Revived and Invented Traditions in the Political Systems of Central Asian States
( )
The Water at the Myth< Tradition and Rites
East Key of The Da Vinci Code
Traditional Institutions in the modern Kazakhstan
Rewriting of history
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Revived and Invented Traditions in the

Political Systems of Central Asian States


.. Galiev


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 'word' is an attempt to legitimize

the present and prepare base b going back to one' s past. On the

other hand, invented tradition is an action, ritual that illustrates

the myth as '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 state. Some ready-made models may not

always serve the interests of those who may be involved in the

formation of State. That is why elements from different models

are amalgamated. Thus, while the political systems of the states

of Central Asia are based on Western models, different traditional

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 sort of legitimacy

to the State.

This article is an attempt to explore the traditional institutions

of Central Asia and show their role in present-day politics.




Council f ksakals (Elders): revival of Council of Elders is taking

place in almost all regions of Kazakhstan. Such councils exist

within the administration (Akims) at various levels. These are

social organizations having 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 Uzn, the

Council played positive role in easing tensions.

   Court of Biis: This institution has existed in the steppes for

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

Kazakhstan such Courts have already been set up.

      The Zhuzs: For Kazakhstan the problem of Zhuzs is one of

tribalism. It manifests itself in the form of strengthening on the

position of one' s tribe (Zhuz).

The present economic condition of Kazakhstan has also

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 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).

In Kazakhstan, tribalism is continuously encouraged by

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 competition

between the Senior and Middle-level Zhuzs. This is not too far

from being true because the celebration of jubilees has become

sort of ritual feasts to serve establish traditional social relations (3).

Some analysts believe that the main purpose of shifting the

capital of Kazakhstan was "to widen the territory of settlement of



the Senior Zhuzs that would weaken the influence of Middle-level

Zhuzs in their original homeland" (4). It must be mentioned that in

multi-ethnic Kazakhstan, Kazakh tribalism is n mr an internal

matter. Many ethnic groups of Kazakhstan, thanks to kinship,

territorial and other relations with the original ethnos, consider

themselves as part of some clan. According to . Kurtov, the

Russian-speaking population of Kazakhstan is against the elites

of the Senior Zhuzs (5).


he Khan Rule

The Kazakh Khans were one of the branches of the dynasty of

Chingiz Khan. For very long time the ideology of Chingiz Khan

and sort of "Chingizism' was prevalent in territories conquered

by the Mongols which included Russia as well (6).' The basic idea

of Chingizism was that only 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

Kazakhstan became part of Russia. Attempts were made to

revive the Khanate during nation-freedom uprisings. The proposal

to revive the Khanate m from Rahat Aliev who happened to be

the son-in-law of the President of Kazakhstan (7).' Even he made an '

appeal in the nm of past traditions, it was quite clear that

lineage to become Monarch is not enough.


he Cossacks

The Cossacks (sometimes spelt as Kazak as distinct from Kazakh)

have several links with the Kazakh people. Presently, we are mr

concerned with 'Kazakness', the feeling of being Kazak. The

Kazakhs as well the Cossacks have the same origin. The idea of

Kazkness has existed in the steppes of Eurasia since long and it

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 nm, 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 mr and mr 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,

  large number of Bashkirs were included among the

Cossacks. Almost the entire Kalmyk people were also turned in'

Cossacks. As the Empire moved further South and East, the Buryts,

Ossetinians and Yakuts to be included amongst the Cossacks.

The 'Cossacks' is very much diversified in terms of r 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 military-feudal group by the


Kazakhness as the index of 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 Kazakhstan. In

Kazakhstan, unlike Russia, the Kazaks are considered not as an

ethnic group but martial r under th laws of another country.

There emerged an inevitable conflict between the State and the

Kazak people.

Mashrapas and Mohallas:

The Uighurs of Kazakhstan live mainly

in Semireche. They migrated from China in 1871. Their compact

dwellings are organized around Mohallas. Every Mohalla has

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 Fund. Besides, the

Uighurs have one more traditional institution called shra which

is 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

in China.

Political Symbols:

National state symbols and ideals are an

inseparable part of formation and fixation of identity of any nation

and State as 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



significant part of these symbols (8).' The emergence and revival of

statehood in Kazakhstan is also seen in national state symbols.

The blue colour of the national flag Kazakhstan is, reflection of

ancient Turkish genealogical legends which relate the origin of

Turks to the celestial sphere (9).

The State symbols of Kazakhstan, have similarity with the

emblem of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. This coincidence

m be taken to be link between modern Kazakhstan and its

predecessor. In fact, almost all the former Soviet Republics have

used Soviet State symbols in one way or the other; the Belarus

Republic has even revived them completely. However, in the State

Emblem of Kazakhstan all the Soviet elements have been discarded

in favour of ancient symbols. Shanyrak, according to archaeologist

.. Kuzmina and linguist V.. 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

Kazakhstan. These winged horses belong to the Sakas of the Issyk

Kurgan region.

One of the political symbols of independent Kazakhstan is the

Alash Khan. Apart from being holy name for the Kazakh people

it is also self-designation. There is another aspect attached t '

this name; it served as the symbol of independence, during their

history. It has played this role on number of occasions, first

during the time of revolutionary upheavals in Russia and USSR

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

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

campaign for 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 shar (11),  which has played

an important role in the formation of multi-party system in

Kyrgyzstan. In 1990, Ashar along

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 country(12).

The Clan System:

In Kyrgyzstan clan-tribal relations have always

been very strong. For centuries, Kyrgyz society has existed as

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 Kyrgyzstan was known then. The

political balance that was maintained for twenty-four years by the

First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kirgiziya . Usubaliev

(1961-1985) who had very long political career. This was

disturbed in 1985. After the resignation of Usubaliev in October

1985, . Masaliev m to power. While Usubaliev represented

the Northern Clan, Masaliev represented the Southern Clan.

However, the political situation in the country did not change

much (13).

 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 Kyrgyzstan.

The Court of Biis:

In several regions of Kyrgyzstan, the courts

of Biis and Akskals are being revived. large range of issues falls

within their competence. The Government has given due

recognition to them (16).

Political Symbols:

Economically, Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest

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

form of organization of social life of locality has been in existence

since ancient times in Uzbekistan. It united many types of people

irrespective of their social or ethnic background.

The Soviet union considered Mohalla as remnant of the past.

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

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

Uzbekistan" (17).

Thereafter, new tasks for the leadership of the Mohallas was

created. The Mohalla is headed by Committee that is elected in

the General Body meeting of representatives of the majority of

houses. The Committee elects Chairperson from amongst its

members. The Chairperson of 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 Women' s

Council and Community Court. In order to make the Chairperson

and Secretary of the Mohallas more active and for support, the

President of Uzbekistan on 23 April 1998 issued the Decree on

"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 , 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 mothr-in-law or some other aged lady (18).

Political Symbols:

The formation of modern Uzbek nation proves

the ideas of constructivists. . 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 result of 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

legitimate democratic State which could occupy its rightful place

in the world community and for realization of the idea of

Uzbekistan - country with great future". This is what is said in

school text books (20).

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 Uzbekistan, it seems, is meant to

honour the memory of the flag of Amir Timur. (21). The national

currency of Uzbekistan - Sum - also depicts the picture of Amir




Tajiks are the only Iranian-speaking people of Central Asia. Their

traditional institutions are connected with agriculture and they

are, in many respects, similar to the institutions of Uighurs and

Uzbeks. The Tajiks have community of seniors called Mashvarat

which has neighbours as members. They have also got Council

of male members called Jamomad. There is patrilineal clan group



called Avlod (22).

 Avlod brought under itself several generations of

male relatives. It had 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 mr fierce because of the revived spirit

of 'blood for blood'.(23).


In Tajikistan, the division of  clans has gone through several stages.

First of all, it can be traced along the Northern line (roughly,

Leninabad Region with largely urban population) and the

Southern agricultural region. The Leninabad group (Khujand clan)

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

Tajikistan, R. Nabiev belonged to the Khujand clan. The Kulyab

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 sitions in  Government, earlier

occupied by Leninabadis were gradually taken over by the Kulyab

group. The position of the Hissar community is somewhere

midway between Leninabad and Kulyab, geographically as well

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)


litical Symbols

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

capital in Bukhara. In 1999 the 1100th Anniversary of the Samanid

State was celebrated in Tajikistan. The of Shah Ismoil Somoni

who was patron of science and arts is greatly revered in

Tajikistan. The highest mountain peak of Tajikistan has bn



named after him (it was earlier known as Peak of Communism) (25)

The national currency of Tajikistan is also called Somoni.

The crown is very important state symbol of Tajikistan which

is not accidental. Folk etymology relates the ethnonym  Tajik with

the root taj meaning 'crown'.




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 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 mor

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 new

Constitution of Turkmenistan and abolition of Khalk Maslahaty

 will be very important step in reforming the state system and

bring it closer to international practice.(26).



In Turkmenistan, there are 9 (according to some other data, 14)

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. . Berdymuhammedov who was elected

President after the death of Niyazov is also Tekin. According to

the Internet publication "Khronika Turkmenistana", Tekins are

occupying 75% of the highest posts in Government (28).



It needs to b added that touch of traditionalism is being

given to new political institutions in Central Asia. For instance,

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 strong role

in the countries of Central Asia.




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// / articles. Php?id=1355




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