A piece of Bishkek’s history…as seen in its Cinema House

By Chinara Sultanalieva

The Cinema House of Bishkek is a place with long history. The fact that it is the only old building in a quiet Bishkek neighborhood reveals a lot. Recently the government even built up a continuation of a dead-end street where the Cinema House is located. Now it is surrounded with a new street, new buildings, offices, restaurants and elite apartments.

It is a piece of the past of Bishkek, but a piece that is full of plots from old Kyrgyz movies.

When you enter the Cinema House, it seems like you go back to old Soviet times. A portrait of Lenin greets everyone at the door. Once inside, you are greeted by someone in a small room with a big window where a stern old woman is clearly in charge. Such ladies are a special kind, always angry at everyone, and they shout at those who come in with dirty shoes or are late to the  movie.

In the room where the movies are being shown, the spirit of those times doesn’t leave you. You sit on old chairs; they are small and uncomfortable. There is no popcorn sold in the hall, no soda pop, nothing  at all is sold.

But when you start watching the movie, you forget about all this, because the main accent is the movie. And a few minutes later you understand that this is not just another movie theater. It is, indeed, a special place. There are no tickets sold, and no special program for children on Saturdays, and no comedies shown on Thursdays, like they used to be during the Soviet years.

Still, black-and-white movies are the most popular here. The Cinema House gives a chance to people to see the history of Kyrgyzstan from old movies. Kyrgyz cinematography was always very rich with ideas and unforgettable images, even though it always suffered financially. Many movies were plotted by novels written by the famous Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov. Heroes of his stories are still impressing people. They are immortal.

In cooperation with different civic and government organizations the Cinema House now presents classic shows on various themes. Mostly they promote new movies of young film-makers, of talented students from universities, and of young specialists. Sometimes the movies are organized as thematic contests. Recently the theatre showed the series of the world’s greatest movies from some of the greatest and most controversial filmmakers, such as Kusturica, Tarantino, and others. After the viewing, all those present discuss the film, sharing opinions and trying to find the truth.

Unfortunately, the building has no heating and it was closed to the public during the cold winter months. But this doesn’t scare the staff members. Avaz baike, the security, house-keeper and the head of the technical department, all at once, has been taking care of the building since the 1980’s.

“He is a real patriot,” says Gulbara Tolomusheva, director of the Cinema House.

“I like both the idea and the architecture of the Cinema House,” Tolomusheva said. “A white Mercedes is parked in front of the Cinema House. It is spring. Half-snowy mountains are seen in the end of the green arch of the trees. Someone is standing on our balcony. I am going out of the car, looking at the entrance with high columns of Stalin times. I wish I had such a picture!” Tolomusheva said.

The Cinema House contributes to the development and establishment of a new platform for new specialists; thus, there are also a lot of students there. They are learning how to play, how to shoot and what a good movie looks like. For them, the Cinema House is the first contact with  filming art.

People can visit the Cinema House located at 13, Logvinenko St., every day from 9.00 a.m. to 18:00 p.m. Visitors at the Cinema House are always welcome.


Dirty, confusing Osh Bazaar…the commercial heart and soul of Bishkek

By Chinara Sultanalieva

Osh Bazaar is like another world inside Bishkek. It is an autonomous city with its own rules, streets and neighborhoods with their own unique characters and images. It is not very clean and is always noisy inside because of the mass of people who come here daily.  

Even though you can see how the bazaar could be ugly, you can also understand how much money you saved by shopping there, and you can taste the freshest fruits and vegetables, and see the most beautiful fabrics.

And as every city in the world, The Osh Bazaar has its own neighborhoods. These sections are divided by the kinds of items for sale. Cosmetics, washing powder, soap and other different things for house cleaning can be found in the south section of the Bazaar, next to the bridge.

In the section before crossing the bridge one can find endless rows of clothes and shoes. Here, some rows are dedicated for shoes, boots, sandals, etc. You will never be able to find any mixed row, with both shoes and clothes – it is just one of the rules.

The most attractive section for tourists is the one dedicated to national Kyrgyz souvenirs and handicrafts. Three rows plus another building with two floors sell hand-made products. The variety of goods will impress tourists who come here. There are lots of national clothes, hats, patchwork carpets and even shoes to be found here.

Moreover, the bazaar’s prices are the cheapest in Bishkek.  But at the bazaar, one should always remember that there is no exact prize for anything. The bazaar is not a shop. You can always bargain and reduce the sales price a minimum of 10 percent, and maybe even more.

The low-price policy together with the goal of lowering the price is also applicable to the groceries. Vegetables and fruits here are not only cheap, but also very tasty and fresh. Almost every market in the centre of the city and almost every café gets products here daily.

If your load of fruit and vegetables is so large so that you can’t hold things in your hands, Osh Bazaar gives you an option. You can hire a wheeled vehicle called a “tachka” and a man will push all your purchases in whatever direction you go in the bazaar.

Another part of the bazaar has rows dedicated to fabrics. The shelves are full of different materials for sewing, including various fabrics, Uzbek atlas and fabrics with oriental ornaments. Bright-colored atlas costumes, which every bride is supposed to wear, can be seen everywhere, even though Kyrgyz brides almost never wear a dress over trousers. But this tradition is still taking place in Dungan, Uzbek and Tajik families, and this style dress is still considered the most popular style of oriental fashion.

“You cannot leave Osh Bazaar until you take bread,” is another accepted rule of the Osh Bazaar. Here, “lepeshka” is much tastier than in any other place!

Evgenyi Gribkov, who visited Bishkek last summer, also thinks that Kyrgyz bread is the tastiest one. He has traveled a lot to many countries and visited different places, but the impression from Osh Bazaar is one of the most incredible one. “My friends from Bishkek always try to keep me away from Osh Bazaar, this just provoked my curiosity,” Gribkov said.

Once in the morning he escaped from the hotel and went to Osh Bazaar. He was shocked by the size of the place. It seemed to be very dirty and noisy inside. Having bought some fruits, Gribkov called one of his friends and asked to pick him up from here.

“I was waiting for my friend next to the bazaar, when I saw a little child eating hot lepeshka. A boy looked at me and smiled. I was trying to talk to him, but understood that he didn’t understand a word I said. I smiled too. Suddenly the child divided the lepeshka into two parts and gave one to me. I tasted it and it seemed to be the most delicious bread I have ever ate. I decided to give some money to the boy. He took a half of what I gave and run away. In two minutes a saw him with a pocket full of red apples.”

“Osh Bazaar showed me what Kyrgyz people are! That boy will always be in my mind, as well as the lepeshka and the red apples!” Gribkov added.

An innovative artist develops scroll art for nomadic Kyrgyz

By Julia Kudaibergenova

Yuristanbek Shygaev is a famous person in Kyrgyzstan. He is known not only because he is now the head of Bishkek’s museum of fine arts, but also because he is one of the first artists who brought to Kyrgyzstan innovative styles of fine arts, such as pop art, vanguard, and other  mixed techniques.

As an artist, Shigaev is considered a master storyteller of ancient Kyrgyz myths. He shapes the legends and heritage of the people by layering geographical, philosophical, religious, and national symbols and signs to create rich, abstract canvases that have won him international praise.

In 1995 Shygaev was going to Europe to present his pictures at the art exhibition. The number of canvases was quite large and it was very expensive to transport them by airplane. So he started to think over making it easier to transfer the canvases. Finally he found the answer. He began to make his pictures not in traditional way – canvas under the glass with a wooden frame, but he made them in a form of scroll.

According to Shygaev, the scroll has certain symbolism. Because of its portability the scroll fits the national nomadic spirit of ancient Kyrgyz people. One of the themes of the scrolls is the national epic of Kyrgyzstan, “Manas.”

Also among of the favorite themes painted on the scrolls are poems and novels of famous Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov. The scroll is a flag and banner of Manas, Kyrgyz national epic hero.

“For me the scroll is like a tumar (amulet), it supports and protects me,” said Shygaev.

The scroll is a mix of Kyrgyz nomadic traditions, because of its transportability, folklore, national symbols, signs and ornaments, and of modern trends in fine arts.

A scroll is like a tapestry on a large canvas (200×100 cm.) made from sackcloth, and painted by acrylic paint which doesn’t crack during rolling. At the top and bottom of the scroll are nut wood lathes which help keep the shape of scrolls and are used to hang them on a wall. The main feature of the scroll is its practicality and its weight, about one kilo. It is very easy to transport. Even a little child can hang it on a wall.

Absence of glass and wooden frames make the scroll alive, because it can be touched. The paint and structure of material can be felt by hands. The artist was able to combine functionality, practicality, and proportion in one work of art. This art innovation excites interest and admiration.

This work of art earned Shygaev not only a Grand Prix in 1995 in a Los Angeles art exhibition, but also international recognition.

Manas Village: A place to remind us of heroes

By Jamala Akmatalieva
In the year 1995, now only a distant memory, there was a UNESCO celebration of the ancient epic of Manas. That same year “Manas village” was built.
The Manas epic was 1000 years old in 1995, hence the devotion of UNESCO and Kyrgyz Republic to immortalize the unique history of Manas, and to share the ancient story with others. The Manas village happened to be the first ethno cultural complex of such value and significance in the region.
Manas village is a 10 minute drive from the center of Bishkek, on the southwest edge of the city, which only makes it better, because the place is peaceful and quite. You don’t hear any noises that a person living in a city gets accustomed to. Manas village is a perfect place for anyone to go and think, as well as to connect to the historical atmosphere that surrounds the place.
This is also a place where newlyweds love to go.
“It isn’t because there are no other places to go for us,” said Kairgul’ Aripova, a happy bride who just got married. “It’s just that me and my husband thought that if we come to the village on this special day, the spirit of our ancestors, and the spirit of the great Manas will be supporting us in our future life,” she said.
“Besides, it is beautiful here. There is a fresh air, which I love so much”.
From the entrance, a number of monuments and sculptures from the Manas epic can be seen through the gates. An old man with his small family live and work here in the village. He serves as a security guard, as well as a cashier.
The entrance fee is 50 soms per person, which is a little more than $1. A group of foreigners standing nearby smiled when they heard the low price. It was obvious that they have been expecting a higher price to see one of the most significant cultural sights elsewhere in the city.
Once you enter the gates of Manas village, it is no surprise that even the air is different. The village is located close to snowy mountains, therefore no wonder why many people notice the freshness and coolness of the air.
Every monument and headstone is dedicated to the grand hero of the Kyrgyz hero Manas. The biggest statue that can be found in the village portrays Manas, the conqueror himself, riding his famous Ak – Kuula horse.
Beside his statue stands another monument of his wife Kanykei and wise men, Bakai, who were next to Manas in all his endeavors throughout his life.
Along the monument row, there are also some busts of the Manas storytellers of the 20th century, the Manaschi, who are honored in memory. Those busts were cut from rare red granite to emphasize the importance and infinity of their mission of oral storytelling.
There are several reasons why should visitors should know the Manas village. If we are honest, Kyrgyz people, especially the youth, lack the knowledge of history of their own nation. Most people think of the history of their own culture as some kind of a fairy tale, but that is not true at all. Everyone has history and throughout the centuries our history has been carried down to each generation.
People should know their roots and history, and when there are limited ways to do so, a place like Manas village is a perfect place to start discovering ones roots and ways we have become what we are today.

“Grapes bring funny memories from my childhood…”

By Emil Suyunaliev

It was evening time when I decided to catch a taxi to visit my friend from high school. I usually sit in the back seat of cabs, but this time I sat in the front, next to the driver. On the way to my friend’s house, I started to talk to the cab driver. He introduced himself to be as Joldosh bayke.

He is a man of around 35-40 years of local origin, from Bishkek, one of the thousand cab drivers in the city who have no options for earning money but driving a cab. He has a degree in chemistry but can’t find a job in his field with a decent salary.

Joldosh bayke asked me where I wanted to go. When I told him I was going to the village Kara Jygach (Кара-Жыгач) to visit a friend, he smiled a big smile and laughed. He told me he knew the place well and he began to tell me about his childhood memories about this place.

The name “Kara-Jygach” came from the name of the a grape branch, referring to its color.. “Kara Jygach” literally translated into English is a “black branch”. The area where this village is located used to be a grape field before and it was developed..

“Kara-Jygach brings memories from my childhood times, most of them are funny,” explained Joldosh bayke. “As students we used to work in the grape fields, collect grapes, as we were sent there to work by the order of our government”.

While he was driving, he told me about his experience there.

“I remember, I think I was a only 12-13 year old school child, when I went there with my friends to eat grapes without permission on the sly,” he said laughing loud. “My friend got shot with salt from a shotgun in his seat by the watchman. He was wounded, but only slightly.”

“You know what the funny thing is?” the taxi driver continued. “After that incident, every time my friend is offered a seat, we say, ‘We are sorry, but he can’t. He’s better off standing’.” “We still make fun of him, after all these years!”

As Joldosh bayke told the story, he remembered there was another guard, as well, who guarded the grapefield most of the time. She was an old Russian woman with a very strict nature and the loudest yell or scream I have ever heard. She used to shout at the strangers very loud and everybody could hear that it was her.

“Once I got caught by her when I was in the field eating the grapes. My friends could escape from her. The punishment was 10 hours of work in that field. After being caught, I stopped visiting that field,” he said, turning his attention to the road and driving.

“She was strict. We all were afraid of meeting with her in person, but I liked grapes so much that I was ready to meet her again if I could get some grapes. But, finally, my family moved from the city and I stopped going there.”

“I still like grapes, but now I don’t steal them anymore. I am too old for that! I purchase them in the bazaar, like everyone else,” Joldosh bayke said, laughing.

Childhood memories of grapes in Kara Jygach, Kyrgyzstan.

Living a medieval fantasy in Kyrgyz fencing and role-playing club

By Aliya Baitikova

Nikolay Portryasov, a junior at Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek, happened across a meeting of the historical fencing and role-playing club a few years ago. At first, he thought it was all foolish, but then he began to like what he saw.

The participants thoroughly prepare for and arrange to participate in medieval tournaments and festivals, performing in historical plays, contests or fights, wearing armor and combating with swords and other weapons. About 20 people participate in the events, but membership has been as high as 70 people.

According to Portryasov, the members of the group don’t have sponsors or any special purpose in what they do. This hobby is only for their own pleasure.

About one-third of the participants are women. They quickly grew tired of sewing costumes and watching the action, and now participate in their own duels and other activities, such as staged plays. Performers decide their own roles and actions. For example, it may not be mandatory to kill a dragon in order to save the innocent folk. The performer might try to persuade the dragon to leave the village on its own volition. Or the dragon might prove to be quite kind and likable.

The historical fencing and role-playing club was formed about 1998. The idea for creating the club came from students at Bishkek School 61. Later, the group began role-playing and theatrical performances.

The so-called “Roleviki” or members of the club are aged from 13 to 50 years. They occasionally participate in trade fairs where they prepare food and sell handicrafts, earthenware and ironware. All costumes and armor used by club members are made by themselves, all made in medieval style.

Horses are the Passion of His Life

By Aliya Baitikova
Mahayev Omurbek is a horse breeder on the prosperous collective farm SK “Vetka” — Selsko-hozyaistvennyi Kooperative–in Leninskoe village. Almost 71 years old, he has passed a long way from living in a yurt and riding horses to living in a modern 2-story mansion, driving a jeep car and leading a big friendly family.
Like many traditional Kyrgyz people, the obsession and passion in Omurbek’s life are his horses. It is how he has lived his long and prosperous career on a large farm.
Omurbek’s parents moved to Bishkek in the 1930’s, when there was a famine in Kazakhstan and he has since that time lived in Kyrgyzstan. He was called up to the Soviet army, where he had a good opportunity to stay for work, but declined because he had strong feelings about his homeland and would never change his motherland for any “foreign country.”
He has worked in his local village cooperative for 55 years. His kolkhoz has 276 horses, in addition to numerous bulls and cows. It’s one of the few such farms with such a large number of livestock. The farm’s workers breed thoroughbred saddle horses. They keep a training section in order to prepare for horse races in the region.
Omurbek is proud of his horses, and enjoys telling how many times they have taken  first places in Kazakhstan, Issyk-Kul and Bishkek hippodromes which they have achieved many times. Despite the fact that competitors from Kazakhstan are sometimes stronger, because they have better conditions and foreign riders, however Omurbek  breeds local horses with excellent results and is widely recognized for his expertise and skill in horse breeding.
Our hero not only knows all of the names of his horses, but also their pedigrees and health condition by memory. He treats his horses like own children, rejoicing at the arrival of newborn colts; the race victories, and even sadly grieving their eventual deaths.
His love for horses is whole-hearted, and hard to imagine in modern times. His house is full of  stallion statutes and their images on patterns and carpets. He even watches TV only if he notices horses, which immediately catches his attention.
Once his horses took a part In the film of famous producer Bolot Shamshiev “Precocious Cranes” in a production of Chyngyz Aitmatov.
From the very beginning, Omurbek started to deal with sheep at the age of 16, when he was a simple cattleman. After 22, he became a livestock breeder. He has was given the distinction of the title as an honorable worker of SK Vetka. There are only six such workers at the large farm.