Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Kyrgyzstan’

Open Eurasian Literature Festival

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th November, 2019

JF speaking at Open Eurasia Literature Festival 2019For much of this week I was in Brussels, attending the Open Eurasian Book Forum and Literature Festival, organised by the Eurasian Creative Guild. This annual event is a celebration of writers from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, with a special focus this year on Abai Qunanbaiuly (1845-1904) and Chinghiz Aitmatov (1928-2008), towering figures from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan respectgively. In the impressive surrounds of the Brussels Expo centre I delivered a paper on universal themes in Chinghiz Aitmatov and Oscar Wilde, which I had previously presented at two universities in Kazakhstan as well as in London. In some opening remarks at Expo, as well as on the following day at a lecture hall in central Brussels, I said how fitting is was that all this should be happening in the city that prides itself on being the Capital of Europe, but which should embrace far more than just the current 28 member states of the European Union. I also referred to the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the collapse of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union into its constituent republics, many of which were represented at the festival.

Open Eurasian Literature Festival Numerous authors from the Eurasian region were able to showcase their work and there was also an awards ceremony for the winners of the associated cultural competition. Russian is still the lingua franca among the former Soviet republics and much of the event was in Russian, as well as presentations in English. Central Asian literature is still relatively little known in Western Europe, but dedicated enthusiasts are working hard to change that situation, not least the main driver of the whole enterprise, the Uzbekistan-born Marat Akhmedjanov of the Hertfordshire Press.


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Eurasian Culture Week

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd October, 2019

Chinghiz Aitmatov 1Last night I gave a talk about Oscar Wilde and the Central Asian writer Chinghiz Aitmatov, reprising a theme I focussed on in two presentations last December at two universities in Kazakhstan. Aitmatov (1928-2008) is revered in his home country of Kyrgyzstan and managed to assert his literary presence in Moscow during Soviet tomes despite the fact that his father had been purged as an Enemy of the People. He was thus an “outside insider”, just as Oscar Wilde, who came from Ireland, was able to conquer literary and social London before his downfall. Though the two writers were very different in many ways they both had a social mission and wrote about strong women and ambiguous aspects of human relationships, rejecting the white/black good/bad moral compass of both Victorian London and the USSR. Aitmatov’s writings are still not very widely known in Britain — with perhaps the sole exception of his story Jamila — though he was widely recognised in Germany, where he died. There is sure to be a big celebration when his centenary comes round in 2028.

AbaiAt the Eurasian Culture Week where I appeared, held in the Premiere cinema in the Mercury Centre in Romford, the main subject for literary attention was the Kazakh poet Abai Qunanbaiuly, with whom certain parallels have been drawn with the German master Goethe. Goethe himself, of course, was highly influenced by the Persian poet Hafiz, giving rise to his West-Eastern Divan. Such cross-cultural links have long intrigued me. The Eurasian Culture Week, organised by Marat Akhmedjanov and the Eurasian Creative Guild, also featured an exhibition of paintings by artists from Central Asia and displays of books and presentations by authors from the region. Earlier this year there was an Eurasian Film Festival, also at the Premiere cinema, so the cultural significance of the vast steppes is beginning to get its due notice, not just the hydrocarbon riches of the area.

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Friendly Steppes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd June, 2013

Friendly SteppesNick RowanThe Silk Road, linking the empires of Rome and China, conjours up an atmosphere of mystery and exoticism by its very name. Actually, there were many branches of the Silk Road — just as there were many branches of the Great Wall of China — through a range of more northerly or southerly routes, binding West to East over the centuries. In 2006, the young Oxford graduate Nick Rowan (now working in the oil industry in London) spent four-and-a-half months travelling from Venice to Xian, in the hope of recapturing some of the spirit of intrepid traders of various nationalities, who would have spent considerably longer on their journeys, even if few covered more than one or two sections of the road. Inspired by the sights and sounds of Central Asia in particular, Rowan has written a travelogue recording his journey, during which he used many types of transport from buses to taxis to a clapped-out old ferry across the Caspian Sea, and even a few side excursions on horseback. Initially moving solo, he inevitably linked up with various people en route, both Western companions and, more significantly, interested locals. On the final leg of the journey, across China, he was joined by his younger brother. The resultant book is a mixture of travel diary and historical asides, as well as insights into aspects of economic and social development gained by contacts he had through an overseas aid charity. His narrative starts a little hesitantly — it is hard to say anything very new or remarkable about as well-chronicled a place as Venice — but he really gets into his stride when he reaches Iran and he encounters not only the architectural splendours of cities such is Isfahan, but also the engaging hospitality of the Iranian people, so different from what one might imagine if one just listens to Western propaganda. Turkmenistan wins the prize as the oddest country on his epic journey, but one senses that it is really Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan that win his affection. After them, China is something of an anti-climax. Reading Rowan’s book, one certainly feel one is accompanying him on the journey and can share his varying moods of excitement, frustration and boredom. He rather overuses certain adjectives (notably “stunning”), and a little tighter editing would have improved the text. But this is the account of a voyage that clearly was a type of rite of passage for the author and it is both enjoyable and informative for those who may never get closer to Kashgar or Samarkand than the comfort of their armchair.

Nick Rowan: Friendly Steppes: A Silk Road Journey, Hertfordshire Press, £14.95

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Turkey and the Arab Awakening

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013

Kerim BalciMiriam Francois-CerrahEver since the revolutionary train swept across North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) pundits have been asking whether Turkey could offer a model for post-Revolution Arab states to follow, so maybe it was not so surprising that the Turkish Review (for which I occasionally write) should highlight the issue at its UK launch at the House of Lords earlier today. Three very diverse speakers were on the panel (chaired by the LibDem peer and former President of Liberal International, John Alderdice): the journalist Kerim Balci, the young Oxford academic and political writer Miriam Francois-Cerrah and Gulnur Aybet, who teaches at the University of Kent, as well as in Turkey and the United States. Each put a Gulnur Aybettotally different slant on the subject, Kerim Balci claiming (with some justification) that the so-called Arab Spring actually started earlier than in Tunisia in December 2010, in Kyrgyzstan, and that it is mirrored in various parts of Central Asia, China and India. What we are dealing with has a universal dimension, he argued. Miriam Francois-Cerrah declared that the majority of Arabs do see Turkey as a role-model, largely because it is a secular state that has nonetheless accommodated a variety of parties, including the AKP, with its Islamic origins. Gulnur Aybet emphasized that Turkey is seen by the West as a strategic partner in dealing with the MENA region, which maybe leads to a certain degreee  of wishful thinking as to how much of a model it can be. More a source of inspiration, stated Miriam Francois-Cerrah, echoing a line I have often taken. But in the meantime Turkey has itself all sorts of internal contradictions to overcome; Gulnur Aybet deplored the growing polarisation she has noticed. Certainly Turkey has an enviable economic growth rate and has many things going for it, but it is by no means a perfect state that others might necessarily try to emulate.

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