In June 2017, Project Researcher Paul Fryer (Department of Geographical and Historical Studies, UEF) made a preparatory visit to Kyrgyzstan and to the Mountainous Badakhshan Autonomous Province of Tajikistan, specifically to northern-most Murghab district close to the Kyrgyz border. The visit was in connection with Dr Fryer’s research within the Transformation of Soviet Republic Borders to International Borders project entitled “Changing perceptions and practices across the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Pamir Mountains”. In Kyrgyzstan for lecturing unrelated to the project, Dr Fryer enlisted the help of Mr Daler Kaziev, a young Murghabi studying in Bishkek who also runs a local tourism enterprise, to organise the visit and guide him around northern Badakhshan from 13.-21.6. The north-eastern Pamir Mountains, which includes Murghab, are inhabited largely by ethnic Kyrgyz, who historically have looked across the border to the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Situated along the Pamir Highway, part of the ancient Silk Road linking East to West, the region has been affected strongly by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Travelling 8 hours by car from Osh (417km away), the Soviet collapse was evident through the deplorable state of repair of the once strategic Pamir Highway. In Murghab, Dr Fryer was well treated by locals who, over the years, have become used to adventure tourists travelling the Pamir Highway. However, the situation in Murghab is difficult – there is no central electricity or water available, so locals rely on expensive diesel generators for everyday life and business. At over 3600m above sea level, the area is not suitable for forms of agriculture other than animal husbandry – mainly yaks, goats and sheep – so daily necessities are trucked in from across the border at great expense to locals. As a result, the region has seen a trend of outmigration recently, mainly of youth to Kyrgyzstan or Russia for better work and life prospects.
After getting acquainted with Murghab and neighbouring villages, Dr Fryer travelled to the regional capital Khorog, 316km away to the south-west along similarly poor roads. There he met with Dr Shodigul Mamadyorbekova from the Mountain Societies Research Institute at the new University of Central Asia (UCA). The UCA is an initiative of the Aga Khan Foundation to bring quality higher education to societies in mountainous regions and the Khorog campus, which has its first intake of students in September 2017, is the university’s second campus after Naryn in Kyrgyzstan. During the 2-day visit, Dr Fryer visited the impressive new university campus and discussed his fieldwork planned for the summer 2018 in co-operation with the UCA.
First returning to Murghab, Dr Fryer left for Osh on 21.6 after an enlightening visit to Badakhshan that will help prepare for the main fieldwork in 2018. Before leaving Kyrgyzstan, Dr Fryer spent time doing background research in the National Library of Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek, collecting additional materials that will be helpful in preparing for fieldwork.