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Mobilities, Boundaries, and Travelling Ideas

Philipp Schröder
Manja Stephan-Emmrich

Part 2. Travelling Ideas: Sacred and Secular

3. Sacred Lineages in Central Asia: Translocality and Identity

Azim Malikov

Texte intégral


1One of the striking aspects of Central Asia is its cultural and ethnic diversity from ancient times until today. In the pre-Soviet period, group identities including tribal, clan, local, and family identities were more important for the Central Asian population in determining loyalties than ethnic origin (Baldauf 1992:5). A complex of multiple identities was intimately intertwined with the social and economic conditions of the region. Social identity is therefore conceived of as open, flexible, multiple and contextual in place and time.

2While ethnic groups have been the main focus of study among ethnologists interested in Central Asian social identity, I contend that the examination of lower-level social units such as clans and lineages is also important to understand identity-formation processes. For example, the same clan can often be found in more than one ethnic group (Schlee 1994).

  • 1 By ‘sacred lineage’ or ‘holy group’ I mean privileged groups that have high social status and clai (...)
  • 2 A lineage is usually taken to be a group of people who trace descent unilineally from a common anc (...)

3Out of many different social, tribal, and regional groups in Central Asia, so-called ‘holy groups’,1 or sacred lineages,2 whose identity was transformed during the twentieth century, are the focus of this chapter. At present, due to different models of nation-building and social and cultural shifts in countries of the region, new changes in their identity are taking place.

  • 3 The terms Khoja, Khwaja, Khodja, Qozha which mean ‘master’ in Persian have been taken to imply, va (...)
  • 4 The Sayyids are a group of people who claim direct patrilineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad t (...)
  • 5 Ishon was a title or a name given to respected religious figures — the heads of Sufi brotherhoods (...)

4The Kazakhs, Karakalpaks, Tajiks, Turkmens, Uyghurs and Uzbeks in Central Asia share some distinct ‘holy groups’ including the Khoja,3 Sayyids,4 and Ishon.5 Some of these lineages feature among two or more of these ethno-regional groups. The ways these ethnic groups conceptulize membership of the Khoja or Sayyid lineages provides an excellent case study of the translocal dimension of these groups’ links and relations.

5The term translocality refers to a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. Tenhunen (2011:416) defines translocality as relations that ‘extend beyond the village community’. Other scholars use translocality as a descriptive tool that refers to the ‘sum of phenomena which result from a multitude of circulations and transfers’ (Freitag and von Oppen 2010:5). One aspect of translocality is the visualisation and imagining of linkages between places, what Brickell and Datta (2011:18) refer to as ‘translocal imagination’. Translocal approaches are applied to enhance the understanding of various phenomena, covering such issues as identity formation, media usage, and knowledge transfer.

6Understanding processes of identification requires familiarity with the contexts in which they occur. ‘Such contexts include particular geographical and infrastructural conditions, the actors who live under such conditions, a wide variety of institutions, different kinds of social relations, material resources, and also the kinds of symbolic and discursive resources that we call collective identities’ (Donahoe et al. 2009:10). Various identities become applicable in various situations. Collective identities are articulated with reference to different dimensions (nationality, ethnicity, kinship, language, religion, local or regional origins, etc.). In some situations we want to note distinction, and in others we look for something in common or a general affiliation. Groups in certain conditions can keep their clan identity after an ethnic reaffiliation (Schlee 1994:234). The history of Central Asian ‘holy groups’, their genealogy and identification has been studied by O. Sukhareva (1960), B. Karmysheva (1976), A. Muminov (1996, 1998, 2011), D. DeWeese (1995, 1999, 2008), B. Privratsky (2001, 2004), S. Abashin (2001a, 2001b, 2005, 2006), Z. Ibadullaeva (2001), B. Babajanov (2006), Yayoi Kawahara (2012), Morimoto Kazuo (2014), K. Abdullaev (2008:373–80), and K. Kalonov (2005) and others. A significant proportion of these studies, however, deal with local societies.

7Abashin studied the sacred lineages of the Ferghana Valley, the relationships between them, and what he considers the area’s ‘holy groups’ as part of the larger group of ‘the descendants of the saints’ in Central Asia (Abashin 2005:70). Kazakh researcher Ibadullaeva studied the Khoja in southern Kazakhstan. She also analyzed the oral history of this holy group and their kinship networks in some provinces of Uzbekistan (Ibadullaeva 2001). According to Finke, in the southern part of Karakalpakstan and Khorezm ‘a few interlocutors assigned Khoja the status of an ethnic group, but this has not been officially recognized. Most people in above mentioned regions would probably disagree with such a claim. This second interpretation unites Khoja across different ethnic groups, in particular Karakalpaks, Kazaks and Uzbeks’ (Finke 2014:122).

8Some ‘holy groups’ fulfilled eminent religious and social duties in pre-Soviet Central Asian society and were held in very high esteem by everyone (Sukhareva 1960:66–68). Members of these lineages performed religious services at ritual celebrations, acted as healers, and helped settle disputes. Some were also the caretakers of Sufi shrines (DeWeese 1999). During the Soviet period, state policies on restructuring society and local identities in Central Asia led to the transformation of sacred lineages. Khojas lost their previous religious status as mediators between local communities, because the Soviet authorities denied their legal and economic privileges, persecuted, and repressed them (see Abdullaev in Chapter One).

  • 6 For more detailed analysis of the history of Khoja lineages in the Turkistan region see Malikov an (...)

9My previous research on the Khoja of Central Asia6 has established criteria for the study of the translocal communications of ‘holy groups’. I examine how members of these ‘holy groups’ create, discursively perform and renegotiate the boundaries of their own group on various scales (local and translocal), and how they thereby refer to very different symbols and markers of identity. Acknowledging the heterogeneity that exists across Central Asia, my examples are based on two regions, namely the Turkistan region of Kazakhstan and Tashkent city of Uzbekistan.

10My goal is to study the transformation of the translocal links between, and the identities of, the ‘holy groups’ over the past 110 years, including the following periods: the Russian Empire (1867–1917), the Soviet period (1917–1991), and the post-Soviet period. Each interval had its own peculiarities and a different degree of influence on ‘holy groups’ and their identification. The largest transformations of society took place during the Soviet period. Nowadays, the influence of ideological development on post-Soviet countries as well as the broadening effects of globalization are more tangible.

  • 7 Most of my data from the Turkistan region was collected with financial and scientific support from (...)

11This chapter marks, to my knowledge, the first application of the concept of translocality to the study of ‘holy groups’. Some of these groups can be called ‘translocal communities’, because they relate ‘to a group of (translocal) households, whose members live in diverse locations, which are connected through functional interdependencies’ (Lohnert and Steinbrink 2005:98). These ‘holy groups’ demonstrate multiple identities, one of which is translocal in nature, i.e., it goes beyond a single village, region, country, or social group. I studied Khoja and Sayyid groups in Tashkent, a context that, prior to this, has not been studied specifically, and I examined ‘holy groups’ in two regions, and within different social and cultural contexts. The data I shall present was collected during multiple short-term field-research trips between 2010 and 2015, mainly to Tashkent city in Uzbekistan, as well as to the Turkistan region of Kazakhstan.7

12In this chapter I employ a conceptual framework based on the notion of ‘translocality’, and a methodological framework based on the combination of multi-sited ethnography with an oral history approach. I trace the flow of ideas and imagined translocal links between ‘holy groups’ and investigate differences in the practical meaning and uses of Khoja, Sayyid, and other identities in the above-mentioned communities. I examine the translocal relationships between sacred lineages that have different language and regional affiliations. Thus, my research covers two Central Asian countries with different models of nation-building, ideology, etc.

13My choice of Tashkent province and the Turkistan region as my objects of study is far from random. Tashkent is known as a city where representatives of ‘holy groups’ had high status in the past and created their own state at the end of the eighteenth century. The Turkistan region of Kazakhstan is the biggest religious centre in the country. There, many Khoja and Sayyids of various lineages and ethnic affiliations are concentrated. These localities are meaningful for my analysis because of their sacred value as historically relevant junctions of transregional pilgrimage, and within scholarly and other networks. As such, they are relevant for the formation of certain social and religious identities. In the past, translocal communications took place between particular sacred lineages who lived in different regions, driven by several mutually overlapping reasons: family ties, leadership or membership in Sufi brotherhoods, visiting shrines such as the graves of ancestors, etc.

14I argue that the Soviet policy to modernize and homogenize society in Central Asia and to create national identities did not eliminate ancestral identities in the region. Despite the Soviet nationalities policy, some families belonging to ‘holy groups’ preserved a kind of ‘hidden identity’. I observed a wide array of ways to identify members of sacred lineages in Central Asia depending on geographic, social and cultural contexts. In the pre-Soviet period, the criteria used to recognize different groups of Khoja and Sayyid were genealogy and the name of an ancestor who was a Sufi figure; now, from our point of view, it is advisable to use criteria such as linguistic affiliation to better understand how changes occurred, especially after seventy years of Soviet rule and the development of national republics, national ideologies, and national histories.

15This chapter consists of six parts: the introduction above, an overview of the theoretical framework, a historical review, descriptions of research in the Turkistan region of Kazakhstan and in Tashkent in the Republic of Uzbekistan, and my conclusions.

Theoretical approach

16A translocal perspective captures the diverse and contradictory effects of interconnectedness between places, institutions, and actors (Freitag and von Oppen 2010:1, Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013:3–4). The study of borders between locality and translocality from the points of view of geography, time, and social groupings is also important. It is necessary to take into consideration the factors that change social relations and local places due to the arrival of electronic media and the consequent breakdown of barriers around space, place, and culture (Gupta and Ferguson 1992).

17This chapter conceptualizes identity and belonging through the lens of translocality and we should therefore examine this concept in several aspects: 1) translocality is clearly understood as interrelation and connectedness between different geographic places; 2) translocality is also applied to study the use of media and the circulation of knowledge and ideas in globally operating networks; 3) the concept of translocality also refers to symbolic flows such as movements of ideas, images, and symbols (Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013:5); 4) I use the term ‘translocal’ to explore the overlapping relational identities that emerge within, and the multi-directional dynamics of, ‘holy groups’. Accordingly, translocality is understood as an imaginary bridge between the past and the present, and as the circulation of ideas between different chronological periods and geographical locations. Translocal imagination is a kind of place perception, linking locality to a broader set of processes.

18The concept of translocality allows us to better understand three aspects of the relationships between ‘holy groups’ in Central Asia: interregional connections, links between different timescales, and relationships between the ‘holy groups’ located in different cultural and political environments. The collected empirical material allows us to make a contribution to the discussion about the concept of translocality given the complexity of social, cultural, and genealogical relationships between the groups of sacred lineages, as well as the transformation of identities through different historical periods. Comparative analysis between the two above-mentioned regions allows the application of the translocality concept to four contexts: rural, urban, interregional and interstate. The translocations in these two latter contexts are intertwined.

Historical review

19The ‘holy groups’ (Sayyid, Khoja, Ishon etc.) had a particular position in the social hierarchy of Muslim communities in Central Asia. As in many other Muslim societies, they have long enjoyed a privileged status. Scholars have come to the conclusion that the Sayyids or Alids emerged as one of the local elites in Central Asia in the late ninth century (Bernheimer 2005:44).

20The terms Khoja or Khwaja (which mean ‘master’ in Persian) were first mentioned in written sources in the tenth century; they were applied to some government officials (Rezvan 1991:280). Apparently, the use of Khoja as the name of a group of religious descent started in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Different groups of Khoja use various explanations for their origin. Some Khoja groups are believed to be the descendants of the first caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali (excluding his descendants from the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, Fatima) (Rezvan 1991:280), whereas some other groups claim to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. It is worth mentioning that in some areas the term Khoja has various meanings today; for example, a teacher, a mullah, a title of honour, etc.

21In Central Asia, the so-called ‘holy groups’ also differ in their names: Khoja, Qoja, Ovlat, Sayyid, Khan, Mir, Mahdum-zada, Shaykh, Ishon, Tura, etc. According to Muminov, the descendants of Ali ibn Abi Talib from the Prophet’s daughter Fatima (Sayyid, Sharif) in some Central Asian societies have equal status with the Khoja groups, and sometimes are less revered than these families (Muminov 2011:26). According to my observations, in some regions of Central Asia the term Sayyid is a synonym of Ishon, which means ‘they’ in Persian, while in some areas Sayyids and Ishons are perceived as different groups. The designations given to ‘holy families’ are very diverse; for example, some of them refer to the titles of rulers (Shah, Khan, Amir), others refer to the upper class of society (Tura, Ishon, Mahdum, Khwaja, Sayyid); ‘the descendants of the saint’ (aulad, Mahdum-zoda, Ishon-zoda), etc. Researchers call them by the generic term ‘descendants of saints’ (aulad-i awliya) (Muminov 2011:26).

22Before 1917, Uzbek and Kazakh societies were divided into two hereditary social groups, named Oqsuyak or Aksuyek (White Bone) which included ‘holy groups’ (Sayyid, Khoja, Ishon etc.) and Qorasuyak or Qarasuyek (Qoracha, Black Bone), the term used to denote commoners. In different regions there are smaller gradations of ‘holy groups’ and there were various criteria that determined the position of certain ‘holy lineages’. According to Abashin, in the Fergana Valley, the first rank of nobility took Tura, the second Eshon (Ishon), the third Khoja, and the last Makhsum (Abashin 2006:269–71). The degree of nobility of ‘holy groups’ depended on marriages with political leaders and the sanctity of those families. One man could have several or even all of the above titles. He could be a Khoja, and in some cases at the same time he could be a Sayyid, i.e., the Prophet’s descendant. He could have a right to the titles of Ishon and Sheykh as well (Abashin 2001a).

  • 8 Among others, these include Akorgandik, Akkoja, Baksayis, Khorasan, Duana, Seyit, Qilishti, Sabult (...)

23In general, the ‘holy groups’ follow the cultural traditions of the majority of the population among whom they live. However, they have some traits that mark them out from the rest of population. Frequently, the members of these families add the titles of Khoja, Sayyid and Khon to their names (Muminov 2011:27). According to written sources, in the nineteenth century Sayyids were included in the composition of the Khoja; nevertheless, the Kazakhs gave them higher status than other ‘holy groups’ (Beysenbayuli 1994:95). Among experts in genealogy, there are different versions of the classification of lineages of the Kazakh-speaking Khoja (see Muminov 2011). According to one version, just seventeen clans (ru) of the Kazakh Khoja are specified as equal in status (Muminov 2011:26).8

24The name and authority of the holy Sufi leader Khoja Ahmad Yassavi is used in different ways at the consecration of the alliances of different Khoja families. For example, among the Kazakh-speaking Khojas of Alty shaykh balalari, the succession continues only by patrilineage through Ahmad Yassavi’s brother, Sadr-khoja, and among the contemporary Uzbek-speaking Khoja of Turkistan, through the line of his daughters (his biological daughter, Gaukhar Shakhnaz, and foster daughter Djamila-bibi). Their descendants are the following groups of Khoja: Shaykh al-Islam, Nakib, Shaykh-‘azlar (DeWeese 1999:514).

25In other regions of Central Asia, one can find other classifications of ‘holy groups’. For example, Sadriddin Aini (1878–1954), who was one of the Bukharian reformist intellectuals (jadids), gave a panoramic overview of rural life in Bukhara during the nineteenth century in his unfinished Reminiscences. He considered the Khoja as a distinct regional group and gave the classification of Khoja to his village, Soktare, which was near the town of Ghijduvan in the modern Bukhara province of Uzbekistan. Khojas of this village constituted four clans: Mirakoni, Sayyid Atoi, Ghijduvoni, and Soktaregi (Aini 1998:31–32).

26Gellner (1995:160) mentions that in northern Africa the distinction between religious orders and holy lineages is a loose one. Religious orders are led by holy lineages, and in turn successful holy lineages may expand their following into tariqa, an order (Gellner 1995:160). One can say the same thing about the Central Asian Khojas or Shaykhs, who became leaders of the Naqshbandi and Yassavi Sufi orders in the region (DeWeese 1999). Not all Khojas were mullahs even in pre-Soviet times. Many Khojas were simply peasants, some nomadized with the Kazakhs, and others, as in Tashkent, were successful merchants. Also, not all members of the Khoja or Sayyid groups were socially equal; some families were very rich, others not. For the male non-Khoja and non-Sayyid it was not possible to become a member of a Sayyid or Khoja group that had hereditary rights (Sukhareva 1960:66–67). In the pre-Soviet period, the Khoja (Qoja) title was widespread among the sacred lineages of Kazakhs and Uzbeks in the Turkistan region. Kazakh-speaking Khoja groups are comprised of lineages operating as components of complex, segmented societies. Most ethnic Kazakhs belonged to one of three ‘hordes’ (djuz). While these Kazakh tribal confederations were regarded as the ‘Black Bone’ (qara süyek), the Khoja (as well as the Tore, the offspring of Genghis Khan) were considered honour groups belonging to the ‘White Bone’ (aq süyek). Accordingly, the Khoja and Tore groups are not included in numerous Kazakh genealogies (Qazaq shezhiresi) (Privratsky 2004:167).

Fig. 3.1 Genealogical links of the descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. Map data © Google (2018), all rights reserved

Fig. 3.2 Family tree of the descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. Photo © Azim Malikov (2010), CC BY 4.0

27In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the most famous and noble lineages of Khoja in the Turkistan region of Kazakhstan consisted of many groups: Sayyid Ata, Qilishti khoja, descendants of the third son of Caliph Ali, Muhammad Khanafiya, descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi etc. (Sukhareva 1960:66–67). Before 1917, genealogy had several purposes. It was the main legal and symbolic record of sacred lineages and it granted these groups certain rights; in some cases it was confirmation of the special status of the lineage. According to Sukhareva’s research, particularly ‘noble’ Khoja lineages maintained written genealogical records (shajara) (Sukhareva 1960:67–68).

  • 9 Shaykh Aḥmad ibn Mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn Khwājagī Kāsānī ‘Mahdūm-i A ʻẓam’.

28When studying the Khoja in Kazakh society, it is necessary to distinguish those groups that formed independently in the Kazakh steppes from groups of representatives of famous Khoja lineages already known and politically influential in the Central Asian states. For example, Mahdumi Azam9 (1461–1542), an outstanding theologian and Sufi leader of the sixteenth century, had thirteen sons, each of whom became progenitors of Khoja lineages among Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs, and the Uyghur. Kazakh sultans and biys invited Khoja to control religious rituals and customs such as wedding ceremonies, funeral ceremonies, circumcisions, etc.

29Similar to the ideas of Donahoe and Schlee about how trans-ethnic groups emerged in Eastern Africa and Siberia (2003:79–80), translocal Sayyid identity in Central Asia was formed in two different ways. Firstly, Sayyid predates the emergence of the ethnic identities Kazakh and Uzbek. Secondly, after the boundaries between modern ethnic groups had started to come into being, individuals or groups crossed them and affiliated themselves with another ethnic group. In the cases in which they started to follow a nomadic lifestyle, they did not give up their original affiliation. These collective adoptions did not supersede the older clan relationships by descent or putative descent, particularly in urban areas and adjacent territories.

30According to Abashin, each family of the ‘descendants of saints’ was fixed to a particular territory, a particular group of the population, of which they have been trans-generational spiritual leaders (pirs). In Tashkent, the pirs of local rulers were descendants of Shaykh Hovand-i Tokhur, who lived in the fourteenth century (Abashin 2001b: 127). Some Khoja and Sayyid lineages have links with local shrines, which constitute an important symbolic resource for them. A shrine for a Khoja is first of all a place of memory, i.e., the memory of an ancestor’s historical activity. These major shrines act as symbols for the imaginary translocal communities of Khoja. Thus, the role of shrines as a geographic place or locality, and also as a sacred site, can be conceptualized with reference to ‘translocality’.

31In the pre-Soviet and early Soviet period (the 1920s), Sufi shrines in Central Asia played a strong role as concrete physical or material ‘places’ within the more geographical places of the oases or regions; i.e., they served as ‘mediators’ or ‘communicators’ of ideas and practices, or as nodes in the connections between the different geographic places. In the pre-Soviet period, cemeteries, shrines and tombstones of some outstanding Khojas with a tugh (top of a banner which was attached to the grave of famous saint, i.e., a wali) (Babajanov, Nekrasova, 2006:384–85) were among the symbols of Uzbek-speaking Khoja. In general, Sufi actors, groups, and networks have had a big impact on the history of Islam in Muslim Central Asia (Sukhareva 1960).

32The main shrines of Central Asia were located in Samarkand (the shrine of Qusam ibn Abbos and the shrine of Mahdumi Azam in Daghbit, Samarkand province), Tashkent (the shrine of Shaykh Hovandi Tokhur), Turkistan (the shrine of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi), and Bukhara (the shrine of Bahauddin Naqshband). Thousands of pilgrims from the different parts of Central Asia visit these shrines annually. The graves of the ancestors of some groups of Kazakh-speaking Khoja are in Samarkand (Mahdumi Azam, his sons), and some shrines of the Uzbek-speaking Khoja are located in the Turkistan region.

33Some Khoja and Sayyid studied in the Bukhara’s and Samarkand’s famous Islamic schools (madrasa). Besides their religious activities, members of sacred lineages migrated from one region to another due to economic reasons. Those involved in Sufi practice often had thousands of disciples in different parts of Central Asia. Moreover, Uzbek-speaking Khoja and Ishons usually had disciples among Kazakhs in border territories.

34The following elements united the Khoja and Sayyid of Central Asia into one translocal group and formed a sense of ‘translocal imagination’: the shared idea of an origin from the Prophet, the first caliphs, or a Sufi saint; shrines; a shared sacred genealogy; and commoners’ perceptions of the group as sacred. The stories about holy ancestors were spread through oral narratives passed on from one generation to another as well as through religious books. Later, Soviet national identity policies played an important role in destroying these translocal communications. According to Barth, the state is ‘a specifiable third player in the processes of boundary construction between groups, rather than confound the regime, and its powers and interests, with the more nebulous concepts of state and nation’ (1994:19). In 1924, the existing political-administrative organization was broken up by the national delimitation of Central Asia and replaced by ethnically defined Soviet republics. This national delimitation was seen as the implementation of the people’s right to self-determination. Language was viewed as the central criteria for affiliation to an ethnic group (Fedtke 2007:21–24). The formation of Soviet republics laid the structural foundations for a reformulation of the parameters of identity in modern Central Asia (Akiner 1998:12–13).

35Accordingly, Soviet state policy also had a great deal of influence on the identity of ‘sacred lineages’ and it had dramatic consequences for many Khojas in Central Asia. Khoja communities lost their property and their sources of income. In the 1920s and 1930s, a significant proportion of Central Asian Khoja intellectuals were arrested and killed, especially if they were mullahs and teachers of Islam (Privratsky 2001). Nevertheless, according to Schoeberlein-Engel: ‘Later, during the 1960–1980s in some areas descendants of religious elite groups were well-represented in the local KGB, police force, and positions of authority controlled by the Communist party. Members of this group were maximizing their benefit from structures of significance that contribute to the construction of legitimate elite status’ (Schoeberlein-Engel 1994:259).

36In Central Asia, ‘the descendants of the saints — despite the strength of both nationalism and fundamentalism — has not dissolved into modernized society, but on the contrary, has preserved its position to a great extent’ (Abashin 2005:70). This is despite the fact that some Tashkent Khoja families sacrificed their religious identity in order to announce themselves ‘bearers of national consciousness’ and ‘the intellectual elite’ (Abashin 2005:78). There were also changes to marriage traditions in the Soviet period, meaning that more Khoja families formed marriage alliances with the non-Khoja elite (Abashin 2005). Additionally, a transformation of identity and the loss of the social and economic status of the holy families occurred during the Soviet period. Pilgrimages to shrines were prohibited, and pilgrims were prosecuted by the authorities (Muminov 1996:366). Many sacred places were destroyed, abandoned or turned into museums on the orders of the Soviet state. Any transfer of ideas of sainthood through books and manuscripts was rigorously prosecuted.

37During the first years of the post-Soviet period, a new interest in local history was supported by a revival of sacred places and the publication of books on the history of sacred lineages. Since the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Central Asian republics in 1991, the Khojas, particularly in Kazakhstan, have recovered some of their former prestige. The Soviet policy of societal homogenization in Central Asia and the creation of national identities could not eliminate some specific groups in the region. Despite the strictures put in place by Soviet ideology, some Khoja families kept alive their memory of the past and maintained the symbolic capital of shrines and genealogies during the 1980 and 1990s.

38The scale of the translocal relations (or even translocal imagination) of sacred lineages differed. I distinguish several levels: between villages, between rural and urban areas, across regions, and between states. It should be noted that not all groups of the sacred lineages of the pre-Soviet period can be called ‘translocal societies’. It was common for a few Khoja families to live in one village, and they had to seek marriage partners belonging to their ‘sacred group’ in other villages.

Turkistan region

39The Turkistan region lies on the frontier of the settled oasis culture of Transoxiana to the south, and the world of the former steppe nomads to the north. It is the homeland of the holy Sufi leader Khoja Ahmad Yassavi, who lived here during the twelfth century and is buried in the town. In 1930, more than 200 families in the city of Turkistan considered themselves the descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi (Masson 1930:19).

40Turkistan is a part of the South Kazakhstan province of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which borders Uzbekistan’s Tashkent province. The population of Turkistan city is more than 152,000.10 In 2016, almost 73% of the population of South Kazakhstan province were Kazakhs; the second largest population were Uzbeks, comprising 16.8%. In terms of population, the South Kazakhstan region is the largest in Kazakhstan, being 2,841,000.11

41Turkistan is inhabited by various ‘holy groups’, including Khojas (Privratsky 2001). Traditionally Kazakhs belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, which is influenced by Sufism. South Kazakhstan traditions differ in some respects from the central parts of Central Asia, mainly related to the localization and interpretation of certain Qur’anic subjects (Muminov 1996:356).

42After independence in 1991, the political elite of Kazakhstan started elaborating a new national ideology to create patriotic feelings towards the new state. The search for balance between the multiethnic and multiconfessional nature of the population and the development of the Kazakh nation began. This double process encompassed both nationalization in favour of representatives of the titular nation (‘Kazakhization’) and promotion of a civic Kazakhstan identity (‘Kazakhstanization’) (Davenel 2012:19). Scholars believe that this process influenced all spheres of social life, which, to some degree, is a continuation of the policy of ‘rooting’ (korenizatsia) that occurred in the Kazakh Soviet Socialistic Republic in the 1960s (Davenel, 2012:19–20). From some researchers’ point of view, although Kazakhstan is a multiconfessional state, the elite use Islam to encourage citizens to identify with state support of religious institutions (Cummings, 2005:88). The state ideology propagandizes Khoja Ahmad Yassavi and his shrine as the national spiritual and religious centre. Indeed, this policy is aimed at building the nation and forming a national ideology.

43One can observe a reconstitution of lineage-based identities, in large part due to local initiatives. ‘The ru and zhuz-based genealogies experienced a revival as traits that distinguished ethnic Kazakhs from the non-titular citizens of independent Kazakhstan’ (Schatz 2000). The existence of so-called lineage-based identity, which favours the preservation of the local and translocal identities of separate groups of Khoja in South Kazakhstan, is significant to social processes. The stories of local saints emphasize the presence of the Khoja throughout Kazakhstan’s history. Graves of saints, local and translocal, are important for the authentication of this past. These places bear evidence of days gone by and are important mediators between past and present. Local traditions are preserved by the descendants of sacred lineages in the form of the revival of shrines, the publication of the literature on saints and shrines, and the organization of festivals at the shrines (Sattarov 2010).

  • 12 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 55 years old, 2010.

44Sacred lineages of the Turkistan region consist of two linguistic groups: Uzbek-speaking and Kazakh-speaking. Uzbek-speaking Khojas claim to be descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi or his relatives and disciples, including Gaukhar ana, Ali Khoja, Sadr ata etc. According to other legends, they are descendants of the people serving at the shrine of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. Among Uzbeks in Kazakhstan, internal differentiation has traditionally been organized according to regional origin, i.e., Turkistonlik, Qarnoqlik, etc. Regional identities still play a more important role than ethnic identities (Malikov 2017:80). According to oral traditions, some Khojas came from Bukhara in the nineteenth century.12

  • 13 Ibid.
  • 14 Khorasan comes from the name of a historical region in Southern Central Asia and Northern Iran. Pe (...)

45Until the 1950s, the Uzbek-speaking Khojas in Turkistan strictly followed endogamous marriage practices. They never allowed daughters to marry qoracha — commoners. In some cases, they intermarried with Kazakh-speaking Khojas.13 The latter differ from Uzbek-speaking Khojas due to their specific lineage names. Some examples of these include Khorasan14 Khoja or descendants of Khorasan Ata (Abdujalil Bab), Duvana Khoja, Qilishti Khoja, etc.

46In my case studies, one can differentiate identities on various levels, including ethnic identities (e.g., Kazakh, Uzbek, Arab), civic identities (e.g., Kazakhstani), regional identities, tribal and clan identities or Khoja lineages and sub-lineages, particularly among Kazakh-speaking Khojas. Locality, as well as other aspects, can be a significant factor in forming identities.

47During my interviews, some Khoja were often confused about ethnic categories. Some respondents doubted that Kazakhs have Khoja groups, and vice versa; some Kazakh-speaking Khoja did not understand questions about Uzbek Khojas. Turkistan Khojas had close relationships and marriages with Samarkand and Tashkent Khojas in the past. In the 1930s, many of them left Turkestan for Samarkand and Tashkent. As one of my interlocutors mentioned, ‘There are no Kazakh or Uzbek Khojas, all of them belong to a single Khoja group. So-called ‘Uzbek’ and ‘Kazakh’ Khojas are a result of the Soviet nationalities policy’ (Malikov 2013a: 105). In elaborating specific Kazakh-Khoja qualities, some Khoja very often seek to distinguish themselves from Uzbek Khojas, as the following statement by an interlocutor exemplifies: ‘The Kazakh-Khojas know their seven ancestors; they have higher moral values and sincerity. The “Uzbek Khojas” are completely different people’ (Malikov 2013a: 105). Aside from the purely genetic explanation for the specific Khoja qualities, some Khojas also mention their particular history and their religious values.

48In Kazakh and Uzbek societies, some existing groups of Khoja interpret the shrines as their symbolic capital. There are Khojas today who retain traditional roles as caretakers (shiraqshi) of the mausoleums of their ancestors, for instance the shrine of Khorasanata in Uzgend, Kazakhstan. For Khojas, a shrine is first of all a place of memory: the memory of an ancestor’s activity in history. According to my observations, for some Khoja groups living in different regions and even countries, particular shrines are the main symbols of their past and culture. For example, the shrine of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi in Turkistan (Kazakhstan) is the general place of worship for some families of Khojas from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, who suppose themselves to be descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. Some families speak only in Uzbek and other families of Khojas speak native Kazakh. Therefore, in some cases the shared reverence for a holy man as their ancestor unites these groups. Translocality exists in the intersection of national, ethnic, and even geographic borders. Most Khoja know at least the rough outlines of their genealogy from the oral tradition of their kinship network. Among Kazakh-speaking Khojas the idea that each person should know his or her lineage for seven generations (jetty ata) is widespread.

  • 15 Interview with a Kazakh-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 65 years old, 2010.

49Some Khoja groups in Kazakhstan had links with sacred lineages in Tashkent city and province before 1917. In the 1990s, the Kazakh-speaking Khoja of southern Kazakhstan tried to establish connections with related Khoja groups in the Samarkand and Tashkent regions. They invited related Khojas from Uzbekistan to festivals to Turkistan. Kazakh-speaking Khojas and Uzbek-speaking Khojas visited the shrines and mausoleums of their ancestors together. In the 1990s, a particular Kazakh-speaking Khoja family invited craftsmen from Samarkand province to construct Khoja shrines in southern Kazakhstan.15

50During our interview, one of the Kazakh-speaking Khojas repeatedly stressed his respect for such cities as Samarkand and Bukhara. These cities were considered traditional centres of Islamic education and of magnificent Islamic architecture, where the sacred lineages lived and live. This articulated a cultural translocality, which was not simply expressed verbally but also in material terms. In the 1990s, craftsmen from Samarkand were invited to construct a shrine for one of the Khojas, and they used their local architectural style. But why did they invite craftsmen from Samarkand, and not from Turkistan, Shymkent, or Tashkent, which are closer to their shrine? Perhaps because one of the major figures of this Khoja family was buried in Samarkand, making it a holy city. Unfortunately, I could not talk with the Khojas who organized the construction of the shrine to find out their motivation for engaging Samarkand craftsmen for construction. Based on my observations, this case is not typical in Kazakhstan.

51Translocality can also be also applied to study the use of media and the circulation of knowledge and ideas in global networks. The postindustrial, information-based world we live in today is dominated by computer-linked technology and exists in an age of globalization, which is characterized by increasingly interconnected societies, according to Macionis and Plummer (2008:42). The internet is an instrument to create and shape relations across time and space, and it enables and facilitates translocal links between sacred lineages in different parts of Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan. The internet, the influence of which is particularly tangible in Kazakhstan, became a powerful way to spread the history of holy lineages and their symbols. The flow of information, ideas, and opinions through the internet, and its influence on identity formation, shows how young Khojas in Kazakhstan use online forums to construct and negotiate their identities as Khojas alongside their identities as Kazakhs. The role of the internet in producing ‘translocal relations and imageries’ is also present in Kazakhstan. For example, certain Khoja groups from different parts of Kazakhstan use websites such as,16 which are devoted to Khoja history and are used to organize various events. The internet thus provides a new virtual technology that facilitates changing patterns of translocal communication among ‘holy groups’ in Central Asia in the modern globalized world.

Tashkent City

52Tashkent, the capital city, is the largest city of Uzbekistan with a population of approximately 2.4 million as of 2016 (Demograficheskiy, 2016:25). Tashkent is a megalopolis, where representatives of different nationalities and regional groups live. In this context, sacred lineages belonging to the city exist in an environment surrounded by representatives of different regional and ethnic groups that influence their identity and status.

  • 17 For example, Ziauddin mufti Babakhanov (1908–1982) the head of the Spiritual Administration of the (...)

53In the city and the area around Tashkent, an important centre of interaction between nomadic and settled cultures, the phenomenon of sacred lineages manifested in a specific way. Each of the four blocks (daha) of the city was dominated by members of certain lineages: the descendants of Qara-Khan, the descendants of Shihab al-din al-Suhrawardi, the descendants of the Shaykh Hovand-i Tokhur, descendants of Yuvash Bab, his brother Ishaq Bab, and the successors of the line of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya. A total of seventy-three Khoja clans lived and operated in Tashkent in Soviet times, and some leaders of these families played a prominent role in public and cultural life (Muminov 2011:57).17

54During my research in Tashkent, I interviewed members of the sacred lineages of different ages and occupations, both Uzbek-speaking and Kazakh-speaking. Thus, I was able to observe the diverse nature of Khojas’ emic identification depending on the geographic, social, and cultural specifics of the region. There is some kind of hierarchy in the minds of Uzbek-speaking Khoja intellectuals. Strikingly, knowledge of most of the saints who were members of other groups (Khoja, Sayyid, Mir, Ishon) in Tashkent is very limited. My respondents tend to be able to name only their own relatives and those with whom they communicate, such as neighbors, colleagues, and friends.

  • 18 Interview with Kazakh-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 65 years old, 2010.

55The next criterion for the categorization of ‘holy groups’ is their lineage affiliation established through genealogy, linking them with the Prophet or the first caliphs. In Tashkent, elderly and middle-age Khojas differentiate Shayhontokhur Khojas, descendants of the famous Sufi leader Ahmad Yassavi, and Kazakh-speaking Khojas. Here, ‘holy groups’ consist of two linguistic categories: Kazakh-speaking and Uzbek-speaking groups, which in the past were closely connected with the Ferghana Valley and the Turkistan region. Nowadays these links are considerably weakened and expressed through the visiting of shrines. There is insufficient data on the relationships between the sacred lineages of Tashkent and Turkistan after the Russian conquest in 1865, i.e., the time when they began to deteriorate. During the Stalinist repressions, a considerable number of Khojas from Turkistan escaped, mainly to the Tashkent oasis, in order to survive.18

56The descendants of different sacred lineages of Tashkent live dispersed in different quarters of the city. I found one significant feature: some representatives of the older generation possess relatively deep knowledge of the history of the sacred lineages, names of groups, and their cultures. In the Soviet period, an attempt was made by the government to create a new translocal imagined society — the Soviet people (homo sovieticus). However, according to my observations, this idea did not become popular among sacred lineages in Central Asia.

  • 19 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Tashkent, 32 years old, 2015.
  • 20 Ibid.

57The younger generation (aged between 18–35) know only what they observe in life and what they read in post-1991 publications. When I talked with young people, I found out that by participating in traditional festivities such as weddings, wakes, etc., they became acquainted with other representatives of the sacred lineages of such cities as Tashkent and Turkistan.19 Thus, public events, to a certain extent, contributed to an expansion of their views of sacred lineages in such cities as Tashkent and Turkistan. But in many cases, it was ‘not the origin but the social status and personal relationships of people [that] are more important’.20

  • 21 Ibid.

58It is important to note that the representatives of the sacred lineages, once they had migrated from Turkistan to Tashkent, were divided by Tashkent’s inhabitants into two groups: the first group, the Turkistanis, were former Tashkentis, who moved from Tashkent to Turkistan 130–150 years ago, and then returned. The second group, the so-called indigenous people of Turkistan, included the Khoja and non-elite groups.21

  • 22 Interview with a Kazakh scholar, native of Tashkent, 48 years old, 2015.
  • 23 Interview with a Kazakh-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 65 years old, 2010.

59Representatives of the Kazakh-speaking Khoja from southern Kazakhstan often take wives from the Kazakh-speaking Khoja of the Tashkent oasis because ‘they believe that their families more strongly follow traditional values and were less westernized than the population of southern Kazakhstan’.22 Meanwhile, representatives of sacred lineages from more northern regions, such as the Kyzyl-orda province of Kazakhstan, claimed that the ‘Kazakh-speaking Khoja of the Tashkent oasis are more ‘Uzbekized’ and have lost some original Kazakh values. For example, they do not follow exogamous marriage rules’.23 Thus, in this case, one can observe manifestations of locality and the influence of official ideology applied to the formation of an image of the nation with certain features and values. It can be assumed that certain cultural and social features of the Kazakh-speaking Khoja in Tashkent have changed as a result of acculturation among the Uzbek population.

  • 24 Ibid.

60In the 1990s, an overall process of cultural restoration, including the restoration of sacred lineages, was initiated by local activists, and attempts to establish lines of communication between enthusiasts of the sacred lineages of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were made. The crucial evidence is the organization of joint meals as though these were meetings of the representatives of one group, members of which lived in different regions and even countries. ‘These meetings aimed to acquaint relatives with each other and to circulate books telling their history. In some cases, richer relatives furnished financial assistance to indigent members of their group’.24 However, according to my observations, since 2000, this process is not as active as it was before, probably due to the strengthening of the state policy against transnational so-called ‘radical’ religious groups.

  • 25 Imam is the title of a worship leader of a mosque and Muslim community.
  • 26 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Tashkent province, 60 years old, 2015.
  • 27 Ibid.

61An interlocutor from Tashkent province supposed that in the past, Khojas were descendants of sakhoba — missionaries of Islam and the local aristocracy in the region. Also, marriages were endogamous, many of them were blood marriages, but there were some marriages with ‘qoracha’ (Black Bone). He did not know his ancestry seven generations back, as opposed to the Kazakhs. In pre-Soviet and Soviet times, the main occupations of my interlocutor’s own ancestors were agriculture and construction. Up until the 1950s, some members of his family were doctors or worked as imams25 among the local Kazakhs.26 According to a popular legend among the Khojas of his village, his folks were descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. However, his family did not have formal genealogical records. He supposed that such records were kept only among the intelligentsia and clergy, and these documents meant nothing for craftsmen, or that they were lost during migration. In his perception, the society of Khojas appeared as follows: ‘the Tajik-speaking Khojas are the closest due to similar cultures, customs (urf-odat) and mentality, although the language is different. Previously close ties with such regions as Turkistan in Kazakhstan and the Fergana Valley existed’. According to him, Khojas from Turkistan claimed descent from Khoja Ahmad Yassavi.27

62In the post-Soviet period, the Khojas of Tashkent have published a series of books on their origin and genealogy (Iskandarov 2004, Nusratov 2010). One of them describes their family history and explains the concept of Khoja:

Khojas are a well-educated, cultured and highly esteemed people notable for honesty, firmness and decency. Traditions of Khoja at that time were not to espouse and to marry off children out of their kin. Every Khoja was proud to have the right to add the word ‘Khoja’ or ‘khon’ to their names like the French ‘de’ and the German ‘von’. The majority of them inhabited the centre of Tashkent in quarters of ‘Sheikhan-Taur’, ‘Mergancha’ and ‘Koryogdi’. The Uzbek ‘mixed’ with the Arab — descendants of the first two just caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Hattab were named Khoja. Both of them were the Prophet’s father-in-law and inherently Khoja was the Prophet’s remote kinsman. (Nusratov 2010:22)

  • 28 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Tashkent province, 60 years old, 2015.

63The author of another book on Khoja family history asserts that the goal of the book is to fulfil the ‘duty of a descendant to an ancestor’, to revive the genealogical roots of his family of Khoja so that relatives can discover each other and their ancestors back seven generations (Iskandarov 2004:3–6). The author collected materials about his relatives for twenty-five years, starting in the late Soviet period (1979), and he started his genealogy from his forefather Uzbekkhon Khoja, whose descendants were gunsmiths. The author did not mention the direct links with the family of the Prophet Muhammad or the first caliphs. He found out that there were three brothers, whose offspring live in three regions: Tashkent, Khodjent (Northern Tajikistan), and Qurama (Tashkent province) (Iskandarov 2004:3–6). According to the author, representatives of Khoja families are distinguished by their integrity, spiritual purity, and high morals. According to his point of view, this was the basis for endogamous marriages (ibid.). Analyzing the author’s ancestors’ names, one can assume that they were likely Sufi, because their names had the prefix Ishon. However, the author himself avoided this issue and the religious aspect of the history of Khoja in general. Thus, in this case, the history of sacred lineages is represented by the author as having translocal lines, in that they all originated in various regions, but the author does not link these groups with more global parallels (with other groups of Khoja, Sayyid, and the Islamic world). Translocal communications remain at the level of marriage between some ‘holy groups’ of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, especially in border territories.28 Here, ‘translocality’ is clearly understood as the interrelation and connectedness between different geographical places.


64Based on multi-sited fieldwork in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and combining classical historical research with anthropological methods, this chapter has examined the complex ways in which ‘sacred groups’ in Central Asia have been negotiating, articulating and reconfiguring group identity and multiple group belongings through history. A ‘translocal’ approach has helped me to develop a cross-cutting research perspective on ‘holy’ or ‘sacred groups’ that critically scrutinizes ‘methodological nationalism’ in scholarship on Central Asia, according to which religious identities are viewed as naturally embedded within and fixed by the boundaries of the Soviet and post-Soviet nation state. This chapter has taken a contrasting approach, paying attention to a wide range of non-hierarchic interactions, configurations and institutions, and exploring how these interactions and configurations facilitate translocal knowledge transfer and the circulation of religious ideas and symbols among ‘holy groups’. Obviously, knowledge transfer, identity formation and media usage among ‘sacred groups’ in Central Asia traverses places, regions, social groups, generations, language barriers and nation-states, as well as connecting and crossing different periods in history.

65Until now, ‘translocal communication’ and ‘imagination’ among dispersed ‘sacred groups’ revealed itself through such practices as worshipping at the graves of ancestors, which have been perceived as sacred places. The preservation of written genealogies, linked with local saints or Sufi figures, the Prophet Muhammad, or the first caliphs, is also common in the regions discussed. There are regional differences, however. In Kazakhstan, digital communication via the internet is used more widely than in Uzbekistan to connect members of holy families, who increasingly use this medium to gather information about their past or to organize regular meetings among youth who share a saintly ancestor. In addition, young people of both sexes and from different parts of the country take part in online forums. These processes reinforce translocal ideas about a common history, a common past, and a common Khoja culture, regardless of the place of residence of representatives of different Khoja groups in the vast territories of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Accordingly, investigating how sacred groups ‘go online’ opens up a new research field to analyze how sacred groups’ translocal identities are reconfigured and renegotiated in a globalized world.



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1 By ‘sacred lineage’ or ‘holy group’ I mean privileged groups that have high social status and claim to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, his companions, the first caliphs and Sufi saints.

2 A lineage is usually taken to be a group of people who trace descent unilineally from a common ancestor through a series of traceable links (Holý 1996:74–75).

3 The terms Khoja, Khwaja, Khodja, Qozha which mean ‘master’ in Persian have been taken to imply, variously, descent from ‘Arabs’, descent from the Prophet or Ali, descent from the first caliphs, or descent from Islamizing saints (DeWeese, 1999). There is also the term Ahl Al-bayt (‘People of the House’, meaning the household of Prophet Muhammad).

4 The Sayyids are a group of people who claim direct patrilineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima.

5 Ishon was a title or a name given to respected religious figures — the heads of Sufi brotherhoods of various levels and their descendants.

6 For more detailed analysis of the history of Khoja lineages in the Turkistan region see Malikov and Khoji (2014) and Malikov (2013a).

7 Most of my data from the Turkistan region was collected with financial and scientific support from the Max-Planck Institute for Social Anthropology during my field trips in 2010 and 2011; additional data from the Tashkent province of Uzbekistan was collected with financial support from the Volkswagen Foundation’s project ‘Translocal Goods — Education, Work, and Commodities between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China, and the Arab Emirates’ in 2015. I would like to express my gratitude to Manja Stephan-Emmrich, Philipp Schröder, Nathan Light, Jeanine Dagyeli, Tricia Ryan and anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions on this chapter.

8 Among others, these include Akorgandik, Akkoja, Baksayis, Khorasan, Duana, Seyit, Qilishti, Sabult, Qilavuz.

9 Shaykh Aḥmad ibn Mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn Khwājagī Kāsānī ‘Mahdūm-i A ʻẓam’.



12 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 55 years old, 2010.

13 Ibid.

14 Khorasan comes from the name of a historical region in Southern Central Asia and Northern Iran. Perhaps the ancestors of Khorasan Khoja arrived in the territory of modern Kazakhstan from this historical region. Currently, Khorasan Khojas speak the Kazakh language, and in some areas they know Uzbek and Russian languages.

15 Interview with a Kazakh-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 65 years old, 2010.


17 For example, Ziauddin mufti Babakhanov (1908–1982) the head of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan (SADUM), 1957–1982.

18 Interview with Kazakh-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 65 years old, 2010.

19 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Tashkent, 32 years old, 2015.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Interview with a Kazakh scholar, native of Tashkent, 48 years old, 2015.

23 Interview with a Kazakh-speaking Khoja, native of Turkistan, 65 years old, 2010.

24 Ibid.

25 Imam is the title of a worship leader of a mosque and Muslim community.

26 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Tashkent province, 60 years old, 2015.

27 Ibid.

28 Interview with Uzbek-speaking Khoja, native of Tashkent province, 60 years old, 2015.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 3.1 Genealogical links of the descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. Map data © Google (2018), all rights reserved
Fichier image/jpeg, 262k
Légende Fig. 3.2 Family tree of the descendants of Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. Photo © Azim Malikov (2010), CC BY 4.0
Fichier image/jpeg, 262k


Post-doctoral department member of the Institute of History at the Academy of the Sciences of Uzbekistan. His research interests cover ethnicity, identity, urban history, Islamic culture, and the transformation of society in Central Asia and Uzbekistan. He has worked as a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany.


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