Friday, 28 September 2007

Sweet-talking son of a shaman man

In the photo gallery of I found this young man. The photo is part of a reportage about Nganasan shamans from the 1970's to the 1990's, it seems. Nganasans are one of the indigenous peoples of Siberia, living on the Taymyr Peninsula in the Arctic Ocean (not that far from the Nenets guys Viktor and Nikolai).

The notes around the photo say:

"This is the son of Tubyaku - Leonid, in Nganasan language Labtymyaku. Of his own accord, he dressed in his father's shaman clothes in order to rise up to the higher gods, and thus invoked his [father's] anger, because he had no connections to the shaman spirits.
Five years after his father's death, Leonid would start trying to practise shamanism for himself and his family."

Around another photo in the gallery it is written about how Leonid's father Tubyaku died. "Like a true Nganasan man he did not know how to handle fire, because the hearth is women's work. He just burned up when his daughters went away [illegible] a holiday."

P.S. The gallery is buggy. It's most easily navigated if you just manually change the number at the end of the URL on the first photo page to see the next photo - from 20 to 21, 22, 23 etc.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Viktor and Nikolai

This past weekend, Australian Tim Cope finished his long journey on the trail of Genghis Khan - from Mongolia to Hungary by horse. It was by far not his first adventure.

In June 2001, Tim and his three friends Colin, Remy and Ben rowed a boat down the Yenisey river, from lake Baikal to the Kara Sea, over the course of four months. Just 20 km from the end of their journey, they stayed for two days with the families of Viktor and Nikolai, Nenets reindeer herders and hunters living on a small island in the Yenisey gulf.



Nikolai, his mother and a doggie

Viktor, his son, and their neighbour Nikolai in the icy wind.

"Nikolai moves forward through the swampy stand of grass and dwarf birch with the prowess and elegance of an experienced hunter", Tim writes.

At the end of the journey, Tim and his companions arranged for Nikolai and his family to meet them in the gulf to help them get a lift back south. Here, Nikolai is holding the Australian flag, mounted on one of the oars, ready to take pictures at the finishing point of the journey, where the Yenisey river meets the ocean.

More about the Yenisey journey!

Saturday, 22 September 2007


Buzkashi, Kökbörü or Oglak-Tartis (Persian: بزکشی bozkæšī, Tajik: бузкашӣ buzkašī: goat grabbing) (Uzbek, Tatar, Turkmen: kökbörü, kök "blue" + börü "wolf", Kazakh: көкпар kökpar, Kyrgyz: улак-тартыш ulak-tartyš) is a traditional Central Asian team sport played on horseback. (See Wikipedia.)

It is a popular sport all over Central Asia, and has been adopted as "polo" in some other parts of the world.
One of the differences between the Central Asian and the Western versions of the game is that in the West, you use a ball and a club, while in the East, you use a dead goat or sheep and your bare hands. Certainly this shows that Central Asian men are just tougher.

(Those who think using a dead goat or sheep is somehow terrible might want to consider whose hide your average leather football is made of. At least the goats and sheep have not been manufactured in sweatshops using underpaid child labour.)

Here, I'll focus on photos of Ulak-Tartysh as it is played in Kyrgyzstan. (I was, of course, researching for this post when I came across the guys in the post below ...)

Christopher Herwig has photographed a game of Ulak-Tartysh at a hippodrome outside Bishkek. Here is the whole set and his description at Flickr. Highlights (click for full size):

Originally uploaded by

Originally uploaded by

The players are wearing hockey helmets, or no helmets at all. The leather variations look like Russian/Soviet tank soldier helmets, but are actually old-style leather hockey helmets (our dad used to have helmets like that at some point).

Some particularly cute guys grabbing the goat, photographed by Jonathan Wilson at
(click for full size):

Ronald de Hommel has a quite interesting website with photoreportages from many parts of the world. While in Kyrgyzstan, he also covered Ulak-Tartysh:

The doggies also participate.

Kyrgyz men on is a very nice website with the concept "Learning about the world through photography". I can spend hours browsing its galleries.

Here are a few Kyrgyz men from its Kyrgyzstan section. Click the links for the photographers' descriptions.

"Living on the top" by Lukas geez

"Mid-air" by Kristen Elsby

"The Roast Continues" by Ryan Smith

"Kyrgyz horseman" by Robin Merrifield

National Geographic

Once upon a time, I collected old National Geographics for my source library. For fun, I checked them for any Chirayliq material. Surely they - from 1963 to 1999 - would yield some treasures.
Of course, it wasn't so easy. Western ethnographers don't usually pay much attention to handsome men between 18 and 38, regardless what tribe or nation they might be photographing. The "normal" targets for National Geographic photoshoots are old, wizened grandpas, beautiful women, and children of both sexes. Thus, my chirayliq collection consists of two teenage boys, two men well into their middle age, and only a single one of our own age group.

The Sami boy at the top, Nils Johan Mienna (15 years old in 1977) represents the western edge of our dear Eurasian landmass. Reindeer herders inhabit the continent's rim all the way from Norway to East Siberia. I wonder if Nils wanted to continue his parents' traditions, or if he pursued other dreams. Typical of 1970's National Geographic, the article makes a big deal out of the demands of "modern" life and suggests that reindeer herding will be lost for the sake of efficiency.

From National Geographic's April issue, 1985, comes this portrait of an anonymous Afghani boy. He is described as a militiaman in a village near "Communist Kabul". The writer lets us know that the Marxist government conscripts 16-year-olds, and that the army is plagued by desertions. While Coca Cola continued to flow in the capital, the surrounding mujaheddin were dealing another kind of opium for the people. I wonder what happened to this young man.

Towards the heart of the continent: A Kyrgyz herdsman reminds a French couple of his ancestor, Genghis Khan, on their way through the Wakhan corridor in 1972. It is not made clear if he is identical to their guide, Abdul Wakil, a man of few words and fewer smiles, but with unerring survival experience. Of course, the travellers respect Abdul, their life depends on him, but they also suggest that he doesn't understand how a jeep could be more valuable than 14 of his beloved camels.

13 years later, another "descendant of the Khan" greets the National Geographic reporters with a Mona Lisa smile. Of course, the article is titled "Time Catches Up With Mongolia". There is nothing more reassuring for the Western reporters than the good old contrast between the backward but oh-so-authentic East, and the up-to-date but boringly normal West. Is modernization through sovietizised city slickers of Ulan Bator more wrong than Coca Cola in Kabul?

The final photo is from an article from 1968, "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great". A Turkish oil wrestling contest takes place amid the ruins of Ephesus. Here, back in the Western end of Eurasia, Turks act out the roles of ancient Greeks and Macedonians in the imagination of the reporter.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Anonymous construction worker in Bulgaria

When I was in Romania, I used to secretly drool over all these handsome construction workers and streetsweepers of Roma descent. Due to discrimination and extreme segregation, Roma in many parts of Eastern Europe for a very large part only have access to the lowest-paid and "dirtiest" lines of work.

So, anyway, apparently I am not the only one appreciating handsome young construction workers in the Balkans - Flickr user "Bulgaria Gypsy" seems to have quite the fetish for the ones he meets in his home country Bulgaria. Here is a particularly handsome young man from his photostream, working on demolishing a building in central Sofia.
(I took the liberty of cropping the photos and adjusting the levels a bit ...)

Click to enlarge:

Abbas & Hamze in the War

After telling the tragic stories of all these handsome Finnish Tatars, it would be strange not to include our closest relatives and war veterans, grandfather Abbas Bavautdin and his older brother Hamze.

Abbas was born in Rauma 1921. His brother was also born in this famous Finnish port, but neither of them were Finnish citizens during the war. Their parents Bedi and Fatihe, who arrived in Finland in the 1910's, were declared stateless when the Russian Empire ceased to exist, and they received Nansen passports. Still, the sons were called to serve by a special order from the provincial governor (maaherra). According to an anecdote told by my grandfather, one of his officers was surprised to learn that Abbas didn't have a Finnish passport, and declared him "our secret weapon".

Finnish Tatars in WW2, Part 4

Feyzi Alejeff was born in the Mishär Tatar village Aktuk in 1919 and probably arrived in Finland as a small child. He served as corporal in the II/JR4 mortar platoon in Kuuttilahti at Syväri (Свирь, Svir) on the 26th September 1942. The Russians had observed the location of his mortar, and the company was ordered to move the mortar into a new position. Thus, the men had to move from the protection of a korsu dugout to tent lodgings. In the dark autumn evening, the men were making tea and ersatz coffee, while Feyzi was searching for some entertaining program on his private radio. Probably the light and sparks from the stovepipe revealed the position of the tent to the Russians, who fired a light machine gun round into it. A bullet hit Feyzi in the head; he died in the forest, unconscious, on the way to the field hospital.

His family published this obituary.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


The Juhuro, a.k.a. Mountain Jews of Caucasus, have lived mainly in Azerbaijan and Dagestan. While a large part of them emigrated to Israel during the last three decades, and there's a sizable community in New York (as well as some in Germany and Moscow), their cultural traditions are very much rooted in the Caucasus, and their language is related to Persian. Theories of their origins are legion. What interests us is the fact that they belong to the same category of handsomness as Georgians, Armenians, Azeris and other indomitable inhabitants of those fierce mountains.

This is singer Ilya Agivaev, whose voice talents can be admired on YouTube.

Singer Khayyam Nisanov has devoted his album to Jerusalem. Apparently he has participated in an Azeri reality show, "Mashin realiti sou", judging by internet gossip.
For more information about the Juhuro, visit

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Lapland 1884

This anonymous young Saami man reminds me of the Finnish Tatars previously featured on Chirayliq.
In 1884 Prince Roland Bonaparte (1858-1924) organized an ethnographic expedition to Lapland. A portfolio was issued from the negatives taken during the trip by "the Prince's usual photographer". It is not clear from the source site which part of Lapland they went to, but I would guess at Norway from the available names of the other portrayed people.
The science of the time was interested in classifying people according to superficial "racial characteristics". The Saami were especially often targets for this sort of research, being something as rare as an indigenous European nomadic/seminomadic people of uncertain origin (as if anyone can be really certain of his/her origins). It has taken decades of struggle for the Saami to gain acceptance as something else than a research object or a specimen in a museum, and still, within the Saami communities, there are struggles going on between different ideas of what is "typically" Saami (reindeer herders against fishermen and farmers, city dwellers against country folk). (Some modern genetic research; see also the link to a paper on the Saamis' genetic link to the Volga-Ural region, not a common ancient ancestor as some might think, but a rather recent connection!)

Saturday, 8 September 2007

The Star of SuperStar KZ

Since we in the comments a couple of posts down have somehow come to discuss music and whether it is possible to express your "true self" even with very little resources, it is an appropriate moment to post this quite famous snippet from the Kazakh TV show SuperStar KZ.

As can be seen in the beginning of the clip, the show is about amateurs who in the show might or might not get a chance to stand in the spotlight and show what they can do. The moderators making fun of and laughing at the contestants is apparently an important part of the show. But then, the third guy comes onstage. And the he is so original, so confident and so true, that the moderators can't figure out how to make fun of him.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Massoud Barzani

A slight detour to the southwestern edges of Central Asia - this is Massoud Barzani, who was born in the shortlived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran. His father Mustafa was an important figure in the Kurdish national movement.

After Mahabad fell, the family fled to the Soviet Union, and Massoud later went to Iraq to live with his grandfather and go to school. At the age of 16, he quit school and joined his father's armed rebellion against the Iraqi government, after promises to grant national rights to Kurds were not fulfilled. (BBC)

Here, Massoud is at the tender age of 17.

After more mutton and baklava, and less physical exercise than the life of a guerilla fighter would provide, as well as a couple of massive foreign interventions in Iraq (1991 and 2003-present), Massoud, as the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, went on to become a suit-clad politician and president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Chirayliq Tag Radio on

This is a test version. Still looking for more Central Asian music to add! Anything is welcome, as long as it fits the Chirayliq theme (i.e. cute guys).

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Singles of the week

We haven't featured any "single of the week" for a while, but now that it's Azeri week, it's a good opportunity to pick it up again. So, here are no less than four (4) hot singles from Azerbaijan:

Skarpion26 is, as implied by his nickname, 26 years old and a scorpio. He is from Baku.

Vusalchik is also from Baku, but is studying in the Ukraine right now. He is 20 years old, "seeking a woman till 40" (oh noes). His "hello phrase" is "Ochen' interesniy i seksualniy paren'" ("A very interesting and sexy young man").

Gagli is from Baku, 28 years old, and writes in the "about me" section: "I think I am very good boy. Of course a little sexy."

badboy_ozgur is also from Baku, and 20 years old. He's looking for girls to chat with. He says: "my name ıs ozgur. ı am from turkey. ı love all gırls."