Why did they do it?

November 12th, 2013 Sections: Issyk Kul, Monuments, News
Photo by Vladmir Petrov taken from the Vecherniye Bishkek report of the incident: http://members.vb.kg/2013/11/01/proshlo/1.html (in Russian)

Photo by Vladmir Petrov taken from the Vecherniye Bishkek report of the incident, (in Russian)

At the Eastern end of Lake Issyk Kul, at San Tash, there is what is thought to be a haunting “monument” to the fallen of a war fought long ago between the armies of Tamerlane and the Chinese Empire.

Legend has it that Tamerlane ordered his soldiers to each pick up a stone from the beaches of the lake and deposit them all in a pile as they headed off over the mountains.  On their way back, each soldier took a stone from the pile and replaced it on the beach.  The remaining cairn represented those who never returned.

To be fair, there are other theories surrounding the origins of this mound, but the site and the legend are a regular feature on many a tour itinerary.

There are other sites which are not so well visited … some older and some more recent, for example: ancient burial mounds, the monastery at Svetly Mys which is to be the last resting place of the evangelist St. Matthew, and, (until recently, that is), the stone erected in 1996 to commemorate the epic Kyrgyz saga, Manas.

The “Manas Stone” was apparently erected as the culmination of the proceedings of an international conference dedicated to the 140th anniversary of the first mention of the epic poem by the Kazakh scholar and explorer Chokan Valikhanov, which brought it to the attention of the outside world.

It was at San Tash that Valikhanov encountered the manaschi “Pyotr” and first heard (and committed to paper) extracts from the Manas epic … although we don’t know exactly where the meeting took place.

Although I call it the “Manas Stone”, it was in fact a composition of three blocks of stone, inscribed with an image of the surrounding countryside and a text in Kyrgyz and Russian:

26 V 1856 The great son of the Kazakh people Chokan Valikhanov, here on San Tash, heard and recorded a passage of the epic “Manas”. Here, the greatest legacy of the Kyrgyz people became known to the world.

It was erected at the personal expense of Daniel Pryor, the author of the eponymous Bishkek Handbook, (a Guide to the city of Bishkek and the surrounding area in English, published in 1996 and now, sadly, out of print).  He also sponsored the recordings of the conference and other works including recordings pf the manaschi Kenji Kara and the Laws of Shabdan Baatyr.

Unfortunately, according to recent press reports, the stone monument has become another in the list of desecrated monuments.  The monument has been destroyed, uprooted and scattered.  It wasn’t a simple job – one piece being thrown into a ditch by a bulldozer.

This year we have seen a series of photographs taken by Russian tourists who mounted the Pyramids even though they were declared “off limits” by the authorities … but more importantly, a video of Scouts in America toppling stones and destroying a Native American sacred site created a scandal.  Unfortunately, nobody recorded the guilty parties on this occasion and so we have no idea of who they were or why they did it.

There are, however, a couple of suggestions – but they beggar belief.

For example, noting that nearby another new stone monument has been erected – in 2011, this one dedicated to the Urkun tragedy of 1916 … and the question has been posed if the original was “moved” during the construction of the new monument.

Another suggestion is that the action may have been prompted by the fact that the original monument was inscribed with the name of Valikhanov, a Kazakh scholar, and the proximity of the site to the Kazakh border.

Kyrgyzstan takes its monuments seriously and I expect that work will be underway to repair and replace the Manas Stone – but it will probably take some time … let’s hope that it is back in situ for the new tourism season.


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