UVU STUDENT TRAVEL IN CENTRAL ASIA As a Utah native, I love to travel to 'outside the box' locations as often as possible. Going places that are swarming with tourists has never appealed to me. In that spirit, this past spring/summer I took a month to travel to central Asia, visiting Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Aside from a certain obscurity, the reasons for going anywhere are always kind of hard to pin down for me. Central Asia has appealed to me after taking an introduction to foreign affairs class from Ambassador Abdrisaev. After letting this idea germinate for a few years, and letting a few trips get in the way during that time, I decided to commit to central Asia and contacted Ambassador Abdrisaev. Another reason for me to go to Central Asia was the fact that Utah Valley University has developed close relations with several countries from the region and Kyrgyzstan in particular with focus on our common feature – being mountainous nations. UVU students through their association of clubs, Utah International Mountain Forum, have established certain exchange programs and activities with International University of Kyrgyzstan (IUK) in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, a small mountainous nation in Central Asia and actively jointly pushing the programs of sustainable mountain development (SMD). They suggested to me to help them to do that during my trip to Central Asia and Kyrgyzstan in particular. I was very pleased to do that and to become the second UVU student to visit Kyrgyzstan since the moment of beginning close cooperation between UVU and IUK in SMD in 2005. One of UVU students already visited Bishkek in 2009 to participate at the international conference as the winner of the contest on writing the best essay about the 11th century manuscript “Glory of the Royal wisdom,” very important book for Turkic-‐speaking people in Eurasia. This book laid a ground for developing good and just governance principles in the region since the same times, when famous Magna Carta did the same for Britons. The contacts and people I was put in touch with in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan by Ambassador Abdrisaev were of great help to me. Professor Padiudkov from the International University of Kyrgyzstan was very helpful to me in navigating the city, meeting people at other universities, and putting me in contact with people that could help with the Mountain Partnership and organizing the international conference “Conflict and Peace in the Mountains,” which IUK and UVU plan to co-‐host jointly in the south of Kyrgyzstan in December, 2012. I am also very grateful for Ambassador Abdrisaevs nephew Ermek, who was kind and helpful to me beyond my ability to thank him for. His guidance and kindness made my time in the beautiful city of Bishkek more enlightening. The contacts, I hope, between UVU and Kyrgyzstan are now a bit stronger than they were previously. The key role that Kyrgyzstan can play in the region, and its mountainous nature all make it a key partner for any sustainable mountain development projects that move forward from here. I am glad also that we were able to meet representatives of the Mountain Partnership in Central Asia, who are residing in Bishkek and to discuss in details both their involvement in the International Conference, planned for December of this year and how we could work together on jointly promoting sustainable mountain development activities between UVU and Kyrgyzstan, UVU and Central Asia as members of the Mountain Partnership, coalition of global institutions, who are supporting the United Nations-‐related SMD agenda.
(From left to right) During the meeting of Jason Bates (first) with Chad Dear (second), Senior Research Scientist, Mountain Societies Research Centre at University of Central Asia, Elbegzaya (Zaya) Batjargal (third), Regional Programme Officer for Mountain Partnership/Mountain Forum (MP/MF) in Central Asia, and Pierre Padiukov from International University of Kyrgyzstan (fourth). This trip to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan has opened my eyes to the beauty and potential of this region, and educated me on another region of the world. I would like to share a few observations about each country below. Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan is, from all accounts and from my experience, by far the most prosperous and well off of the Central Asian republics. Almaty (until the late 1990s the capital of independent Kazakhstan) is a beautiful town of apparent wealth and has a bustling, fast growing feeling to it. The central business district has new skyscrapers, clean streets, and multiple projects in the works that grants the city a vibrant growing feeling. Along with nice modern shopping centers and highway projects, the city is working hard to highlight its natural beauty with the mountains nearby and their naturally beautiful backdrop. Almaty, along with Astana, hosted the Asian winter games in 2011, and the infrastructure used for these games is worth seeing. By all accounts I got, the games were NOT run well. Whether or not the games were pulled off successfully is not something I'm familiar with. But the general speed and growth of Kazakhstan in general would lead an optimist to predict Olympic aspirations if Kazakhstan can clear up some of the problems it have with its international perception. Astana is another fascinating place to visit. Astana is one of the newest examples of a brand new world capital city, having been dreamed up and built in the late 1990s at the behest of Nazarbayev. This city has grown incredibly in 15 years. Astana is large, new, eclectic, and shows signs of personal direction. Astana had, in my (this author’s) opinion, a feeling very similar to Las Vegas, and not for the reasons that might seem obvious. Both Las Vegas and Astana are fast growing, wealthy, and show a large degree of artificial eclecticism. Astana seems very eager to impose a personality for itself through extravagant construction projects. Without a historically derived personality to draw on, this city is in a rush to make
its mark. This reminded me a great deal of Las Vegas, with its bizarre and seemingly unlimited ability to finance striking buildings with bizarre and unconnected designs. Both cities have a high level of gloss and gilt, and both feel a little artificial.
Astana – pomp on Parade Kazakhstan is a country whose youth is being educated on what seems to be a good level. I encountered students who felt free to criticize the government and who seemed capable of administering the needs of a growing economy and government. Time will tell if the freedom I sensed from some will prove a reality. The greatest struggles I had in Kazakhstan came any time I had to deal with any kind of bureaucrats. The rigidity of their policies, their (seeming) inability to make decisions without direct supervisory approval, and what I sensed as a complete lack of interest in trying to help all reminded me of the stereotypically soviet method of administration. I was, in Kazakhstan, without anyone who was interested or empowered to assist me. This was a difference I felt from previous travels. Uzbekistan: Uzbekistan was, oddly, the most "touristy" of the Central Asian nations I visited. This was, of course, largely due to the nature of my visit. I scheduled planned tours with a company I found on the internet to go see Bukhara, Samarkand, and sites in the capital of Tashkent itself. Uzbekistan has a small, budding tourism industry that could eventually become a source of strength and reliable funds for the country. Obviously, Uzbekistan is trying to foster this industry. At a panel discussion at UVU earlier in the year where the UN ambassador from Uzbekistan spoke, promotional materials for Uzbekistan were laid out for any interested. Glossy, well, produced, and presumably produced at considerable expense, these materials speak to the countries efforts to promote tourism
from the US. I was, however, alone on all of my tours and had direct, one on one time with my guides and experts in Uzbekistan. While in Uzbekistan I visited the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. As great centers of learning, government and military power in the 1300s under Amir Timur (Tamerlane) these cities boast magnificent architecture, scientific history, and Silk Road history. The pictures in the tourist literature do not make obvious that these cities are still lived in by thousands, and maintain modern quarters and very non historical/tourist areas where people go about normal life on a day to day basis.
Founded circa 700 BC Samarkand, Uzbekistan My guides were all local, all friendly, and all helpful. I did not meet a whole lot of people in Uzbekistan aside from them, sadly. I did, however, meet people in the bazaars who were very helpful and willing to help me circumvent the government’s official exchange rate for the Sum, the local currency. Whatever consequences for partaking in the black market exchange rate, the enforcement must be weak, predictable, or punishments light because I found a more favorable rate with very little effort. And getting %50 more Sum for my dollar was incentive enough for me to risk it. All in all, with the totalitarian regime and the limitations there in mind, the basic infrastructure for Uzbekistan to generate and take advantage of western tourists is nearly complete. Train routes are in place and seemingly safe, sites of immense interest and historical significance are there, and the people seem generally nice. Uzbekistan, as do both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, well represents the potential of the region and its wonderful people. Kyrgyzstan:
Kyrgyzstan was the most interesting country that I visited, and the ��one that (thankfully) I was able to spend the most time in. While in Kyrgyzstan, I met many wonderful people associated with both the International University of Kyrgyzstan and the University of Central Asia. Both institutions show the promise that Kyrgyzstan has for a potentially promising future. Both of these Universities are within Bishkek, the capital city.
Park in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan Bishkek, I have read, was the greenest (in the botanical sense, not the environmental modern sense) capital in the Soviet Union. And, after my visit, I can believe it. Strikingly beautiful, long parks dot the city, and trees abound. The site of slowly fluttering seeds and the smell of life were welcome additions to my breakfast routine in the city. Not only was the city beautiful, the people were (aside from one incident with the police) friendly and helpful. The relatively large American presence in the area due to the airbase at Manas is helped me feel not as foreign as I otherwise would have. With a large population of Russians still living in the city, it was also easier to blend in.
I am at the Tien Shan Mountains Kyrgyzstan is strikingly beautiful with its jagged, high mountains, its large, deep lake of Issyk Kul, and the large, green city of Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan’s status as a highly mountainous nation has led it to play a large part in the development of mountain awareness. The issues that confront Kyrgyzstan as a mountainous nation are issues of prominence for all mountainous areas. Kyrgyzstan offered wonderful opportunities for hiking, and the Tien Shen mountains near Bishkek and lake Issyk Kul were stunning, even to a Utah native used to the spectacle of the Wasatch and Rocky Mountains. Lake Issyk Kul is the second largest mountain lake in the world, and is a budding and future site for regional and international tourism during the summer. My drive into Issyk Kul from Bishkek (about three hours) was stunning. And the road work that is being done by a Chinese firm is sure to increase the lakes accessibility to the region. One interesting thing to note about Kyrgyzstan is the presence of the Turks in commerce. A large Turkish investment appears to be being made in the capital of Bishkek at least. Large shopping malls, stores, and Turkish goods abound. The link to Turkey is proudly flaunted with Turkish flags being flown side by side with Kyrgyz flags at these areas. The relative strength between the Turkish commercial connection and the U.S. is something that will warrant further attention to potentially interested investors. Jason Bates, UVU student, Major in history of education