Contemporary Kyrgyzstan is undergoing dramatic changes in the role of traditional and folk Islamic practices within society and politics. Ideas about Kyrgyz tradition are changing, and through revival and innovation it is gaining more diverse and complex roles in Kyrgyz public life. Important traditional practices relate to the wide variety of sacred sites (mazars) where Kyrgyz make pilgrimages and other ritual visits to seek blessings, healing, and good outcome for personal and collective projects. Certain mazars have become vital sites within the political landscape, serving as unifying symbols by conveying ideas about a shared Kyrgyz history, and as places that invest national rituals with an atmosphere of seriousness and sacredness. This presentation examines the ways people are using important mazars in expressive practices that link to developing the Kyrgyzstani state as well as promoting particular political interests.
Gulnara Aitpaeva (Kandidat nauk, Moscow State University, 1987, Doktor nauk, Kyrgyz National University, 1996) worked from 1996-2005 at the American University of Central Asia, founding the Kyrgyz Ethnology Department there in 1999, and transforming it into the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Archeology in 2002. In 2004, she founded the Aigine Cultural Research Center in Bishkek and has remained as its director, managing many projects investigating the cultural and natural heritage of Kyrgyzstan. She has served 4 years as a board member of the Central Eurasian Studies Society, 3 years as Acting Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature Studies at Kyrgyz National University, and 4 years as country representative to the Intergovernmental Committee on Intangible Heritage of UNESCO. She is now academic adviser in the Literature Department at Kyrgyz-Russian Slavonic University and on the Joint Council for Candidate and Doctoral Dissertations at Kyrgyz State University and the Academy of Sciences of KR. Aitpaeva is the author of more than 50 publications on Kyrgyz literature and epics, sacred sites and cultural heritage, and has edited 14 books and textbooks on sacred sites and traditional knowledge.