If there is a better three word description of the history of humans on the planet I don’t know what it is.
“Them”, at least for American history since WW II, would be the Russians. Sometimes I oddly pine for the anti-red 50’s senator Joe McCarthy while observing the strange relationship between Presidents Putin and Trump.
I had most of my assumptions challenged concerning our neighbors west of Alaska when I traveled last spring to visit our former Fraser Town Intern Assistant Manager Bektur Sakiev in his home country of Kyrgyzstan. I also visited the neighboring central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This region was a part of the USSR until it’s dissolution in 1991.
I was honored to stay with Bektur’s family in the capital city of Bishkek. His mother Bodosh Mamyrova has served as her country’s Vice Speaker in Parliament and his father, Kadyrbek Sakiev was the head of the nation’s Geology Institute – helping (among many other efforts) shepherd projects like the under-glacier Canadian gold mine which officially provides 6% of the national taxed income stream. According to unofficial accounts the mine may contribute up to half of the nation’s income.
The promise of this region continues to blossom after its storied history was launched at the end of the first millennium when it was at the crossroads of the civilized world where three advanced civilizations (Middle Eastern, Chinese and European) met on the Silk Road. Resource and culturally rich and geographically important -the region is poised again for what will be an exciting future.
China and Russia continue to vie for influence over a region which shares an increasing disillusionment with the U.S. . Russia is the most common language in the region. Roads, electricity – the infrastructure of a modern society, arrived during WW II as a herculean effort moved the USSR’s infrastructure out of range of the advancing Nazi juggernaut. Civilization came roaring back to the Stan’s after a nearly thousand year hiatus in the person of Mother Russia.
I found a stark illustration of how quickly these countries had changed during a somber review of a few of the thousands of names of those killed defending the Soviet Union during WWII at a memorial in Uzbekistan. The estimated 1.5 million dead in the Stan’s as a result of the war are memorialized all over this region. Troops from Kyrgyzstan are credited with a key role in the defense of Moscow, an effort which helped ensure the defeat of Germany.
I noticed the date of death was missing from many names listed on the outdoor brass pages mounted in many books, testimony to the scale and rapidity of the carnage. I then noticed how many men were missing birth years – a stark indication of the pastoral nature of Uzbek society remaining up until the middle of the 20th century.
Bektur tells me his nation just elected another pro-Putin president, not a cause for concern he said but rather a recognition of their nation’s continued dependence on the Russian state. Much of the region has suffered since dissolution of the USSR, and continues to do so when we ratchet up sanctions.
I do not have the knowledge needed to either attack or defend our sanctions on Russia. My travels were challenged by road trips over poor roads; I acquired a deep heavy cough caused by air thick with coal smoke – economic challenges in these resource rich countries left me wondering how this incredible region might reclaim prosperity.
There is a palatable feeling of excitement about the future in central Asia. Kyrgyzstan not only shares our latitude and climate, it also shares and increases the scale of our mountainous geography. Bektur and I took a road trip over two 12,000 foot passes south from Bishkek to the Alay Valley to see the storm draped 25,000 foot Pamir Mountains.
Opportunities abound, I believe, for innovation in Bektur’ s homeland. The Russians built large coal fired plants which provide central hot water for cities of half a million people. Abundant sunshine could supplant or even replace this fuel, bringing sustainable heat and taking advantage of this innovative plumbing infrastructure.
I spent five days in a yurt camp seeking the powder nirvana resulting from a continental snowpack like Colorado’s but not faceted by our temperature swings. Cold air flowing south from the Siberian grasslands of Kazakhstan, tempered by the open waters of Lake Ysyk-Kol – kept ice-free by its salt water – ensures powder stays deep and uniform for three months of the winter resulting in a holy grail of powder shots generally free of the danger of avalanches.
My final night of the trip found me delayed in the Almaty, Kazakhstan airport because Putin was flying in to take part in a regional economic summit. Soldiers patrolled the airport, not only carrying assault weapons but fully masked by menacing black facemasks. Feeling on edge in the otherwise quiet airport, I watched a pair of older burka clad women approach the top of an escalator. Unfamiliarity with this device and their fully covered faces led to giggling as they made multiple halting attempts to complete the one step transition from solid floor to moving steps.
One of the soldiers came to help, but he found himself in a similar visually challenged predicament because of his military head garb. With a shared smile, I joined in an unexpected cartoonish moment as we all understood the illogical wraps we are placed in as a result of society’s odd rules. Remove these wraps and we are all the same human beings.
I hope we continue to work hard to understand “Them”, so the planet can be fully shared by “Us” – all societies sharing so every country can achieve its potential. I have no doubt Bektur and his family will help their beautiful land continue toward an exciting future. It is up to us to, at the very least, not stand it the way of their progress.