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close this bookCentral Eurasian Water Crisis: Caspian, Aral, and Dead Seas (UNU, 1998, 203 pages)
close this folderPart II: The Aral Sea
close this folder5. the Aral Sea and socio-economic development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe technical system of cotton monoculture
View the documentThe cotton swindle
View the documentEnvironmental problems and human health
View the documentThe problem of pesticide pollution
View the documentThe environment of the Aral Sea and international cooperation
View the documentThe future of Central Asia
View the documentRecommendations
View the documentReferences


Preserving the cultural heritage of Central Asia

Why Kenesari saved Aristan

There is a story in a modern Kazakh novel by Iliyas Esenberlin (1969) about Sultan Kenesari, who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century (1802-1847) just before the completion of the Kazakh annexation to Russia in the 1860s. He tried to establish a Kazakh khanate independent of Russia. One day his followers captured an esteemed Kazakh folk-poet, Aristan, from the Atighay Kazakh clan (belonging to the Middle Horde). Aristan, however, was greedy for money and he received a great for deal helping the Russians to get a map of the Kazakh plains and to identify the location and movement of Kazakh tribes. Aristan had amassed considerable wealth by the time he was captured. When he was taken to Kenesari, he kissed Kenesari's boots and begged him not to kill him. Kenesari tried to hold back his anger and turned pale. He said:

The man who sells his nation is like an infected horse. In order to save other horses, there should not be any mercy for that infected horse. There is only one sentence - death! Although it sounds cruel, the sentence is just.

The followers of Kenesari remained silent. They did not react to Kenesari's decision. Aristan begged Kenesari to allow him to speak for the last time. When Kenesari agreed, Aristan sang a song:

O brother Kenesari, if you like me, I am your dear friend,
Even if you hate me, I'm one of your Alash [Kazakh nation].
I'm the son of Atighay Qarauli,
Who gave your father six wives.

[Keneke, jaqsï körseng qarashïngmïn,
Jek körseng de özîngnîng alashïngmïn,
Atanga altï qatïn alïp bergen
Atïghay Qarauïlding balasïmïn.]

Hearing these lines, Kenesari forgave this greedy poet. Then Kenesari's followers immediately applauded him for his correct decision about Aristan. The reason Kenesari forgave the poet was not because Aristan reminded him that he was an old friend, or because the poet was his kinsman. Aristan was a poet who knew thousands of Kazakh folk tales, epics, and songs. Killing him was equivalent to destroying a rich source of Kazakh culture and identity. Therefore, Kenesari's followers did not react when he sentenced the poet to die, but applauded his decision to free him.

Though this story reminds us of the wisdom and justness of the leaders of the Kazakh as free and independent adventurers, it draws attention to the preservation of the cultural heritage of Central Asia while emphasizing group consciousness.

The difficult situation in Central Asia

Scientists and young researchers are now in a difficult position in Central Asia. If they speak a foreign language and are asked to act as an interpreter, they can earn as much money in one day as their monthly salary. If they can arrange a deal with a foreign business, they may well be tempted to quit academic work. What does this mean? It means that the accumulated scientific legacy will rapidly disappear. Young graduates will not seek a career in the academic world, and the future of Central Asia will not be based on the sound development of society. Once science and culture have disappeared, it will take a very long time to regenerate them.

As for the Aral Sea problem, the main concern is whether the partners in any international cooperative action in Central Asia can afford to establish an effective institution there. The political structure is not stable because the transitional economy is deteriorating. A more powerful and reliable group would be the researchers in each country's research institutes. Science needs a common logic and common values. We should take notice of the researchers' talent and ability, and, more important, foster exchanges with researchers in foreign countries who have the capability to deal with the environmental and other problems that they face.

Coordinating Central Asia research

Research in Central Asia is carried out by three groups: national academies of sciences, institutes of higher learning, and industrial research institutes and centres. The national academies of sciences of Central Asia are the most prestigious centres of scientific research, to the extent that almost all leaders of each country are full members of their academy. The national academy, though fully retaining its independence, cooperates with the government in formulating plans for scientific research and development. The academy is a state agency whose main functions are to organize scientific management and to supervise theoretical research in the natural and social sciences being conducted in all the country's research centres. also determines the main directions of this research and coordinates it countrywide.

Among the academy's activities are the training of research personnel, the strengthening of ties between science and education, and the introduction of the latest knowledge and discoveries into the curricula and research programmes of higher education institutions. The broad cornerstone of an academy's activities is to blend the development of fundamental and applied research and to strengthen relations between science and the needs of the economy.

It seems clear that we need a carefully developed comprehensive research project for the regeneration of the environment of Central Asia, which should have an international level of significance and be implemented in close cooperation with colleagues from abroad. And it is the national academies of sciences of each republic that possess sufficiently high and versatile scientific potential to produce such a project. Their academies have great experience in the study of natural resources, the environment, and ecology - suffice it to say that a score of academic institutes deals directly with the research problems of the environment and nature.

The establishment of an international research centre

Researchers from Kyoto University in Japan and the Kazakh National Academy of Sciences propose to establish an International Centre for Central Asian Ecology in Central Asia. Its first aim is to undertake research on such global environmental problems as desertification, climate aridization, and radioactive pollution. A second goal is to identify and adapt new technologies and new institutions to Central Asian countries. This International Centre will welcome talented scientists in various fields from abroad as well as supporting (both morally and financially) scientists from Central Asia. The International Centre project proposes to integrate the resources of various scientific specialties on an interdisciplinary basis in order to offer solutions to the major environmental problems of the contemporary world. To achieve this will require a concentration of scientific expertise at an international level, and soundly based cooperation between the academic and industrial sectors. I hope that the international community will agree to this idea and help Central Asia achieve sound development.