Part of Open Democracy’s “new series on activism, academia and equality in Central Asia,” this piece is by Aizada Arystanbek, “a Central Asian graduate student of gender studies in Europe” (links to the other pieces in the series are included). As she writes, “along with the thrill of being able to study what I am passionate about comes a certain violence of erasure, as I am left constantly searching for my identity in feminist academia.
As I think about Russia’s colonisation of Central Asia and the process of Russification my mother had to undergo in her school in Tselinograd (the former name of the current capital of Kazakhstan), I feel deeply for Latina, black and indigenous women who write about their ancestors being colonised, their land being stolen, and them being perceived as backward simply because they lacked culture in the western conception of the word.
But I am always caught in between these various identities and almost never am I seen for my own very distinguishable one, a Central Asian woman. I have to stitch together my identity in academia by myself, learning little-by-little from other feminist scholars of colour, hoping that I understand their experiences correctly and that their words will represent my struggle accurately when I use them in my essays.”
Central Asia, once part of the Soviet Union and now comprising independent nations, is not particularly well known in the West. In the U.S., academic study of the region has traditionally come out of Slavic departments, where it has only recently begun to garner more attention, although not necessarily about issues of gender and feminism. This series looks to be an important and much-needed step in this direction.
Here’s a fascinating study about the role that the Soviet Union played in the lives of Muslim women from Central Asia. This was filed by Özge Öz Döm, a scholar at Yildirim Beyazit University in Anakara, Turkey. Her thesis is that “even though the Soviet officials had a genuine intention for the emancipation of Central Asian women from the patriarchal structure both in the public and private spheres of life, the policies and their implementation were shaped in accordance with the basic motive of regime survival. In the first years of the Soviet regime, mostly ideological intentions shaped the women’s emancipation project. However, in time, the Soviet officials needed to make more reforms in the political, economic and socio-cultural areas not just for the ideological aims such as emancipation of the women, but also for the survival of the Soviet Union.”
Muslim Women in Central Asia
In fiction, I have seen this conflict reflected most directly in Guzel Yakhina’s novel, Zuleikha, recently translated to English by Lisa Hayden. This history also provides useful context for Akram Aylisli‘s work, in particular his trilogy from the 1960s, People and Trees (I read this book in Russian under the title Люди и деревья).
The researcher makes a point in this paper that seems relevant for Punctured Lines: “The studies about women in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras are mostly concerned with the European parts of the Soviet Union, and neglect the Muslim women under Soviet rule. Therefore, the first problem related to the literature regarding Central Asian women is that there are insufficient numbers of studies regarding this area; and the second problem is that the Western scholars studying this subject sometimes fail to understand the meaning of Islamic based customs and traditions to Central Asian women as well as men. So, this study also attempts to make a contribution to gender studies literature regarding Central Asian women “