Madina Aha

IMG_2431Моя история – это история перемен. Я как странник из “Алхимика” долгое время – уже как 10 лет – путешествую и живу в разных странах, где я работала/училась  в разных местах и общалась с самыми необычными людьми.

Я люблю узнавать что-то новое от людей, люблю удивляться, люблю поразмышлять о поведении и реплике. По профессии я начала работать семейным психологом в Казахстане и получаю от нее огромное удовольствие. Консультирую семейные пары до и во время вступления в брак, провожу тренинги.

Начало моего творчества датируется школьными годами, когда я вела креативный дневник. Сейчас же он сменился периодическими блог-постами и влогами на моем сайте.

Я люблю делиться своими наблюдениями и догадками. А еще люблю готовить здоровые (вкусные!) блюда.




“The Golden Age” Before the Conflict

The common denominator of all the narrations except one (Sevdiya) is that they never mentioned a smaller armed conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbek in 1990. They did not consider it as a continuum of violence between the two (or more for that matter) ethnic groups. Applying cognitive-perceptual theory, I argue that this construction of a narrative as an unexpected war opens the space for a sheltering logic: since one did not foresee this situation to happen and had “excellent relationships with my neighbors” (Gulbahar), one constructs an identity of a “friend with all ethnicities”, which leaves very little choice, but cooperating with each other during difficulties. Even when Sevdiya refers to earlier riots, she illustrated them as something very minor in comparison to the events of 2010.

The conflict in 1990 was indeed violent and could have spread quickly, the city was blockaded and many people were killed with weapons or burned with their houses, according to (2000)[1]. Yet probably because it was 20 years ago or because this recent event was too shocking, people rather silence it, illustrating an example of memory rupture, discussed in

Green (2004).[2] I say “shocking” because it was several times reflected with the remark that it all felt unreal, as Altynai expressed it “as if I was sitting in the front row of a movie theater.” Silencing previous tensions, to which I was many times witness, made it possible to explain away the ethnic hatred vacuum in the mixed neighborhoods during the 5-day acute atrocities. Another explanation of silencing ethnic tensions could be the specificity of memory construction outlined by Abylkhozhin et al. (2001: 356)[3], who stated that despite the shortage and other evident difficulties during Soviet period in Central Asia, people tend to recall it with what first seems to be paradoxical warmness and nostalgia. However, it is rather a natural tendency of middle-aged people to recall their youth years as something bright and optimistic and diminish the scale of severely challenging outer circumstances. Most of my respondents were people of middle age, who were 20 years younger at the time of conflict, and perhaps retrospectively that event was outscored by remembrance of “youth optimism”. Also, noteworthy, they silenced their shared Soviet past.

Later using cognitive-perceptual theory I will demonstrate how the identity of a cooperating agent was constructed and then re-negotiated throughout the interview into an opposite one and in some cases continued to swing back and forth to rationalize contradicting behavior during and after the conflict, when the ethnic confrontation was rebuilt to a very high level, which perhaps made it challenging for people to admit that they were sheltering or being sheltered by their “enemies”.

The reflection of the claimed above statements can be traced Altynai’s words as well:

I grew up in a mixed ethnicity neighborhood, so [as if it follows by default] there was never a question on ethnicity. More importantly before the war, me and my two other sisters got married to Uzbeks. Even though my parents were against it in the beginning, later they “succumbed”. I was also working in a multi-ethnic company. Everybody was friendly to each other.

 The fact that her parents were resisting the inter-ethnic marriage of their daughters does indicate at least differentiation on an ethnic level, but again, it is narrated rather as a foundation that would further serve as a rationale for going beyond risks.

 What I argue to be strongest factual and rhetoric reasoning of sheltering is the uniting traditional practices of a neighborhood and a special status that a neighbor is usually entitled to. What I have noticed long time ago is the level of a neighbor being equated almost to a relative, during a big family event, such as wedding, funeral, circumcision, or a birth of a boy after several daughters in a row, etc. For such occasions, the doors of the hosts are widely open for many. I would like to pay a special attention to the phenomenon mentioned by several interviewees the culture of sumalak cooking. As stated in the introduction, it is usually prepared by women of a neighborhood collectively and then given to virtually all (despite of ethnic group) members of a neighborhood or extended family members across the city and its outskirts.

 Another similar practice that women share is cooking plov – a Central Asian rice dish with lamb – for the Kurban Bairam (an Islamic holiday) in their private households, and then giving it out by knocking to the neighbors’ doors and exchanging it for their plov. The latter delivery is usually performed by children or young women. Non-Islamic members of a neighborhood like us, or Russians, in turn prepare their ethnic meal and there is an almost unquestioned exchange of some sort of freshly made food. It resembles “komsiluk” (good-neighborliness) in the context of Bosniac women in the process of reconciliation, described in Helms’ (2010) article. Similarly to women’s coffee visits tradition in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the custom of preparing sumalak for the Persian New Year and plov for Kurban Bairam in Osh could serve as strong contributing factors towards constructing a “good neighbor” identity and thus an almost unquestioned sheltering behavior. Nowruz is usually (before the conflict as well) celebrated in the city center with parades and mass performances of dances and national games with the emphasis on the friendship of all nations. Thus, it is reinforced on the national level. Further uniting practice that women conducted together, according to Gulbahar, was women praying outside the mosques in the days of significant religious holidays. Even though, as will be later discussed, mosques are predominantly male space for prayers and potentially for unification, the areas surrounding it were to some extent connect women as well before the conflict. It is no surprise then that similar to Monroe’s (1994) findings about Jews’ rescuers, helping was a given, emanating from shelterers’ sense of connectedness of themselves in relation to others.

 Also, I argue in the pre-conflict of 2010 period, the leading role in the acts of good neighborliness were undertaken by women in a way that they were usually the ones who cooked for neighbors/relatives on special occasions; who tied stronger connections with them through communicating because traditionally these women are either housewives or part-time workers; who took care of them, if they were guests inside the household. By no means am I disregarding men’s role in the inter-ethnic tolerance building, but rather I am emphasizing that men’s activities in a mixed neighborhood were less distinctive. For example, men were strengthening their relations with the neighbors in the mosques, as been reported by Alisher, who claimed that people attend a mosque closest to their place of residence. The vast majority of the population of Kyrgyzstan is Sunni Muslim, but because Islam came late, it is practiced rather superficially,according to Glenn (1996)[4]. Nevertheless, it has a socializing significance for the attendants, which could potentially serve as a uniting factor.

 According to the findings of Fox, Fox and Marans (1980), the formation of friendly relationships among neighbors are not as much dependent on the density as on the presence of public spaces in a neighborhood, such as for example a public park. Similarly, in Osh

neighborhoods, generally a mosque was the predominant public space, which contributed to forming ties beyond ethnic belonging. Another public space, which is usually present in multi-storied buildings districts, is a children playground, where people (usually women with children) socialize. Even though women stay in private sphere – out of politics and industry, they operate in semi-private space because by performing traditional women’s roles as mothers, cooks, and cleaners, they still interact within the alternative public sphere with their neighbors, similar to what Peto and Szapor (2004) described was happening in East Central Europe. One of the culture-specific ways of creating a semi-public space for women will be discussed below.

 Such traditional women’s activities have created a special microcosm in these mahallas, for its members even seem to perceive themselves not in relation to their ethnic group, as can be seen from a dialogue with Aziza:

–   Did they [your neighbors] express their anger directly to you or about Uzbeks in general?

–  I would say Uzbeks in general, not directly us. I can see that mostly Uzbeks were affected by the war, even though they have started it.

[1] (2000). The Osh Riots in Kyrgyzstan, USSR 1990. Armed Conflict Events Data. Retrieved on April 23, 2012 from:

[2] Green, A. (2004) Individual Remembering and ‘Collective Memory’: Theoretical Presuppositions and Contemporary Debates. Oral History, 32 (2): 35-44.

[3] Abylkhozhin, Zh., Abuseitova, M., Klyashtornyi, S., Masanov, N., Sultanov, T., Khazanov, A. (2001). The Kruschev’s Turn: The History of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. (Kruschevskii Povorot: Istoriia Kazakhstana I Tsentralnoi Azii). Almaty: Bilim: 356.

[4] Glenn E. C. (1996) Kyrgyzstan: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1996. Retrieved on May 2, 2012 from