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2016 †N5-6(134-135)
Last summer, the city of Dashoguz hosted the international scientific-practical conference titled "Turkmenistan - the Land of Rich Spiritual and Cultural Values." It was held as part of the events marking the declaration of the city the Cultural Capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2016.
The State Music and Drama Theater was the venue of the forum. It was not accidental that the theater was named after a native of those places, Nurmuhammed Garyp, who enjoyed nation-wide fame under the pseudonym of Andalib. This classic of Turkmen poetry of XVIII century is considered the founder of the genre of Destan epic. In his era, Destan was the most popular genre in the oriental literature and folklore. Each destan was written in prose with some parts coming in verses. Destan is a literary adaptation of fairy tales, legends and stories.
However, destans were not read, they were listened to. People listened to destans spellbound. They were performed by Bakhshi - professional storyteller, singer and musician in one person - who in the right moment would play Dutar, a favorite instrument of Turkmens. This tradition is still alive in Turkmenistan. Sounds of dutar could be heard not only during evening village gatherings, in the bosom of friends, at weddings and folk festivals but also on the radio, television and theater stage.
Among many holy places of Dashoguz province that are full of pilgrims at any time, there is also a unique shrine called Ashik Aidyn Pir, near the medieval fort of Diyarbekir-Kala. According to one legend, a saint was buried there, whom Turkmens considered a patron of singers and musicians. Scientists believe not without reason that this image was created under the influence of myths about Gorkut Ata.
It has long been believed that one has to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Ashk Aidyn and spend a night there, playing dutar and singing songs, to acquire a musical talent. If a saint sees a talent in a pilgrim, he will bless him for playing music and singing. In Destan "Nedzhep-Oglan", Ashik Aidyn, while blessing his disciple, gives him a magic dutar. Ashik Aidyn is also one of the characters of the epic "Gerogly." A whole grove grew around his Mazar that turned into a small oasis amidst the great desert around it.
A turn from the highway leading to the Mazar is noted for a modern sculpture depicting a giant dutar and a nightingale sitting on it. There is a statute of Pir himself on the high, round pedestal, in front of the parking place. The sculptor depicted him with his hands lifted in prayer. Despite the fact that the Mausoleum of Ashik Aidyn Pir is located far away from the populated areas, it is always crowded. People usually come in groups by buses and arrange performances by Bakhshi and amateur musical and dance groups.
Dashoguz province is also famous for the fact that several ancient walled cities located in its territory take their names from the most popular romantic Destan "Shasenem and Garyp". In the middle ages, these cities certainly had other names. However, following the Mongol invasion, they were left emptied and their names gradually faded in the collective memory of the generations of people that lived in these places. That is why around the XVII century the majestic ruins of the cities were renamed according to the toponymy of the destan.
The legend of love of a young man, Garyp, for a beautiful girl, Shasenem, was known in Central Asia since the times of Oguz tribes. Later, it became part of the third legend of the epic "Gorkut Ata." Scientists believe that the destan was written on the basis of these legends, and the reference of the events described in it to XVI-XVII centuries occurred in a later period because of their literary editing.
Going from Dashoguz to Sarykamysh lake in the west, one can see the hill called Mangyr. There are the ruins of a vast city with suburbs on top of the hill. This place is known as Mangyr-Kala, but locals also call it Halap, a distorted name of the Syrian city of Haleb (Aleppo) mentioned in Destan "Shasenem and Garyp." Two more medieval cities in Sarykamysh delta of Amu Darya, located not so far from each other, also carry the folk names taken from the same destan. They are Shamakhi and already mentioned Diyarbekir, a namesake of the famous cities located in the Caucasus and Turkey. Finally, the ruins of the large medieval city of Suburn on the southern border of the Dashoguz oasis and the Karakum Desert have long been called Shasenem. This is all evidence of the incredible popularity of Destan! In the XX century, the plot of "Shasenem and Garyp" was used for the opera that enjoyed success on the stages of Turkmenistan's theaters and was reproduced by the Ashgabat Musical Drama Theatre named after Mollanapes in 2010.
The territory of modern Dashoguz province was called Khorezm in the old days. Located in the lower reaches of Amu Darya, Khorezm was a huge oasis surrounded by sand and a steppe. That is why every piece of land was cultivated there. According to the ancient travelers, despite much groundwater in the soil, all the land along the banks of Amu Darya and Sarykamysh delta presented a continuous cultivated strip with villages standing close to each other.
The Seljuk governor of Khorezm, Anushtegin Gurshah, who lived in the XI century, founded a dynasty that after a century transformed this small Oguz-Turkmen state into the mighty empire of the Middle East. Anushtegin's descendants became known as the Great Horezmshahs with the ancient city of Gurgandzh (modern Kunyaurgench) as their capital city.
The Arab geographer, Yaqut al-Hamavi, passing these places with a caravan of camels on the eve of the Mongol invasion, wrote that he "has never seen the land more prosperous than Khorezm." The fields were irrigated through the channels coming from Amu Darya and many ditches that were part of a huge irrigation network on the left bank of the river. All the villages of the oasis had bazaars. There were few that did not have them. The walled cities protected themselves from floods by erecting earth fill dams that were made of the trunks of trees and shrubs. These dams were reinforced annually, and the city inhabitants would spare no effort to rebuild everything that was destroyed by floods. Thanks to trade that flourished on the Great Silk Way, a high culture of urban life with Gurgandzh as its center developed in the fertile and densely populated oasis of the lower reaches of Amu Darya.
Around 650 hectares are occupied by the ruins and monuments of the ancient capital on the southern outskirts and in the center of modern Kunyaurgench that survived by miracle. The entire currently protected area was once surrounded by a strong wall on the left bank of the old bed of Amu Darya. Inside the wall, there were two strongholds, countless neighborhoods with houses, various workshops, caravanserais and mausoleums, mosques with minarets, palaces and royal gardens.
Most of them have long been destroyed. Their foundations are now hidden under a thick cultural layer of the following centuries, and only very few have been excavated by archaeologists. After all the disasters and catastrophes that this once great city experienced there remained only a few completely unique tombs of rulers and saints, a portal of the unknown monumental building and Central Asia's highest minaret.
Once there worked famous philosophers of the East, such as al-Biruni, Muhammad al-Khorezmi, Ibn Sina. It was a major stronghold of resistance against Genghis Khan's armies. Khorezm Turkmens retained not only the rich folklore but also crafts and many features of the traditional way of life. A small museum in Kunyaurgench, located in the building of an old madrassa, clearly testifies to this.
Folk memory keeps alive many legends of antiquity, and the locals still recount enthusiastically the incredible stories in which fairy tales and historical realities intertwine perfectly. One of them says that Horezmshah once decided to present his scientists with a huge and beautiful palace built by his best masters. In this palace of science, forty luminaries taught forty thousand mullahs (scholars). Once, the city was attacked by aliens who destroyed all the buildings, and only the palace of scientists survived.
At dawn, the besieged offered a prayer to God, asking for only one thing - not let the eye of infidels meet with the faces of the saints and their notable scholars. Their prayer was heard. The palace of science turned upside down and went underground. The saints and scholars remained in that dungeon. When the enemies came, they saw loosened soil in place of the palace. They drove together a pitiful remnant of Gurgandzh dwellers and asked them: "There stood a palace yesterday that we had to take by storm. Why did it disappear?" The city dwellers realized that a miracle happened and they answered: "We plowed this soil for crops yesterday. There has never been a palace." The enemies believed them and left the city.
However, the legend says the saints who went underground are still alive. They pray on Fridays, and if one comes to the present hill of Kyrkmolla (forty mullahs) late in the evening, one will be able to hear their voices. According to experts, it is possible that in reality this was the location of the very same famous Mamun Academy that existed in Gurgandzh exactly one thousand years ago, at the beginning of XI century (until 1017), where the renowned scientists of the East once worked.
There mostly remained fortress walls of the many walled cities of ancient Khorezm that once served as the centers of agricultural areas. They demonstrate a rather rare fortification system. For example, in addition to the main walls and towers, there was the advanced second row of walls with its own autonomous chain of bastions. Particular attention was paid to the entry. There evolved the idea of "labyrinth" that can be clearly seen in the fortress of Izmykshir, standing 10 kilometers from the Dashoguz airport, and it can be well-observed from a landing aircraft during the day. The raw walls stand around an irregular-shaped ancient settlement. It has a number of twin towers and two strong door-keeping facilities in the north and the south.
These and many other local ruins attract not only many tourists but also archaeologists. In the middle of the last century, there worked a large-scale archaeological and ethnographic expedition led by Academician Sergei Pavlovich Tolstov. His students continue their work in Ashgabat, Moscow and Tashkent. There were published dozens of volumes of scientific papers devoted to the monuments and traditions of this region. However, there still remains a vast field of work for further exploration.
Dashoguz was declared the cultural capital of the CIS certainly not only for the fact that it is the administrative center of the region with fascinating history and rich culture. The legends are the legends. What makes it more impressive is that the things that the residents of Dashoguz could hardly dream of in the recent past came true. Breaking rapidly away from the provincial obscurity, the city has become quite modern with a well-developed infrastructure. The government is investing heavily in development of not only the capital city but also all the regions of Turkmenistan, where many civil and industrial facilities have been built.
Above all, it refers to residential houses with adjacent social, educational and cultural facilities. Dashoguz is no exception. In just few recent years, there were built and put into operation the Turkmen Agricultural Institute; a plant for production of sterile dressings fitted with the most modern equipment from the leading companies of Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and Turkey; a multi-purpose market with the total area of 50 hectares, shaped as a Gl of the Turkmen carpet that follows the pattern characteristic of the northern region of the country.
Residents of Dashoguz are proud of the new wedding palace "Bagt Kshgi"; the comfortable seven-storey hotel "Dashoguz" with 350 beds; the monumental building of "Ruhiyet" palace with 2800 seats; the new theater named after Andalib; the regional library with the storage capacity up to one million books; the spectacular building of the regional museum and, of course, the mosque for 3 thousand worshipers that was built according to the modern canon with the 40-meter high central dome and four 63-meter high minarets. These and other emblematic facilities have dramatically transformed the silhouette and layout of the city that turned into a symbol of revival of the legendary region.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005