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2024  N1-2(227-228)
There is one museum among modern museums of Turkmenistan that is different from the others. There is no other such museum in the world. This is the Magtymguly Fraghi Museum located in a small town that was once called Garrygala (Old Fortress in Turkmen). Over time, this toponym changed into Kara-Kala (Black Fortress), and in 2005, the name of town on the Sumbar River was changed to Magtymguly in honour of the great classic poet of the Turkmen literature of the 18th century who was born and lived in this area. His three hundredth birth anniversary is in the UNESCO list of memorable dates, and his poetic legacy is listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
One needs to drive through the mountain pass of the Kopet Dag ridge to get to Magtymguly that was granted the city status in 2016. The modern highway runs along the so-called “lunar mountains”. These are not rocks but high clayey sandstone hills with fancy shapes, greenish grey in colour, devoid of any vegetation, covered with a continuous web of cracks. In the time of heavy rainfall, tiny streams quickly flow down from these hills, expanding old grooves and forming new ones. It is the flow of rainwater that creates these craquelure cracks. When they get dry, they create an extraordinary landscape.
And then, the blooming Sumbar Valley opens up. It stretches like a green sleeve between Mount Khasardag and the Monjukli ridge. This is an oasis of subtropical gardening, the warmest in Turkmenistan. Its microclimate is softened by the influence of the southern, warmest and deepest part of the Caspian Sea, and the Kopet Dag protects this corner of nature from the northern cold winds.
The Sumbar River is one of the tributaries of the more full-flowing Etrek River, which used to flow into the Caspian Sea. And Magtymguly lived somewhere in these places. He was born in the village of Hadzhigovshan on Etrek, at that time populated by Turkmens of the Gerkez clan of the Geklen tribe. He was named after his grandfather, whose name was Magtymguly Yenachi. This nickname says that he was a master in making sweatshirts for horses. The poet’s father, Dovletmamed Azadi, was a famous writer and a religious philosopher. Fraghi spent his childhood and youth in the Etrek Valley, where as a child he tended his fellow villagers’ livestock, and then mastered the craft of jeweller and spent his entire life earning his living as a silversmith.
On the bank of the Sumbar River, now very shallow, there is the modern village of Gerkez, whose name serves as a reminder that these places are populated by the descendants of the Gerkez. It was there that the first Magtymguly Museum was opened in 1983. A small but elegant building is a gift from the builders of the Gyzylarbat-Gerkez highway. It is now a branch of a large museum in the city of Magtymguly, but its modest collection is worth seeing.
It was put together with the collective support of local residents and largely thanks to the enthusiasm of an expert on Magtymguly’s work, a graduate of the Leningrad State University, historian Ashirmurad Khasmamedov. These are mainly items from the old life of the Turkmens, books by Magtymguly and writings about him published in different years and rare manuscripts. But there are two exhibits that still excite admirers of the poet’s talent.
Firstly, this is the so-called Mengli ring. The name of the poet’s beloved, whom he was never able to marry, is engraved in Arabic script on the eye-shaped shield. The ring is made of a rare alloy of alloyed bronze mixed with gold and silver. This is the only decoration whose authorship is unconditionally attributed to Magtymguly the jeweller.
The second exhibit is a Chinese porcelain teapot with an image of a dragon and a snake. The handle of the teapot is shaped like a tail, and the beak is made in the form of an open mouth of a dragon. According to legend, the poet brought this teapot for his beloved sister Zubeida from India, but this is most likely just a beautiful legend.
The new Magtymguly Fraghi Museum was inaugurated on 17 October 2015. It is now the most beautiful building in the whole city, dressed in white marble, with a grand portico on the main facade and a wide staircase leading to it. On the square in front of the building, there is a monument to Magtymguly Fraghi rising on a granite pedestal. His full-length bronze figure is slightly tilted forward. He seems to be walking with a scroll of poetry in his hand against the wind, overcoming the ills of life.
The monument is installed on a ramp in the shape of the eight-pointed star of Oguzkhan. The pedestal is decorated with five carpet medallions of different tribes, symbolizing the poet’s dream of unity of the Turkmen people. There is a sculptural composition installed in the square to the right of the monument, depicting Magtymguly’s younger contemporaries and worthy successors of his literary tradition. They are poet-warrior Kurbanali Magrupi, sitting next to his horse, satirist Mamedveli Kemine and lyricist Mollanepes.
One should start viewing the collections of this museum from its Main Hall, where the world of Magtymguly is shown as far as possible in the museum space. It features ancient manuscripts and lithographic publications of the 19th – early 20th centuries in a rather intimate, almost homely atmosphere, as well as the poet’s poetry collections, including their translations, and books about him published over the past decades in many languages of the world.
The showcases display the authentic bronze inkwells of the 18th century called “syadan”, lamps – “chiradan”, wooden stands for writing and a reed pen – “kalam”. By the way, this is an important detail for the unlucky painters who depict Magtymguly and other heroes of Turkmen history with a quill pen in their hand. They do not realize that in those days the writing instrument of the peoples of Asia, unlike the peoples of Europe and Russia, was “kalam”, not a quill pen.
For ease of reading, they used “laukh” – a wooden music stand, usually decorated with elaborate carvings. Several examples of such “laukh” with rare manuscripts and leather-bound books are also on display. There are paper scrolls hanging on the walls, presenting some of Magtymguly’s poems written by skilled calligraphers in Arabic script in the Turkmen language.
There is a small and cozy Nature Hall located nearby on the ground floor of the museum. It quite fully presents the world of animals and plants of the South-Western Kopet Dag and, in particular, the Sumbar Valley. The dioramas perfectly recreate the natural atmosphere of the mountains.
The legendary Mandrake, called “selmelek” in Turkmen, is shown in all its glory on a low podium. In 1938, Olga Mizgireva, a young botanist and laboratory assistant at the local experimental station of the All-Union Institute of Plant Growing, discovered this rare and mysterious plant for science. In the past, folk healers called “tebib” used its roots to make amulets, healing decoctions from its leaves, and also used them as an anesthetic and hypnotic. Russian archaeologist Igor Khlopin, who conducted excavations of ancient settlements in these places, argued that the ritual drink “haoma”, mentioned in the Avesta, the sacred scripture of the Zoroastrians, is nothing more than a decoction of Mandrake fruits. The discovery of the Turkmen Mandrake became a scientific sensation. Many years have passed since then, and the miracle plant now grows in almost every yard in the city of Magtymguly.
Nearby stand the samples of the rich and diverse flora of the Syunt-Khasardag Nature Reserve located in this area of the Kopet Dag. Trees are represented primarily by maple-kerkav, juniper, plane tree, pistachio, local species of walnut and endemic Turkmen pear. Flowers are represented by the amazing bulbous plant Sternbergia, monkey orchis, and the orchid of extraordinary beauty, Ophrys Transcaspian. All of them are included in the Red Book of Turkmenistan.
Another showcase presents various fossils, amazing sculptural creations of nature, such as spiral-shaped ammonites and spherical nodules that can be found in this region as a reminder of its prehistoric past. A large photograph shows a rare paleontological object located at the foot of the Gyavurli ridge. This is a block of stone, over six meters long, which once broke off from the mountain. On the flat surface of the stone, there are imprinted traces of a previously unknown species of camel that lived more than 2.5 million years ago that now received the Latin name of Camelipeda turcomanica Vialov. There are a lot of such fossilized traces and bones of various ancient animals in this region.
The Archaeology Hall begins with a modern map of Turkmenistan, which marks the most famous monuments of the past located in the territory of Balkan province. It displays the finds from the Parkhai-Depe necropolis on the outskirts of the city of Magtymguly and from other Sumbar burial grounds of the Bronze Age that were discovered during a multi-year expedition led by Igor Khlopin. First of all, these are grey black ceramic dishes with elongated beak-shaped spouts, small terracotta figurines, and a stone cauldron carved from a single fire-resistant soapstone. One cannot overlook a spherical glass vessel with a diameter of 22 centimetres. Very few such large and completely intact samples of medieval glassmaking have survived in the world.
And finally, there is the Ethnographic Hall in the museum exhibition. The dioramas visually present what the work of local farmers and artisans was like in the old days. In the center of the hall, there is a real yurt with a full set of decorations and carpet bags for storing clothes and numerous rural household items hanging on the walls. Everything breathes history in the museum, reminding us of the material environment in which the great Magtymguly Fraghi lived and worked.

Allanazar SOPIEV

©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005