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Under Solomon's Throne

Under Solomon's Throne: Uzbek Visions of Renewal in Osh

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Under Solomon's Throne
    Book Description:

    Under Solomon's Throneprovides a rare ground-level analysis of post-Soviet Central Asia's social and political paradoxes by focusing on an urban ethnic community: the Uzbeks in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, who have maintained visions of societal renewal throughout economic upheaval, political discrimination, and massive violence.

    Morgan Liu illuminates many of the challenges facing Central Asia today by unpacking the predicament of Osh, a city whose experience captures key political and cultural issues of the region as a whole. Situated on the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan-newly independent republics that have followed increasingly divergent paths to reform their states and economies-the city is subject to a Kyrgyz government, but the majority of its population are ethnic Uzbeks. Conflict between the two groups led to riots in 1990, and again in 2010, when thousands, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and nearly half a million more fled across the border into Uzbekistan. While these tragic outbreaks of violence highlight communal tensions amid long-term uncertainty, a close examination of community life in the two decades between reveals the way Osh Uzbeks have created a sense of stability and belonging for themselves while occupying a postcolonial no-man's-land, tied to two nation-states but not fully accepted by either one.

    The first ethnographic monograph based on extensive local-language fieldwork in a Central Asian city, this study examines the culturally specific ways that Osh Uzbeks are making sense of their post-Soviet dilemmas. These practices reveal deep connections with Soviet and Islamic sensibilities and with everyday acts of dwelling in urban neighborhoods. Osh Uzbeks engage the spaces of their city to shape their orientations relative to the wider world, postsocialist transformations, Islamic piety, moral personhood, and effective leadership. Living in the shadow of Solomon's Throne, the city's central mountain, they envision and attempt to build a just social order.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7792-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  5. Notes on Fieldwork, Interviews, Translations, and Transliteration
    (pp. XI-XIII)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. XIV-XVI)
  7. Introduction: A City for Thought
    (pp. 1-19)

    The tale of one city can tell a story about a society, a region, and a historical moment. The story told here is about how an urban community responded to a political dilemma for two decades and how the community’s response offers broader insight on Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, ethnic Uzbeks in the city of Osh have lived as citizens of independent Kyrgyzstan, the post-Soviet republic dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz in both numbers and power. The political predicament that Osh Uzbeks have faced is linked to the following questions: What kind...

  8. 1 Bazaar and Mediation
    (pp. 20-42)

    Osh may fail to stand out as a beautiful city in the eyes of the average Western tourist. Beyond the imposing Solomon Mountain (fig. 2) at its center, the cityscape offers few striking elements. Yet the city is fascinating for the dense social worlds that it assembles, juxtaposes, and tucks away within its urban configuration. Italo Calvino (1974, 15), in his fanciful workInvisible Cities, imagines a city called Zora that distills this impression of Osh:

    Beyond six rivers and three mountain ranges rises Zora, a city that no one, having seen it, can forget. But not because, like other...

  9. 2 Border and Post-Soviet Predicament
    (pp. 43-73)

    Being Uzbek in post-Soviet Osh means living between contradictions. The lives of Osh Uzbeks are caught between overlapping pairs of oppositions that define their post-Soviet predicament. They are doubly excluded by the two nation-states with which they are most connected, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, one for being of the wrong nation and one for being in the wrong state, as it were. As “ethnic minorities,” they experience discrimination in an increasingly Kyrgyz-centered “ethnocratic” state.¹ As citizens of independent Kyrgyzstan, they are cut off from the stridently nationalistic Uzbekistani state that tantalizingly attracts many of them.

    The problem of where the Osh...

  10. 3 Divided City and Relating to the State
    (pp. 74-104)

    Osh appears to tell a tale of two cities. It is often seen as a city divided into two distinct halves: an ancient Central Asian core (mahalla neighborhoods, hand-built houses, narrow streets, bazaars) and a modern Soviet city (boulevards, shops, government buildings, institutions, parks, Lenin statues). Indeed, a walk through the city reveals the decisive shift in architecture, street life, and sensorial qualities as one moves between the “old” city and the “new” city. Osh residents of every ethnicity, whether living in mahalla houses or apartments, talk about the mahalla as a special kind of place, one that is physically,...

  11. 4 Neighborhood and Making Proper Persons
    (pp. 105-124)

    A neighborhood is more than a place to live. Inhabited places are always saturated with a wide range of human concern, whether through narrative about them or engagement in everyday acts of dwelling in them (Casey 1997). Places gather material things, experiences, thoughts, dispositions, habits, concerns, and their histories into particular local configurations that can become deeply meaningful.¹ In particular, “the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind,” writes Gaston Bachelard (1964/1994, 6). Osh’s Uzbek-majority neighborhoods have been heavily invested with the thoughts, memories, and dreams of its residents. The...

  12. 5 House and Dwelling in the World
    (pp. 125-147)

    The mahalla is a potent idiom of virtuous character and moral community. The idiom allows Osh Uzbeks to ponder and attempt to practice the kind of collective life that they believe is key to renewing society for a better future. Understanding this view allows us to appreciate why so many Osh Uzbeks have desired a “traditional” courtyard house and resisted apartment neighborhoods in the “Soviet city,” even at the cost of living in theadirs, harsh hilly lands surrounding the city, as long as mahallas could be built. But what is it about mahallas that generates the kind of community...

  13. 6 Republic and Virtuous Leadership
    (pp. 148-184)

    At a Russian restaurant in Osh one summer day in 1999, a young Uzbek man eloquently summarized for me why the republic of Uzbekistan was so much on the minds of Uzbeks in Osh at the time. Nurolim stood out as the most cosmopolitan individual of all my friends in the city. He spoke fluent, idiomatic American English, in addition to his Russian, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Turkish, and he was one of the few from Osh who had studied in the United States. Nurolim expressed a sense of alienation from “traditional Uzbek culture” and describedmahallalife as oppressive, filled...

  14. Conclusion: Central Asian Visions of Societal Renewal
    (pp. 185-200)

    Osh Uzbeks have responded in a particular way to their political predicament since Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991. They make sense of their dilemmas and conceive of solutions to them by “thinking with” their city through idioms that are rooted in the actual spaces of Osh and its surroundings. These idioms also capture something vital about post-Soviet Central Asia. Osh Uzbek idioms are a truly Central Asian product because they fold the multiple histories and disparate trends of the region into coherent figures of thought and practice. These idioms reveal distinctly Central Asian visions of renewal, not because they necessarily represent...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 201-242)
  16. References
    (pp. 243-268)
  17. Index
    (pp. 269-280)