Genealogy and History: collective identities in independent Kyrgyzstan

VolkswagenStiftung, Funding initiative: "Between Europe and the Orient – A Focus on Research and Higher Education in/on Central Asia and the Caucasus"

22.02. - 23.02.2013
Workshop „History making in Central and Inner Asia”,
workshop summary
workshop proceedings

Duration: 01.06.2010 - 31.05.2013
Project leaders: Prof. Dr. Burkhard Schnepel
(GD, Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Regionalstudien – Vorderer Orient, Afrika, Asien)
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Paul
(Seminar für Arabistik und Islamwissenschaft, Orientalisches Institut, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)
Academic adviser: Prof. Dr. Ildikó Bellér-Hann
(Dpt. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Modern Cultures and Societies of Western China and Central Asia, University of Copenhagen)
Research staff: Dr. Nathan Light (01.08.2012 - 31.05.2013)
Visiting researcher
Department of Linguistics and Philology
Uppsala Universitet

Dr. Svetlana Jacquesson (01.06.2010 - 31.07.2012)
Central Asian Studies Institute
American University of Central Asia

Amantur Japarov
Senior Research Fellow (kandidat nauk)
Institute of History, National Academy of Sciences
Chujskij prospect 265a
720071 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Tel.: 00996-312-642667

The Project

The prominence and persistence of genealogical identification among the Kyrgyz have given rise to an insistent reading of social and political dynamics through the grid of clans, both in the social sciences and in the national and international media. The project is built upon the hypothesis that genealogy alone can account neither for collective identities nor for integrated groups. Preliminary enquiries point to ‘history’ as a decisive factor in the structuring of relations on the micro-level. Processes of identification and group formation are informed by genealogy but they are also inextricably intertwined with historical experience.

Fieldwork will be carried in two localities: one which is explicitly ‘genealogy-oriented’ since it is inhabited by the descendants of an illustrious historical figure (Ormon, khan of the Kyrgyz, d. 1854), the other that is ‘genealogy-free’ since its inhabitants cannot claim any distinguishing genealogical identification. The project aims at investigating the interplay of history and genealogy in collective identities building and group formation on the micro-level. It focuses on: (1) historical traditions that condition genealogical status, notably the categorization of genealogical lines as ‘major’ (chong) and ‘minor’ (kichi); (2) orally transmitted eyewitness accounts of status changes during the Soviet period and after independence and (3) self-perception, i.e. the ways in which collective identities are related to the visible traces of history (cemeteries, mosques, monuments but also public constructions of particular significance such as schools, roads etc.). The project will also explore to what an extent local genealogies and histories are constitutive of national history, to what an extent ‘local identities’ and ‘local histories’ are ‘exportable’ and how they are made comprehensible to others. By combining the methods of social anthropology, oral history and archival research the project has the ambition of working out a historical anthropological approach to the study of collective identities in Central Asia.

The project is a collaborative research programme involving both Kyrgyz scholars established at the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences and connoisseurs of local histories and genealogies in order to take into consideration the post-independence efforts of writing ‘history from below’.