Thank you, Nick!
1. What was it like growing up in Kyrgyzstan?
I grew up in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Frunze (Bishkek). I had a great childhood. Wonderful climate, beautiful mountains, a lot of sun. In Bishkek, there were so many beautiful boulevards and parks. The city was built on a regular plan and recalls something of European cities.
I did not have any problems with food or clothing. In this regard, it was very comfortable. But my family is not an indicator, because my grandfather was a former employee of the KGB, and then worked in the Ministry of Education. My mother taught at the university. We had a great apartment, a large library.
We did not have ethnic problems, I did not feel the difference in who you were-- Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Russian, German. We all went to the same schools and played in the same bands. In Bishkek, there was an aviation school, which trained pilots from Africa and South-East Asia - Hosni Mubarak trained there. And we were treated with kindness by the pilots who studied there. I do not remember our family blaming the United States or Europe. On the contrary, we had a huge number of books of American and European authors. I admired American cars and, in 1986, we mourned the death of the space shuttle Challenger.
2. The Ferghana Valley is an interesting place culturally, historically, and geographically. What are your feelings towards that area?
The Ferghana Valley-- it's an amazing place. There are many monuments of antiquity and the Middle Ages. It is divided between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. There lives a large number of different nationalities, a very high population density. Wonderful climate but limited water resources, fertile land but agrarian mindset-- these are the problems of the region. I often traveled there and on every corner there you could find monuments of the past. The people there are very friendly. I once worked on a contract with Coca-Cola and conducted a survey of local residents. In spite of their poverty they wanted to feed me and were friendly.
3. Stalin created many enclaves and exclaves belonging to the Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and Tajiks in the Ferghana Valley. How do the residents feel about all those ridiculous international borders?
This is a problem, yes. There are a lot of border and police posts, it greatly complicates life. The police often take bribes, and the Uzbek authorities often turn a blind eye. The Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks are against it, and the old men do not understand why these boundaries exist. During Soviet times, no one noticed the boundaries between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek SSR, the Kyrgyz SSR and the Tajik SSR. Now, these limits are real, especially because of drug trafficking through Tajikistan and problems with radical Islam (Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are very comfortable with the other religions). Another problem is that the separation of nationalities under Stalin was formal. Siblings could be written as Uzbek and Kyrgyz, or Kyrgyz and Kazakh.
4. There has been ethnic tension in Kyrgyzstan recently. Is it peaceful again? Have the causes of the conflict been addressed?
1989 to 1990 was the first time I remember there being friction between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. Separation of water and land— this is the main reason. By the way, Kyrgyzstan can regulate the flow of almost all the rivers flowing from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan. I lived in Bishkek and it was absolutely quiet, but my family that lived in Osh said that it was scary. At the same time, the Russians were not touched. The Kyrgyz and Uzbeks killed each other like it was the Middle Ages— they were tortured, had their eyes gouged out, burned alive, raped. It was on both sides. Moreover, local authorities tried to ignite controversy.
In 2010, the murders started again for the same reason. The impoverished Kyrgyz believed that the Uzbeks lived on their land better than them, and treated them unfairly economically. At the same time, there were attacks on Chinese and Turks, who traded in Bishkek, but those were simple robberies.
Problems remain, because the main problem— poverty— has not been solved. It may occur again, because a huge number of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are returning from Russia, due to low pay as a result of the economic crisis.
5. What would you like to tell outsiders about Kyrgyzstan?
In the south of Kyrgyzstan traditionally live Uzbeks and Tajiks, and Kazakhs in the north. There are so many small nations-- Kurds, Uighurs, Dungan, Chechens, Koreans. In recent years, there are business Chinese, Turks, Iranians, but they are mainly in Bishkek. In Bishkek there are many foreign embassies and consulates and foreign companies (mainly operating in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and act through their representatives). Racial issues, I have not seen, but there is nationalism, especially from the "myrk" and "Mambet"-- a derogatory nickname Kyrgyz give to people from mountain villages. They are the hard core groups involved in the attacks and robberies.
6. For a tourist, where in Kyrgyzstan should he visit?
Bishkek for tourists is not very interesting-- it is a typical Soviet city. It's comfortable, cute, but there is nothing surprising. But the country itself is beautiful. Lake Issyk-Kul-- this is the most famous place. The country is 70% mountains. High mountains and beautiful - Ala-Too, Tien Shan and Pamir, wonderful glaciers in the north. Roads that are repaired with money from China and international organizations are quite good, but the roads that have not been repaired-- The horror!
A very beautiful place is near the border with China, but difficult to get there. Many waterfalls and gorges with huge spruce forests, many small rivers.
In Kyrgyzstan, there is a very beautiful place where the memory of Tamerlane is preserved. A grandiose burial complex is located to the southwest of the beginning of the San Tash pass opposite the village of the same name. The central place in the complex is a large stone mound, known as the "San Tash" (the name translates as "counting the stones"). Located around the stone mound are many other types of mounds. Here there was a legend of Tamerlane-- before going to the next campaign, the commander of the soldiers ordered everyone to take a stone, and then add it to the pile. Returning from the expedition, Tamerlane ordered each of the soldiers to take a stone from the heap. The remaining heap became a monument to fallen soldiers. Number of stones in the mound indicates a huge number of those killed in the wars of conquest. However, local residents claim that all the dwellings surrounding villages are built using stones from this mound.
There are very beautiful valleys in the spring when poppies bloom. It is simply delicious.
In the south, there is a walnut forest in Arslanbob, and there are many monuments of rock art.
It's funny, but every turn on the road in Kyrgyzstan hits me with their uniqueness and surprise. Especially in the mountains.
7. The ethnic Russian population in Kyrgyzstan fell from 21.5% in 1989 to 9% today. Will the population drop even more? Will more Russians leave? And when they move to Russia, where do they go?
Russians left Kyrgyzstan because of the uncertainty and fear. Factories, where many Russians worked, closed. Pensions are very small, there is no work. Those who could, left to be with relatives in Russia. Russia does not help those coming from Kyrgyzstan. Russians left, mainly for the major cities of Russia and Ukraine, rarely do they move to the countryside. Those who stayed are pensioners who do not have relatives in Russia, as well as entrepreneurs who have successfully conducted business. Many remained in the area of Lake Issyk-Kul and work in the "wild" tourism business. And there are those who simply do not want to leave Kyrgyzstan, although very few of them know the Kyrgyz language.
8. What are some popular cars in Kyrgyzstan today?
There is a large mix— from Europe, Japan, Russia, Korea and China. Many very old and cheap cars, but there are more expensive models. Here, there are SUVs, many imported from Arab countries. They are very fond of Mercedes and Toyota. Trucks are either Russian or Chinese. Many Daewoos from Uzbekistan. There are old local buses like the KAvZ-3976.
9. Is there a car culture in Kyrgyzstan?
Kyrgyzstan has branded centers for car repairs, but the locals do not prefer them due to the cost. Many Chinese shops opened in recent years— they do the job quickly and efficiently.
In Kyrgyzstan, the car is a sign of the status of its owner, as in almost all countries of the Third World, so everything here is the same.
10. What car or cars have you owned?
The first car in my family was a Russian pony car, the Volga GAZ-24 (1973 model year). I loved that car, which belonged to my grandfather. I had a Nissan Sunny (2002-2004) and Nissan Pulsar (2004-2008). We now have a Kia Rio (2008) and Volkswagen Pointer (2006).
But I still want to buy the car back from my childhood - Volga GAZ-24.
11. Why do you love cars?
This is probably funny, but I love cars because of the beauty. I like American cars from the 40s and 60s to 70s (I do not like fins) because of their design. They were simply masterpieces. That's why I love the GAZ-24 (it reminds me of American cars). This is not true of modern cars. Everything is utilitarian, eco-friendly, safe. That's good, that's right, but at the sight of modern cars, ”The heart does not say anything.”