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Mathijs Pelkmans

This essay reviews the revolutionary situations that recently emerged in the post-Soviet world, focusing on the 'Tulip Revolution' in Kyrgyzstan. Observers were quick to explain this revolution in terms of democratic resistance to authoritarianism. This view is particularly problematic given that Kyrgyzstan was among the 'fast reformers' in the region and made its name as an 'island of democracy'. Instead of assuming that problems started when the country digressed from the ideals of liberal democracy, this essay argues that democratic reform and market-led development generated both the space and motivations for revolutionary action. Democratic reforms created the possibility of political dissent, while neo-liberal policies resulted in economic decline and social dislocations in which a temporary coalition between rural poor and dissenting political leaders was born.

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Babak Rezvani

The violence between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 has shocked many who thought of Kyrgyzstan as the most liberal country and the strongest democracy in Central Asia. That conflict, still, has not been explained and understood very well. Opposing and rival explanations often accuse one or other party, or certain obscure and even foreign forces. Many analysts, on the other hand, rely only on the internal Kyrgyzstani affairs in order to explain that conflict. This article tries to find explanations and offer an understanding of the Uzbek–Kyrgyz interethnic conflict. Its aim is beyond a mere description and understanding of a single case. It will use different kinds of data in order to offer analytic explanations of the events. The legacy of the Soviet nationalities policy, in combination with regional peculiarities – particularly its ethno-demographic features – were the ultimate causes of the eruption of the Uzbek–Kyrgyz conflicts in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1990 and 2010.

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Single mothers in Osh

Well-being and coping strategies of women in the aftermath of the 2010 conflict in Kyrgyzstan

Aksana Ismailbekova

After the 2010 intercommunal violence in Kyrgyzstan, women in the city of Osh were exposed to many difficulties. Conflict eroded people's contentment, and satisfactory living conditions were supplanted by increased challenges—such as deteriorating health and education systems, declining communication and economic opportunities, and the loss of property. Men's deaths during the conflict and the increased labor migration of men after the conflict also resulted in increased numbers of single mothers. This article presents trends among women, examines their coping mechanisms, and explores the well-being of single mothers by considering what makes women's lives meaningful in a postconflict situation.

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Mathijs Pelkmans

The renewed relevance of religion in post-Soviet public spheres has been accompanied by conspicuous and controversial conversion processes. This article compares cases of conversion on the Muslim-Christian frontier in Kyrgyzstan and in Georgia. It argues that the notions of boundary and frontier are essential to construct a more dynamic model for understanding 'spiritual' movement in social contexts that are rapidly changing. This approach in turn sheds light on the roles and the nature of social and cultural boundaries in the contemporary world.

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Introduction

Popular Religious Practices and Perceptions in the Middle East and Central Asia

Mary Elaine Hegland

People at the popular level often hold religious perceptions and engage in religious practices that make sense to them within their own existential situations, even if they fall outside orthodoxy. Although political leaders and religious authorities may attempt to mould people’s religious perceptions and practices according to their own ideas and interpretations of religion, people frequently find ways to evade or ignore such pressures, to rationalise their deviations or to continue to live and think according to their own self-generated religious frameworks. The authors of the articles in this special issue provide examples of how people’s actual practices and religious beliefs arise out of their own personal situations and histories though at odds with the pronouncements of religious specialists.

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Living from the Nerves

Deportability, Indeterminacy, and the 'Feel of Law' in Migrant Moscow

Madeleine Reeves

While deportability has elicited interest as a legal predicament facing migrant workers, less attention has been given to the way in which this condition of temporal uncertainty shapes migrants' everyday encounters with state agents. Drawing on ethnography among Kyrgyzstani migrant workers in Moscow, I show that in conditions of documentary uncertainty 'legal residence' depends upon successfully enacting a right to the city and the personalization of the state. Alongside fear and suspicion, this space of legal uncertainty is characterized by a sense of abandon and awareness of the performativity of law. I explore 'living from the nerves' as an ethnographic reality for Kyrgyzstani migrant workers and as an analytic for developing a more variegated account of state power and its affective resonances in contemporary Russia.

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Aidarbek Sulaimankulovich Kochkunov

This article is an ethnographic exploration of three topics regarding the practice of religion in contemporary Kyrgyzstan that provides insights into the spiritual life of Kyrgyz people in local communities. The topics are features of religiosity as expressed in rituals, the nature of personal and shared beliefs inherent in the performance of ceremonies, and the influence of religious identity on relationships among family, kin groups and communities. Through extensive research about religion and ritual in various areas of Kyrgyzstan, changes over time are examined. Although at times the differences among people adhering to more traditional versus the more newly emerging Islamic approaches to death ceremonies and monuments may cause conflict among relatives, in general such rituals and markers provide opportunities for social integration and common identity.

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Editorial

Today, Is 'Ethnicity' the Most Important Topic in the Middle East?

Soheila Shahshahani

It was decided by the editorial board of AME that some issues of the journal should be open-themed so that new topics of interest to researchers could have a place to be presented, and, in this way, perhaps new horizons of scholarship could be opened up. This issue was an open-theme issue but, amazingly, all the articles are concerned in one way or other with ethnicity. Would it be incorrect to call this the most important concern in the Middle East today? I think there is some truth to it, as our articles show: from concern with nation formation through enculturation in mahallah’s of Uzbekistan; to linguistic behaviour in two regions in Uzbekistan; to ethnic conflict and violence in Kyrgyzstan; the Turkish diaspora returning to Turkey and trying to set a superior example; and last but not least the emblem of a prosperous nation, Qatar, claiming not only tribal origins but also acting democratically through tribal delineation at times of voting. This is exactly what I have observed in southern Iran where people vote according to tribal lines. The same topic was evoked in ‘You Have Car Insurance, We Have Tribes’ (AME 6 no. 1, 2011).