Kinship, state, and 'tribalism' : the genealogical construction of the Kyrgyz Republic

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Gullette, David Cameron 

This thesis explores the conceptions of genealogy, kinship, and "tribalism" in relation to the construction of national identity in Kyrgyzstan. It begins by examining the political collapse of 24 March 2005, when mass, anti-government demonstrations took place in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. In what became known as the "Tulip Revolution", the protestors succeeded in ousting Askar Akaev as President of the Kyrgyz Republic. One of the protestors' grievances against the Akaev regime was "tribalism", a form of corruption expressed through the particularisms of kinship and regional ties. Accusations of "tribalism" were criticism of political factionalism, but paradoxically, the notions of "clans" and "tribes" were presented as important markers of Kyrgyz identity by locals and government sponsored nation-building projects. In this thesis, I examine these representations of kinship together with the complex and intertwined narratives of genealogical relatedness and political campaigns. The prominence of "tribal" relations in Central Asian governments has become the focal point of many studies since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A study of "tribalism" in Kyrgyzstan, however, reveals that while it has become a narrative of corruption, it is distinct from the construction of the categories of "tribe" and "clan" as forms of relatedness. I argue that a radical reconsideration of these kinship relations needs to take place in the social sciences. I present an alternative way of creating kinship relations through genealogy. In what I term the "genealogical imagination", I suggest that relatedness is constructed through the dialectic between memory and representations of history. Through ethnographies which describe the erection of monuments to real, mythical and appropriated ancestors of the Kyrgyz people, I examine the government's use of genealogy to construct the official history. This history is underpinned by theories of ethnogenesis, the study of the establishment of continuous social groups and group identity through a history of development. In the official narrative, ancestors are represented as crucial figures who contributed to the development of the Kyrgyz nation, and whose actions serve as lessons for people today. The ancestors are recognised as creating and maintaining an identity, for the Kyrgyz nation, and also for the state, which was elaborately marked in 2003 celebrations in honour of "2,200 years of Kyrgyz statehood". This representation of the state is a recurring theme in national celebrations, but the festivities in 2003 came at a politically tense moment. I employ another conception of genealogy, as a method to investigate the discursive space through which such a notion of the state is created. The narratives construct an idea of the state as a central part of their identities, while simultaneously defining the state as the sum of the people. This image places an emphasis on the notion of unity. However, the use of genealogy to examine the construction of an identity can also act to critique that identity. I argue that this official discursive construction attempts to displace strong political challenges and social unrest. The application of the discourse did not foster the unity that was intended. Instead, it highlighted contradictions between the official representation of the state and everyday experiences- contradictions which formed the backdrop of the "Tulip Revolution".

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge