An open letter to the editorial board of Hurriyat (Mustakil Gazeta)
Tashkent Ozbek Republic
By H. B. Paksoy, D. Phil., 2 February 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am in possession of two single pages from your esteemed newspaper. The first contains an article written by Professor Hayrulla Ismatulla (published in the 22-28 December 1999 issue) of Indiana University-Bloomington, and the second, as commentary on the first, by Professor Tura Mirzaev (5-11 January 2000 issue), who holds several official, distinguished academic and administrative titles in Tashkent. Please consider this note as a rejoinder to the foregoing.
I am most grateful to both colleagues for framing their comments around my work ALPAMYSH: CENTRAL ASIAN IDENTITY UNDER RUSSIAN RULE (Hartford, Conn.: AACAR, 1989). Some colleagues observed that ALPAMYSH... attained out-of-print status by 1991 (unusual for an academic volume) rather speedily. After a hiatus, when it proved impractical to undertake a new printing, the said book was placed on various world-wide-web pages. In that new format ALPAMYSH... has been available on several such internet locations since 1995 and continuously accessed and read by hundreds of individuals every month from around the world. Some of those web-pages contain comments by a number of scholars.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting both colleagues. As Professor Ismatulla very kindly recounts the occasion in his above referenced article, he and I became acquainted during early last decade at an International Conference on Central Asia held at the University of Wisconsin Madison, shortly after he arrived from Ozbekistan in the USA. The only other occasion when I saw him was about three years ago when I attended one of his lectures at Indiana University --when I was visiting Bloomington for a day or two to see old friends on the faculty there. It was my very good fortune to make the personal acquaintance of Professor Tura Mirzaev at another international conference, that time on Turk Destanlari, held at Turk Dil Kurumu at Ankara in 1997, and hosted by another set of colleagues: Professors Fikret Turkmen (Director, Turkish World Institute, Ege University) and Ahmet Ercilasun (Director, Turkish Language Institute). Certainly, even before he and I enthusiastically shook hands, Professor Mirzaev and I already knew each other from our respective publications and had exchanged greetings via mutual colleagues and friends.
The debate between Professors Ismatulla and Mirzaev appear to revolve around the study of ALPAMYSH, that magnificent Central Asian dastan, and the sequence, for example, when and by whom those studies were produced and published. Although my ALPAMYSH... was published in 1989, the preparatory work naturally precedes that date by quite a few years. That the published book carries more than one copyright date (ten years apart) is another marker attesting to that particular verity. Given the difficulty of obtaining books and papers published in the former Soviet Union, especially in the 1970s and the 1980s, even though I spent a number of years (apart from the writing phase) personally searching for any and all matter on the subject, in various countries on three continents, some of the very valuable work done on ALPAMYSH by colleagues in Ozbekistan, in Central Asia, and elsewhere, may not have reached me. After all, the trial of ALPAMYSH in the 1950s, and its documented aftermath, ensured that the subject remain rather sensitive and anyone wishing to undertake work on the topic, to say the least, weary ---As recounted in my ALPAMYSH...; along with the documentation on various other aspects, such as why I chose the Divay version among fifty-five printings. That very condition of convening a court for the purpose of trying this historical literature undoubtedly not only impeded the distribution by means of publication of already undertaken studies on ALPAMYSH but, additionally, further scholarly and popular approaches to the dastan. I am certain that the now available wealth of material on ALPAMYSH cannot but benefit Ozbekistan, Central Asia and the world of letters. After all, the dastan ALPAMYSH, first and last, belongs to the people; and not only to one group, country or region.
When one considers the careers of scholars and literati of note from various origins, one can detect a particularly discernible pattern. Those who take-up prolonged residence in countries other than their place of birth, whatever the reason, seem to appreciate their roots and traditions in a much different light. Even a statesman (and distinguished multi-talent) such as Thomas Jefferson was susceptible to this condition. This is not unusual, since, living in the surroundings where one was born, one does not have to necessarily give a second thought to what is there. After all, everything is as it was. And living in different surroundings whose inhabitants that may or may not necessarily understand that literati's home traditions, tend to awaken in that person's mind a longing to be understood in the full. For a Central Asian, what better vehicle to serve that need than a dastan? I do not know what prompted Professor Ismatulla to choose my ALPAMYSH... as a representative work, he will know the reasons better. Nonetheless, I am grateful to him, as I am grateful to Professor Mirzaev for taking-up the issue. Possibly because Central Asia in general and Ozbek Republic in particular, Professor Ismatulla might have noticed since his arrival in the USA, was being recognized in the daily media, but not with all of the pertinent intellectual wealth so well known to anyone who is from Central Asia. Perhaps (and, I am speculating; as I did not discuss this with him) Professor Ismatulla chose my ALPAMYSH... to comment on, because that volume had recently been released, once again, on yet another web-site, in addition to some of those already in existence, and he has noticed that release.
But, it is no surprise that Professor Ismatulla settled on ALPAMYSH as a vehicle, a representative to ally and record his thoughts. After all, ALPAMYSH is the premier dastan of Central Asia, a repository of all relevant culture from that sunny land. And, like-minded individuals and responsible persons in Central Asia apparently agreed. Last year, when I was informed by colleagues that an international conference of ALPAMYSH was planned to take place in Tashkent, I was naturally very happy for Ozbekistan and Central Asia. After-all, were not other Central Asian dastans, such as MANAS and DEDE KORKUT accorded similar honors? Both of those latter dastans have even been paid homage by large and prominent international organizations and entire calendar-years have been officially dedicated to their study and celebration. Now, I thought, ALPAMYSH would finally receive the same well deserved recognition. However, I later was disappointed to discover that the proposed conference did not materialize for reason or reasons not articulated.
Given the foregoing, it seems to me, that the contention should be among the scholars and literati to see who can best serve these dastan treasures. It must never be forgotten that the emphasis is both on serve the dastans and also the celebration of their creator-owner populations as well. The discussion of who have done what and when, as a matter of establishing a hierarchy can go only so far. Professor Mirzaev certainly is in that hierarchy, following in the footsteps of a long list of luminaries as attentively as possible recorded in my ALPAMYSH...
What is even more important is whether and how those treasures are known, understood and appreciated around the world. In this, a literary treasure needs the services of individuals such as Professors Ismatulla and Mirzaev and a much greater number of individuals to participate in the endeavor, unceasingly. It is not productive to keep those treasures to one's self. Incarcerating those works is not only shameful, but also a detriment to the interests of their legitimate owners. The dastans must be known universally, if they are to be appreciated. Otherwise, to quote (and adapt) Balasagunlu Yusuf from his well known KUTADGU BILIG ...pearls [the dastans--HBP], in order to have value, must be brought to the surface; otherwise, they might as well be pebbles at the bottom of the sea, and remain unknown...
As for my personal offering to Central Asia, I would like to recall the aforementioned 1997 Ankara conference where I had the pleasant occasion and circumstances to make the personal acquaintance of Professor Mirzaev. At the opening ceremonies of that conference, all those invited to be there for the purpose of reading scholarly papers on Turk dastans, were asked to briefly introduce themselves to those assembled. When my turn came, I obliged with the following:
My name is Paksoy. I am the (first) Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary from ALPAMYSH to the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
I always insisted that such treasures as ALPAMYSH (not to mention CHORA BATIR; DEDE KORKUT and others) should also be made available for appreciation by all on a world-wide basis, much like the younger counterparts of ALPAMYSH from other countries (for example BEOWULF, and others), as they exist in their natural state; as opposed to confining them within artificial boundaries; and took the necessary initiatives to secure those ends at personal and private costs. I look forward to surrendering --hopefully in the near future-- my ambassadorial office to those who demonstrate they have done better work than I managed to produce on the international stage so far. Let us hope, for the good of humanity, that this office of Ambassadorship from ALPAMYSH, and indeed one from Central Asian dastans, prove to grow into a long and productive chain, with an undisputed, distinguished lineage. Until such time, I remain, respectfully,