None of the titular nationalities of Central Asia can trace their history back as far as the Kyrgyz and the Tajiks. These two peoples measure their presence in Inner Asia in terms of millennia.
Inevitably they had to meet, and the Jerge-Tal district in what is now northern Tajikistan near the border with Kyrgyzstan is one such place.
Thousands of Kyrgyz live there, as their ancestors no doubt did for hundreds of years. And for most and maybe all that time they lived alongside the Tajiks, both peoples being subgroups of larger multiethnic empires or khanates.
For the first time in all that history together the two peoples now have what increasingly more of them regard as “their own country.” The same process is being seen along all the borders in the region now and it’s causing a gradual resettlement process, something that has never been seen in Central Asia.
My colleague Janyl Jusupjan of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service has recently been to film in Jerge-Tal. Janyl also filmed the documentary “Uluu Pamir,” which was featured in an earlier Qishloq Ovozi report
Uluu Pamir dealt with the Kyrgyz, who in an age-old migration story fled from the Soviets to China, then from the Chinese Communists to Afghanistan, and after the war started in Afghanistan, made the journey to Turkey.
The tale of Jerge-Tal is more localized but still part of the same migration story. And while it is just one chapter of this ancient tale, it is at the same time a microcosm of the contemporary problems in Central Asia, in terms of ethnic relations and socio-economic challenges.
In her documentary series “People of Two Lands: The Kyrgyz Of Jerge-Tal,” Janyl introduces us to some of the Kyrgyz who still live in Jerge-Tal and some of those who finally decided to leave.
We meet for example Khamid Boronov, an elderly man who still teaches at the local elementary school and emphasizes the importance of knowing the “history of Tajik people.” He devotes his free time to curating a museum filled with artifacts, some dating back several centuries, so that the Kyrgyz and Tajik people of Jerge-Tal can see and understand their common history.
We also meet Latofat, the only female singer in her village, whose mother was Kyrgyz and father was Tajik. Her first husband left for work in Russia and they agreed to divorce. She is now the second wife of a man from another village and has two daughters.
We meet Gulnaz, mother of three young boys whose husband also left to find work in Russia. Gulnaz is a trained nurse but she is currently unemployed and hints that she thinks this is at least partially because ethnic Tajiks are now in charge of the district and are the first to get work. She wants to move to Kyrgyzstan.
There is Nooruz, who I must admit I took for an ethnic Tajik the first time I saw him in Janyl’s film. Nooruz is a perfect example of how closely knit the two people are in Jerge-Tal, a product of a place where the two peoples meet and mix, although he clearly considers himself to be Kyrgyz and expresses the desire to move to Kyrgyzstan.
And there is Saifaridin, elderly and settled in Kyrgyzstan. Saifaridin left Tajikistan to save his life, he says, recalling the days of the 1992-1997 Tajik civil war, when Jerge-Tal was controlled by opposition groups fighting the government and he, an ethnic Kyrgyz, was beaten for essentially trying to stay out of a fight that did not concern him or the Kyrgyz people in Tajikistan.
This blog is called “Qishloq Ovozi” because I worked and lived in the Qishloqlar, or villages of Central Asia, whether they were called aul, ayil, or oba. Jerge-Tal is larger and has more “creature comforts” (electricity for one thing) than the places where I spent most of my time.
For those, like me, who found themselves conducting research in rural Central Asia, Janyl’s films will bring back many memories. And for those who have never been to the villages of Central Asia, these films are a window into the region's daily life.
And for everyone, Janyl’s films are an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what happens when a line drawn on a map becomes a reality on the ground.
We will be posting the five short films separately over the course of the coming weeks.
The first part is about Nooruz.
-- Bruce Pannier