Sunday, June 29, 2008

It is a Beautiful Day in Bishkek

The weather here is absolutely beautiful. I walked through a couple of parks earlier today. Everything seemed so green.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Remember Us: Letters from Stalin's Gulag (1930-1937) by Ruth Derksen Siemens

Yesterday, the office manager informed me I had received a package and that it was waiting for me at Post Office No. 40. I have only received snail mail once before in Bishkek and it arrived at the Main Post Office. At any rate I found out where branch number 40 was located and walked there this morning. The package was a book by Ruth Derksen Seimens, Remember Us: Letters from Stalin's Gulag (1930-1937) (Kitchner, ON: Pandora Press, 2007). I will post a review of the book after I finish reading it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Summer Reading

I just finished reading another anthology of scholarly articles. Yaacov Ro'i, ed., Democracy and Pluralism in Muslim Eurasia (London: Frank Cass, 2004) has nineteen chapters by various authors dealing with the progress and prospects of democratization in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Central Asia and the Muslim republics of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus and the Volga region. Among the contributions are two specifically on Kyrgyzstan during the rule of Askar Akayev, "Liberalization in Kyrgyzstan: 'An Island of Democracy' by Leonid Levitin and "Political Clans and Political Conflicts in Contemporary Kyrgyzstan" by Vladimir Khanin. Living in Bishkek I am always trying to expand my knowledge of the country and these two pieces provided some good background material on the political situation here from 1991 to 2004.

I found the most interesting chapters to be those that dealt with the North Caucasus. I did not fully comprehend the complexity of the ethno-territorial state structure of Dagestan until I read Enver Kisriev's, "The Polticial Process in Dagestan: Prospects for Democracy." The State Council has 14 representatives, each one from a different ethnic group. They also have reserved 66 out of 121 constituencies for elections to the People's Assembly for specific ethnic groups. A total of 12 ethnicities have reserved constituencies of which the three largest are the Avars with 12, the Kumyks with 12 and Russians with 10. For those many people in the US who see antisemitism in every Muslim state it should be noted that the Jewish Tats have 2 reserved constituencies while the native Muslim Rutuls and Aguls do not have any (p. 335-336). Kirsriev argues that the complex ethnic structure of the Dagestani state in fact constitutes a consociational state (pp. 332-334). This state structure has made Dagestan more stable and less prone to ethnic conflict than neighboring multi-ethnic republics with presidential systems such as Karachai-Cherkessia and Karbardino-Balkaria, the subjects of the chapter by Svante E. Cornell, "Ethnic Relations and Democratic Transition in the North-Western Caucasus." The two essays side by side make a great comparison.

Overall Ro'i and his collaborators are not very optimistic about the prospects of liberal democracy in Muslim Eurasia. The historical precedents in the region do not translate well into forming modern western style democracies (pp. 375-379). Almost all of the impediments to liberal democracy in Muslim Eurasia, however, seem to be the same obstacles faced by other areas of the former USSR. A couple of comparative essays dealing with the problems of democratization in places like the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belorus, Georgia and Armenia all of which are predominantly Christian would have been instructive. But, it is hard to see from the Ro'i collection any problems of democratization in Muslim Eurasia that are distinctly Muslim rather than generally Eurasian.

Spicy Borscht

Yesterday the girlfriend made a huge pot of borscht. This, however, was not ordinary borscht. Her grandmother was Koryo Saram (ethnic Korean from the Soviet Far East), so almost everything she cooks gets Koreanized with chilies and other hot spices. It was quite good. I need to go buy some more smetana (Russian sour cream) today to go with it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Most Recent Reading - Nationalism by Craig Calhoun

I just finished reading the short collection of essays, Craig Calhoun, Nationalism (Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 1997). One of the great strengths of this collection is its review of other peoples theories and its use of a wide variety of historical examples. In particular the book makes frequent reference to the development of nationalism in France, Germany, China, India and Eritrea among other places. I will be assigning a piece by Calhoun for my class on Nationalism, Race and ethnicity next semester.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Recent Reading - Russia and Asia

I just finished reading Wayne S. Vucinich, ed. , Russia and Asia: Essays on the Influence of Russia on the Asian Peoples (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1972). In particular I found the essay by Vucinich, "The Structure of Soviet Orientology: Fifty Years of Change and Accomplishment", to be very interesting. He examines and evaluates the broad range of writing by Soviet orientalists from the 1920s through the 1960s. He notes specifically both their strengths and weaknesses. This is a far cry from Said's dismissal of all orientalist scholarship. It is also a far more difficult task.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Russian-Germans from Kyrgyzstan during World War II and the Labor Army

The Russian-German population of Kyrgyzstan avoided deportation during World War II as a result of its distance from the front. They did not, however, avoid induction into the forced labor battalions known as the labor army. On 14 February 1942, the Stalin regime began the conscription of Russian-German men in Kyrgyzstan into the labor army. Here they joined Russian-Germans deported from European areas of the USSR to Kazakhstan and Siberia and mobilized into the labor army. On 7 October 1942, the Soviet government expanded this mobilization to include women. This often resulted in children being abandoned without anybody to care for them. Only in 1946 did the Soviet government begin to dismantle the labor army, placing the released survivors under special settlement restrictions.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Looking for Books

I am looking for the following three books. If anybody knows how I might be able to purchase them here in Bishkek please let me know. Note all three of the books were published in Bishkek.

D.S. Kyzaeva, T.D. Dotsenko, S.I. Begaliev, Arkhivnye dokumenty svidetel'stvuiut: Deportirovannye narody v Kyrgyzstane (Bishkek: "Aibek", 1995)

A. Shtraus and S. Pankrats, Svidetel'stva prestuplenii (Bishkek: Ilim, 1997)

G.K. Krongardt, Nemtsy v Kyrgyzstane 1880-1990 gg. (Bishkek: Ilim, 1997)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Prickly Pear Juice

The other day I found prickly pear juice at the supermarket. Some company out of Poland specializing in exotic fruit juices had one called "Kaktus" which promised to have juice from the prickly pear tuna. Actually the concoction was mostly apple and lime juice with only a small amount of prickly pear in it. But, nonetheless I decided to buy a container. The flavor was mostly sweetened apple and the color was definitely from the lime juice. At 89 som a liter I do not think I will be buying it again. It was nice to have a reminder of Arizona, however.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

14 June 1941 - Baltic Deportations

It has been 67 years since the first mass deportations carried out by the Stalin regime in the occupied Baltic States. I wrote a short piece about these deportations here on their 65th anniversary.

Almost One Year Since I Left Arivaca

It has been almost one year since I left Arivaca, Arizona. I left Arivaca on 17 June 2007. I then spent a brief period of time in Orange County, California before flying to Bishkek. I left LAX on 31 July 2007 and arrived in Bishkek on 2 August 2007. I have been here since then.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Victims, Perpetrators and Bystanders in Soviet Central Asia

I have been reading Kristina Gray's entries on Kazakhstan at her very informative blog. She has put up a couple of posts regarding the memory of Soviet repression in this region of the world. I agree with her that the negative aspects of the 1930s and 1940s are far too much of a black hole in popular memory here. Dekulakization, the "Great Terror", the Gulag, the deportation of nationalities and other Stalin era crimes are not taught well in school here in Kyrgyzstan. What is in the official history textbooks I have seen focuses almost entirely on victims among the Kyrgyz communist leadership executed during 1937 and 1938. They have nothing on the deportation of Karachais, Chechens, Ingush and Balkars to Kyrgyzstan in 1943-1944. Even some of my brighter students have told me they were unaware or only vaguely aware of Soviet policies geared towards the persecution of nationalities such as the Crimean Tatars and Russian-Germans. Despite being an independent non-Communist state for over 16 years there has not been any real coming to terms with the darker aspects of the Soviet past here.

I think this situation persists because the role of the titular nationalities in Stalin's crimes is ambiguous here in Central Asia. Some were victims, but others were perpetrators, others benefited materially from the deportation or arrest of their neighbors, and most were bystanders who did nothing to oppose the regime. I do not morally condemn the bystanders or even many of the perpetrators. Stalin's dictatorship imposed very harsh penalties for even the smallest acts of opposition. Unswerving loyalty to the official Communist Party line was the only real way to ensure a good material life for yourself and your family during this time. I do not think most Americans would have been any more moral or courageous when faced with similar circumstances. But, this ambiguity regarding the role of the Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmen in the Soviet state during the Stalin era makes a full coming to terms with that past an uncomfortable proposition for many people here. It is not so simple to say that as nationalities they were victims of the regime. Nor is the more common tact of only looking at the positive legacies of Soviet rule such as education, economic development and improved health care an honest approach to the past. Rather a full and honest evaluation needs to admit that some were victims, some were perpetrators and most were bystanders. There are not a lot of heroes in this version of the past and there are some pretty horrible villains. But, the same can be said for the history of most countries.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Current Reading

I am currently reading Andreas Kappler, Gerhard Simon and Georg Brunner, and Edward Allworth eds., trans., Caroline Sawyer, Muslim Communities Reemerge: Historical Perspectives on Nationality, Politics, and Opposition in the Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan (Tsarist Times)

Another topic of research I would like to pursue here in Kyrgyzstan is the country's former Russian-German population. In particular I am interested in the Mennonites who were the first German colonists to settle in Central Asia. While there are not too many left today, they had a strong presence in the Talas region for over a century. Below is a short history of the founding of the various Mennonite villages in Kyrgyzstan during Tsarist times.

In spring 1882 the Russian government gave more than 2500 acres of land in the Talas Valley to 72 Mennonite families. Most of these Mennonites, 62 families (360 people) came from Taurida in the Black Sea region. They founded the villages of Nikolaipol, Gnadental and Gnadenfeld in what is today northwest Kyrgyzstan. Another 10 Mennonite families came from the area around Samara on the Volga. They established the village of Keppental. Together these four villages formed the Nikolaipol Mennonite Society. They specialized in the production of cheese (Krieger, p. 11).

In 1890 the Mennonites established a fifth village in the Talas Valley by the name of Orlov. By this time the five villages had 514 people, 309 horses, 250 cows, 1,519 sheep and 341 pigs. Each village also had a school that taught religion, German, Russian, geography and arithmatic. (Krieger, p. 12).

The Russian government gave Russian names to the original settlements in 1893. Gnandental became Andreevka, Keppental became Romanovka and Gnadenfeld became Vladimirovka. In August 1894 the five German villages became formed into a single administrative unit, Nikolaipol Volost (Krieger, p. 12).

Between 1907 and 1909 Mennonites founded a number of new colonies in Kyrgyzstan. In 1907, 21 Mennonite families from Nikolaipol and 9 from Orlov founded the village of Alekseevka in the Chu River Valley. In 1908 Mennonites established the village of Johannesdorf in the Talas Valley. Finally, in 1909 Mennonites from Ak-Mechet in what is now Uzbekistan founded the village of Hogendorf in the Talas Valley. (Krieger, p. 14). By 1912 there were 1,595 Mennonites in the region (Krieger, p. 37) of which 390 lived in Orlov, 208 in Alekseevka, 293 in Nikolaipol, 192 in Andreevka (Gnadental), 192 in Romanovka (Keppental) , 79 in Vladimirovka (Gnadenfeld) and the rest in other villages and towns (Krieger, table 1, p. 15).

The Mennonites in the Talas and Chu valleys survived the upheavals of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution. Indeed the Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan generally fared far better than most of the Russian-German population of the USSR. I will write more on this later. But, despite adapting and surviving throughout the Soviet era, most of them have emigrated since the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Kyrgyzstan as an independent state.

Source: Viktor Krieger, Rein, Volga, Irtysh: Iz Istorii Nemtsev Tsentral'noi Azii (Almaty: Daik-Press, 2006).

Monday, June 09, 2008

Graduation and Congratulations Firuza

Saturday was graduation here at AUCA. There were five awards given out for best senior research thesis. One of these winners, Tajik-Uzbek Water Disputes: Challenges and Opportunities for Resolution by Firuza Ganieva, was from my department. I was Firuza's supervisor for the thesis. I greatly enjoyed my small role in guiding this project to success.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Citations now up to 94

My published work has now been cited in 94 academic books and journal articles. Twelve of these citations are from the last two years. The latest one I found is below. I realize I have left out three umlauts. I do not know how to make them on this keyboard.

Helmut Altrichter, “Ilse Bandomir im ‘Jahrhundret der Deportationen und Vertreibungen” in Klaus Hildebrand et al, eds., Geschichtswissenschaft und Zeiterkenntnis: Von der Aufklarung bis zur Gegenwart Festschrift fur Horst Moller, (Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2008).

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Still Working

There are not very many students around campus now, but I am still working. This morning I finished editing the proofs for "Suffering in a Province of Asia: The Russian-German Diaspora in Kazakhstan." Now I am working on other stuff. It is a lot easier to get things done when you only have to spend a half hour a day talking to students.

Recent Reading

I recently finished reading The Russian Far East: A History by John J. Stephan. It is a very well written and concise history of the eastern most regions of what is now the Russian Federation. Unlike a great many academic books it is not dry and boring. Instead it presents a compelling narrative of political, diplomatic, military, social and economic developments in the Russian Far East. It does a particularly good job of describing the events and changes from 1917 to 1956. Stephan writes with wit and in plain English rather than academic jargon. I highly recommend this book.

"Shoro - eto sila"

All along the main streets of Bishkek there are beverage vendors. They do not sell lemonade, however. Instead they sell Shoro or Tan. I am not a big fan of Tan, but I have developed a taste for Chalap Shoro. Both of these beverages are basically sour milk with salt and soda water. The word shoro means salted in Kyrgyz. It is definitely an acquired taste. But, it is very refreshing on a hot day. Hence their motto "Shoro - eto sila" which translates from Russian into English as "Shoro - it is strength."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Special Settlers in Kyrgyzstan

Now that classes are over it looks like I will have some free time to do some research this summer. I would like to do something specifically related to Kyrgyzstan. In particular I would like to research the special settlement system in Kyrgyzstan during the 1940s and 1950s. During World War II, Kyrgyzstan became "home" to over 100,000 special settlers, mostly deportees from the Caucasus. In October 1945 the number of special settlers in Kyrgyzstan reached 112,400. (Bugai, doc. 17, p. 237). The Karachais formed the first wave of war time deportees to Kyrgyzstan. The NKVD deported most members of this nationality, 68,938 people from their homeland on 2 November 1943. (Pobol' and Polian, p. 389). By 22 November 1943, 22,721 of these people had arrived in Kyrgyzstan. (Pobol' and Polian, doc. 3.82, p. 402). The Soviet government sent most of the rest of them, 45,500 people, to Kazakhstan (Bugai, doc. 2, pp. 97-98). After resettling the Karachais, the Stalin regime deported Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and Meskhetian Turks to Kyrgyzstan during the course of 1944. These people lived in Kyrgyzstan as internal exiles until the late 1950s.


N.F. Bugai, ed., Iosif Stalin - Lavrentiiu Berii: "Ikh nado deportivrovat'" (Moscow: "Druzhba narodov", 1992).

N.L. Pobol' and P.M. Polian, eds., Staliniskie deportatsii 1928-1953 (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye Fond "Demokratiia", 2005).