Why do I know nothing about the Central Asian states?



Next up in our Asia issue, Nick Bloom offers an introspective account of why he just doesn't know a bloody thing about the Central Asian states.

What do I know about the Central Asian states? A friend of mine went to Kazakhstan last year, shared with me some memorable stories and bought me a book about Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakhstani President. I’ve watched Gennady Golovkin - Nazarbayev’s fellow countryman - box, ferociously, on TV. I’ve met students from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, and had some interesting discussions. I even learnt some of the Central Asian capitals when I was young; Tashkent and Astana ring a bell.

But other than that, I know next to nothing about the Central Asian states. I’m yet to read a page of my friend’s book, I still struggle to spell the first half of the “stans”, let alone chart them on a map and despite having travelled to some wonderful countries, I haven’t set foot in any of these nations. Why?

First off, I don’t think I’m the only one. Many of my friends travel to Brazil or Vietnam, few visit Yerevan or Almaty. Lots of my peers study the Middle East or the French Revolution, few take modules in “Central Asian security challenges” or “Culture in the Caucasus”. None have gone off on a year abroad to Ashgabat.

Shocked by this, I want to know where these countries are, explore their histories, understand how they are governed, and discover what makes their people tick. I’m reading a fascinating book by Tim Marshall, titled ‘Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags’. While I recognise most of the flags at the top of this article, kindly drawn by Becky Burke (give @birdqueeen a follow on IG!), I’m less familiar with the flags of Central Asia. It turns out they brim with symbolism: I never knew that the five stars in Turkmenistan’s flag represent its five main regions, that the forty rays in Kyrgyzstan’s flag corresponds to the number of Kyrgyz tribes, or that the twelve stars in Uzbekistan’s flag represent the twelve constellations (the Uzbeks were pioneers in astronomical knowledge). Amazing, huh?

Why is this region, long under the shadow of the Soviet Union, not afforded the same attention as others? I’m not sure, but once exams are over, I’m going to read my friend’s book!


Featured image: Epigram / @birdqueeen

Any countries you know absolutely nothing about but are keen to know more? Get in touch!

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