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Speaking Soviet with an Accent

Culture and Power in Kyrgyzstan

Ali Igmen

Publication Year: 2012

Speaking Soviet with an Accent presents the first English-language study of Soviet culture clubs in Kyrgyzstan. These clubs profoundly influenced the future of Kyrgyz cultural identity and fostered the work of many artists, such as famed novelist Chingiz Aitmatov. Based on extensive oral history and archival research, Ali Igmen follows the rise of culture clubs beginning in the 1920s, when they were established to inculcate Soviet ideology and create a sedentary lifestyle among the historically nomadic Kyrgyz people. These “Red clubs” are fondly remembered by locals as one of the few places where lively activities and socialization with other members of their ail (village or tribal unit) could be found. Through lectures, readings, books, plays, concerts, operas, visual arts, and cultural Olympiads, locals were exposed to Soviet notions of modernization. But these programs also encouraged the creation of a newfound “Kyrgyzness” that preserved aspects of local traditions and celebrated the achievements of Kyrgyz citizens in the building of a new state. These ideals proved appealing to many Kyrgyz, who, for centuries, had seen riches and power in the hands of a few tribal chieftains and Russian imperialists. This book offers new insights into the formation of modern cultural identity in Central Asia. Here, like their imperial predecessors, the Soviets sought to extend their physical borders and political influence. But Igmen also reveals the remarkable agency of the Kyrgyz people, who employed available resources to meld their own heritage with Soviet and Russian ideologies and form artistic expressions that continue to influence Kyrgyzstan today.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Central Eurasia in Context

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xi

To all of the colleagues, friends, and family members in the United States, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey who have helped make this book possible, I express my sincere appreciation....

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Introduction: Craft ing Kyrgyzness

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pp. 1-7

On the southern shores of Ysyk Köl, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and one considered holy to Kyrgyz, is a tiny ail (village) called Akterek.1 Even in May 2002, a small white building’s signage still declared, in bold lettering, that this was the “club” of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic.2 The official purpose...

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Map of Kyrgyzstan

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p. 8

The Bolsheviks inherited the images of “Asiatic” Kyrgyz from their imperial predecessors. These predecessors who concerned themselves with Central Asia included tsarist government officials, Russian intelligentsia, writers, artists, and their Turkic counterparts. The Bolsheviks, despite their best intentions, were not able to fully rid themselves of these ingrained images of the...

1. Being “Asiatic” Subjects ofthe Empire

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pp. 9-21

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2. The Making of Soviet Culture in Kyrgyzstan during the 1920s and 1930s1. Th e clubs must

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pp. 22-49

Nadezhda Krupskaia, a Bolshevik leader and the wife of Lenin, identified three essential functions of clubs: improving amateur talents, teaching Marxist ideology, and collectivizing the institution. As one of the fi rst Bolsheviks to define the role of clubs in forging Soviet culture, Krupskaia provides important evidence for early Soviet cultural policies.1 The Kyrgyz version of the...

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3. The Emergence of the Soviet Houses of Culture in Kyrgyzstan

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pp. 37-82

In this excerpt, Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov’s character Tanabai Bakasov, a former Kyrgyz Komsomol leader, kolkhoz worker, ardent believer in communist ideals, and war veteran, expresses his confl icting sentiments about his own heritage. Like many Kyrgyz people of his generation who matured during the Bolshevik Revolution, Tanabai believed in cultural...


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pp. 70-95

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4. Celebrations in Soviet Kyrgyzstan during the 1930s

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pp. 83-97

In Kyrgyz towns and ails, clubs oft en served as the venues for Soviet celebrations. Reports from ail administrators and news stories in regional newspapers indicate that in the smallest ails, a school could provide the necessary space for a celebration, but the existence of a club (even if it was just a room) gave the celebration an official status.1 In a news item that reported the result...

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5. Soviet Theater in Kyrgyzstan in the 1930s

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pp. 98-119

Th eater provided a powerful arena in which Kyrgyz revolutionaries of the 1930s sought to introduce Soviet ideology to wide populations. All types of Houses of Culture became the stages for the first plays in Kyrgyzstan. Regional institutions of cultural activity, including the clubs, served as convenient locations for urbanized and ail populations to appropriate state discourses in...

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6. Self-Fashioning Kyrgyzness among Women

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pp. 120-139

Ail authorities went to great lengths to show that women’s full participation in society accelerated the process of “cultural development” for the Kyrgyz. According to party administrators in Kyzyl Kyia, in March 1925, Uzbek and Kyrgyz women organized women’s circles. They applauded the outcome of this cooperation, suggesting that these women together facilitated mass cultural...

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pp. 140-146

Club administrators, theater professionals, cultural Olympiad organizers, and other indigenous professionals and activists, such as Sabira Kumushalieva, were engaged in fashioning a new Kyrgyz community with a Soviet accent. The same activists, however, allowed their grandmothers and mothers to remain true to their nomadic roots, which suggests that Kyrgyz traditions...


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pp. 147-180


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pp. 181-186


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pp. 187-226


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pp. 227-236

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822978091
E-ISBN-10: 0822978091
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822962069
Print-ISBN-10: 0822962063

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 12 b&w photots
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Central Eurasia in Context
Series Editor Byline: Douglas Northrop, Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 821725686
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Speaking Soviet with an Accent

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Minorities -- Government policy -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Kyrgyz -- Cultural assimilation -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Soviet Union -- Cultural policy -- History.
  • Soviet Union -- History.
  • Popular culture -- Kyrgyzstan -- History.
  • Politics and culture -- Kyrgyzstan -- History.
  • Kyrgyzstan -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
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