Though death looms in Amanat: Women’s Writing From Kazakhstan, the collection sounds a celebratory note.
Of the three empires that dominated late antiquity, Rome, China and Iran, it is the last whose legacy we understand least. “Proportionally to its historical significance, Iranian Inner Asia in this period is probably the least known and most grossly understudied time and place in world history,” writes Minoru Inaba in the introductory essay to The History and Culture of Iran and Central Asia.
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Dilnoza Duturaeva, an Uzbek historian at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales challenges the conventional narrative that the Silk Road declined following the collapse of the Tang dynasty in 907, and remained in eclipse until the establishment of the Mongol empire 250 years later. While the cosmopolitan Tang dynasty delighted in chronicling exuberant trade missions from the west, the Northern Song (960-1127) had little to say about such trade. This is reflected in the arts: compare the countless Tang terracottas of western traders, camels and horses with the scarce examples from the Song. Historians have argued that the fragmentation of political power across the steppe in the 10th and 11th centuries had made trade too dangerous and costly.
“One might ask,” begins Riaz Dean in the introduction to his new book The Stone Tower: Ptolemy, the Silk Road, and a 2,000-year-old Riddle, “how this book is different from the many others about the Silk Road.”
Kazakhstan, like Ukraine and Belarus, temporarily became a potential nuclear weapons power after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets had deployed 104 SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) containing more than 1400 nuclear warheads in the Kazakh steppe. These were the largest and most threatening land-based Soviet nuclear weapons, and their future control was uncertain in the wake of the Soviet collapse. Togzhan Kassenova, a senior fellow at the University of Albany, a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a native Kazakh whose father was head of Kazakhstan’s Center for Strategic Studies at the time, tells the story of the diplomatic minuet between Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States in the early- and mid-1990s that resulted in Kazakhstan’s surrender of any claim over those weapons in her new and timely book Atomic Steppe.
The “Great Game” is the name commonly assigned to the 19th-century’s strategic rivalry between Great Britain and Russia for predominance in Central Asia. It was a geopolitical clash between two expansionist empires–the world’s greatest sea power versus its largest land power. Riaz Dean’s Mapping the Great Game is about one aspect of that struggle: the exploration and mapping of the geographical region encompassed by the Indian subcontinent’s northern frontier.
Qaraar Ali is a young craftsman in love with the beautiful Abeerah, cherished daughter of a General in the Mughal army. A wanderer, he seeks the company of poets and spends his time visiting the shrines of 18th century Delhi. Trouble is brewing as Persia’s Nadir Shah is gathering a large army and heading towards Delhi. In a few catastrophic moments, Qaraar’s life will be turned upside down. The once idyllic, bustling streets he knew and loved, become tragic scenes of chaos, bloodshed and destruction.