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Central Asia

Nowruz with many spellings and pronouncements is celebrated in various forms in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as well as in Afghanistan. Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north. It is also sometimes referred to as Middle Asia and is within the scope of the wider Eurasian continent.

Various definitions of its exact composition exist, and no one definition is universally accepted. Despite this uncertainty in defining borders, it does have some important overall characteristics. For one, Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road. As a result, it has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, West Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.

In modern contexts, all definitions of Central Asia consensually include these five republics of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan (pop. 16.0 million), Kyrgyzstan (5.5 million), Tajikistan (7.3 million), Turkmenistan (5.1 million), and Uzbekistan (27.6 million), for a total population of 61.5 million as of 2009. Other areas often included are Mongolia, Afghanistan, northern and western Pakistan, northeastern Iran, Kashmir, and sometimes Xinjiang in western China and southern Siberia in Russia.

During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was a predominantly Iranian region that included sedentary Sogdians, Chorasmians and semi-nomadic Scythians, Alans. The ancient sedentary population played an important role in the history of Central Asia. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for many Turkic peoples, including the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs, and Central Asia is sometimes referred to as Turkestan. The borders of Central Asia are subject to multiple definitions.

Central Asia is an extremely large region of varied geography, including high passes and mountains (Tian Shan), vast deserts (Kara Kum, Kyzyl Kum, Taklamakan), and especially treeless, grassy steppes.

What does Nawruz mean to you?
Voices from Urban Almaty, March 2011

Zhanar, 46 years old, housewife

It is the great Kazakh holiday of spring. You should clean your house and decorate, bake sweets, prepare Nawruz-kozhe, cook beshbarkmak. Any and all guests may come, you must not refuse to serve them. The more guests that come to your dastarxan (feast), the better. It is truly a great holiday.

Alla, 37 years old, journalist, art critic

Nawruz – It's a great holiday! Because it's the time when the weather gets warm, and that pleasant anticipation of the warmth coming back makes it really feel like a holiday. After the monochromatic winter the whole city is decorated with bright multicoloured flags, it lifts your spirits. And then, Nawruz is somehow really «our» holiday. They don't have it in Europe or Russia.

Galya, 32 years old, Lawyer

Nawruz feels like our New Year! Spirits are elated, there's an feeling that something good will happen. It is spring, nature has come alive, everybody loves each other. Its really bright and good.

Miras Nurmuxanbetov, 38 years old, Historian-Archeologist, Journalist

Nawruz, it is making-new, a fresh step in life, the rebirth of life, its awakening. And besides that, Nawruz is my wedding anniversary... It's a holiday that I really feel, because it was also the time of my marriage....And by the way, my birthday is almost on Nawruz.

Zhenya, 35 years old, Marketing expert

I don't feel anything on this holiday, I'm just glad there are a lot of days off.

Marzhan, 25 years old, secretary-referent

Nawruz for me is a holiday of unity, a holiday of spring, when everything around is coming to life after the winter hibernation. But I don't feel strongly as an event. I'm not used to it. In childhood we had May 1st and New Year. I still feel like those are holidays. But Nawruz, I still don't really feel it.

Asem, 37 years old, editor

For me Nawruz is before all else my daughter's birthday. She was born on Nawruz, and [for me] the holiday became a symbol of new life. Now every Nawruz is not just the holiday of spring, it's the holiday of my daughter's growming up.

Vitalii, 39, actor

My birthday is on Nawruz, therefore its a holiday for me. And there is a feeling of the cominng of spring, like an uplifting. But do I feel it as a historical holiday from this place? No. It just started not long ago. We're still not used to it.


...I'll tell you what Nawruz means to me. I studied in Omsk, where there were quite a few Kazakhstanis students. At first we all stuck together, but then student life threw us apart. We didn't see each other often, and mostly when we did it was at the train station when we all went home at the end of the term. And it was exactly then that Nawruz became for me a special sign of belonging to a motherland which you love and miss. To Kazakhstan. Because when March 22 came around at the institute or in the city and we came across other Kazakhstanis, we didn't limit our greeting to a simple «hi», but would embrace. It was a feeling of community, of our very own holiday. That's it. But before I was a student, I only considered Nawruz like some kind of day off.

Gulim, Coordinator of the Internews Network Project «Development of New Media in Central Asia»

For many Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis Nawruz is a new holiday, one that they didn't celebrate before. I can remember even in my childhood in the village – that was in the Karaganda region – they did not celbrate it. For that reason in the first years after Independence there were a lot of debates, nobody exactly knew how to celebrate it, what they should cook, how they should meet the holiday. Nobody knew the recipe of the Nawruz-kozhe—they had to look into historical books when they decided to celebrate Nawruz. In the first years it was more like New Year. And still today, going out on the Nawruz is no different than going out on any other holiday. I can talk about my family in the past 20 years, since Nawruz has been considered the official Kazakh New Year. In our family we still don't celebrate it like a big holiday, we haven't developed that kind of tradition. I think its like that for a lot of people. Its just another weekend day. I'm not trying to judge whether this is good or bad, its just the way it is now. It was more interesting for me to celebrate Nawruz in Tadjikistan, where Novruz has always been Novruz, because its a great and beautiful holiday – for everyone!

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