Why have we chosen as the title for the exhibition: “Kyrgyzstan – Land of Felt at the Centre of the World and the people of the heavenly mountains”? When it comes to felt and felt products, Kyrgyzstan must quite clearly be described as a core area. The production is diverse and there are many people engaged in this handicraft.
Generally we do not hear much about Kyrgyzstan. The country does not have particularly many natural resources that the world needs, nor does very much grow there. In addition the country lies far from what we often designate as the core areas of the world. The Soviet authorities called these land areas “Middle Asia”. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union ten years ago there was a desire to abandon this name. Locally the term “middle” was considered as something between “under” and “over”, which in its turn had connotations with the fact that these land areas had a mid position between the Third World, which was “under”, and Europe, Russia and America, which were “over”. It was therefore decided to adopt the designation Central Asia.
That this land area is centrally situated is something we also see when we look at the map of the world; we find that Kyrgyzstan lies roughly “in the middle” of the world when it comes to geographical distance from the oceans. The distance to the Indian Ocean is somewhat shorter than to the Arctic Ocean, but on the other hand the passage southwards is closed by the almost impenetrable mountain ranges, the Tien Shan, the Pamirs and the Himalayas.
Events in New York in September 2001 played their part in making Central Asia, through its proximity to Afghanistan, the focus of world attention. Altogether the title of the exhibition thus seems to be quite appropriate.
Dear friends in Norway,
It gives me enormous pleasure to address to you these words of welcome on the occasion of the opening at the University of the Norwegian capital, Oslo, of the ethnographic exhibition “Kyrgyzstan – Land of felt at the centre of the world and the people of the heavenly mountains”, dedicated to the International Year of Mountains.
The fundamental aim of this exhibition is to show those who live in the capital of Norway and those who are visitors, the history, the rich and unique cultural heritage, the way of living and the everyday life of the ancient Kyrgyz people, spanning a period of more than 3000 years. It is also to create some familiarity with the democratic and socio-economic transformations accomplished in the country after its first ten years as an independent state and, through the national Programme “Complex Foundations for the Development of the Kyrgyz Republic up to the Year 2010”, to give a picture of our future and our prospects for co-operation.
At the exhibition, Kyrgyzstan is above all personified by its celestial mountains, for the mountains always served us by virtue of their being a place of abode and economic life and of protection against foreign invaders.
Ninety-five per cent of the territory of Kyrgyzstan covers mountain massifs and ridges more than one and a half kilometres in height, which from time immemorial have given, and to this day still give, life and vital moisture to the vast expanse of Central Asia. These mountains carry within them vast natural riches.
For this reason it is not a matter of chance that precisely our mountain country stepped forward with the international initiative of attracting the attention of the world community to the stable development of the mountain regions of the Earth. It found support on the part of the United Nations, which proclaimed the year 2002 as the International Year of Mountains. At the end of October and the beginning of November this year, in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, there will be a Global Mountain Summit Conference with the participation of heads of state and many international organisations, at which a proposal will be made to adopt a Programme guaranteeing the stable development of the mountain regions of the world in the 21st century. At the present time active work is being conducted with governmental and specialised institutions of the United Nations and a number of other international organisations on the realisation of preparatory organisational measures. I hope that the Norwegian delegation will also be playing an active part in the work of the forthcoming Global Mountain Summit Conference in Bishkek.
When there is talk of Central Asia, what surfaces in the memories of many people in the West is the designation “Great Silk Road.” As a matter of fact, Kyrgyzstan is situated on the Great Silk Road in the heart of this region and appears as the gateway to China. The Great Silk Road of today is not only communications, but also first and foremost the spiritual idea that connects East and West – the idea of their indivisible unity, of their complementariness, and of their mutual enrichment, the idea that by peaceful means and the path of dialogue the most complex global problems of mankind can be resolved.
For the revival of these values in the mid ’90s of the last century the President of Kyrgyzstan, A. Akayev, proposed to the world community the Doctrine of the “Diplomacy of the Silk Road”, based on the following principles: partnership with equal rights, friendship, co-operation with all the countries of the Great Silk Road, mutual world dependence, mutual benefit, a long-term perspective and a multi-vector view of the development of international co-operation.
To us Central Asia presents itself, above all, in its quality of being the unifying geo-economic bridge and intermediary in the strengthening of friendship and co-operation between the peoples of Europe and Asia.
In my mountain country, Norway is known as the Land of the Vikings, the native land of such outstanding explorers – pioneers like Amundsen, Nansen and Heyerdahl – and as one of the world’s leading donor-countries, providing all kinds of aid to developing countries. Norway is a country of workers and valiant people who, through their tireless and productive work, have created their present happiness and prosperity; it is a country that may rightly serve as a model to be imitated.
I am convinced that this exhibition presented in Oslo will promote the greatest possible bringing together of the peoples of our two friendly countries and permit the raising of our mutual relations to an even higher level. I trust that all those visiting the exhibition will find here what is closest to their hearts.
I wish you all every success, prosperity and peace.
With respect, Dr DrApas Dzhumagulov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kyrgyz Republic to the Kingdom of Norway.
Kyrgyzstan lies in the heart of Central Asia. This mountainous country borders Kazakhstan in the north, China (Xinjiang) in the south, and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the west. This republic in the Tien Shan Mountains has an area of 198,500 sq. km and approximately 4.5 million inhabitants (1995). The capital, Bishkek, has a population of approximately 700,000. Kyrgyzstan is a mountain country and roughly 40% of the land lies more than 3000 m. above sea level.
The name Kyrgyzstan
The name of the country is composed of the words “Kyrgyz”and “stan”. “Kyrgyz” is the appellation of the population after whom the country is named, and “stan” can be directly translated as land area. The word “Kyrgyz” is Turkic and it has been ascribed different meanings. The most usual thing is to claim that the etymological meaning of the word is kirk (forty) and kyz (girl). The legend that lies behind this explanation of the name tells that the Kyrgyz population is descended from forty young women. Others claim that the number forty refers to the fact that there were originally forty different Kyrgyz tribes in the area.
Kyrgyzstan is a multiethnic state in which the Kyrgyz constitute the largest ethnic unit. In 1996 the ethnic distribution was roughly as follows:
- Kyrgyz 63%
- Russians 15%
- Uzbeks 13%
- Germans 2%
- Ukrainere 2%
- Kazakhs 1%
- Dungans 1%
- Uighurs 1%
- Tajiks 1%
- others 11%
The Legend of mother hind
Once upon a time, and a very long time ago it was, there lived a Kyrgyz tribe on the bank of the Yenisey in the southern part of Siberia. The Kyrgyz tribe was at that time surrounded by hostile tribes who made war upon one another the whole time. While things were at their worst a bird turned up on the taiga. It wept and sang in a wailing human voice the whole night long. “A great misfortune is drawing nigh,” it sang. And it came. It was on the day when the Kyrgyz were burying their old chieftain. Despite the fact that throughout the whole region it was considered unheard of to attack people who were in the middle of a funeral, the attack came from the enemy. There followed a terrible bloodbath and they were all killed one by one.
The enemy believed that they had killed them all, but it turned out that two small children had survived the attack. The children followed the warriors and after three days they reached the warriors’ camp. Here they were introduced to the Khan in his magnificent yurt. The ruler was beside himself with anger because the Kyrgyz children had survived the attack and he commanded Scarred Lame Crone to take the children with her to put an end to them. She did as she was asked and took them with her to the edge of a precipice by the bank of the Yenisey.
Just as she was going to throw them off the precipice, she was addressed by a hind that came upon her from behind. “Wait a moment, great wise woman,” said the hind. “Don’t kill these innocent little children. Human beings have killed my two little deer children, so I shall take care of them and bring them up as my own. My udders are bursting with milk”. Scarred Lame Crone parted with the children. The mother hind told the children that she would take them with her on a long journey to the hot Lake Issyk Kul. The journey was long and strenuous, but the mother hind took great care of her two small children. She gave them milk, warmth and security during the whole of the long journey. One day they stood on the top of a mountain and looked down on the vast Lake Issyk-Kul. In this way they found the two children, who in the course of time were to become ancestors of all the Kyrgyz of the deer tribe (Bugu), in their new fatherland (freely adapted from Ajtmatov1 1993: 55-69. The present text has been translated from the Norwegian version).