Central Asia, Turkey, Uzbekistan

The Return of the Prodigal: A Turk visits Central Asia

Nagihan Haliloglu is an assistant professor at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and a resident of Istanbul.

In his introduction to Mehmet Emin Efendi’s 1877 travelogue on Turkestan, Ahmet Mithat Efendi says that anyone interested in Ottoman history and culture ought to visit Central Asia ‘to appreciate how much a tribe that is originally Turkmen has changed in the six intervening centuries.’ It is indeed difficult for a Turk to visit Central Asia and not to feel like the prodigal offspring who has consorted too long with strange folk too far away. I was able to visit Uzbekistan in April, with a group of friends and their families a few months after the visa was lifted for Turkish citizens, and two weeks after Turkish Airlines added Samarkand to its Uzbek destinations. You could say that as Turkmens of Ahmet Mithat Efendi’s description we missed the target by a couple of hundred kilometers and landed in the wrong –stan. But we did make it to Khiva, the seat of the Turkmen state of Khwarezm, at the end of the journey. Before the trip I was telling myself that these borders in what used to be called Turkestan – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan combined – did not mean a thing. However, in Samarkand, Bukhara and even in Khiva shop owners kept asking me ‘Turkmenistan?’ when I tried to speak Turkish with them, and I thought there might, after all, be something to these distinctions. Continue reading

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