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Revived and Invented Traditions in the
Political Systems of Central Asian States
The word 'tradition' by itself implies some sort of continuity.
However, some constructivists believe that even tradition can be
Invented (1) The invention of tradition may have the same purpose
as turning history into mythology, i.e. mythification of history.
This is not accidental.
Both history and invented tradition are, two sides of the same,
coin. Mythification of history as Á 'word' is an attempt to legitimize
the present and prepare Á base bÕ going back to one' s past. On the
other hand, invented tradition is an action, Á ritual that illustrates
the myth as Á 'word'.
Tradition can be invented as well revived. In practice, however,
not all traditions get revived because different models are applied
in the formation of Á state. Some ready-made models may not
always serve the interests of those who may be involved in the
formation of Á State. That is why elements from different models
are amalgamated. Thus, while the political systems of the states
institutions have also been revived and installed within their
political systems. These revived traditional institutions along with
mythification of history serve as archetypes, which have been in
existence from the very beginning. This provide Á sort of legitimacy
to the State.
This article is an attempt to explore the traditional institutions
Council Ïf áksakals (Elders): á revival of Council of Elders is taking
place in almost all regions of
within the administration (Akims) at various levels. These are
social organizations having Á multi-ethnic composition. They are
consultative, though in some cases the decisions of Aksakals are
given due attention. At the time of disturbances in Novy UzÅn, the
Council played Á positive role in easing tensions.
Court of Biis: This institution has existed in the steppes for Á
long time and has been guided by the norms of traditional law,
the "Zheti Zhargy" Code. It played an important role in the life
of the Kazakh Khanate. Its role was somewhat belittled by the Tsar
Administration though it was not altogether abolished. Presently,
the Courts of Biis are being revived and in many districts of
The Zhuzs: For
tribalism. It manifests itself in the form of strengthening on the
position of one' s tribe (Zhuz).
The present economic condition of
contributed to the revival of tribalism which is more acutely seen
among the rural population Young Kazakhs are migrating to
cities in large numbers where they face Á number of problems-
lack of good command over Russian language, lack of education
and bad living conditions. Unfamiliar living conditions lead them
to group up with their own people, one' s own tribe or ethnic
group where they find some support. Sociologists have noted that
marginalized people tend to adhere to traditions (2).
organizing various jubilees of heroes of bygone days. The overt
purpose is to strengthen Kazakh self-consciousness; but they are
aimed at strengthening the latent ambitions of some leaders of the
Zhuzs. Thus, the year 1995 was marked by the celebration of the
Jubilee of Abai; and, in 1996 the Jubilee of Jambul was celebrated.
Many Kazakhstanis considered these celebrations as Á competition
between the Senior and Middle-level Zhuzs. This is not too far
from being true because the celebration of jubilees has become Á
sort of ritual feasts to serve establish traditional social relations (3).
Some analysts believe that the main purpose of shifting the
the Senior Zhuzs that would weaken the influence of Middle-level
Zhuzs in their original homeland" (4). It must be mentioned that in
matter. Many ethnic groups of
territorial and other relations with the original ethnos, consider
themselves as part of some clan. According to á. Kurtov, the
Russian-speaking population of
of the Senior Zhuzs (5).
ôhe Khan Rule
The Kazakh Khans were one of the branches of the dynasty of
Chingiz Khan. For Á very long time the ideology of Chingiz Khan
and Á sort of "Chingizism' was prevalent in territories conquered
by the Mongols which included
of Chingizism was that only Á descendent of the 'Golden Horde'
of Chingiz Khan could become the legitimate ruler of the conquered
territory. The Khanate was abolished in the 19th century when
revive the Khanate during nation-freedom uprisings. The proposal
to revive the Khanate ÓÁmÅ from Rahat Aliev who happened to be
the son-in-law of the President of Kazakhstan (7).' Even he made an '
appeal in the nÁmÅ of past traditions, it was quite clear that
lineage to become Á Monarch is not enough.
The Cossacks (sometimes spelt as Kazak as distinct from Kazakh)
have several links with the Kazakh people. Presently, we are mÏrÅ
concerned with 'Kazakness', the feeling of being Á Kazak. The
Kazakhs as well the Cossacks have the same origin. The idea of
Kazkness has existed in the steppes of
is connected with shifting from one class to another. Traditionally,
those people who ran away from the Uzbek Khanate were called
as Cossacks (Kazakhs) and they were divided into squadrons of
Cossaks (Zhuzs). The same nÁmÅ, Cossack (Kazak), was also given
to Ukrainian and Polish peasants who ran away from their
landlords in the fifteenth century.
Some other Turkic terms were also used in the sense of
Kazakness: Ataman., Koshevoi, Jigitovka. Later, the Cossacks were
crushed, and they became faithful defenders of an autocracy which
they were opposing earlier. The government put mÏrÅ and mÏrÅ of
these Cossacks on the borders of the empire to capture new territories
and to expande 'Kazakness' as well. For example, on 10 April 1789,
Á large number of Bashkirs were included among the
Cossacks. Almost the entire
Cossacks. As the Empire moved further South and East, the Buryts,
Ossetinians and Yakuts ÓÁÔÅ to be included amongst the Cossacks.
The 'Cossacks' is very much diversified in terms of rÁÓÅ as well
as religion: racially they are Europoids and Mongoloids; and their
religions are Orthodox Slav, Lamaism, Buddhism and Islam. Thus,
'Kazakness' (the Cossacks) is not an ethnos as such. It is an
institution that was turned into Á military-feudal group by the
Kazakhness as the index of Á separate group was disbanded
after the October Revolution. It re-emerged, when on 26 April 1991
the RSFSR passed the Act on "Rehabilitation of repressed Peoples"
which, mentioned the Cossacks. Afterwards some other acts
concerning the Cossacks were also passed. All these acts
encouraged revival of the Kazak movement in
ethnic group but Á martial rÁÓÅ under thÅ laws of another country.
There emerged an inevitable conflict between the State and the
Mashrapas and Mohallas:
The Uighurs of Kazakhstan live mainly
in Semireche. They migrated from
dwellings are organized around Mohallas. Every Mohalla has Á
chief called Jigit-Bishi. The inhabitants of every Mohalla help each
other not only in difficulties but also during any socially significant
activity. For this purpose, they have set up Á Fund. Besides, the
Uighurs have one more traditional institution called íÁshraÒ which
is Á remnant of the old "Male House". In the early 1920s, it was
banned by the Bolsheviks because it was competing with Party
organizations. Now it has also been revived. Presently, it is banned
National state symbols and ideals are an
inseparable part of formation and fixation of identity of any nation
and State as Á socio-cultural and political community. People
create and revere their national and state symbols. Various flags,
banners, seals attributes of self-identification and other form Á
significant part of these symbols (8).' The emergence and revival of
The blue colour of the national flag
ancient Turkish genealogical legends which relate the origin of
Turks to the celestial sphere (9).
The State symbols of
emblem of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. This coincidence
mÁÕ be taken to be Á link between modern
predecessor. In fact, almost all the former
Republic has even revived them completely. However, in the State
in favour of ancient symbols. Shanyrak, according to archaeologist
å.å. Kuzmina and linguist V.á. Livshits, has its origin in the Indo-
Iranian dwelling Angarak 'circle' (the circle of the sky) (10).The ears
of wheat depicted in the emblem of the Kazakh SSR have been
replaced by winged horses in the emblem of the Republic of
One of the political symbols of independent
Alash Khan. Apart from being Á holy name for the Kazakh people
it is also Á self-designation. There is another aspect attached tÏ '
this name; it served as the symbol of independence, during their
history. It has played this role on Á number of occasions, first
during the time of revolutionary upheavals in
in the beginning and end of the 20th century when political
parties and movements came into being and used the name, of this
mythical progenitor of Kazakhs. The name Alash was used as Á
war-cry and helped unite the forces of three Zhuzs.
As far as Christian Orthodox is concerned, its followers have
increased significantly. The Orthodox Church has launched Á
campaign for Á climate of spiritual harmony.
In the spring of 1989, the Kyrgyz national movement started to
grow very fast. Problems of housing forced the Kyrgyz youth to
symbolically occupy lands and construct houses in the occupied
plots. They set up an organization called áshar (11), which has played
an important role in the formation of multi-party system in
with the Asab and Atuulduk Demilge (Peoples Initiative) formed
the core of the movement called
the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan which spread all over
The Clan System:
been very strong. For centuries, Kyrgyz society has existed as Á
confederation of several tribes divided into two major groups
which are broadly known as the Southern and Northern Clans.
During the Soviet period, these two groups worked as rivals in
order to grab important posts in the Commutust Party and the
Government of Kirgiziya, as
political balance that was maintained for twenty-four years by the
First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kirgiziya ô. Usubaliev
(1961-1985) who had Á very long political career. This was
disturbed in 1985. After the resignation of Usubaliev in October
1985, á. Masaliev ÓÁmÅ to power. While Usubaliev represented
the Northern Clan, Masaliev represented the Southern Clan.
However, the political situation in the country did not change
The Northern Clans were urbanized, Russified and less
dependent on religious traditions. The Southern tribes mostly
represented agrarian regions which historically fell within the
sphere of Uzbek influence (14).
After suppressing the August 1985 putsch, President Akaev
strongly established himself and took measures which proved
that he understands the role of traditional-political structures. It
is worth mentioning that Akaev proposed to give official status to
Aksakals, the traditional heads of Ails (villages). They were to be
paid salaries from the state exchequer.
In modern Kyrgyz politics, representatives of the old aristocratic
Manap groups have started playing an important role. It is also
worth mentioning that, when in 1991 Akaev was given the symbolic
title of "Supreme Khan of Kyrgyz people", it helped in stabilizing
his rule after the August putsch (15).It is to be noted that, unlike
Manap Rule, the Rule of Khans is not traditional in
The Court of Biis:
In several regions of
of Biis and Akskals are being revived. á large range of issues falls
within their competence. The Government has given due
recognition to them (16).
countries of the world. But public dissatisfaction is partly
neutralized by referring to the glorious past. While referring to its
ancient history, the term "The Great Kyrgyz Power" is used. Huge
sums have been allocated to celebrate the Millennium of the Kyrgyz
Epic Manas and the Third Millennium of Osh city.
Mohalla and Gap:
The Mohalla (neighbourhood community) as Á
form of organization of social life of Á locality has been in existence
since ancient times in
irrespective of their social or ethnic background.
However, the Mohalla turned out to be very vital and the Soviet
rulers decided to use it for their own interests. Activities of the
Mohalla committees were also well-defined.
After independence the Mohalla are being revived as Á
democratic organ in self-rule. They have got official status as one
of the important links of the State are covered in the Resolution on
"Mohalla Committees in Cities, Settlements and Kishlaks of
Thereafter, new tasks for the leadership of the Mohallas was
created. The Mohalla is headed by Á Committee that is elected in
the General Body meeting of representatives of the majority of
houses. The Committee elects Á Chairperson from amongst its
members. The Chairperson of Á Mohalla Committee is known as
the Akskal while his Deputy is called as Muovin; and, the Secretary
is called Kotib. The Mohalla Committee also includes advisors who
are elected from amongst elderly male persons having experience
of organizational work. Separate Sub-Committees are formed for
various activities like Welfare Sub-Committee, Sub-Committee of
Ceremonies, Women' s Welfare Sub-Committee, Youth Welfare Sub-
Committee, War-Veterans and Labour Welfare Sub-Committee,
Social Order Sub-Committee, Residence Maintenance Fund Sub-
Committee and Finance Sub-Committee. There is also Á Women' s
Council and Á
and Secretary of the Mohallas more active and for support, the
"Support to Self-Rule Organs of Citizens". The salaries of the
Chairperson and Secretary have been raised; Chairpersons have
been allowed to receive full pension, wherever permitted.
Mohalla is the regulator of social and personal life in its territory.
Traditionally, one main activity of the Mohalla Committees and
Sub-Committees is organization of social activities. The residents
organize Hashar (voluntary labour) every year from time to time.
The Uzbeks have the óÁÒ, Gashtak, Tukma and Ziofat which are
like the Mashraps of Uighurs. Most of the Gaps are unified
communities with their own traditions. Members of each Gap help
each other in daily life, take active part in preparations for marriage
and extend help whenever needed. In Gaps, the main role is played
by the mothÅr-in-law or some other aged lady (18).
The formation of modern Uzbek nation proves
the ideas of constructivists. á. Ilkhamov writes: "It would be naive
to assume the formation of Uzbek nation as 'an objective', natural-
historical process. In fact, the process of formation of the modern
Uzbek identity should be examined, in the formation of Uzbek SSR
and be considered Á result of Á combination of the efforts of the
ruling and cultural elites." (19).In view of the fact that modern Uzbeks
combine in themselves various groups of Turkic and Iranian origin,
it required great efforts to establish the antiquity of the ethnos.
Amir Timur was selected as the great ancestor of Uzbeks. "The
memory of Amir Timur has great significance for establishing Á
legitimate democratic State which could occupy its rightful place
in the world community and for realization of the idea of
school text books (20).
ôÏ honour Amir Timur various localities have been named
after him, monuments constructed and museums of Timur set up.
The blue stripe in the flag of
honour the memory of the flag of Amir Timur. (21). The national
Tajiks are the only Iranian-speaking people of
traditional institutions are connected with agriculture and they
are, in many respects, similar to the institutions of Uighurs and
Uzbeks. The Tajiks have Á community of seniors called Mashvarat
which has neighbours as members. They have also got Á Council
of male members called Jamomad. There is Á patrilineal clan group
called Avlod (22).
Avlod brought under itself several generations of
male relatives. It had Á common household set-up and was the
real owner of land. The formation of armed detachments of the
Government and United Tajik Opposition took place on the basis
of Avlods. The war became mÏrÅ fierce because of the revived spirit
of 'blood for blood'.(23).
First of all, it can be traced along the Northern line (roughly,
Leninabad Region with Á largely urban population) and the
Southern agricultural region. The
is traditionally one of the most powerful groups. During the Soviet
period these people occupied key positions in the Communist
Party as well as the Government. This trend has partly continued
in the post-Soviet period too. For example, the former President of
group, in contrast to the 'elite' North, represents the interests of
the inhabitants of agricultural regions. When their representative
E. Rahmonov came to power, key ÒÏsitions in Government, earlier
occupied by Leninabadis were gradually taken over by the Kulyab
group. The position of the Hissar community is somewhere
as politically. The Gamar (Karategin) group has concentrated its
interests around trade. They have provided the base for formation
of the Islamic Revival Party and the extremist groups of militants
- the Wahhabis. The positions of Pamirians (Badakhshan Group)
is somewhat peculiar. They speak East Iranian languages and are
mostly Shias while most of the Tajiks are Sunnis. (24)
Tajiks consider themselves as one of the most ancient peoples of
the world. The State emphasizes its continuity with early medieval
states, primarily with the rule of the Samanids who had their
State was celebrated in
who was Á patron of science and arts is greatly revered in
named after him (it was earlier known as
The national currency of
The crown is Á very important state symbol of
is not accidental. Folk etymology relates the ethnonym Tajik with
the root taj meaning 'crown'.
COUNCIL OF ELDERS
In the beginning of the 1990s Turkmenbashi started annual
meetings with Yashulylar Maslahaty (Council of Elders). This organ
did not have any legal authority. Very soon these annual meetings
were turned into Khalk Maslahaty (Peoples Council) and the Council
of Elders became just Á part of "All Turkmen Conference". In 1992
when President Saparmurat Niyazov came out victorious in the
General Elections, he took oath in the first Session of Khalk
Maslahaty. Gradually, Khalk Maslahaty (Peoples Council) got morÅ
rights. Khalk Maslahaty was vested with maximum rights and
powers after the attempt on the life of Niyazov in November 2002.
After that incident, Turkmenbashi handed over all matters related
to Presidential elections to Khalk Maslahaty. The main role given
by its creator to Khalk Maslahaty was to maintain the existing
political regime and preserve the socio-political system created by
Turkmenbashi. According to observers, adoption of Á new
will be Á very important step in reforming the state system and
bring it closer to international practice.(26).
tribes and more than 5000 small communities or groups. Amongst
them the most influential are Tekins who gave support to the
regime of Niyazov. After Niyazov assumed power, the Tekins
came to occupy most of the important posts in the Government (27).
Dominance of Tekins has continued even after the death of Niyazov
in December 2006. ó. Berdymuhammedov who was elected
President after the death of Niyazov is also Á Tekin. According to
the Internet publication "Khronika Turkmenistana", Tekins are
occupying 75% of the highest posts in Government (28).
It needs to bÅ added that Á touch of traditionalism is being
given to new political institutions in
the heads of administration are being designated as Akim, Hakim,
Rais, etc. For the administrative-units also, traditional names-
Vilayat, Etrap - are being used.
This article proves that traditional systems, though they are
remnant of the past erstwhile era, continue to play Á strong role
in the countries of
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. The invention of Tradition/ Eds Hobsbawm å, Ranger ô.
1993, Ò. 320.
2. Osipova ï. Amerikanskaya sotsiologiya Ï traditsiyakh v stranakh
Vostoka. í., 1985. ÒÒ. 39-40.
3. Arutyunov S.á. Vvedenie/ Etnografiya pitaniya narodov stran
zarubezhnoi Azii. í., 1981. Ò. 3.
4. Masanov N. Kazakhskaya politicheskaya i intellektualnaya elita:
klanovaya prinadlezhnost i vnutrietnicheskoe sopernichestvo //
Vesnik Evrazii. 1996. No. 2.
5. Kurtov á. Politicheskaya elita Kazakhstana. í. 1994. Ò. 5.
6. For details see Yudin V.P. Ordy:
Ata, Nauka. ÒÒ. 106-164.
7. Aliev R. Respublikostan ili Kazakhskii Sultanat. Kakoi vybor ÔÕ
sdelaem? // Karavan. 2006, 1 September, 35 (851).
8. Gaziev ë.S. Politicheskay. nauka. í., 1994. ÒÒ. 341-342.
9. Zuev Yu.á. Drevnetyurkskie genealogicheskie predaniya kak
istochnik po rannei istorii tyurkov. Summary of Ph.D. Thesis on
10. See Akishev á.ë. Put k zemle giperboreev // Iran-ÐÁÔÅ. 2007, 1.
11. "Ashar" is Á traditional institution of mutual help in
12. Koichumanova Ch U. Stanovlenie politicheskoi sistemy suverennogo
Kygyzstana. Bishkek. 2004. ÒÒ. 67-68.
13. Abazov R. Politicheskie preobrazovaniya v Kyrgyzstane i
evolyutsiya prezidentskoi sistemy / /www.ca-c/ org /journal / cfc-0
1999/ st-06 abazov.shtml
14. Khanin V. Kyrgyzstan: etnicheskii plyuralizm i politicheskie
konflikty / / www.ÓÁ-Ó/Ïrg/) journal/Ó1Ó-09-2000/18.khanin. shtml
15. Khanin V. Kyrgyzstan: etnicheskii plyuralizm i politicheskie
konflikty/ /www.ÓÁ-Ó/ Ïrg/) journal/ Ó1Ó-09-2000/18khanin. shtml 16.
Sud akskalov v Kirgizii //Nezavisimaya gazeta. 1996. 30 January.
17. Polozhenie "ï mahallinskikh' (kvartalnykh) komitetakh v gorodakh,
poselkakh i kishlakakh respubliki
18. Arifkhanova Z. Traditsionnie soobshchestva v sovremennom
Uzbekistane / /www.ÓÁ-Ó/org/journal/ÓÁÓ10-2000/ï6.arith. shtml
19. Ilkhamov á. Formirovanie sovremennoi uzbekskoi identichnosti /
Etnicheskii atlas Uzbekistana. Institut "Otkrytoe obshchestvo" - Fond
20. Istoriya Uzbekistana. Period natsionalnoi nezavisimosti. Uchebnik
dlya uchashchikhsya 11 klassov obshcheobrazovatelnykh shkol.
21. ïÒ. cit.
22. Obshchestvo i kultura Tajikistana. / /countries/ topics/1/10/76 htm.
23. Shustov á. Tsentralnaya Aziya: renessans traditsionnykh institutov
// www.fond k.ru / articles. Php?id=1355
24. Kradin N.N. Elementy traditsionnoi vlasti v postsovetskoi
politicheskoi kulture: antropologicheski podkhod / / www.tazar.ke/
25. Obshchestvo i kultura Tajikistana // countries/ topics/1/10/76 htm.
26. Narodny Sovet Turkmenistana primet novuyu redaktsiyu konstitutsii
strany// RIA Novosti. 26/09/2008
27. Kadyrov Sh.Kh.
postkolonialnom obshchestve// Vestnik Evrazii. 2001. 2. ÒÒ. 5-32.
28. Shustov á. Tsentralnaya áziÕÁ: renessans traditsionnykh institutov
// www.fondsk.ru / articles. Php?id=1355
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