The old dilemma of should we or shouldn't we give children small things such as pens and pencils was resolved by everyone in our group contributing to a parcel of school materials to be given to a local school when we reached Bukhara, the city where our Uzbek travel agent had their office. We were delighted when she told us the school had invited us to visit them, and intrigued when we learnt it was the junior section of the Jewish school we were to see.
The school is situated right in the heart of Bukhara's historic old city, just around the corner from the Synagogue and not 100 metres from the ancient mulberry tree-ringed pool of the Lyabi-i-Hauz. The senior school is in a seperate building nearby.
Until Independence the school was solely a religious institution but became a secular school in 1994. It was certified by the Uzbekistan school system in 2000 and is now officially known as School 36. Although only about 50 families of Bukhara's once considerable Jewish community remain in the city, the school has an enrolment of some 160 children aged from 5-16. Not all the pupils are Jewish however. A resurgence in the desire for their children to learn Russian among some non-Jewish parents has seen some opting to send their children here as most lessons are conducted in that language. Attendance is free of charge with support coming from Israel and the Joint Distribution Fund. All the children learn Hebrew from an early age and Jewish history is also included in the curriculum. English lessons start with the move to secondary school. A huge sign in Uzbek, Hebrew, Russian and English on the wall leading in from the street door proclaimed "Good Luck to the Knowledge World" and the Uzbek and Israeli flags hung together in the courtyard.
We visited a class of 10-11 year olds having their daily Hebrew lesson, were greeted in English by one bright lad, listened as they sang to us in Russian and in Hebrew and then were invited to look at their workbooks. The school's director arrived from the senior school where she had been taking a maths lesson and we spent some time in conversation with her - with three teachers, a school science technician and an historian in our group there were plenty of questions! Unfortunately, our bus was waiting to take us on the next leg of our journey and we couldn't accept her invitation to visit the senior school.
Fondest memory: Searching around on the Internet for references to the school, I found a few pieces, the most recent dating from 2004. The picture they paint of the school is rather different from what we found. A few years ago the school seemed a rather sad place, shabby and run down, with little hope of a future. I can't say that's what we found. It may not stack up to much compared with Western schools but the classroom was bright and clean with basic supplies, the teacher young (her 3 year-old was sitting in on the class), the children were lovely and the Director quite dynamic. Having an opportunity to visit was a really great, something we all enjoyed and we came away feeling we had received every bit as much of a gift as those we had taken with us.
Looking at these marvellous photos, you could be excused for thinking they are modern day set-ups, people dressed and posed in vintage dress and settings. They're not - they are in fact entirely authentic, even to the colour. They were taken by Tsar Nicholas II's photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskill in the years just before the start of WWI. Prokudin-Gorskill was also a chemist who understood how colours worked together. He achieved these beautiful images by taking first a black and white image and then three photos in rapid succession, using red, blue and green filters. He then used a light projector with the same three filters to show the photos. The projector he used no longer exists, but modern digital technology has enabled the reproduction of his photos and you can see some of them displayed in one of the museums in Bukhara's Ark.
Fondest memory: Photo 1 shows a melon seller in the bazaar. Today's melon sellers still tie their melons in exactly the same raffia slings. The melons of Uzbekistan were famously considered the best and sweetest to be had anywhere. They were packed into ice in special brass containers and sent by caravan as far afield as the courts of Baghdad, Isfahan and, once the railway arrived, Moscow and St Petersburg.
Photo 2 - a textile seller in the bazaar in Samarkand. It's possible he's wearing his chapan inside out - floral fabrics were often used for the lining. The outer fabric was more likely to be adras - a cotton and silk mix, often dyed with ikat patterns.
Photo 3 - A group of Bukharan Jewish boys with their teacher in the courtyard of the synagogue. The teacher wears the proscribed black and Jew's hat, the boys were not required to do so until they were older.
Photo 4 - an official of the Emir's court, photographed outside the Summer Palace. His chapan is made from ikat dyed adras (cotton and silk) . He's not wearing the chapen of a taller man - the long sleeves were customary. We can see from the photo how the facade of the palace, now all white, was originally brightly painted.
Photo 5 - the sacred well at the shrine of the sufi, Bahauddin Naqshband , Bukara's holiest place. A photo in the tip about the complex (see Off the Beaten Path) shows the well as it is today restored and brightly coloured.
When colonel Charled Stoddart rode into Bukhara one week before Christmas 1838 on a mission to reassure the emir over the British movements on his southern border, little did he knew that he was to be kept in the foulest pit in Asia for over3 years, tortured and tormented by a sadistic, paranoid madman, finally to be publicly beheaded in the central market square of the holy city, abandoned by the very country which had sent him there.
Things had not gone well from the very start. Totally unsuited for the tasks ahead and unschooled in the essential subtleties of Eastern diplomacy, Stoddart rode up to the Ark when he should have dismounted, floored an attendant instead of offering the customary sign of submission and was equipped with neither gifts nor letters from the Queen. Earlier that day he had saluted the emir on horseback in the Registan and the offended emit has not responded, except to glare demonically at Stoddart for just a moment too long for the Englishman’s good. Now his response was more emphatic. Stoddart was thrown into a six metre deep vermin infested hole, salubriously named the Bug Pit, a victim of his own ignorance and arrogance.
For the next 3 years the sadistic emir played with Stoddart like a cat with a mouse. His treatment yo-yoed with the rise and fall of the British Empire. He was eventually moved from the Bug Pit into the marginally less revolting Black Hole. When the British took Kabul in 1839 he even lived for a time in the house of the Chief of Police. In the meantime the vermin were fed raw offal to tide them over until Stoddart’s return. Only once, when the executioner climbed down a rope into the pit with orders to execute him on the spot, did Stoddart’s nerve understandably crack – he became Muslim and was rewarded with house arrest.
Then in September 1840, a would-be saviour rode into town in the shape of Captain Arthur Connolly, of the sixth Bengal Tiger Cavalry. A quintessential Great Game player, Connolly had even invented the phrase. His mission impossible – to unite the perpetually warring khanates of Central Asia against Russia and to open up the Oxus to the dual benefits of God and British-made goods. Yet other factors motivated this complex one-man rescue mission – his zealotry hardened on a long sea passage to India with the Bishop of Calcutta, and his heart broken by a jilting lover, Connolly had nothing to lose.Within weeks however, events had conspired against the two men and both were back in jail, their fate finally sealed by an unsolicited letter from the treacherous vizier of Heart, describing Connolly as a spy, and a second missive from the Governor General of India, disowning him coldly as a “private traveller”. The long-awaited reply to the emir’s personal letter to Queen Victoria never even arrived. The emir’s most paranoid suspicions were confirmed. When reports came of the British defeat in Kabul and their subsequent massacre in the Khyber Pass, the emir knew he had no retribution to fear.
Fondest memory: On 24 June 1842, the 2 men limped into a packed Registan, dug their own graves and knelt silently before them, their arms tied behind their backs. Eyewitness accounts state the Stoddart was the first to be beheaded and that Connnolly was soon to follow, though some say that as an infidel until his death, he would have suffered a different fate than his converted compatriot. Their bodies were buried where they fell, forgotten and abandoned.
But not quite. Three years later the eccentric Bavarian clergymen Joseph Wolff arrived in Bukhara direct from Richmond, Surrey, his journey funded by a Connolly & Stoddart Society ship-round. Armed with little more than three dozen copies of Robinson Crusoe in Arabic and an array of cheap watches, Wolf had come to reason with the most brutal and unpredictable ruler in Asia. He had, at least, learned from Stoddart’s mistakes. Dressed in full red canonicals, he prostrated himself before the emir, crying “Allah Akhbar” a ful 30 times instead of the proscribed three. For Wolff may not have been prepared to become a Muslim, but he was prepared to go to considerable lengths to avoid being thrown into the Bug Pit.
In the end the brave eccentric’s demands were refused and he was soon sent packing as the band played God save the Queen over the emir’s hysterical laughter. Later in his bedchamber, he was forced to fight off the advances of an unveiled beauty sent to tempt him in the night. As he slept he clasped a package of opium to numb the potential pain of sudden execution. Eventually however, Wolff was freed to leave Bukhara, his life saved by his own ludicrousness, and the last page was turned on the Connolly and Stoddart legend.
But not quite, twenty years later, Connolly’s prayer book arrived through the post at his sister’s house in London. The verses which had given him such relief in his darkest hours had become his final testament, the last of his diary entries ending abruptly in the mid-…….
Nasrullah has attained notoriety in the West as the ultimate bogeyman of Bukhara. Described by Connolly as mad and affectionately referred to by his subjects as “The Butcher ”, Nasrullah’s official title was the only marginally less-spine tingling – “The Shadow of God Upon Earth”. as an ambitious young man, he initiated a bloody scramble for succession, ordering 28 of his close relatives murdered in cold blood and 3 younger brothers beheaded on the banks of the Oxus. When, 20 years later, in a moment of blind rage, he reputedly cut his closest adviser in half with an axe, it seemed that middle-age had failed to mellow the emir. Not even on his deathbed did the monster relent, only content to pass away after he had witnessed the bloody executions of his wife and 3 daughters in front of his fading eyes, in order it seems to ensure their continued chastity in his absence.
Nasrullah had little to fear. A series of campaigns had secured his eastern borders with Afghanistan and the triangular balance of power between Bukhara, Kokand and Khiva had finally shifted his way with the capture of Merv and Kokand and the death of its Khan, Mohammmed Ali. Bukhara was in its ascendancy and in Nasrullah’s world he reigned as king og kings, a vanity which Russian and British one-upmanship only served to confirm. A shadowy Azeri adviser fanned the flames of Nasrulahh’s paranoia, but Russian diplomats tickled the haughty emir behind the ear so seductively that he paid scant attention to the distant sound of Russian cannon fire echoing form the far east of the Syr Daria.
Fondest memory: Paranoia also spread also to dining habits it seems = water was brought in from outside the Ark in skins guarded by armed officers, tasted twice and only then released and despatched to the emir. Food was likewise tasted by the kosh begi and the officers and, after more than one hour of close scrutiny, placed in a sealed box to which only the prime minister and the emir himself had keys. And despatched to the emir
legendary satirical sufi figure who lived during the Middle Ages (around 13th century), in Akºehir, and later in Konya, under the Seljuq rule. Many nations of the Near, Middle East and Central Asia claim the Nasreddin as their own (i.e. Afghans, Iranians, Turks, and Uzbeks). His name is spelled differently in various cultures and is often preceded or followed by titles "Hodja", "Mullah", or "Effendi". Nasreddin was a populist philosopher and wise man, remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes
Much of Nasreddin's actions can be described as illogical yet logical, rational yet irrational, bizarre yet normal, foolish yet sharp, and simple yet profound. What adds even further to his uniqueness is the way he gets across his messages in unconventional yet very effective methods in a profound simplicity
Fondest memory: The Nasreddin stories are known throughout the Middle East and have touched cultures around the world. Superficially, most of the Nasreddin stories may be told as jokes or humorous anecdotes. They are told and retold endlessly in the teahouses and caravanserais of Asia and can be heard in homes and on the radio. But it is inherent in a Nasreddin story that it may be understood at many levels. There is the joke, followed by a moral – and usually the little extra which brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to realization
Children saw Hodja coming from the vineyard with 2 basketfuls of grapes on his donkey, gathered around him and asked him to give them some. Hodja picked up a bunch of grapes, cut it up into pieces and gave each child a piece.
"You have so much, but you gave us so little," the children complained.
"There is no difference whether you have a basketful or a small piece. They all taste the same.", Hodja remarked
During the first few years of the republic the Soviets followed Lenin’s blueprint policy of encouraging local revolution under the aegis of a local national bourgeoisie, in an attempt to win over the local Muslim population.
2 weeks after the fall of Bukhara the ranks of the Communist Party swelled to over 14.000 as the local inhabitants rushed to pledge allegiance to the city’s new emir. As the Soviet state grew in stability so its confidence in Bukhara grew. By 1922 a series of purges stripped the number to just over 1000 and on 10 February 1924 the Bukharan Republic, seized by a moment of revolutionary martyrdom, voted itself out of existence. Uzbekistan was born.
In Bukhara the Soviet transformation took a passive form. Conjuring up class consciousness in a city of merchants and mullahs was not easy and women formed a surrogate proletariat. The Soviets decided against a radical overhaul of Bukhara, preferring to ignore it and wait for it to fall apart. The town was sanitized and secularized. Bukhara the Holy became Bukhara the Noble. Canals were drsined, mosques converted to working men’s clubs or local offices and occasional Western visitors decried the soft and heavy oppression of a city and a life disintegrating. In 1959 the last veil in Central Asia weas burned in a public ceremony, fittingly in Bukhara’s Registan. Revolution by attrition continued in Bukhara for over 70 years, but it never managed to capture the city’s soul. Today old town shrines are dusted off anew and a pantheon of local saints and holy men stir from their slumber. The hibernations is over.
Bukhara’s sandcastle finally crumbled in the rising tight of the tsarist military might. With its forces routed at the battle of Zerabulak near Katta Kurgan by Kaufmann’s more professional troops, Bukhara lost control over the Zerafshan and the water supply that kept the city alive, in 1868, in the emirate’s second city of Karshi, the emir signed the document that ceded Samarkand, Dzhizak and Katta Kurgan to the territory of Russian Turkestan, allowed Russians free trading concessions in the city and finally acknowledged Bukhara as a Russian protectorate. It received in return the rebellious city of Shakhrisabsz and some of the territory of the khanate of Khiva.
For the next 40 years, Russia gradually subsumed the surrounding lands as an army of antibodies envelops a malignant cell. In 1886 a decree was signed outlawing slavery in the emirate and 2 years later the Trans-Caucasian railway finally connected the Russian cantonment of Kagan with the large scale Russiann trade and military centre that already existed in Tashkent.
But Bukhara was never formally incorporated into the Russian empire and the emir still held the power of life and death inside the city. Echoes of distant revolution eventually permeated the closed city walls.. a medley of idea ranging form Islamic Jihad reformism and Istanbul inspired pan-Turkism to Bolshevik-supported communism fermented in the desert heat. Finally they found voice and shape in the Young Bukharans, who began a series of reforms including a public printing press.
In March 1918 the Bolshevik governor of Tashkent arrived outside the city gates and demanded the city be handed over to the Young Bukharans, the emir played for time, local mullahs called for jihad against the infidel invaders and reinforcements were rushed in. local Bukharans might have been excused a questionable loyalty to their vicious emir but, following a theme that ran through the entire Soviet period, they preferred to follow their own Islamic tyrant rather than a godless foreign invader. The Bolshevik delegation inside the city was massacred to a man and several hundred Russian residents of Bukhara were later executed. The Bolshevik reinforcements turned tail (a retreat variously attributed to a lack of ammunition or divine intervention) and limped back to Tashkent, forced to relay the pieces of track they had just passed over in front of them – their western technology mutilated by holy guerrillas. Bukhara had secured a 2 year reprieve from the Bolshevik advance and remained a closed oasis of a past era, stirred by dangerous cocktail of White Russian exiles, young revolutionaries and an increasingly desperate emir.
Fondest memory: During the next 2 years, the Bolsheviks sent a total of 15 spies to Bukhara to investigate the rumoured existence of British Army advisers. One by one they were caught by the emir’s network of informers, tortured and strangled. The 16th was Fred Bailey, a British spy who had somehow managed to get himself hired by the Bolshevik secter police, and then issued with instructions to hunt himself down. This master of double deals and disguises entered Bukhara in 1919 with a visa and 2 letters of introduction hidden in the back of his watch and a box of matches. In his breat pocket was the developer needed to decipher the invisible ink. Bailey had initially planned to stay to Bukhara and set up a British listening post to complement the one in Kashgar. But after one month he crept out of the city at dawn disguised as a Turkmen nomad. It was a good piece of timing – nine months later, on 2 September 1920, Soviet troops arrived at the city gates, this time under the command of General Mikhail Frunze.
After 4 days of bitter fighting, the Ark was largely destroyed, a mass revolutionary meeting was held in the Registan and the red flag was raised from the Kalon Minaret. The Emir Alim Khan had fled his summer palace for Afghanistan, desperately dropping his favourite dancing boys one by one in a vain effort to slow down the Red Army in hot pursuit.
On 6 September 1920 the first people’s congress was convened in the courtyard of the Sitorai Makhi Khosa and the People’s Republic of Bukhara was proclaimed.
The 18th century thrust Bukhara into the world political limelight after centuries of obscurity. As Anglo-Russian rivalries, mutual suspicions and ignorance grew more marked, series of disguised pilgrims, traders, clergymen and tourists crept, rode and stumbled into Bukhara’s palaces and caravanserais to find out just what was going on in this suddenly crucial desert oasis, half way towards the ends of the earth. Keeping a close eye on which had the upper hand, the emirate played the British and the Russians off each other.
In 1825 Wiliam Moorcroft arrived in Bukhara in an attempt to open up the city to trade and pre-empt Russian influence, meeting with “as much kindness form the emir as could be expected form a selfish, narrow-minded bigot”. Nasrullah, the Bukharan emir of the time, is bewlieved to have been one of the most violently deranged rulers the East has ever seen. Yet, whatever his character and irrespective of his sadism, there was little that he could do to prevent the unfolding events.
The Central Asian khanates were exhausted form an endless cycle of squabbling, war and retribution and stood as divided as they would soon fall.
In 1500 the Uzbek clan leader Mohammed Shaybani Khan entered Bukhara and murdered its ruler Ali, thus squabbling Timurid line with his Uzbek dynasty. The Timurids rallied briefly under the return of Babur to Bukhara in 1511, but on 12 December 1512 Babur and his shia Persian allies were routed in the pivotal battle of Gijduvan and the Timurid leader fled Transoxiana forever.
The Uzbeks were undisputed champions of Transoxiana and Bukhara was its capital again, with the Oxus a fragile border with the Shi’ite Safavid Persia. Abdullah Khan reunited the Uzbeks clans with a reign of ruthless public order that ended decades of anarchy. Abdullah’s reign prepared t he ground for Bukhara’s second golden age and his name grew to near-legendary proportions. Craftsmen abducted from conquered Heart fuelled a flowering of decorative and miniature art. The city began to take its present shape under a programme of religious and secular construction, spurred on by a rising trade with Russia. The clergy and the Khan’s spiritual advisers grew in power, while Bukhara swelled to boast 150 madrassahs and 200 district mosques.
Fondest memory: In 1558 Anthony Jenkinson, the first Englishmen to stagger into Central Asia, spent 2 and a half months in Bukhara in search of new markets and a route to Cathay. His journey was unsuccessful, but he managed to teach Abdullah how to shoot a gun, a kindness the khan repaid by absconding to Samarkand owing Jenkinson money for 19 bolts of cloth – the only merchandise he managed to sell during his stay.
After Russia annexed Astrakhan in 1552, the Mongol leader Yar Mohammed and his son Jan fled to Bukhara to found a new Uzbek family dynasty, the Janids, who ruled for the next 150 years. As overland continental trade routes withered, and wars with Shi’ite Persia intensified Sunni Bukhara’s religious isolation, the khanate sank into obscure barbarism, economic stagnation and religious fanaticism. There were brief recoveries under Imam Kuli Khan and Abdul Aziz Khan, but even a change of dynasty to the Mangit in 1785 could do nothing to halt Bukhara’s decline from an international to a regional player.
In March 1220 the Mongol tide of calamity was spotted outside Bukhara’s gates, its troops more numerous than the locusts, each detachment like a billowing sea. 30.000 defensive troops sped to meet them and were slaughtered to a man. Genghis Khan rode to the Namazgokh mosque and proclaimed himself the Scourge of God; the citadel was taken, the city put to the torch and razed to a level plain. No man was spared who stood higher than the butt of a whip. Soon cartloads of booty and trains of slaves were seen sneaking away from the charred remains of the holy town, to be employed as human shields in the forthcoming assault on Samarkand. A refugee who finally managed to escape to Khorasan said of the massacre “they came, they sapped, they burnt, they slew, they plundered and they departed”.
Years later the Khan’s grandson Hulaku again arrived at the city gates intent on plunder. He was met by a young boy, a camel and a goat. When he demanded to know why the city’s envoy was a mere baby, the boy replied “If you want someone larger, then talk to the goat. If you desire reason then talk to me”. Hulaku listened to the boy and the city was saved.
Bukhara took a century to recover from the trauma, at which point it was taken, destroyed and depopulated by the Persian Khan Abaqa II. By 1366 ibn-Battuta recorded that “all but a few of its mosques, academies and bazaars are lying in ruins”. The once holy city had a “reputation for fanaticism, falsehood and denial of the truth”. The town glimmered again under the Timurids, but was never more than a faint shadow of Tamerlane’s capital at Samarkand.
By the late 9th century internal dissent in the hearth of the Ummayad Arab empire had translated into a weakening of power on its fringes. The local Iranian governors broke with the caliphate and, after a fratricidal struggle between Bukhara and Samarkand, Ismael ibn Ahmed founded the Samanid dynasty and ushered in a golden age whose commercial and cultural vitality soon attracted the finest intellectuals of the time. Ismael and his dynasty ruled as ideal Muslim rulers, offering patronage to the most talented men of letter in the land. Ibn-Sina, al-Beruni, the historian Narshaki and poet Rudaki all served to turn Bukhara into the centre of a Persian renaissance and of Islamic science. Persian poetry fused with court Arabic as Bukhara’s library expanded to become the most famous in the Islamic world. Irrigation networks were expanded and rapid urbanisation swelled the population to over 300.000, larger indeed that the soviet city.
By the 11th century the urban Persian yielded to the nomadic Turkmen. In 999 the Samanids fell to the Karakhanids, the Karakhitai in 1141 and the Khorezm shah in 1206. The Chashma Ayub, Kalon minaret and Namazgokh mosque were all added to the city, but in general it was a period of decline and uncertainty.
After the fall of Merv (641) and Paikend (672), Bukhara managed to keep the Arab fighting machine at bay with an annual tribute. Relations grew strained when 80 Bukharan hostages were abducted to Medina, only to rebel en route and commit mass suicide. But Bukhara was left largely unmolested until the fire-worshipping city was taken by Qutaiba in 709 in the first leg of his jihad against the lands beyond the Oxus. Three times the city was taken and three times the city rebelled, but ruling Queen Lhatum finally fled the city leaving behind a slipper worth 200.000 dirhem, and then the city was finally taken.
The Arabs were assiduous in the Islamification of the town. Whole districts of the city’s population were evicted to make room for Arab troops and an Arab soldier was posted in every household. Non-Arabs were conscripted into the ruling elite and Qutaiba offered 2 dirhem as an incentive to attend the makeshift Friday mosque. Islam flourished, grafted on existing beliefs.
Revolts persisted whenever the Arabs turned their backs and terrible punitive campaigns were regularly unleashed, but the roots of Islam took hold and the essence of the city was transformed.
Persian prince Siyavush who built a citadel here shortly after marrying the daughter of Afrosiab in Samarkand, is the traditional founder of Bukhara, but its growth has for centuries depended largely upon its strategic location on the crossroads to Merv, Gurganj, Heart, Kabul and Samarkand.
The early town was taken by the Persian Achaemenids in the 6th century B.C., by Alexander the Great in 329 B.C. and by the empires of the Hephalite and the Kushan. In Sogdian times the town was known as Numijent and later renamed after the Sanskrit word for monastery, vikhara.
In ancient times Bukhara was full of fountains and ponds, which brought a nice and cool climate into the city specially during the hot summer months. Many birds and specially storks lived in the city. Every tower was occupied by their nests. The fountains were also the places where the women met, when fetching water or washing their clothes. But open water also brought many severe diseases to Bukhara like Malaria, Typhus, Cholera and more. During the 1960s and 1970s the ponds and fountains were no longer supplied with water to dry them out. The storks have now completely vanished. On my Samarkand page I am going to tell you, where they found a new living.
Now the old water supplies and the ponds are reconstructed to bring the water back to Bukharas public places.
I found it quite difficult to do the research about Bukhara and all the fine buildings because of the many differently written names of those buildings. The difficulties start already with the name of the city: In Germany we say Buchara, in English it is Bukhara or in older books Bokhara. In Uzbekistan it is called Buxoro.
The wonderful Labi-Haus-complex. In German Language "Haus" means "house", which is quite irritating as the Labi-Haus-complex is no house at all but a complex of Mosques and Medreses. Other spellings are: Lab-e Haus-Complex, Lyab-i Hauz, Lyabi Khauz, Laby-khauz and so on. I am completely confused. What can I do? I decided to use mainly the spelling, that is also used in Wikipedia (english version): Lyab-i Hauz, even though I have to memorize it very hard to not forget this spelling.