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Department of Central Asia

Contact Information

Phone: (812) 328-07-12; (812) 328-08-12;

Head of Department

Rakhmat RAKHIMOV, D.Sc.

History of the Department

Central Asian studies became the focus of one of the museum’s departments, founded in 1918. The Department of the Muslim Peoples of Central Asia, headed by I.I. Zarubin, largely followed the lines of the Russian Committee for Central and East Asian Studies established in 1903. Until 1962 it was called The Department of the Near East and Central Asia, and then the Department of Central Asia. In 1977–89 the unit was named the Group of Central Asia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, and then again the Department of Central Asia.

The department’s history is directly or indirectly linked with outstanding Russian explorers of Central Asia such as V.V. Bartold, S.E. Malov, S.M. Dudin, A.N. Samoilovich, I.I. Zarubin, E.M. Peschereva, A.L. Troitskaya, E.G. Gafferberg, N.A. Kislyakov, S.M. Abramzon and many others. It was successively directed by I.I. Zarubin, N.A. Kislyakov, S.M. Abramzon, L.I. Lavrov, and V.P. Kurylyov; its present head is R.R. Rakhimov.

In summer 1914, I.I. Zarubin together with a French Iranist Robert Gautier took a journey to the Pamirs, where they conducted linguistic and ethnographic research. This laid the foundation for a systematic ethnographic study of Central Asia. I.I. Zarubin continued his linguistic, folkloric and ethnographic studies in the Pamirs and Central Asia in the following years. His most impressive project was the 1926–30 Central Asian ethnological expedition from the Academy of Sciences. Its results are undoubtedly among the top achievements of Russian scholars focusing on this region. Ultimately, they defined the theoretical framework for the department’s future studies. Areas addressed include ethnic history, ethnic culture, marriage and family, etc. The most important monographs published by the department in the past are the following:

  • Zarubin I.I. Beludzhskie skazki, sobrannye I.I. Zarubinym [Baluchi Folk Tales Collected by I.I. Zarubin. Leningrad: Izd-vo AN SSSR, 1932. 220 p.
  • Kislyakov N.A. Sem’ya i brak u Tajikov. Po materialam kontsa XIX – nachala XX veka [Tajik Family and Marriage: Late 19th – Early 20th Centuries]. Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo AN SSSR, 1959. 268 p.
  • Peschereva E.M. Goncharnoe proizvodstvo Srednei Azii [Pottery Production in Central Asia]. Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo AN SSSR, 1959. 396 p. (Trudy Instituta Etnografii, nov. ser., Vol. 42).
  • Gafferberg E.G. Beludji Turkmenskoi SSR [The Baluchi of Turkmenia]. Leningrad: Nauka, 1969. 270 p.
  • Abramzon S.M. Kirgizy i ikh etnogeneticheskie i istoriko-kul’turnye svyazi [The Kirghiz: Ethnic Affinities and Historic Ties]. Leningrad: Nauka, 1971. 403 p.

MAE was the place where the brilliant Russian school of Central Asian studies originated, its leading figures being V.V. Bartold, I.I. Zarubin, and N.A. Kislyakov.

Main Research Areas

Research directions taken by the department’s staff members follow those pioneered by their great predecessors. It is currently attempted to merge various themes in a single direction on a unified theoretical basis related to the analysis of the traditional of Central Asian ideology. The project, tentatively titled Ideological Systems and their Impact on Social Reality, will result in a series of joint monographs titled Central Asia in the Mirror of Mentality. Its key element will be the database containing information on all the relevant collections (its development is underway).

Department Staff

Rakhimov Rakhmat, Head of Department, D.Sc. (ethnography of Central Asia, fire in Tajik traditional ideology).

Kryukova Victoria – Senior Researcher, Cand. Sc. (interaction between Zoroastrian and Islamic ideological models).

Prischepova Valeirya – Senior Researcher, Cand. Sc. (material and photographic collections of the department with regard to traditional Central Asian ideology).

Solov’eva Oksana – Researcher, Cand. Sc. (traditional and modern aspects of power and government in the Central Asian Interfluve).

Rezvan Maria – Research Assistant, Cand. Sc. (Islamic manuscript tradition in the ethnographic context, magic practices in Islamic peoples).

Stasevich Inga – Research Assistant (status of women in the traditional culture of Turkic nomads of Central Asia).

Terletskii Nikolai – Research Assistant (Persian sources on the ethnography of Central Asia).

Vasil’tsov Konstantin – Senior Assistant (Islam in the context of traditional Central Asian ideology).

Principal Publications

In the last years, the department staff members have published these monographs:

  • Detstvo v traditsionnoi kul’ture narodov Srednei Azii, Kazakhstana i Kavkaza [Childhood in the Traditional Culture of Central Asia, Kazakhstan, and the Caucasus] / Ed. by R.R. Rakhimov. SPb: MAE RAN, 1998. 232 p.
  • Kurylev V.P. Skot, zemlya, obschina u kochevykh i polukochevykh kazakhov (vtoraya polovina XIX – nachalo XX veka) [Livestock, Land, and Local Community in Nomadic and Seminomadic Kazakhs (Late 19th – Early 20th Centuries)]. SPb: MAE RAN, 1998. 296 p.
  • Prischepova V.A. Kollektsii zagovorili: Istoriya formirovaniya kollektsii MAE po Srednei Azii i Kazakhstanu (1870–1940) [Collections Speak: Origin of Central Asian and Kazakh Collections at MAE (1870–1940)]. SPb: MAE RAN, 2000. 272 p.
  • Rakhimov R.R. Traditsionnoe mirovozzrenie tadjikov: Problemy obrazov i simvolov v kul’ture [Traditional Tajik Ideology: Images and Symbols in Culture]: Abstract of Doctoral Dissertation, 1999.
  • Solov’eva O.A. Liki vlasti Blagorodnoi Bukhary [Faces of Power in Bokhara the Noble]. SPb: MAE RAN, 2002. 190 p.

Expeditions

Due to recent difficulties, fieldwork in the last years has been irregular. Chances are that the tradition of large-scale field research, a distinctive feature of the department, will be revived. One of the ongoing projects, Tradition under Historic Changes, is largely based on fieldwork, which has already been conducted in Tajikistan in 2003–04. Results obtained so far are rather promising.

Conferences

For nearly thirty years the department of Central Asia together with that of Caucasus has been holding annual Central Asian and Caucasian conferences known as Lavrov Lectures. In the near future, annual Central Asian conferences (Zarubin Lectures) will be sponsored by the Department of Central Asia alone.

Prizes and Awards

One of the department’s achievements is the Russian Academy of Sciences award for young researchers won by O.A. Solov’eva within the 14th Contest in 2002 for her monograph Liki Vlasti Blagorodnoi Bukhary [Faces of Power of Bokhara the Noble].

Collections

The department’s collections number about 13 thousand specimens representing sedentary agricultural, Turkic nomadic and Iranian nomadic cultures. The curator of the collections is O.N. Panarina, staff member of the Department of Registration and Storage.

The influx of things from Central Asia to MAE mostly began in the second half of the 19th century. The most valuable acquisitions of that time include a collection of beautiful artifacts donated by the inhabitants of the Kazakh steppes to the heir to the Russian throne and the future emperor Nicholas II during his trip to the Orient. Most of these artifacts are steel battle axes of Kazakh dzhigits and precious leather belts.  There are also headdresses (saukele) of a Kazakh bride and shaman’s musical instruments (kobyz). The culture of nomadic and semi-nomadic Iranians (Baluchi, Khazara and Jemshid) is represented by transportable dwellings with a set of impressive elements of the interior.

On the whole, the department owns five movable dwellings (yurts), two of which represent the culture of nomadic Turks (Kazakh and Kirghiz) and three, that of nomadic Iranians. Also, MAE possesses marvelous artifacts manufactured by the sedentary people of Central Asia. Especially valuable are so-called imperial collections – luxurious samples of late 19th – early 20th century Central Asian hand-woven silk, semi-silk and velvet. These masterpieces of weaving and embroidery, known as iqat in the West, along with golden and silver harness pieces, were presented to the Russian emperors of Romanov dynasty by the emirs of Bokhara. The occasions for this were events of a national scale. One was the tercentenary of the ruling house, celebrated in 1913. Presents were also shipped along this peculiar diplomatic silk route connecting Bokhara with St.-Petersburg on other occasions such as coronation day, celebrated annually. Embassies with rich gifts were also sent from Bokhara on the emperor’s and the empress’s birthdays.

The department owns various collections representing the traditional culture of Iranians of the Pamirs and mostly acquired by I.I. Zarubin in 1914. There are numerous artifacts from Bokhara, Samarkand, and Hudjand. 

A highly important collection is that of more than 50,000 photographic and other illustrations, many of them unique, reflecting the realities of Central Asian life beginning from 1870.

For a catalogue of museum collections owned by the department the following publication should be consulted:

  • Bronnikova O.M., Vishnevetskaya (Prischepova) V.A. Katalog kollektsii otdela Srednei Azii i Kazakhstana MAE [Catalogue of Collections of MAE Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan] // Pamyatniki traditsionno-bytovoi kul’tury narodov Srednei Azii, Kazakhstana i Kavkaza. Leningrad: Nauka, 1989. P. 180–221. (MAE Collection, Vol. XLIII).

Expositions

At MAE exhibition Islam: The Book and the Sword, samples of Central Asian fabrics (satin silk, velvet, raw silk), which were part of the famous imperial collections, exemplify the tradition of late 19th – early 20th centuries Central Asian artistic weaving. One of the exhibits is a semi-silk veil – a symbol of women’s seclusion in Central Asia. In our days, such veils are only used on ritual occasions (mostly when a newly-married woman is moving to her husband’s house). Among the exhibits are a copper vessel (an excellent example of Central Asian toreutics), a beautiful saddle from the imperial collection, and Central Asian weapons.