“How can you not know about Kyrgyzstan?”

June 4th, 2016 Sections: Kyrgyzstan, Marketing, Tourism

How can you not know about KyrgyzstanThe other day I cam across an interesting post by Akmaral Sabatar in The Asian.

(The AsiaN is a multi-platform news service which aims to deliver articles giving the stories in the news from an Asian perspective … in English, Arabic, Chinese and Korean.)

This particular article seemed to be a real cri de coeur – a cry from the heart.

In it, Sabatar described how she had been at an international forum where nobody seemed to know anything about his homeland – Kyrgyzstan – which was an unpleasant fact to have to face.  He found himself asking: “How can you not know about Kyrgyzstan?” … and decided to do something about it …writing a description and illustrating it with photos from Marat Danilov.

She goes on to write brief paragraphs about a number of topics which he considers will give a feel for the place … such as: the mountains; possibilities for adventure tourism – such as horseback riding; Lake Son Kul; Edelweiss flowers; the capital Bishkek; Lake Issyk Kul – the Pearl of the Tien Shan; Kumyz – fermented mare’s milk; … and the Kyrgyz version of Paris – a roadside stop lined with Cafes.

Of course, there’s a lot that she didn’t say … but that one line screamed at me: “How can you not know about Kyrgyzstan?

Although I understand the confusion, discomfort and unhappiness encapsulated in the question … it’s fairly understandable … after all, it’s a natural phenomena.  We pay attention to the world around us and only look further afield as and when the need arises or we are motivated to do so for some reason or another.

  • if you look at atlases published in different countries, for example, the larger scale maps at the front are of the country and region where it was produced, (Britain and Europe in the case of where I grew up), Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia and the fifteen republics of the former Soviet Union here in Kyrgyzstan;
  • history lessons at school concentrate on local geography and history – often venturing further afield to incorporate other parts of the world only as and where they have a bearing on the ‘home country’.

In other words … if it’s not in their immediate sights for some reason or another … then, why should they know about Kyrgyzstan?

Akmaral, and others, could quite justifiably retort with comments about the importance of education and general knowledge, pointing to the fact that people here are not so insular and tend to know an awful lot about other parts of the world, the geography, history, literature and culture of other countries, so why shouldn’t others learn about Kyrgyzstan.

I have to admit that I am really impressed with how knowledgeable people here about all aspects of Britain … OK, in some cases that might be limited to Manchester United, the Beatles and Margaret Thatcher … but many people are really well informed and actually tell me things that I didn’t know … and are surprised (if not shocked) when I say, “I didn’t know that”.

 

 

I have to admit, however, that the cri de coeur is indeed a perplexing quandary … and one that I have had to deal with all the time I have been here, (almost twenty one years), particularly since 1977 when I became involved in Tourism.  One of the biggest obstacles to the development of the tourism in the country is the general ignorance about the country abroad.

Although it’s true that some people do know the country – there always has been, (but it it always used to be a small group of people, interested in History – especially about the Silk Road – and / or the Soviet Union) … and that it’s a growing number of people, (thanks to Revolutions, the presence of an American airbase, scandals over descriptions of Kyrgyz food, politicians and news outlets that have trouble twisting their tongues around the pronunciation of the country’s name … and so on).

I had many experiences (and I have written about some of them before) where people confused Kyrgyzstan with Kurdistan, couldn’t find the country on the map, had difficulty saying the name and resorted to calling it “Uncle Stan Land” … and fielding questions like “Why on earth would you want to go there?”

I realized almost immediately that, if I was going to sell tours to Kyrgyzstan, then the first thing I was going to have to do was attract the attention of potential clients … and explain things like where Kyrgyzstan is, describe what it has to offer and what people could do; and why they might want to include it as a destination for their list of holiday options … all this before I could even start to propose itineraries and promoting a package of services.

What struck me as sad … disappointing (… depressingly so, really …) is that little, (if anything), seems to have to changed in all that time.

I see similar stories in the media that I saw back then … still explaining, (with the same sort of phrases), where Kyrgyzstan is, mentioning mountains and the Silk Road, China and the Soviet Union – Russia, before they can move on to the subject they are trying to cover …

Kyrgyzstan is still referred to as ‘little known’, ‘undiscovered’, an ‘unknown’ land … and so on.

I still hear expats repeating the same sort of stories that I used to tell: the confusion with Kurdistan, uncertainty about where it is, and the difficulty with saying the same …

… and I still meet people who have the impression that it is so far “off the beaten track” that it is “the back of beyond” … and, usually they are pleasantly surprised to discover that this is not the case..

 

 

 

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