the hunters’ costumes, equipment, and bird management skills. In another event, the hunters scaled a hill overlooking the valley and threw their birds oneby-one into the air. Down below a horseman galloped with a dead fox dragging behind. The eagles spied their prey instantly, flying at it with impressive force. If I had ever harboured any doubt over the predatory powers of these birds, then they had already been dispelled graphically by an incident earlier on in the day. One of the birds had been left without a leash and had sprung on Shamil’s falcon, perched nearby. The bird’s bones were crushed; it’s head hung limp. The boy took the bird in his hands and ran off, crying. Onlookers recorded the tragedy with camera phones. After the festivities, we stopped in at Almaz‘s house. We had been invited to a feast, but the eating didn’t come until later, much later. For hours we sat on the floor, all eyes on Sary. I counted eighteen people in the room, all facing the old man, the ak sakal, the white beard. He told a story about how his father fought with Przhevalsky, a commander in the Russian Imperial army. Przhevalsky gave him some sort of sedative to calm his nerves and then he shot a dragon. Sary claimed his family had kept the www.thespektator.co.uk
dragon’s ear in a chest for years, but gave it to another family to use as a good luck charm during a pregnancy. They are still seeking its return. I told Abay dragons didn’t exist. He just shrugged. Sary’s stories slowly dried up and the room fell quiet. When the food came, I hardly felt like eating. It didn’t help that the beshbarkmak was nearly inedible. Maybe my teeth aren’t sharp enough, but I chewed the same piece of fat for five minutes before surreptitiously spitting it out and hiding it in the bowl of broth that was provided with my meal. It was nearly all fat, and the meaty parts were dry and flavourless. My face and hands were covered in grease. I felt uncomfortable. There were subtle cues to pass things to elders and eat the meat a certain way, all of which I missed. Some of the other guests looked at me with obvious displeasure. Later, I offended even more. When we were getting ready to depart for Bishkek, I gave Sary a gift which I had brought all the way from California with a hunter in mind, a felt banner with the University of California seal. I knew they liked wall hangings, and I thought they’d be impressed by it’s academic eminence. Sary didn’t even smile. Walking to the car, Abay wasn’t happy either. “Dennis, I have to be honest, he was very angry. You gave him a flag? He expected more.” Now I was angry too. “Well what does he want from me? I already paid his family more than they make in a month! I’m writing his fricking life story! Why does everything here come down to what will the rich American give me?” We piled into the car. The optimism of the previous night had evaporated. Me and the old man were at loggerheads again, and our related projects were hanging in the balance.
Above Flying an eagle - more fun than flying a kite Left Rating hawks and their owners is just one of a number of ceremonial functions that Sary’s local renown bestows upon him
How to Catch an Eagle Would you like your very own berkut? There are several methods you can use to snag your unsuspecting bird of prey. Cliff jumping: Not for the faint of heart. Find your nearest cliff-side aerie, and strap a rope around your waist. Your friends lower you down to the nest, where you grab a young eaglet and stuff it in a bag. Meanwhile, your buddies shoot off blanks to scare away the mama eagle whose baby you’re stealing so heartlessly. Pigeon baiting: Catch a pigeon. Tie it up. Around it, prop up a net on some poles. Leave the pigeon some water, and come back twice a day. Hopefully an eagle will fly by, see your prize, and get tangled in your trap. You’re more likely to catch a falcon, but hey, those are pretty cool too. Chase it down: Apparently this works, but nobody we know has ever tried it. Get on a horse, and find an eagle who has just had lunch. It should be totally stuffed, fat and lazy. Chase it. According to those in the know, the eagle will eventually get tired, lay on its back, and stick its talons out at you. Try not to freak out, and lash it with a piece of soft felt. Now you have your very own eagle. Congratulations!
November 2010 The Spektator
and Bars restaurants
Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui) With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you are getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select There’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in. Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although delicious, may leave delicate stomachs in some distress several are marked with a star * hours later - consider the ‘not-spicy’ sauce as a suitPrice Guide (main course and a garnish) able alternative $$ $ - Expect change from 150 som Frunze $$ - A little over 250 should do the trick (Chui/Pravda) $$$ - Expect to pay in the region of 350 Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out $$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in American terms of scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered, just point to something tasty-looking on a neighCowboy* (Toktogul/Orozbekova) Bishkek’s all-American restaurant-cum-dance bouring table like we did. $$ club has now gone a little more up-market, but Peking Duck I & II wild nights are still to be had. Dig in to a kilo of (Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.) chicken wings and then hit the dance floor. $$$ Huge portions to feed even the biggest of gluttons and an English language menu that provides Hollywood*(Druzhba/Sovietskaya) plenty of amusing translations. $$ As you would probably guess, decorated with movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a Shaolin (Zhibek Zholu/Prospect Mir) bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu- This tidy looking restaurant sticks out for its sheer lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed range of oriental dishes and its large, round tables from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few that make it ideal for extended gatherings. $$ drinks before heading off to the clubs. $$ New York Pizza (177, Kievskaya) Decorated with pictures of the Big Apple and serving a fine selection of steaks and other American-themed dishes, NYP is sure to get New Yorkers thinking of home. For home delivery ring (0312) 909909. $$$
Hui Min (Relocated to the Hotel Dostuk) A former favourite, we have been told that Hui Min has now relocated to the Hotel Dostuk. Apparently the menu has been revamped and the prices increased. The Spektator will be checking it out soon. We hope they still serve the special Dungan tea, as Obama (Erkindik/Toktogul) The owners claim that the inspiration for the title it’s rather good. came from the first letters in each of their surGeorgian names - pull the other one guys, the bloke is all over the walls. The pizza, like the presidency, has Mimino (27, Kievskaya) certainly been over-hyped, but the chicken plat- Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steamter and the cheese burgers are a treat. Big por- ing, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds a-plenty. We recommend the kjadjapuri, khinkali and tions. $$$ anything that’s served in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe at the door. $$$$
Landau (Manas/Gorky) Fancy something a little different? If you can tolerate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Armenian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$
Chinese Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova) This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy, but in a nice way. $
November 2010 The Spektator
International 12 Chimneys (TeplIkluchy village) Wooden cabin located by a rushing stream thirty minutes out of town. The overpriced food is more than compensated for by the chilled atmosphere and wild surroundings. Hotel accommodation also available. Head south on Almatinskaya and keep going. $$$$
Bacardi* (Togolok Moldo 17/1) Elite lounge bar affair with separate rooms for dining, dancing and whiling the night away smoking hukkah pipes. Urban grooves played at a reasonable volume and a full menu that includes a range of tasty platters. $$$$ Barcode* (Toktogul/Sovietskaya, inside ‘Moto’) A hip, clean interior, fast wi-fi and an affordable business lunch have made Barcode something of a hotspot since it opened in early 2010. The place comes to life at night when 3 DJs compete for your affections with an array of banging tunes. $$ Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova) Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent blues every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter we recommend ‘Irish Red’. $$$$ Buddha Bar (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva) Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a tastefully constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$$ Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo) Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection of evocatively named dishes including ‘Fish from the ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’. Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows create an underwater log cabin experience. Spirits, cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$ Ceska* (115, Alamatinskaya) Cousin to Blonder Pub, this Bros Co. ‘theme bar’ is worth checking out for its fantastic tiramisu cake alone. Every third beer is free but don’t get too excited - they come in 0.4l glasses. $$$
Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova) Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and cakes Bishkek has to offer at the imaginatively Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena) named ‘Coffee House’, a cosy boutique café with a Don your beer drinking trousers and head down European flavour. Curl up and read a book, or just to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They drop in for a caffeine hit and a chocolate fix. $$$ brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your Cosmo Bar* (Sovietska/Moskovskaya) pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut. Board the sweet smelling elevator, ascend to the $$$ top-floor Cosmo Bar and splash the cash with your fellow free-spending cosmonauts. Elegant interior, plush sofas, fancy drinks and pretty waitresses. Uighur Huzzah! $$$$ Karavan (Almatinkskoya/Chui) Crostini (191, Abdrahmanova) Excellent little stolvya (canteen) full of the timeless Situated inside the Hyatt, this is a joint to be reregional favourites. Being an Uighur restaurant its gero served for a business lunch or marriage proposal lagman or lagman pa Uighurski particularly stand out. only. Chef Taner Erdemir serves up mouth-waterNo smoking, sit, eat and leave. $ ing international cusine, but at a price. $$$$$
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs Dillinger* (Gorky/Tynystanova) Glamorous VIP complex including a restaurant, bar and casino. A decedantly decorated and perculiarly endearing homage to the notorious bank robber we’re sure he would appreciate it. $$$$
Navigator (103, Moskovskaya) A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an afternoon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are Fatboy’s* (Chui/Tynystanova) Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town and getting you down. $$$$ a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot for conversation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini-library to pe- Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova) ruse (although literary classics are thin on the ground). The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre conCheck out the American pancakes for breakfast, top ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy basement bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection marks. $$$ of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés. One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a roegant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$ place to splash out on a special occasion or just for the hell of it. $$$$ U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya) Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant. Foyer (27, Erkindik ) Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening cock- Descend into this underground warren and tuck in. tail or check your inbox with a cup of coffee. Free Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sisterrabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$ Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$$ Griffon (Microregion 7) A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase. $$$
Vavilon (Microregion 7) Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60 som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and live music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai Jam* (179, Toktogula) An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a for about 1.5km) $$$ full menu, kalians (shisha pipes) and a lounge bar Vis-a-Vis (26, Logvinenko) atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$ Look for the yellow awning between Kiev and Chui. Jumanji (Behind the circus) It’s strange. This place is decorated with fake jungle foliage and is based on a crap kids’ film yet still sort of works. You also get to roll a pair of Jumanji dice before you order for the chance to win a special secret prize - we like this. $$$ Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda) Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the Champions league at three in the morning. $$$$ Lounge Bar* (338a, Frunze) One of our favourite places to drink in the Summertime, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cumterrace high above the street with slouch-couches and fine views of the circus - which you can sometimes smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$
Metro* (133, Chui) In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compliment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catching sporting events on TV, although thanks to the hideously late kickoff times for Champions League football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up unless it’s a big one. $$$
This place is a new honey pot for ex pats. Steak is always advisable when eating at an appendix to a butcher’s, and the sirloin here is exceptional. Also, enjoy English breakfasts, chips that aren’t cold and local dark ale Chuiski on tap. Recommended! $$$
Cyclone (136, Chui) Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient, polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to alleviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$ Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva) Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serving excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime dining. $$
Japanese Aoyama (93, Toktogula) Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals. The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape together enough soms. $$$$ Watari (Shevchenko, Frunze) A small Japanese-owned restaurant that serves sushi as well as dishes with a more indian flavour. The refined atmosphere makes it ideal for a business meeting or just a sophisticated night out $$$
Korean Petel (52, Zhykeeva Pudovkin) Operating in the back room of a Korean family’s house, this is Korean style home-cooking at its most personal. Closed on Sunday. Ring: 0543 922539 $$ Santa Maria (217, Chui) Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites, including exciting Korean barbecues where you get to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive European menu. $$$
Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze) Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve enThe Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt) ticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus, A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian and tasty little meat pie things. $$$ food make this place a real treat. On midweek days there are also several excellent business lunch deals Moldovan offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for 250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator faMoldova Restaurant (Kievskaya/Turusbekova) vourite! $$$$ If it’s been a while since you last went out for a Moldovan, this wooden paneled, sturdy-tabled eaItalian tery may be the answer to your prayers. Also, the Adriatico (219, Chui) Moldovan Embassy is next door should you care Reportedly suffering following the departure of to learn more about the world’s favourite budgetits Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told wine exporting country. $$$ that the soup is still excellent. $$$$
Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev) Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, has moved homes and is now serving a practically identical range of dishes at this spot just behind October cinema. Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other typical Italian numbers, tasty business lunches from 200 soms. $$$$
Arabica* (Mederova/Tynastanova) This formerly sophisticated laid back shisha pipe) bar has moved to a new location and, by the looks of the bath in the toilets, may still be under development. Three floors, VIP rooms, kaliyans aplenty. $$$
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November 2010 The Spektator
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Arzu-II (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those who get cravings for lagman or manti at four in the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed, sometimes it is, however the food and prices are constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats to dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$
Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira) Recently opened, Zaporyzhia is a cossack flavoured restauraunt in a varnish-scented log cabin. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere. The medovukha is recommended! $$$
Ajar (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula) Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium) Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact dishes and a homely atmosphere. There’s also a ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is great outdoor terrace and national favorouit Arpa limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’ and something cheap and tasty will arrive. $ on draught. $$ Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an impressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $ Faiza (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira) Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that they have often run out by supper-time. Save an appetite and go early. $$ Forel (Vorentsovka village) Twenty minutes outside of Bishkek, Forel is a fishbased ‘relaxation centre’ set amongst babbling streams and offering fine veiws of the mountains. Fish your own trout out of a pool and have it deep fat fried for your pleasure. Only salads, bread, tea and juice are sold on site but you are welcome to bring any booze or garnish you desire, it’s also possible to rent a BBQ. To get there take a taxi to Vorentsovka village and, if your taxi driver doesn’t know the exact location, ask a friendly villager. Trout is 800som/kilo $$$ Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out for its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes overlooked. Probably at its best in summer, when the shashlyk masters flanking the entrance offer their creations straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style tables – cross your legs and see how long you can last before cramp sets in. $
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City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina) Tel. 511513; 510581 So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the poshest clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly people beware) and spend your evening with gangHuzur (Kievskaya/Togoluk Moldo,) Convivial proprietor Ali claims to have Steven Ger- ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh businessrard’s 2005 Champion’s League winning Liverpool men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to shirt. If you don’t believe that, belive in free lipyosh- have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/ boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500 ka and good, affordable Turkish cuisine. $$ Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova) This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh, and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended! (And now open 24 hours a day) $$
Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo) Tel. 620131 A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists literally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly staff, cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance charge [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/Sat. ‘Foreigners’ free.)
Retro Metro (24, Mira) www.retrometro.kg Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his records from inside the front of a VW camper van. One of the most popular places for post-2am partying. (Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450 There are some Bishkek old-hands who say that som Fri/Sat. Reserve for 200 som) things aren’t what they used to be when it comes to nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights of Live Music carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that conPromzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya) temporary Bishkek struggles to offer. Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below and www.promzona.kg we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit and Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi ride or a long walk home are in order at the end debauchery in town to keep everyone happy. of a night. Nevertheless, this trendy live music venue has a lot going for it: good bands, an extenDiskoklubs sive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring, strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the Heaven (Frunze/Pravda - in the Hotel Dostuk) As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is surprisingly best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night. unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion of Rock or blues bands normally play at the weekthe well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in tatty ends. (Music charge 200-350 som)
jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out of place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables by the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks up to this value. (Entrance charge 200-400 som)
Fire & Ice (Tynystanova/Erkindik) A slightly grittier version of Golden Bull. Again, forPirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo) eigners can often get in for free. Popular throughout Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century the week. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free) atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your tea in a giant samovar. $$$ Gvozd (Western side of the Philharmonia) Foreigners for free, urban grooves and acceptable Khutoryanka (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) prices at the bar. ‘Gvozd’ means ‘nail’ in Russian, but Unassuming, to put it mildly, on the outside, this you’ve probably got a better chance at the Golden place is a revelation on the inside. Delicious food, Bull. Its almost like the crowd from Pharaoh have mireasonable service, Ukrainian brass band music grated. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free) on the cd player. We love it! $$$
November 2010 The Spektator
Arbat (9, Karl Marks) Tel. 512094; 512087 Smart ‘elite’ club popular with a slightly older crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building. (Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450 som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som)
Carlson (166, Sovietskaya) A good outdoor terrace and some hearty food, but the Karaoke style crooners who provide evening entertainment are an acquired taste. $$
Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya) Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups and fresh salads. $$$
Apple (28, Manas) Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars, large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-300 som)
Platinum (East side of the Philharmonia)
Tequila Blues (Turesbekova/Engels) A possible misnomer, the tequila is just fine but the blues is non-existent. Russian studenty types mosh away the nights to Rock bands in an atmospheric underground bunker. (Music charge 150 som) Sweet Sixties (Molodaya Gvardia/Kievskaya) Live cover bands most nights. Full menu, popular with a younger crowd. $$ Zeppelin (43, Chui) Zeppelin is in the same vein as the old Tequila Blues but not quite so spit and sawdust. On the nights we’ve visited, there’s been a line up of young rock or punk bands strutting their stuff, heavier beats seem to go down best with the young Russian crowd. Full restaurant menu. (Entrance charge 100-150 som)
Take a seat at the snazzy 360 degree bar and do battle with some of Kyrgyzstan’s most convivial ‘elite’ for Live music also common at Stary Edgar’s, Beatles gold-digging temptresses. (Entrance charge 400- Bar, Foyer and Blonder Pub (see ‘restaurants’)
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November 2010 The Spektator
What’s On Pumpkin Mania
TUK Dates for Nov-Dec
Until 30th November Cafe Tyubiteyka, 31 Turusbekova/Moscow A fest for the pumpkin fanatic and a perfect way to see out the fall. Up to 20 separate dishes of this lesser-eaten autumn vegetable will be available at an appealing little cafe up the road from Metro.
Grand Candy Conspiracy 21st November Children’s game, Raritet, Pushkin 78 We’re not really sure what this is but it sounds like a cracking idea in a city that is short of them. Turn up at Raritet book shop near the AlaToo square at 11.00am to find out.
November Dates Until 31st November Art Exhibition, Semen Chuikov Museum Display of Vladimir Butorin’s paintings in the Semen Chuikov house/museum. The exhibition is in honour of the 108th anniversary of Semen Chuikov’s birth. The late Chuikov was a popular painter in Kyrgyzstan during the Soviet period. 26-27th November Zepellin is on fire! Zeppelin Club, 43, Chui Several (relatively) high profile bands will hit the stage at Zeppelin club. Emil Munbaev and Danil Surov of Metric Trap fame will be playing, as will a band named in honour of director and sexual deviant Roman Polanski. Call 0312 365 849 for details. 27th-28th November Swimming gala, Dolphin swimming pool Athletes from both Bishkek and Kara-Balta will be competing in this high stakes splash down. 150 will compete in total. For more listings visit 312.kg. To find out where places are visit gde.kg.
Into December 11th December Secrets of Christmas Classical Concert Philharmonia 6.30 pm American Roger Macmerrin arrives in town with a choir from Kiev for what promises to be the cultural highlight of the festive season. An excellent production guaranteed to get you in the yuletide mood.
20th and 21st November Hike to Suysamyr valley paragliding base. Overnight cross country ski and snowshoe trip to Suysamir-Too valley. Transport and organization (including consultation and guide) per head is 650 som (550 som for TUK members.
The Puppet Theatre Sovietskaya/Michurina Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.
27th November Trekking in Takir Tor gorge (snowshoe trip) One day trip to the Takir Tor gorge. Hiking to the marine lake. Non categorical trip – different levels of complexity from absolute beginners to medium intensity. Distance: 18 km. Transport and organization is 210 som (180 som for TUK members).
Kyrgyz State Philharmonic Chui Prospect, 253 Tel: 212262, 212235 Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for special performances) There are two concert halls featuring classical, traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety of shows.
Russian Drama Theatre Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park) Tel.: 662032, 621571 20th November Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00 White water rafting in Chui/Issyk Kul region Tickets 30-100 som Day trip to Ala Archa gorge. Hike to the Ak Say Local and international plays in Russian. waterfall and visit the International Memorial to Kyrgyz Alpinists. Walk near Mt. Korona. Different The Conservatory levels of complexity from absolute beginners to Jantosheva, 115 the medium intensity. Distance: 12 km. Transport Tel: 479542 and organization per head is 220 som (200 som Concerts by students and professors. for TUK members).
28th November Hiking around Issyk Ata gorge One day trip to Issyk-Ata gorge. Trek along the left bank of Issyk Ata river to Botvеу mt (4008 m.). Open air picnic. Return back along the right bank of the river via a local waterfall. Different levels of complexity from absolute beginners to medium intensity. Distance: 14 km. Transport and organization is 210 som per head (180 som for TUK members).
Opera Ballet Theatre Sovietskaya/Abdymununova Tel: 66 15 48 Hours: 17:00-19:00 Tickets: 150-600 som Tickets for performances sell out very quickly and it is necessary to book a seat in advance.
5th December Live updates Trekking around Sokuluk gorge One day trip to the Sokuluk gorge. Hike to lo- For all the Bishkek opera, ballet and concert listings, cal waterfall and picnic in the open air. See Peak check our frequently updated What’s On listings at: Shpil. Return to Bishkek. Different levels of comwww.thespektator.co.uk plexity – from absolute beginners to medium intensity. 11th December Ski Season begins at base Too-Ashuy 750 soms (transport, instructor) not including equipment hire. Visit our office to book. Groups meet the Thursday before the weekend of departure. Call (0312) 906 115 or email us at trek@ elcat.kg. Website: www.trek-kyrgyzstan.com
End of the Year Awards
For our December issue the Spektator plans to run a short, two page piece highlighting the man/woman of the year in Kyrgyz political life and also the villain of the year. We encourage you to participate in this exercise by sending your votes to email@example.com. If you want to expand the theme, send us your bar/restaurant/anything of the year accompanied by a review (approx 800 words)
Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, Chui av. 4A, Office A4 Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.trek-kyrgyzstan.com, www.tuk.kg Map: Location guide 1. Tequila Blues 2. Metro Bar (American Pub) 3. Watari 4. Zaporyzhian Nights 5. Coffe House (I) 6. 2x2 Bar
November 2010 The Spektator
7. Beta Stores Supermarket 8. Derevyashka 9. Cyclone 10. Coffee House (II) 11. Adriatico 12. Santa Maria 13. Faiza
14. New York Pizza 15. Cowboy 16. National Museum 17. Navigator 18. Sky Bar 19. Foyer 20. Fatboy’s
21. Stary Edgars 22. TSUM Department Store 23. Jam 24. Mimino 25. Arabica 26. Konak 27. VEFA shopping Centre