Aigine Cultural Research Center (CRC) (which means “lucid”, “definite”) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in May 2004 at the initiative of Gulnara Aitpaeva, Doctor of Philology, with the participation of Aida Alymbaeva and Mukaram Toktogulova, Candidate of Philology. Aigine CRC works in the field of traditional knowledge, education and social science. The center conducts spiritual, educational and scientific activities based on external grants and self-financing. These activities are directed at preserving, developing and integrating traditional wisdom with contemporary life.
Aigine CRC aims to incorporate the positive potential of traditional wisdom in decision-making at all levels of public and political life. Aigine CRC has sought to bring people together not on the basis of formal criteria (education or social status), but on the basis of their spiritual experience and knowledge. This principle allows forming new social connections and collaborations. The goal in forging such new linkages and groups is the search for methods of improving life, and for identifying sources for spiritual, economic and social development. However, we do not idealize traditionalism or romanticize it, but rather seek to find within it the potential for improving life for the better.
Aigine CRC contends that it is precisely in the inter-connections and inter-dependencies of the traditional and non-traditional, the material and the immaterial, science and religion, east and west that enormous potential for transformative change is contained. For this reason, fundamental to our organisation’s mission is the development of collaborations between spheres that are typically regarded as oppositional or even mutually exclusive. In order to implement its mission, the center collaborates with international organizations with areas of expertise and interest in cultural and biological diversity, religion, spirituality, folklore and education. Therefore, Aigine CRC conducts its activities based on externally financed grants. Our main donors are The Christensen Fund (USA) and the Open Society Institute (Hungary).
Short summary of Aigine’s activities: Projects associated with sacred sites and traditional or indigenous knowledge Sacred sites as a point of focus for cultural, biological and ethnic diversity (2005-10)
Since 2005 we have been conducting research in Talas oblast’ on sacred sites and a whole complex of inter-related phenomena associated with them: with healing, spiritual knowledge and practices; with rituals, traditional games, and the epic heritage of the Kyrgyz. Materials have been gathered on the capacity of various types of system to regenerate; specifically, on the potential for the local population to adapt to social and environmental changes. Since 2006 in Issyk-Kul region, and since 2009 in Jalalabat region, similar projects have been undertaken on documenting, protecting and developing sacred sites and a whole complex of associated phenomena. All of Aigine’s work in regions is conducted in collaboration with local experts and with the students and teachers of state universities (Talas, Issyk-Kul and Jalalabat). This project is conducted with the financial support of the Christensen Fund (USA).
Biodiversity in the sacred sites of Talas
Seven sacred sites were identified for particularly deep and multi-faceted research on their biodiversity on the basis of fieldwork conducted in 2005-6. This project was initiated by guardians and healers of the respective sites (Busada Mombekova, Jengish Kudakeev) with the aim of receiving “official” confirmation of the uniqueness of the water and plants that are actively used by healers and spiritual pilgrims in their practices. A group of scientists, consisting of botanists, ecologists and zoologists, together with members of Aigine’s working group worked on the project throughout 2006. In three separate seasons (spring, summer and autumn), they organised three expeditions. Samples of water, soil, and tests for radiation were conducted in seven sacred sites, together with photo documentation and examples of the flora and fauna present at the sites. The preliminary results of this research were published in a book called “Pilgrimage in Kyrgyzstan, on the basis of the Talas experience”, which was presented on the Aigine web-site. The project was realised with the support of the Christensen Fund (USA).
The legal protection of sacred sites
One of the priority projects of Aigine in 2009-10 is to develop legal protection for sacred sites. Since 2005, a team from Aigine, together with representatives of local communities and carriers of kyrgyzchylyk, representatives of the local administration and jurists have been in extensive discussion concerning the development of a law on the status and protection of sacred sites in Kyrgyzstan. The necessity of such a law is dictated by the realities of the 21st century: the spiritual sphere and indigenous culture are under serous pressure from various businesses, as well as under pressure from various religions of the book. In Kyrgyzstan that means Islam in the version of the muftiat. The majority of sacred sites in the country are unique in their beauty and the cleanliness of the environment. There is great potential to turn such zones into sites of popular rest and spiritual tourism. In order to develop a law on the protection of sacred places and to protect ancient pilgrimage traditions, Aigine has created a complete database listing the type of ownership in which sacred sites in Talas exist. A thorough analysis of the legal condition of seven sacred sites included such major sites of pilgrimage as Manjyly Ata (Issyk-Kul), Sulaiman Too (Osh) and Manas Ordo (Talas). A central part of such a law, according to the experts and carriers of traditional knowledge, must be the rules regulating behaviour in the sacred sites of Kyrgyzstan, and the elaboration of their cultural and ecological significance. Since the outset, Aigine has been seeking to form a balanced team to develop the law, which would represent the whole range of existing interests and needs.
The web site as an instrument for protecting and developing traditional knowledge
During the five years of Aigine’s work, the organization has accumulated a vast range of field material regarding sacred sites and the traditional knowledge and practices associated with them. An analysis of a portion of such materials is represented in the publications of the centre from 2007-9. In 2009 Aigine began developing a web-site dedicated to sacred sites and traditional knowledge, in Kyrgyz, English and Russian. The goal of this project is to form an electronic archive of data and to make traditional knowledge open and accessible to everyone who might want to use them. Aigine is seeking to make electronically available material that is currently predominantly accessible orally in the Kyrgyz language, and which thus is liable to disappear along with its carriers. The establishment of such a site is informed by the goal of the organization to develop links between the carriers of ancient knowledge. It also meets the strategic tasks of Aigine to activating the potential of indigenous knowledge to solve contemporary problems. The project is realised with the support of the Christensen Fund (USA).
Partner projects: The role of the mass media in the political activity of Kyrgyzstan
This two year project (2005-7) to study the role of the mass media in the political activity of Kyrgyzstan was initiated under the leadership of Dr. Lucy Hribal, a lecturer and research at the Institute of mass communications and media research in the University of Zurich, Switzerland. During this project, research was conducted in all of the oblasts of the country to determine the role of the mass media in informing and forming an audience concerning political and social problems. The focus of the research was the problem of elections and the degree of civic informedness concerning the political situation in the country. Apart from the University of Zurich, the project also involved partners from the faculties of journalism and sociology at the American University – Central Asia. The project was conducted with the support of the programme of scientific collaboration between Eastern Europe and Switzerland (SCOPES).
Women’s NGOs in Kyrgyzstan, international financing and the social organization of gender
This project was conducted in 2007 under the leadership of Dr. Mary Cambell (University of Victoria, Canada). The goal of the project was to determine the degree of influence of international organizations on the life and situation of women in Kyrgyzstan, and to theorise how the idea of gender is understood and functions in the country. The final result of the project should be the establishment of a network of researchers for whom the results of this research will be a stimulus for further research. Apart from the University of Victoria, the other partner in the project is the program is Elena Kim from the Department of Psychology at the American University – Central Asia. The project was conducted with the support of the research council in the social sciences and humanities under the international capacity fund, Canada.
The establishment of anthropology in Central Eurasia
In 2006 Aigine initiated a project for developing cultural anthropology in universities across the post-Soviet space. A three year project was developed with John Schoeberlein, a professor from Harvard University (USA), for the period 2007-10 aimed at university researchers and teachers working in the social sciences and humanities throughout Central Eurasia. The aim of the project is to introduce participants to the theories and approaches of cultural anthropology with the aim of eventually including them in programmes and courses. It also seeks to improve the methods of teaching anthropological courses and the formation of a network of teachers and researchers across the post-Soviet space, united by an interest in anthropology. The participants in the project are 27 teachers and researchers from Universities throughout Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia, Estonia, Denmark and England. The partners in the initiative are the program for the study of Central Asia and the Caucasus at Harvard University (USA) and the American University – Central Asia. The project is supported by the “Regional Seminar for Excellence in Teaching” (ReSET) of the Higher Education Support Program of the Open Society Institute (OSI), Hungary.
The spiritual traditions of the Sart-Kalmyks in northern Kyrgyzstan
In 2008 Aigine completed a multi-dimensional project called “The spiritual tradition of the Kalmyk ethnic minority in the north of Kyrgyzstan”. This consisted of several interconnected elements: study seminars, research, and the building and presentation of results of the research in a film and research articles. In this respect the project resents a kind of compact example of all of Aigine CRC’s activities.The group at the centre of the research were the Sart-Kalmyks, who live in the villages of Tashkyia, Chelpek, Burma-Suu and Borubash in Issyk-Kul oblast’. Field research was directed towards understanding the ethnic identity and ethnic specificity of the Sart-Kalmyks, and likewise on the relationships between this ethnic minority and the majority Kyrgyz population. As a result of the research, a documentary on the life of the Sart-Kalmyks was filmed, which was broadcast on KTR and local television channels. In one of the ancient sacred sites of Akbash-Ata, close to the village of Borubash in Aksuu rayon, a site of pilgrimage for Kyrgyz, Kalmyks and people of other nationalities, we were involved in the construction of a ritual building or zyiaratkana. The local administration of the village of Borubash was our partner in the construction of this building. Representatives of official Islam and the village Imam both took part in the ceremonial opening of the zyiaratkana. The project was realised with the support of the Culture and Arts program of the Open Society Institute (Hungary).
We consider the development of partnership with the Foundation for the Sustainable Development of Altai of critical importance for the strategic development of Aigine. Partnership with Altai is of considerable importance if we consider that the Kyrgyz and Alta languages, cultures and histories have significant similarities. Altai, like Kyrgyzstan, is a post-Soviet republic. At the current time our societies and cultures are experiencing similar influences and have experienced similar influences from life in the open, globalizing world. The experience of our Altai colleagues in working with sacred spaces, the creation of natural parks and the involvement of local societies in protecting the traditional wealth and biodiversity of the region is of enormous importance to us. Within the framework of this project we plan a series of comparative projects on biological and cultural diversity in a range of sacred sites in Kyrgyzstan and Altai. We likewise see the project as enabling the development of bridges between the cultural and spiritual practices of our respective republics. This project is realised with the support of the Christensen Fund (USA).