Global Voices on Pluralism

Isfana – a land of diversities

Publication Date: April 2018

Gulrano Ataeva

Site Data Supervisor at endTB Clinical Trial, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Isfana, a small town in southern Kyrgyzstan, is a good example of a multi-ethnic community that has existed for centuries in the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, very few scholarly works have addressed the rich history of the town that once held caravanserais of the Great Silk Road. This research, one of the first of its kind, aims to identify the main factors maintaining viable interethnic relations in the town and trace their historical roots. It strives to study the various factors that have allowed Isfanans to live in peace, to identify the mechanisms utilized by various local communities to promote social interaction, and to reveal how relationships between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks of Isfana have evolved over time. To that end, the study examines the everyday habits of town residents, areas of interaction, and the role that public figures have played in improving inter-ethnic relations.

The study utilizes social capital theory and attempts to measure its cultural and political dimensions. Stories about the friendship of prominent Isfanans, mixed town quarters where the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks live side by side, life-cycle celebrations involving representatives of all nationalities, regularly held national games such as kurash and uloq, and the hospitality of the people of Isfana – all are seen as important prerequisitives for sustaining peace in the town. In addition, the study discusses the impact that the June 2010 ethnic violence in Osh had on the residents of Isfana.

Findings state that dimensions of cultural social capital, like life-cycle celebrations, are strong. Ethnic groups interact on a daily basis and share mutual trust and norms. Mixed neighbourhoods where Uzbeks and Kyrgyz live side by side also serve as a platform to build relationship and interact. However, when it comes to political questions like choosing a mayor, each ethnicity wants to appoint its own representative. There has been much interest about the history of the town from both ethnic groups. Works in Kyrgyz, however, omit the role of Uzbek people in building Isfana, whereas Uzbek language literature narrates mostly Uzbek-dominated stories of the ancient land.