Tajikistan–Better than Before!

Tea House in Khudjand, Tajikistan. © Fred Lundahl

Tea House in Khudjand, Tajikistan. © Fred Lundahl

During my April trip to Central Asia, I drove to the city of Khudjand in northern Tajikistan for a short two-day stop.   Sharon and I frequently visited here, Tajikistan’s second largest city, in the late 1990’s.

Khudjand was already an ancient city when Alexander the Great conquered it and married the local king’s daughter Roxanne in the 4th century BC.

Tajik Woman in Market.

Tajik Woman in Market.

The city was finally gerrymandered by Stalin into Tajikistan in the 1930’s; today it remains the northern-most province, separated from the rest of the country by a high mountain range that is impassable in winter.

The Bad Old Days:  When I last visited Khudjand in 2001, it was still in sad shape after the civil war of the mid-1990’s.  Because Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have never been on friendly terms, there have never been air links between the two neighboring former Soviet States.  In those old days, one had to drive on a deteriorating highway from the Uzbek border down a sad valley lined with abandoned uranium mines–the sorce of materiel for the USSR’s nuclear weapons.

New Museum in Sugd. © Fred Lundahl

New Museum in Sugd. © Fred Lundahl

Back then, Khudjand was a poor city with bullet holes from earlier gunfights pockmarking the only hotel.  Then, we were the only foreigners in town.   We usually drove straight past the city and the tallest Lenin statue still existing in the former Soviet Union, to the airport to catch a ragged Soviet Yak-40 flight over the mountains to the capital, Dushanbe, where our embassy was located.

Panjchanbe Market in Khudjand. © Fred Lundahl

Panjchanbe Market in Khudjand. © Fred Lundahl

The Good New Days:  We knew, from talking to some young Americans working in Tajikistan who had visited our shop on Whidbey Island, that the past decade had resulted in huge changes in the country.  Not only was mountain tourism flourishing, but the capital city had been transformed with bright new modern hotels and the tallest flagpole in the world.

Restaurant in Khudjand. © Fred Lundahl

Restaurant in Khudjand. © Fred Lundahl

Had Khudjand shared in the general prosperity?  Yes!  The road down “Uranium valley” had been totally redone, and was as smooth as any freeway in America.  Actually, it is a tollroad now–Central Asia’s first–built by the latest invaders of mineral-rich Tajikistan, the Chinese.

Alexander and Roxanne. © Fred Lundahl

Alexander and Roxanne. © Fred Lundahl

In the city, the tall Lenin statue has been removed from its pedestal and replaced by a local Tajik hero.  All the bullet holes have been plastered over.  New hotels abound, and the old battered Soviet aircraft have been replaced by Boeing 737’s at the modern airport.   Most Tajik youth now speak some English, and we had dinner with two young American English teachers who were working in Khudjand for the year.

The Newest Invaders. © Fred Lundahl

The Newest Invaders. © Fred Lundahl

The Future:  The province has recently been renamed Sugd, after the Sugdian people who fought Alexander and his Greeks.  A modern museum built along the wall of the ancient citadel now tells the proud story of the history of the area.  From the stone age, when horses were first domesticated in this area, through the various epochs of Tajik heroes resisting invaders from Alexander…through Genghis Khan…to the Bolsheviks of the 20th century…the museum tells the story of this city the Greeks named Alexandria the Farthest.  One whole floor shows the history of Alexander, including his marriage to the beautiful Roxanne, in exquisite mosaic panels.

The oddest thing in the new museum is a glass case containing a mannequin wearing the uniform of the latest in a long line of invaders–a Chinese road-worker.

New Toll Road Built by the Chinese. © Fred Lundahl

New Toll Road Built by the Chinese. © Fred Lundahl

Music for the Eyes and Ears in Phoenix

MIM Phoenix Musical Instruments

Silk Road Instruments at MIM. © Fred Lundahl

While Sharon was busy at the Tucson Gem and Bead Show in February, Fred played hooky at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona.

NIM Phoenix NM Musical

Musical Instruments from Afghanistan at MIM. © Fred Lundahl

Even though we had heard so much about this great museum, nothing adequately prepared Fred for the feast for the eyes and ears that he found at MIM.   Fred had only four hours to spare, but could easily have spent four days looking at everything.

The huge MIM building, which opened in 2010, is filled with delights.  Besides performance halls with frequent world music concerts and and educational programs for kids and adults too numerous to mention,

MIM Phoenix Tibetan Musical Instruments

Tibetan Instruments at MIM.© Fred Lundahl

MIM takes you on a musical journey around the world.

MIM explores music and the instruments various peoples use to make their music.  Every country…EVERY country…in the world has a display in MIM; each contains musical instruments, along with examples of national costumes related to their music.

Each exhibit has a video screen that continuously runs short music-videos (picked up on a receiver

NIM Phoenix South African Instruments

South African Instruments at NIM. © Fred Lundahl

in ear phones provided with your ticket) of the country’s musicians and their music, often playing the exact instrument on display.

Ironically, the only country not to respond to MIM’s requests for items for their nation’s exhibit was North Korea.  The museum, not to leave anyone out, built a North Korean exhibit anyway.  There is a music video playing showing uniformed lady soldiers playing instruments and singing a song praising “The Great Leader”.  Their display space remains oddly empty, but MIM hopes one day to find some of their instruments to display.

North Korea NIM

North Korean Display at NIM. © Fred Lundahl

Showing that even music is not without its political dimension, MIM’s very complete and visually stunning Tibet display has drawn criticism from the Chinese government.  China claims that as Tibet is not a separate nation, it should not have its own display.

At least the Chinese can take solace in the fact that the display devoted to Moslem Uighur music and instruments is labeled Northwest China rather than Uighurstan, the independent state desired by Moslem separatists.

MIM has a robust website which we would encourage everyone to visit–http://mim.org/ …at least until you can visit Phoenix and see this amazing place for yourself!

Tucson Gem Bead Show Arizona

Sharon Buying Beads at Tucson Gem Show. © Fred Lundahl

 

Georgia, a Happy Country

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Tbilisi, Georgia. © Fred Lundahl

Georgia has always been one of our favorite countries.  This little country with a strange alphabet has witnessed some momentous events…both happy and sad.

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Georgian Church in Wine Region. © Fred Lundahl

On the happy side, democracy is thriving.  The government is generally considered to be doing a good job for the people.

After a U.S.-educated president was elected, he swiftly moved to get rid of corrupt cops in a campaign that saw Georgia rise from a high corruption index, still shared by other former Soviet states, up to a low corruption index level of countries such as Belgium.

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New Police Station in Georgia. © Fred Lundahl

The Georgian government started constructing modernistic new municipal buildings around the country which are largely made of glass symbolizing transparency in government.

Georgia held a presidential election right before our visit, choosing a rich pro-Russian businessman.  To the surprise of many observers, the loser didn’t do the third-world trick of annulling the elections, but instead admitted defeat and gave up power for a peaceful transition.

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Fred and Fellow-Motorcyclists. © Sharon Lundahl

Also on the happy side, the economy is doing well, despite a paucity of natural resources.  Hosting oil and gas pipelines connecting the Caspian Sea oil to western markets brings in considerable cash to the economy.

Tourism is booming.  During Soviet days, a resort stay on the Black Sea coast was a coveted reward to many a factory worker.  Now, Georgia is a destination for wine tourism.  The country has produced fine wines for centuries, but after mentoring by American wine tourism specialists, they now have the B & B’s, signage and tasting rooms to go with it.

An amazing development in this part of the world is the fact that Americans don’t need visas to visit.

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Who is This?. © Fred Lundahl

On the sad side is the lack of Russian visitors and tourists.  Diplomatic relations are suspended because of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.  That nasty military action, which almost cut Georgia in two in a short week-long war, resulted from a grave miscalculation by the Georgian president who thought he had America’s tacit support to try to regain control of South Ossetia.

Russian President Putin, who made no secret of his contempt for his Georgian counterpart, was quick to send a massive Russian invasion force into Georgia that only stopped (almost within sight of Tbilisi) because of western pressure not to damage the crucial oil pipelines running across the country.

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Getting the Last Bale of Hay. © Fred Lundahl

The Russians withdrew, but the situation is frozen.  Maybe the new pro-Russian president can help reboot relations.

This won’t, however, help the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP’s) who lost their homes in the three little Georgian internal wars of the 1990’s and have virtually no chance of ever returning to their homes in Russian-supported semi-independent enclaves on Georgia’s environs.

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Housing for Refugees from Regional Wars. © Fred Lundahl

Still, the IDP’s are better off than similar IDP’s in Azerbaijan who live in old Soviet decaying apartment blocks.  Georgia has built neat and clean IDP camps filled with rows of identical small single-family houses.  Our guide sadly pointed out that the recent decisions by many inhabitants to begin building additions and extra rooms reflects their conclusion that they will never have a chance to return to their former homes.

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3-Kilometer Line at Georgian Border. © Fred Lundahl

 

Armenia

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Novarant Monastery, Armenia. © Grigory Gusev_flickr

Armenia is a strange country full of ancient churches and modern grudges.

It is proud of being the first Christian country in the world and, at the same time, nostalgic for the old Soviet Union that gave birth to the first modern Armenian nation-state.  Its people suffered a horrible genocide at the hands of the still unapologetic Turks during WWI, but then carried out their own smaller genocide against neighboring Azerbaijan in the 1990’s, snatching and still holding today 20 percent of their neighbor’s territory.

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Sharon with Botero Statue in Yerevan. © Fred Lundahl

Armenia is a relatively poor country where not only most cultural projects–but also major infrastructure construction such as tunnels and highways–are often funded by Armenians living abroad in the diaspora.

Two thousand years ago Armenia was a vibrant kingdom that grew in size and strength after being the first to convert to the new faith of Christianity in 360 AD.  In the early centuries of Christianity, the Armenian and Byzantine empires disagreed over church doctrine and began fighting among themselves.     thus ill equipped to fight off invaders from the East.   The Armenian empire was the first to be blotted out in the 13th century, followed later by the Byzantines in the 15th.

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Living in Yerevan. © Sharon Lundahl

From then until the 20th century, Armenians continued to inhabit their traditional lands usually living as second-class citizens under an Islamic government, whether persian or Turkish.  Even when Russia expanded into the Caucasus, Armenians remained second-class citizens…a merchant class referred to by Anton Chekov as the “Jews of the Caucasus.”  In WWI, the Turks saw Armenians living in Turkey as pro-Russia “fifth colonists” and cruelly moved huge numbers from place to place resulting in over a million deaths.

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Soviet-era Car in Yerevan. © Sharon Lundahl

Shortly thereafter, Armenians in the Caucasus embraced the downfall of the Czar and welcoming the coming of Communism.  Their support for Communism was repaid when the USSR carved out a nation for them in the 1920’s.

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Yerevan Modern Art Museum. © Sharon Lundahl

The ill fortune that Armenians suffered resulted in many fleeing to new lives in America and Europe.  Those Armenians living in the diaspora maintainclose emotional ties to their homeland and issues such as the Turkish genocide.  To those Armenians, Turkey remained the enemy.  Armenian terrorist groups assassinated a number of Turkish diplomats around the world in the 197o’s and 80’s.

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Fred with Armenian Movie Actors. © Sharon Lundahl

The break-up of the Soviet Union resulted in an independent Armenia that suddenly became an honorable cause for Armenians abroad to support with financial assistance.  Yerevan is filled with museums and monuments paid for by diaspora Armenians.  US businessman Kurt Kervorkian paid for major highway tunnel and donations from the diaspora are a major source of the government’s funds.  A new fancy shopping mall opened while we were in Yerevan…paid for with diaspora money.

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In an Old Armenian Church. © Sharon Lundahl

Still, Armenia will remain poor until it mends its relations with its neighbors.  For a time recently, it seemed there might be hope for reconciliation with Turkey during an exchange of “football diplomacy.”  Those efforts ultimately floundered on Turkey’s insistence that Armenia settle its differences with Azerbaijan first, and Armenia’s refusal to do so.

This unresolved conflict shows no signs of abating and, with Azerbaijan’s growing military might, could be a flashpoint for another nasty regional regional war.  Unlike Israelis and palestinians, there seems to be no one in either country willing to take a first step towards peace.  If anything, the sides are drawing further apart.

The recent case of an Azerbaijani officer who killed a sleeping Armenian officer with an axe at a NATO training course–and then was pardoned and welcomed as a hero upon his transfer to a prison in Baku– shows how intractable the situation has become.

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Entering Yerevan. © Lasgalletas_flickr

 

Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku,Azerbaijan

Baku, Old and New. © Sharon Lundahl

Fred loves Baku.  He loves its history, its people, its arts, and especially its textiles.  During our week in Baku before we joined the tour group, we stayed in the Sultan Inn, a small boutique hotel in an old mansion inside the walls of the old medieval city of Baku.

Baku,Azerbaijan

Statue in Downtown Baku.© Sharon Lundahl

We found all of the carpet dealers he had known before were still in business, and we spent hours drinking tea and reminiscing.

Happy Guy in Baku. © Sharon Lundahl

Happy Guy in Baku. © Sharon Lundahl

Baku is filled with extraordinarily beautiful 1900-era baroque buildings built during the city’s first oil boom.  In 1900 with the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Alfred Nobel and other western millionaires flocking to the city, Baku was the number one exporter of oil in the world.

A little more than 100 years later, Baku has once again become an important oil exporting power, and huge wealth is flowing into the country.  Not all the money is  going into luxury cars and shopping malls filled with Benneton and the Gap stores.  Some is being used to erect new buildings, many in the style of the older baroque masterpieces.

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Fred and Friend. © Sharon Lundahl

We found amazing modern buildings like the new carpet museum being constructed to look like a rolled carpet, other gala event centers such as the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest’s concert hall, and the world’s tallest flag pole–along the city’s seawall park on the Caspian Sea.

The city’s skyline inland from the Caspian Sea had changed incredibly too, with the construction of three  huge over-the-top skyscrapers shaped like flames whose reflective glass skins exhibited gigantic light shows all night.  The whole town seems to be continually in party mode.

Baku,Azerbaijan

1900-era mansion. © Fred Lundahl

The carpet business in Azerbaijan, however, is not doing great.  Even though their carpets are of legendary beauty, they are now too expensive for the American market.  Even the Baku rug stores are selling the cheaper Afghan and Pakistani carpets.  Stunning old rugs are still to be seen, but government rules forbid their export.

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Pretty girls in Baku. © Sharon Lundahl

The Caucasus – Ten Years Later

Azerbaijan Baku Rugs Carpets

Fred in Rug Store in Azerbaijan. © Sharon Lundahl

We have just spent the month of October in the three countries that make up the region known as the Caucasus–Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.  Both Sharon and Fred had worked, separately, in the U.S. embassies in Georgia ten years ago.  In addition, Sharon had served in Armenia, while Fred served in Azerbaijan.

Armenia Market

Market Lady in Armenia.© Sharon Lundahl

The choice of this trip for our 2012 autumn adventure was for the two of us to see all three countries together, catch up with old friends made there, and see what had happened to the people (and their textiles) in the last ten years.

We first spent a week in

Azerbaijan Baku children's Theater

At the Baku Children’s Theater. © Sharon Lundahl

Baku visiting Fred’s old haunts in Azerbaijan.  We stayed in a boutique hotel inside the walls of the old city, drank tea with many carpet dealers, attended a wonderful Azeri opera with a friend, and looked in amazement at what 10 years of unbridled petroleum-fueled growth had done to this ancient city.    One ominous fact: 20 percent of GNP is being spent on the military in this small Islamic country closely allied with the West and, oddly enough, with Israel.

In Georgia, which we both love, we arrived just after the first peaceful democratic election ever held in the region.  A young US-trained president, who had both transformed the government AND entered into a quickly lost war with Russia in his ten years in office, had graciously given up power to his rival.

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Old Georgian Church. © Fred Lundahl

We visited with old friends in Tbilisi and saw where the Russian tanks had ground to a halt within sight of the city in 2008.  We watched a country filled with refugees (of Internally Displaced Persons–IDP’s) from the war, and with no diplomatic relations with neighbor Russia, buckle down and carry out amazing improvements for its people with few resources other than tourism dollars and oil-pipeline-transfer payments.

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Old Armenian Church. © Fred Lundahl

We finally ended up in Armenia, a cosmopolitan country with vast foreign diaspora sending huge amounts of money back home to build monuments, shopping malls and art museums, but who still fret continually about the terrible atrocities done to them by the Turks in 1915.

Azeri girl Baku Azerbaijan Caucasus

Pretty Azeri Girl. © Sharon Lundahl

Landlocked Armenia has few resources of its own and relies on Russia for its national security.  Its intransigence on the issue of the 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory they have occupied since 1994 has prevented Armenia from normalizing relations with Turkey and, also oddly, has driven them to be closer allies with neighboring Iran.

On this trip, on the micro level, we found little had changed for our friends in the three countries.  On the macro level of relations between nations, lots had changed…and not all for the better.

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Sharon at a Rug Store in Georgia. © Fred Lundahl

Whale Visitors to Whidbey Island

Whales Whidbey Island Gray

Gray Whales off Whidbey Island. © Minette Layne/flickr

This is the story of the “Saratoga Grays”–12 whales who visit Whidbey Island each year.

Once upon a time–who knows how many years or centuries ago–a single gray whale found its way into the Saratoga Passage between Whidbey and Camano Island north of Seattle.

Grey Whale Whidbey Langley

Gray Whale. © www.photobotos.com/flickr

That one whale managed to break off from thousands migrating northward from Mexico to Alaska, and then found its way almost 100 miles into inland waters.

His detour was amazing enough…but it was especially amazing that the krill-eating whale was so hungry that it somehow figured out that there were small edible crustaceans living in the sands of the tidal flats of this small area.

Gray Whale Whidbey Island Langley

Seen in the Whale Parade. © Sharon Lundahl

The first whale that used its baleen plates to sift out crustaceans from sand– rather than sifting its usual krill diet from seawater–liked the taste so much that when it found its way out to join its companions in completing the migration north to Alaska’s krill-rich waters…it somehow passed on news of its discovery to a friend or two.

As a result, a few other whales began to make the detour into the Sushi Bar around Whidbey Island during the annual migration…but never more than about a dozen came.  (If that first whale had passed on news of its discovery to everyone, there would have been thousands of whales visiting Saratoga Passage every year.)

People living around Whidbey Island had probably noticed whales coming in to feed in the shallows for centuries.  It was not until the 1970’s, with the increasing concern among conservationists that whales needed protection from humans, that scientists began cataloguing and identifying whales by their individual markings; only then did it become clear that it was the same bunch of whales who visited Saratoga Passage each year.

Whidbey Island Langley Gray Whales

Whale-Happy Girl at the Whale Parade. © Sharon Lundahl

They come in ones and twos, showing up between mid-February and mid-June, feeding at high tide–eating the crustaceans like the “ghost shrimp” living in the sand close to the shore–and then departing to continue their migration after a few days of feasting.

What’s with this bunch of whales?  Other gray whales occasionally stumble into Puget Sound when sick or starving and die, apparently not knowing that there is edible food in the sand.  The Saratoga Grays apparently don’t share the knowledge of their Sushi Bar very widely among their companions.

Baha Mexico Gray Whales Langley Whidbey Island

Inter-species Communication in Baha, Mexico. © Fred Lundahl

No one knows for sure why this is, but scientists speculate that the Saratoga Grays are perhaps from the same matrilineal line of whales; they guess that the first whale to discover food in the sand passed that knowledge on to a sister or brother, who passed it on to another close relative, and so on.  Still, since the 1970’s, only about 15 or 20 distinct whales have ever been identified in the Saratoga Passage.  Since the 1990’s the number has been pretty static at about 12 or 13.

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Fred Playing Harmonica to Whale at Baha. © Sharon Lundahl

Well, whales will be whales, and the people of Langley, a small village of 1000 souls on Saratoga Passage, are happy enough that the dozen show up each year like clockwork.  The whales regularly feed so close to shore along the waterfront of this small town that they have become a great attraction, drawing locals and tourists alike to the town’s seawall at high tide when one can stand closer to a feeding gray whale than one is allowed to be in a whale watching boat.

The town hosts a small “Welcome the Whales” festival each April, which includes a Whale parade, lectures and experiences for young people.

Gray Whales Whidbey Island Langley

The Whale Bell in Langley. © Sharon Lundahl

One of the founders of a regional whale conservation group called Orca Network donated her minister-grandfather’s church bell to the town to provide a signal for alerting townspeople of the presence of whales.

 

This whale bell has been erected in the middle of town and, when a whale is sighted, someone rings the bell.  Everyone rushes out of the shops and pubs down to the seawall to watch the whales, naturally oblivious to all the attention, feeding a scant 100 meters away. The local Clyde Theater even is known to stop its projector in mid-film when the whale bell is heard and to advise theater patrons to take five minutes to run down to see the whales before the film resumes.

Whale Parade in Langley WA Whidbey Island

Langley Whale Parade in the Rain. © Sharon Lundahl

Summer in Langley

Fred Lundahl at the Friday Second Street Market. © Sharon Lundahl

We are enjoying blissful summer days in Langley, our home in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Even though it has been quite cool so far, we are expecting  weather in the 80’s this coming August weekend.

 

Kids Buying Corn. © Sharon Lundahl

Most of you know that our shop,

Music   for the Eyes, is located in a small village on the sea, where we can watch for whales in the spring—greys who come up near the shore to scoop up ghost shrimp at high tide.

Langley is home to about 1000 people, and –even better– we are located on an island.

To visit Whidbey island, take a ferry from Everett on the mainland north of Seattle, and come to our forested paradise.  Our “traffic” happens when the ferry unloads.

Herons and birds abound, and our favorites, bald eagles, nest in our tall trees and entertain us all year long.

Most of all, we love the people of Langley. 

These pictures are taken at the Second Street market, which is put on each Friday by the new Main Street organization.  The market has local vendors, music, food, buskers, friends and visitors.   You are welcome to join the party!

Singing Happy Birthday at the Second Street Market. © Sharon Lundahl

 

What Do Afghans Think?

Hakim, Bay Murad and Assad Warming Up in the Desert. © Peer Nazar Turkman

Of course, I don’t know what all Afghans think, but I have been surprised by the political views of one Afghan friend, Peer Nazar Turkman.   Peer Nazar is a successful businessman who buys and sells beads, jewelry and other Afghan things both in Afghanistan and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Afghan Businessman Peer Nazar Turkman. © Peer Nazar

I have dealt with him for a number of years via email and have found him frank and perceptive.

Peer Nazar took the pictures here in Balkh Province, Qultaq Village, of north-western Afghanistan.  Looking at the map of Afghanistan on the opening page of this email, see that this village is north of Mazar-e-Sharif, closer to the border with Uzbekistan.  It is south of the Amu Darya, the Oxus River of

Proud of the Products They Make. © Peer Nazar

antiquity.   Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, is the 4th largest city of Afghanistan, with a population of more than 300,00 (2006 estimate).   By its location, you can see that this village is far from the areas of strongest Taliban influence in the south.

Peer Nazar has described the lives of the people who work here to us.  These Afghans are all beadmakers, and they are all ethnic Turkmen.  They make small beads of lapis lazuli, turquoise and agate… in the sizes of .05mm,  2mm, 3mm, 4mm, tube cylinder beads and round facet-cut styles.

Beadmakers at Work. © Peer Nazar

Peer Nazar explained that during the Taliban occupation these people suffered under terrible living conditions, but that now 80 percent of them are doing well.  They are able to sell their products to people such as Peer Nazar,  who exports to shops, including Music for the Eyes in Washington State.

Peer Nazar says that the Afghans he knows–including all in this village–are supportive of the presence  of foreign troops in Afghanistan…”because now there are no killings, no thieves and no weapons….

Polishing the Beads with Donated Equipment. © Peer Nazar

and now everyone has a job.”

The men shown here in the top picture—Hakim, Bay Murad and Asad—are hard workers and earn from about $150 to $300 a month, which allows them a good life.    The three men support 16 people in total.

Panjagha, in another picture, is about 50 years old.   In addition to being the security guard, he makes small statues from lapis lazuli such as those shown in his photo.

The Youngest Helper. Peer Nazar

The young boy is Door Mamad.  He is the son of the bead-maker Hakim.  Door Mamad is 10 years old in Class 4 at school, and helps his father at work after school.

I learned also that Qultaq village benefits from help from a German foundation called GTZ, which provides emergency aid and sustainable development assistance to Afghanistan.  GTZ gave the Afghans their machines and tools, rent a house they use for their work and provided a tent they use for lunch and instruction.

Security Guard and Sculptor. © Peer Nazar

 

 

 

 

 

Even though I would not try to predict the future, I can conclude that in this one small part of Afghanistan, NATO troops have surely changed these lives for the better.  These people have hope and have learned how to support themselves.

Qultaq Village in Balkh Province.

Qultaq Village in Balkh Province. © Peer Nazar Turkmen

Nowruz Festival: Forbidden in the USSR

Persian Wall Painting from Safavid Era

Ancient Persian Painting of Nowruz Celebration. © Reza Nazarbeyg

The ancient Zoroastrian spring equinox festival Nowruz  was once again celebrated in Seattle  this March 21st by both the local Iranian and Central Asian communities.

Seattle Nowruz Celebration © Bek Shamsiev

The Central Asian event, for which we loan textile decorations, was again hosted by the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Association which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year.

 

Since the name of the festival–which means “new light” or “new day” in ancient Persian–can be transliterated into the latin alphabet in several ways, we choose to use “nowruz” . (A school kid was

Trying out hats! © Fred Lundahl

disqualified from the national spelling bee in 2006 for using  this (Random House) variant rather than  Webster’s “navruz” spelling.)

 

Nowruz has been celebrated for thousands of years as the beginning of the new year and the end of winter.   The 500 BC King’s Palace at Persepolis in Iran is constructed so that on the  day of the Spring Equinox, the rising sun’s rays flood through the doors of the throne room and illuminate the throne.

 

Festival Food. © Fred Lundahl

The festival brings communities together for feasts,  dancing and gift-giving.  There is even a Santa Claus–like  figure called Haji Firuz,  thought to represent the Sumerian god of sacrifice, who dies every autumn and is reborn at the spring equinox.  A number of festivities taking place involve fire and the other basic elements, a holdover from Zoroastrian days even in fundamentalist Islamic Iran.

 

The coming of various other religions such as Islam to the area of Persian influence from Turkey to China did nothing to diminish the popularity of the festival which heralds the coming of spring.

Only the Russian communists in their efforts to stamp out religion succeeded in banning the celebration in the Soviet Union for a time.   Finally, with the coming of “perestroika”, the Central Asians succeeded in being allowed to commence their Nowruz celebrations again in 1988.

Kids Playing at Nowruz. © Fred Lundahl

 

Nowruz is the most popular festival in Iran.  It is celebrated from Albania to Western China to Afghanistan to India and is equally popular among all Turkic speaking peoples.  In 2009 Navruz  even became an officially recognized holiday in Canada.  Can the US be far behind?

 

This is a You Tube performance of “Happy Nowruz” of the Silk Road Dance Company, which will perform at Seattle’s Asian Art Museum on May 5th as part of the “Colors of the Oasis” ikat silk exhibition… for whose education room we have donated some ikat textiles.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9qQ3pZGzRM

Nowruz in Uzbekistan. © dalbera_flickr