Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2003

2.8. Central Asia and the Modern World: confrontation, dialogue or interactivity?
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Munira Shahidi (Dushanbe)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Report: Central Asia and the Modern World: confrontation, dialogue or interactivity?

Munira Shahidi (Dushanbe)


The introduction of the session highlighted that the dissolution of SU and the reopening of Central Asia are marked by the publication of hundreds of books and articles, concerning the region. Describing and analyzing different aspects of today's reality of Central Asia, however, most of contemporary worldwide publications are marred by old and odious prejudices of Western Orientalism. Using Cold War terminology, such as bolshevization, de-islamisation and russification, some writers are trying to explain the cultural `revival' of the region, focusing on islamisation, nationalism and ethnography. That approach can not describe the unifying aspects of cultures in Central Asia. Although Central Asia is at the heart of interculturality and that intercultural identity is expressed in artistic vision, that vision is not perceived by the rest of the world in it's dynamic. Thus, a gap, created by Western orientalism, and it's misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the history of cultures of Central Asia, is now broadened by current Western area studies. To bridge that gap means to rethink the Aristotelian-Avicennian tradition in a new reality, building a new international intercultural scholarship.

The activity of the Zyodullo Shahidi International Fondation (NGO) in Tajikistan is based on the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. We built our cultural relationship with Uzbekistan on the one hand and Afghanistan on the other. That relationship could develop faster, if there were a theoretical instrument for the realization of a new intercultural community, which was recognized worldwide. The INST initiative is the first and very important recognition of that community. I am deeply grateful to the organizers of the conference for involving Central Asia in the program of this conference.

The Unifying Aspects of Cultures as an important international interdisciplinary study of the worldwide development is based on the Aristotelian-Avicennian tradition. But how has the classical tradition been developing in Central Asia after Ibn Sina, what were the crucial periods of development? Although both the academic and artistic approach to the modern world has been explored in hundreds of books and the lively arts of the soviet and post-soviet periods, that insight is still not known worldwide. Rethinking them in the context of a new reality means to recognize the regional contribution in the contemporary building of new relations.

Bilateral relations as a discipline and studying literary sources of Central Asia, is a process which started after WW2. Linking the academic schools of Central Asia and the modern world, these relations are based on the cultural industry of the region, which resulted in the artistic vision of the world in the 50s and 80s of the last century in the diversity of the cultures of Central Asia. That vision has been expressed in a new literature, music, cinema, theatre and painting, which are entering a new period now, in our own days. Paradoxically, however, the dissolution of SU did not attract the world scholarly community to do research on the art of the region. The last publication, studying, for example, Tajik literature in it's dynamic, goes back to 1988 and was done by an American author, Keyth Kichins. The last decade did not bring any new literary or interdisciplinary studies of Central Asia.

Therefore, the creation of the new really international, intercultural scholarly society to explore Central Asian intercultural and international identity, has to start from the roots of its history in the Silk Road and it's dynamic. That approach will bring together inside and outside views of the region and open perspectives for its development.

Highlights of the Section

Each paper raised a lively discussion. Paul Georg Geiss (German Institute for Middle East Studies) talked about culture and political development in Central Asia. His statement about egalitarian political identity, the one-sided cultural policy of soviet time and culture as a regulator of regional policy raised both questions and speculations. The main question was what is culture in itself in Central Asia and how and why it regulates policy? What was culture at crucial periods of Central Asia in 15-16 century and at 19-20 century? Who are the Jadids and how and to what extend did their programs correlat with the diversity of perceptions of Islam and Sufism? What are the priorities in studying the transformation of identities now?

Dinora Azimova's paper (University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent, Uzbekistan) was, to certain extend, an answer for these questions. Criticizing the quantitative measuring of culture during the soviet period, she gave a wide description of figures in a comparison of the soviet and postsoviet era. Manifesting a decline of cultural policy in soviet times, she expressed her hope for a qualitative transformation of contemporary art.

But central Asian art as such is not known in the West, argued Leeza Ahmady (Art Curator and Art and Cultural Manager, USA). Her main argument is, that there is a lack of references to Central Asian cultural studies in the western publications. However, central Asian artists are quite active to-day in contemporary arts all over the world. Samples of art of contemporary artists from various exhibitions, she curates, were demonstrated and provided a challenge.

The state of cultural and artistic activity in Kyrgisia and the current efforts of artists to be heard was described and analyzed by Nazgul, a young researcher from Kyrgisia. Giving a very interesting view of current discourse between religious and secular artists of Kyrgisia, she also talked about semi-educated religious clerks, recruiting the young people into their sphere of influence. At the same time, rethinking original beliefs and traditions gives new ideas and perspectives for building new intercultural relations.

Ambassador Heidemaira Gürer brought a fresh and practical view into our discussion. Her personal interest in the educational and art spheres of today's Central Asia allows us to identify the concept of Unifying Aspects of Cultures in Austria and Central Asia. Artists, musicians and writers from both regions are finding their ways to cooperate and develop their professional skills. That cooperation in the form of exhibitions, concerts and seminars of the artists of cultures from Central Asia in Austria and vice versa opens perspectives of mutually enriching activity at the new institutions such as summer Academy of Central Asian artists. The coming spring of 2004, Mrs. Ambassador pointed out, would be marked by the festival of Austrian Culture in Central Asia.


Two full days of the work of the session developed a program of cooperation on regional level and opened perspectives for collaboration with the INST. Integration of the cultural values and rethinking of the current norms of Central Asia need international scholarship. Rethinking classical and modern art in it's common and specific features, internationalizing innovative features of Central Asian art, is bringing about a transformation of artistic thought in our own days. That approach could be articulated in relation to such issues as 'Sufism and innovations in art', 'Art and science', 'Religion, science and art' etc. The gender visions in art and worldview could be also discussed.

The INST conference could also support transformation of area studies into interdisciplinary studies of our own days. I want to express my deep gratitude to the organizers of the conference and hope for more active participation of central Asian scholars and actors of cultures in the future conferences.

© Munira Shahidi (Dushanbe)

2.8. Central Asia and the Modern World: confrontation, dialogue or interactivity?

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Munira Shahidi (Dushanbe): Report: Central Asia and the Modern World: confrontation, dialogue or interactivity?. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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