Aitmatov Museum(s)

June 3rd, 2016 Sections: Museums, Tourism, Who's Who
 Photo of Chinghiz Aitmatov, from Wikipedia

Photo of Chinghiz Aitmatov, from Wikipedia

There’s an interesting debate that goes on when it is proposed to erect a statue to some public figure … do they really deservethe honour?  Most people have their detractors, just as they have their supporters.  After all, as the old saying puts it … One Man’s Freedom Fighter Is Another Man’s Terrorist.

It can be especially controversial if they are still alive …  Statues are not often erected to living people (unless they happen to be megolamanic polioticians) because you can never be sure that they won’t yet do something to bring the honour into question.

In Britain, there’s a general rule of thumb that imposes a 10 year moratorium on erecting memorials … although some exceptions are occasionally made … Nelson Mandella, for example, or even Margaret Thatcher.

Here in Kyrgyzstan, there is one man who is held in high regard by everyone … no-one has a bad word to say about him … and he already has a couple of statues … here in the center of Bishkek and up at Issyk Kul: the author, dilpomat and public figure Chinghiz Aitmatov.

I once made myself very unpopular at a conference about the future of tourism in Kyrgyzstan … when one of the speakers proposed emulating the English experience  – where William Shakespeare birthplace, Stratford upon Avon, was a tourist ‘mecca’ attacting millions of visitors every year, (one estimate puts the figure at almost five million … which is, almost, the population of Kyrgyzstan).  “We should concentrate on delivering Aitmatov Tours.”

It went something like this:

My reaction was, “You have got to be kidding!”, and, unfortunately, I said it out loud.  “Why not?”, I was asked, “We’ve also got a famous writer – Chinghiz Aitmatov – and people will come to places associated with him, his life and his work.”

“That goes without saying – I wouldn’t argue with that.  I have read some of his work and I think it is great … but it’s not the solution to our problem of how to develop tourism.

Lots of people here in Kyrgyzstan know about William Shakespeare; they can see his plays and read his poetry … in Russian and in Kyrgyz … but that can’t be said about Chinghiz Aitmatov in the West … even if some of his works are available in many different languages.

Go into a bookshop on the Charring Cross Road and ask for something by Aitmatov and the response you are likely to get is ‘Who?’ … even though Jamilia was listed as the Book of the Month not long ago.  Ask people here in Bishkek about Shakespeare was and you’ll get a totally different response

That’s not to say that Aitmatov tours don’t have potential … indeed there are already several on the market … but they don’t attract a huge number of tourists … it’s just that it’s a specialist market, a niche market.

More to the point, it’s wrong to build up people’s hopes and expectations with an unrealistic scenario so that the think that we’ve found a panacea to our problem … .”

Like Shakespeare’s birthplace, one of the places on the itinerary of Aitmatov tours is Sheker, the village near to the Uzbek and Kazakh borders where he was born and grew up … and which features as the model for many of the books that he wrote later in life.  Indeed it used to be said that you could still meet people on whom he said to have based certain characters.

In the village, there’s a Museum (Museum-Library) which is dedicated to him, his life and his work.  It is based in the house where he spent his childhood and youth, (at the age of 14 he became the Secretary of the village Council).  The Museum was opened in 1978, (while he was still alive), to mark his fiftieth anniversary – and it has become a local landmark.

There are more than a thousand exhibits, including the originals of some manuscripts and articles, favorite books, as well as numerous pictures, and dedicated to the history of the family.

In 2013, (some five years after his death), to mark his birthday, a second museum was opened … this time in the house, set in the Als Archa State Residence, which had served as his home in Bishkek since 1986 … that is, for the last 22 years of his life.  His family, (his wife, daughter and son in law) continue to live in the rest of the building.

They say that they have tried to preserve the things he used in his daily routine, many of them left in the same position.  On display are many of the author’s personal belongings, his awards, his piano, photogrphs of him taken with leaders and artists, paintings that he collected, including many potraits of the man himself, and some films inspired by his novels.

The seven rooms that go to make up the museum include a dining room with a fine collection of ceramics brought from Turkey.  Perhaps the most important, however, is the ‘office’ where his notes and books from his extensive collection, and two desks where he sat to pen his compositions (or should that be ‘to type’ – his typewriter being one of the exhibits).


There are plans for further expansion ,,, but it’s thought that it will take some time for them to come to fruition.


As well as being a ‘must’ for any Aitmatov Tours, I am sure that either, or both, of the museums would be a rewarding place to visit for those who know the writer’s work …




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