Preserving Kyrgystan's History
While scholars have spent a great deal of time combing through archives in Moscow and studying how the major events of the Soviet period affected Russia, much less of this type of research has been done on Central Asia. But the people of the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – experienced the Soviet period in different ways than Russians or Eastern Europeans.
This project was designed to collect and preserve some of their experiences. None of the researchers involved in this project were historians -- they were undergraduate students at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. For that reason, the goal of the project was simply to collect these stories before their tellers are no longer around to share them. We hope that they will be interpreted and analyzed by future historians.
The stories collected by this project touch on events including: Urkun/World War I; sedentarization; collectivization; World War II; the post-war reconstruction period; Stalin’s death; the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras; independence; and privatization. The interviewees were asked about language, religion, the roles of men and women in society, their school days, their war experiences, migration issues, deported nationalities, agriculture, food, and entertainment.
Aston University lecturer Sarah Amsler, reviewing this project for the journal Central Asian Survey, called it, "a testament to the value and importance of undergraduate research, and an inspiring model of how students can make meaningful contributions to advancing scholarship and public debate." The project, she continued, "is a resource that will ... stimulate classroom discussion amongst undergraduate and graduate students and assist in training young researchers in the methods and challenges of oral history.It will also be useful supplementary reading for all levels of study in the history and society of Central Asia, and for anyone interested more generally in Kyrgyzstan."
This website is the result of the work done by the spring 2009 Historical Journalism class at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
This project was conceived, organized, and edited by Sam Tranum, who was then an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism & Mass Communications at the American University of Central Asia. He has worked as a reporter at newspapers in the U.S., served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan (2004-2006), and earned a master's degree in international relations from the University of Chicago, focusing on American foreign policy in Turkmenistan.
The interviews were conducted, transcribed, and translated by 17 students from the American University of Central Asia: Nurshat Ababakirov, Maksat Annamuradov, Abdurahman Aripov, Akylbek Baltabaev, Kseniya Balybina, Dinara Davlembaeva, Gulzara Hayytmuradova, Dovlet Hojamuradov, Rayhon Jonbekova, Nariman Jumayev, Bahtiyar Kurambaev, Nazarbegim Muzaffarova, Maksat Nepesov, Azat Nepesov, Arslan Penjiyev, Dilbar Ruzadorova, and Murat Tuloberdiev.
Spotlight: In Print
The 35 interviews on this website are also available as a softcover, 256-page, English-language anthology called "Life at the Edge of the Empire: Oral Histories of Soviet Kyrgyzstan," published with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Copies are available in the American University of Central Asia's Journalism Department and at the Raritet bookstore on Ala Too Square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Copies are also available in libraries around the world, including: the University of Mississippi; the Library of Congress; the British Library; Harvard University; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; the University of Chicago; the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies; Columbia University; Indiana University; the University of Queensland, and the University of the Witwatersrand. It is for sale at Amazon.com via this link.
The Interview Subjects
The interview subjects for this project reflect some of Kyrgyzstan’s diversity. They include native-born Kyrgyzstanis and immigrants, Muslims and Christians, farmers and urban professionals, and a range of ethnicities:
–The average age of the interview subjects was 75. Most of them – 77 percent – were born before the Soviet Union entered World War II. A few of them – 9 percent – were born before the Soviet Union even existed.
–About 57 percent of the interview subjects were men and 43 percent were women.
–About 51 percent of the interview subjects were Kyrgyz; 20 percent were Russian; 11 percent were Uzbek; 6 percent were Tajik; and 11 percent were other ethnicities.
–About half the interview subjects were from rural backgrounds and half were from urban backgrounds.–About 40 percent of our interviews were conducted in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital and largest city. The remaining 60 percent of
The project team would like to thank: Eleanora Proyaeva and the Department of Journalism & Mass Communications at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), for providing support and digital voice recorders and cameras; Dr. Okon Akiba and the Student Intellectual Life Committee at AUCA for providing the grant funding that made it possible for the students to travel all over the country to collect interviews; AUCA President Ellen Hurwitz for securing grant funding to cover the cost of publishing the interviews as a book; FuMing Young for designing the website; Dr. J. Otto Pohl of AUCA for sharing his expertise about deported nationalities within the Soviet Union; Lois Kapila for copyediting; and Dr. Sheila Fitzpatrick of the University of Chicago, for inspiring the project with her "Soviet History from the Archives" class.