On the eve of the last weekend’s presidential election, Kyrgyzstan quietly buried an ancient mummy that had resided at the National History Museum in Bishkek for more than 60 years.
The preserved remains, which scientists believe are about 2,000 years old, were laid to rest in an unremarkable “ceremony” in a remote village after the country’s culture minister said they were just a “corpse."
The mummy was neither a “pharaoh” nor a “queen” and there wasn’t much point in looking at her, Tugolbai Kazakov was quoted as saying. He also pointed out that Kyrgyzstan didn’t have the necessary facilities or expertise to safeguard the mummy.
The comments, however, have come back to haunt the minister.
A group of Kyrgyz scientists are accusing Kazakov of vandalism and are threatening to sue him if the mummy isn't exhumed and returned to the museum.
The mummy was put inside a makeshift wooden box and buried by a group of men in the village of Kara-Bulak in southern Bishkek Province, where it was discovered in 1956.
According to the Culture Ministry, there was no traditional Muslim burial ceremony for the mummy because the individual belonged to the pre-Islamic era.
The burial took place on October 14, with scientists reportedly warning that the mummy could disintegrate within months if it wasn't taken back to the vacuum chamber at the museum.
Kyrgyz archaeologist Oroz Soltobaev called the decision a “stab in the back of science.”
Kadicha Tashbaeva, the head of the archaeology department at the Institute of History and Cultural Heritage, said that scientists were calling on outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev to order the mummy’s immediate exhumation.
Speaking alongside other scientists at a press conference in Bishkek, Tashbaeva said they would take the matter to court and international organizations if the president didn't take appropriate measures.
Atambaev had earlier said the mummy’s burial was a mistake. But he suggested that the mummy should not be dug up again.
The culture minister has insisted that he stands by his decision even if “they shoot him dead” for it. He fired back at Kyrgyz scientists, saying they hadn't conducted any research on the mummy in the past six decades.
“What do we know about the mummy if we put her back at the museum for display? Everybody knows Lenin. What do we have to say about this girl to museum visitors?” Kazakov told Kyrgyz media.
The minister claimed that the furor was aimed at removing him from his job.
“This is not about the mummy. This is a fight for my position,” he said, adding, “I’m tired. Dig up the mummy...if you want.”
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by Kyrgyz media and RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service