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Two angels descending from the Heavens bestow a heavenly mandate to Timur. In the didactic sense, Timur is portrayed as an exemplary ruler, enacting the will of God. Timur died on 18 February near Utrar in Kazakhstan , which is why the panel depicts the astrological sign of Aquarius. The star of sahib-qiran is metaphorically shining in the centre of the composition and lights up the future. The book in his hands might also metaphorically refer to the Sunni orthodoxy Timur was a Hanafi Sunni , implying that the state-approved Sunni Islam is a religion learned by reading books.

The watermill wheel alludes to the repetition of historical events, i. The third panel ends with a poem by the celebrated poet Alisher Navoi d. Navoi was a distinguished member of the Timurid court in Herat and is generally considered as the father of Uzbek literature 10 ibid. It is interesting to note that part of the triptych also depicts some Shaybanid monuments, such as the tympanum of the Shir Dar Madrasa on Registan Square revealing a solar disk. Although the Shaybanid dynasty, and in particular its importance in Tashkent, has not been widely spread in the Soviet period, 11 ibid.

The Spectacular State: Culture and National Identity in Uzbekistan

I think that the architectural legacy of the khans in the Uzbek capital and their intrinsic Uzbek roots have been artistically reinstated in recent years. The triptych can be interpreted as a Timurid manifesto that underlines the socio-political and cultural agenda of the Uzbek state.

Constructing the Uzbek State: Narratives of Post-Soviet Years -

Furthermore, it sets the tone for architectural production with Timurid monumentality as the best example to follow. Even though there is no actual material evidence verifying the existence of this inscription, Timurid architecture is undoubtedly exquisite and inventive, and Timur has been widely praised by court chronicles and by foreign ambassadors for the initiation and sponsorship of opulent and grandeur buildings.

The ruler as a builder and creator of the material world is one of the main prerogatives of his divinely bestowed mandate. Although in independent Uzbekistan the political elite is allegedly elected, the ambition to follow the ancestral testimonies of leadership is paralleled with the commission of lavish contemporary architecture, which only the state can afford to finance. A huge Koran reading stand is situated at the centre of the main museum hall. At present, a copy of the Uthman Koran rests on it. The vertical axis of the museum is accentuated by the Koran reading stand on the ground floor, the Swarovski chandelier hanging from the inner dome, covered with thin sheets of gold, and the green outer dome, representing the celestial sphere.

All these attributes underline the profound influence of Islamic heritage.

Commemorating Tamerlane: ideological and iconographical approaches at the Timurid Museum

The original Uthman Koran also known as the Samarqand codex was compiled in Medina under the third Sunni caliph Uthman r. The original is kept at the Hazrat Imam Complex in the old part of Tashkent; it is believed to be one of six surviving copies, the other ones were sent to Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Kufu and Basra.

The sunshine city. The blood of the caliph stained the Koran and legend has it that the blood stains on the Tashkent copy can be related to Uthman. However, the majority of scholars agree that Timur captured it during his military campaigns either in Syria or Iraq and kept it in the main sanctuary of his Bibi Khanum Mosque in Samarqand. Known ever since as the Samarqand codex, the Koran was further preserved at the madrasa of Khwaja Ahrar in Samarqand.

In the Hungarian orientalist Vamberi visited Samarqand and saw it on a giant stand at Gur-i Amir. Puteshestvie po Srednei Azii , Sankt Peterburg, p. He suggests that Timur took the Koran from Bayezid after defeating him in the battle of Ankara in In , after the Russian conquest of Turkestan, the governing general of the Zeravshan region, Abramov, handed the manuscript to general Konstantin von Kaufman, who sent it to the Imperial Public Library in Saint Petersburg.

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In the late nineteenth century, the Koran was extensively studied by Shebunin and in Pisarev published a facsimile edition, of which fifty copies were made. The present copy at the Timurid museum is one of these facsimiles. After the revolution in , the Soviet authorities returned the Koran to the administration of the Muslims in Russia, located in Ufa.

Later on in it was transported to Tashkent by a special train. In Tashkent, it was initially kept at the Kukeldash madrasa. The Russian building of the library was demolished during the recent reconstruction of the Hazrat Imam Complex. Since the Uthman Koran has been preserved in the Muyi Mubarak madrasa. Built by the mayor of Tashkent Mirzo Ahmad Kushbegi between , the madrasa apparently houses a hair of the prophet Muhammad. The Koran is kept in a glass case in the middle of the centrally domed space, the hair is underneath it.

During the restorations in , only the building of the Muyi Mubarak madrasa was adorned with a blue ribbed dome, denoting its primary importance within Hazrat Imam and directly relating it to Timurid architecture. With its long history, the Uthman Koran has always been a major trophy in the hands of the ruling elites, whose buildings were regarded as proper commemoration sites attesting its religious importance. The Koran at the Timurid museum unveils the state tolerance towards Islam. As pointed out in Ulozhenie Timura , Timur understood that society cannot live without religion.

Na puti dukhovnogo vozrozhdeniya , Tashkent: Uzbekiston, p. However, Timur also recognized the division between the secular state and religion, which is clearly manifested throughout the independence discourse. The post-independence building activities in the Uzbek capital have been characterized by the Timurid and partially Shaybanid heritage used as an iconographic source for the formation of the architectural landscape of modern Tashkent.

The state as the main commissioner of all major construction sites aspires a material recognition of its policies through elevating the cultural and religious heritage of great ancestors. The Ideology of National Independence created by the political and intellectual elite has pledged for shared goals and ideals stemming from the Uzbek collective memory. Architecture is used by the present regime as a tool to profess ideological power and prompt respect and recognition at local and international level.

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Her current research focuses on material culture of Central Asia and in particular on the history and socio-political importance of Timurid architecture in Uzbekistan. All we know is what they tell us. One way to reestablish the links with their past, many Uzbeks feel, is to return to the Arabic alphabet. Calls for the teaching of the Arabic alphabet and the Chaghatay language, the predecessor of modern Uzbek, in secondary schools and universities began appearing in many periodicals in the late s, and interest in the Arabic alphabet has since grown rapidly.

Several textbooks for studying the Arabic alphabet have appeared, and posters and children's books explaining it sold rapidly in Tashkent newspaper stands in and During a series of rallies in , members of the nationalist group Birlik Unity carried placards bearing slogans in the Arabic alphabet, and banners with Arabic lettering hung from windows at Tashkent State University during the New Year celebrations.

This admiration of the Arabic alphabet is by no means universal. There are those among the Uzbek intelligentsia who see the Arabic script as no less imperialistic than the Cyrillic. The poet Muhammad Solih, who is secretary of the Uzbek Writers Union, has denounced those who endorse the Arabic alphabet as the natural Uzbek alphabet.

He points out that the eighth-century Arab invaders, seeking to demolish the Turkic peoples' sense of identity, destroyed the ancient Turkic archives. The Arabic alphabet, Solih argues, is every bit as foreign as the Cyrillic. Rather, schools should begin teaching the Turkic runic alphabet of the sixth and seventh centuries, the "true" Turkic script. A possible alternative is the Latin alphabet, which was used in Uzbekistan from to and is very similar to the alphabet used today in Turkey.

If adopted, this alphabet could strengthen Uzbekistan's cultural ties with Turkey. The alphabet debate is symptomatic of a deep identity crisis afflicting Uzbeks. At the heart of this crisis is a single question: what is the "true" Uzbek heritage? What exactly is ozbeklik, or Uzbekness? There is no one answer but rather a continuum of possibilities, with the extremes represented by the sides in the alphabet debate: those who see Islam as the true basis of ozbeklik and those who see the roots of Uzbek culture in its pre-Islamic Turkic heritage.

For a number of reasons, the pre-Islamic heritage is unlikely to form the basis of a unifying national consciousness. The so-called Uzbek nation is far from homogeneous. Uzbeks inhabit an area that has been repeatedly invaded and conquered. The new arrivals to the region intermingled with the previous inhabitants to such an extent that ethnic lines became blurred or vanished entirely.

According to the noted historian and Turcologist Alexandre Bennigsen, for centuries prior to the Soviet takeover in the s, Central Asians were wont to define themselves not as nations but by lifestyle sedentary vs. A sedentary Muslim Uzbek merchant from the city of Bukhara saw himself as quite different from a nomadic, possible pagan, Uzbek cattleherder of the Fergana Valley. The creation of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in changed all this as many diverse groups suddenly became part of a larger Uzbek nation.

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But the creation of distinct Central Asian nationalities has long been controversial. Soviets argued that the national delimitation of Central Asia concluded a process that had begun long before the Bolshevik Revolution, and there is an element of truth to this. Nevertheless, the new Uzbek nation included a wide variety of peoples. Moreover, over the last 70 years, many smaller ethnic groups, including Turks, Persians, and Arabs, have become assimilated with the Uzbeks.

Thus, the term Uzbek refers to a group of people with marked variety in speech, dress, and customs.


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The Uzbek language boasts a plethora of dialects, not all of which are mutually intelligible. And when we speak, they can't understand us. Relations between groups can be tense, and fights between groups of students from different areas of the republic are not uncommon at Tashkent State University.

Islam, on the other hand, provides something much more tangible to cling to, a way to overcome the Uzbek nation's lack of cultural and historical denominators. Yet here, too, problems exist. Decades of antireligious and Marxist-Leninist propaganda have drawn the Uzbeks away from Islam, so most are Muslim in name only. Some elements of Islamic culture remain - the subordinate position of women, dietary proscriptions, ritual circumcision - but the more spiritual aspects have faded.

Alcohol, forbidden by the Koran, is abused as widely in Uzbekistan as elsewhere in the Soviet Union.

And few Uzbeks observe the holy Muslim fast of Ramadan, angering many foreign Muslims studying at local universities.