Since it is a very unknown country, let’s get some information about it first; The country of Karakalpaks, known as Karakalpakya or the Republic of Karakalpakistan in the Central Asian geography and living as nomadic people, was established as the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan within the borders of Uzbekistan after the direction of the Soviets after 1938. With an area of 166,600 km², a population of 2 million consisting of Karakalpaks, Uzbeks and Kazakhs as demographic structure, most of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, whose capital city is Nukus, is desert and a part of the Aral Lake is located in these lands. Karakalpaks are also considered as a tribe of Kazakh Turks. An autonomous republic, Karakalpakstan is located in the north-west of Uzbekistan, south of Kazakhstan, and north of the Balkan region of Turkmenistan.
The Turkish-speaking “Khwarizm” (Harizm) civilization, which was established towards the end of the 19th century and whose rulers were known as “Khorezmşah”, also lived in these lands.
The Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakia has its own state symbol, anthem, coat of arms, flag, constitution and parliamentary government. The country, which is mostly Muslim and Sunni, consists of 12 cities and 14 urban-type settlements.
If we look at the short political history of the Karakalpaks;
Karakalpakstan was an autonomous region of the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in April 1925, but this autonomous region came under the control of the USSR on 20 July 1930 and gained the status of “Karakalpakstan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic” on 20 March 1932. In December 1936, Uzbekistan joined the USSR and continued its existence as the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan within the borders of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
As explained in the travel notes of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, while the borders of the countries to be granted autonomy were determined during the Stalin era, these borders were drawn considering the conditions that could confront each other at any time. The “great game” was also practiced here, and another country was placed within the territory of one country.
Karakalpakstan, one of the largest geographies of Uzbekistan, continues its existence depending on Uzbekistan in its foreign affairs and financial situation. But according to the constitution of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, it has the right to secede from Uzbekistan, depending on the result of the referendum.
Where Does the Name Karakalpak Come From? How Did the Karakalpaks Appear?
In the 13th century, due to the raids of Genghis Khan to the Aral Sea region, the peoples living in this region had to migrate. The Karakalpaks are also in the 11th-14th. They migrated to the banks of the Don River between the centuries, but some of them did not leave the Aral Sea region, which was their ancestral homeland. According to historical sources 12.-14. It is understood that Karakalpaks lived in Şımbay and Devkara regions between centuries. In the 13th century, after the Harezm region came under the rule of the Golden Horde, the Karakalpaks living on the shores of Idil began to return to their ancestral homeland. Therefore 14.-16. The history of Karakalpak between the centuries is intertwined with the history of Khwarezm.
After the Golden Horde State collapsed in 1502, many Turkish tribes gathered around some other beys and established new states. The most important of these are the Nogai Khanate and the Uzbek Khanate. During this period, the Karakalpaks acted with the Nogais and organized expeditions against other states. With the collapse of the Nogai Khanate in 1642, it came to the east where there were some Turkish communities, namely Amuderya and Siriderya (Seyhun and Ceyhun Rivers). When they came to this region, the Turkish tribes who were here called them “Karakalpaks” because of the black caps they wore on their heads. These tribes, mostly of Kipchak ethnic origin, became a new ethnic community by mixing with Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Turkmens in time. The Karakalpaks, whose recent origins are based on the Nogai Khanate, are today an independent tribe formed by a mixture of Turkish elements such as Kipchak, Oghuz, Bashkir, Nogay, Kazakh, Uzbek and Turkmen.
The geography of Karakalpakstan is in a region rich in oil and natural gas resources. During the time of Soviet Russia, cotton was grown in this region, but the use of the Aral Sea to grow cotton, which needs water, caused the water of this lake to recede over time and the huge lake to dry up. The Aral Sea is currently one of the geographical formations that symbolizes the negative effects of global warming in the world.
We enter Uzbekistan from Khiva by road from the borders of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, there is a military checkpoint, but they did not turn us, we passed directly, after a while we came to the Elli Castle Gate. We are going through the middle of the desert, life was not easy here in the past. People built castles in the regions where they lived to protect themselves against raids and robberies. During the attack, everyone took shelter inside the castle and struggled. Over time, there were fifty castles, which is why they called this region “Fifty Castles”, and the big gate built on the main road leading to the region, “Fifty Castle Gates”. Some of the settlements, agriculture, animal husbandry and other works required for life are carried out in the vicinity of the castle, when the castle watchman at the highest place gave the news of danger, everyone gathered in the castle for both protection and defense of the region. Since the terrain is mostly flat and desert, the attacks must be noticed from afar.
Each castle is named according to the conditions or situation in which it is generally located. Firstly;
Frosty Castle; It is evident from its name, especially in the winter months, but it is also very cold and frosty in the summer. Since Ayaz Castle is on the Silk Road, it was built on a large area on a high hill, where the caravans could take shelter and stay for a while against the attackers. The ruins of the mud-brick castles are still standing, in order to ensure the security of the Amur Darya River and the Harezm region, and to be protected from immigrants and attacks in the Ancient and Early Middle Ages. There are still remains of palaces and traces of local farmers in and around the castles. Due to the weather conditions and the effect of the desert, most of it has been destroyed for hundreds of years, only debris remains today.
The historical Ayaz Kale complex, which was unearthed during the excavations in 1940, is one of the three major castle complexes in the region and is located in Buston region of current Karakalpakstan, next to Ayaz Lake.
It is thought to be one of the first castles built during the Kushan Empire, built in the 4th century BC. The castle, which is a two-storey building, has an entrance from the south. In the 3rd century BC, additions and watchtowers were built to support the castle walls.
Earth Castle; The region in which the castle was built by Artav (Artabanos), the ruler of Khwarezm in the 2nd century AD, was built in the 2nd-3rd century AD. century, it was the capital of Chorasmia and an ancient palace city. Wall paintings, coins and jewelry representing Zoroastrian gods were found during the excavations in the historical city, whose history covers the period from the 1st century to the 5th century AD, and is thought to reflect the influence of the Kushan Empire.
Torak Castle, one of the fifty important castles, was built as soil-adobe masonry according to the conditions of the period, therefore it was named Toprak Castle. It is a whole complex on a large area, within an area surrounded by sheltered walls, with a temple, bazaar, market, shopping square, as well as a special palace for the rulers of the Harzerm Shah, and watchtowers and defensive forts at the corners to protect all these. It is one of the most prestigious castles among the Fifty Castles. In the palace section, Toprak Castle, whose reception hall is 280 m², is in need of maintenance like other castles. It is trying to stand on its own in difficult climatic conditions, but it is on the way to disappear irreversibly.
Koi Krylgan Fortress, Ancient Temple Complex;
Koi Krylgan Fortress, also locally called Qoy Qırılg’an Qala, is one of the important archaeological sites here. It was built around 400 BC as a major ceremonial center and complex during the Chorasmian Afrighids dynasty that ruled the Khorezm region. The prosperous life on irrigated and fertile lands was abandoned around 400 AD. After the excavations started in 1951 in Koi Krylgan Kale, an extraordinary temple, large parts of the archaeological settlements were unearthed in 1952 and 1957. It is thought that the castle, which has a circular plan, fortification walls and monumental structures with 9 towers surrounding a circle with a diameter of 87 meters in the center, served as a possible burial site for the rulers of Khorezm. The complex, which has many historical artifacts from the period during the excavations, is left to its fate like other castles today.
While looking to see if there is another castle nearby, within reach, we noticed a place with a few tents ahead. The woman appeared in front of us, her eyes shining, she greeted us with “Welcome, welcome” in Turkish. She was even more delighted when she heard that we were Turkish. Now we speak Turkish, there is a dialect, but we get along, no problem. Her children don’t come here often because they work, and her husband went shopping for some necessities. When we were talking about camels walking around, who owns them, what do you do, the subject came to camel milk and camel buttermilk. I remember, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi drank freshly milked camel milk every day, I read it many times, even on his trips abroad, one of his planes was allocated to the camel and he always took it with him. No, not so that the camel can see them, attend the meetings, and be informed! Since Gaddafi wanted to drink fresh camel milk every morning, I guess what the blessed animal must have suffered while getting on a plane, flying or something. Why was Gaddafi doing this, he thought he would live long, but he did not, he was killed. The camel didn’t help. Arab culture is something like this, like equations with too many unknowns, no one has understood it yet. Anyway, back to our topic, we asked the woman, “Do these camels give milk?” he asked, “Would you like it?” When asked, the answer was “Yes”. It tastes good, a bit dense, a glass is okay, it can upset the intestines, let’s not have any trouble on the way. We said what is camel buttermilk, there is no yoghurt made from camel milk. Probably the milk we drank was not boiled either. We spent a few hours, it felt good, we rested a little. Thank you for your hospitality, care and concern, wave to the camels and continue on your way.
We came to Nukus, the capital and largest settlement of Karakalpakstan with a population of 320 thousand, in the middle of the Karakum, Kızılkum and Taşlı Deserts, near the Aral Sea. The city, which is a typical reflection of the Soviet architectural style, is like a Soviet oasis in the middle of the desert. The first thing that catches the eye is the city, which is on the way to modernization, with its reconstructed widened roads and multi-storey renovated buildings. One of the most important and must-see places here is the Savitskiy Art Museum, which is considered one of the best museums in the world. We leave this place for later and wander around the city.
Although it is stated in some records that Nukus has a longer history, the foundation date of the city is considered to be 1960. But on the territory of the city from IV BC. It turned out to be a Shurcha settlement built by the inhabitants of the Khwarezm Khanate, among other civilizations, until VI AD.
Nukus is a city full of greenery and flowers, although it is surrounded on all sides by the Karakum, Kızılkum, Aralkum Deserts and the real rocky desert, the Upper Territory Plateau, apparently a lot of effort has gone into it.
One of the important places in the geography of Central Asia is the Aral Sea, which was called the Aral Sea in the past, and is now depleted of water. The Aral Sea, which is mostly within the borders of Karakalpakstan and the western part of which is in the east of the north-south axis, and which was the fourth largest freshwater lake in Asia with an area of 68,000 km² in the previous years, has lost 90% of its former surface area due to excessive agricultural irrigation in recent years.
With the thought that there may not be such a place in the future, I set out at midnight to photograph the “ship graveyard” created by abandoned ships on the lake bed. I want to take a picture of the area with the sunrise in the morning before the sun comes up. Me and the driver, the road is long, 320 km. I was wondering about the sleep situation, I asked if you were tired, he came back from work, we are obviously tired, we are chatting to not sleep, we came to Moynak at the time we planned his life, life, family, beliefs, etc., without any problems. Moynak used to be a bustling port city in the north-west of the country, on the southern shore of the Aral Sea. When the weather was -4 degrees, the desert climate, and the wind was strong, we dressed in layers, but this time the mobility is restricted, there is nothing to do, these are the conditions.
Moynak was the port of fishermen and boats coming from the opposite coast of Kazakhstan. While in the past it was a lively and rich city where the nights were lively, today it is a pale and resentful city, shrouded in darkness, where life is extinguished, young people leave because of unemployment, and a high percentage of old people live. Moynak is the city where all industry and business life related to shipping has ended, fish processing factories have been closed, and the population has decreased to a few thousand. Most of the people whose hopes for life have faded when there is no job opportunity are looking for a job in Russia or other countries.
Today, these places are still referred to as the Aral Sea, but the waters have receded for kilometers, abandoned, rusted and rotten on the lake floor, dozens of sideways sailing ships, fishing boats alone with their fate among the grasses in the harsh and windy place where the desert climate is more dominant when the waters recede. The lake has shrunk by 90%, small ponds at its northern end and on the Kazakhstan side are the last memories from the lake.
In the past, there were hundreds of ships, the owners of the boats and the local administration broke them up and transported them from here. Some of them were abandoned here to their fate, both to attract tourists and to draw attention to the fate of Aral. The reason for my visit was to come here, known as the “Moynak Ship Cemetery”, and take pictures of these unfortunate boats.
The weather is very cold, wind and frosty, I can hardly control my fingers, we’ll do it, as the sun rises, the air began to soften and even warm up. Mission accomplished. Towards noon, the temperature is 23 degrees, I take off my clothes in layers.
Why did the Aral Sea come to this state, why did its waters recede?
There is no trace of the lake today, when it was the fourth largest fresh water body in the world, located in the heart of Central Asia. The UN Secretary General stated that the drying up of the Aral Sea was one of the most shocking events in the world.
The Aral Sea is a lake with a closed basin feature. The Aral Sea basin, located between Karakalpakstan and Kazakhstan, is mainly formed by the confluence of the Ceyhun, Seyhun and Zerevshan rivers. In accordance with the economic model of the Soviets, large-scale irrigation activities have been undertaken for cotton farming since the 1960s, the water of the rivers feeding the Aral Sea has been used seriously, and since that day the lake has entered a severe drying and shrinking process. In the first stage, shrinkage started in the northern and southern parts, and in 2003 it was observed that the lake was separated into western and eastern parts. The few ponds that remain today are still shrinking, their waters become polluted and saline, thus the natural ecosystem of the lake has collapsed. In 2005, with the Kök-Aral dam completed by Kazakhstan on Seyhun in the northern part of the Aral Lake, the water level rose from 30 meters to 42 meters, the salinity decreased and the fishery was partially revived. In Karakalpakstan, efforts are continuing to create water bodies and regulated artificial lakes by the drainage of the Ceyhun River.
Winters are cold and rainless, summers are desert heat, and the scarce rainfall decreases in spring. Until the 1960s, the water balance of the Aral Sea was based on the inflow and evaporation balance of the rivers, but this cycle has been disrupted in the last 50 years due to Soviet industry moves.
At the beginning of the settlement areas where the situation created by the lake makes itself felt most clearly, the once port city of Moynak is in ruins today, living the most dramatic days in its history. At the entrance of the city, which is not a trace of the old days, the traces of the disaster that the lake was exposed to are noticed. While there are shipwrecks on its shores, jinn are running around in its integrated factory, which once employed fifteen hundred people and sent canned fish to Russian soldiers in the Second World War.
Here is the story of the extinction of the Aral Sea, formerly known as the Aral Sea. Today, cotton is in trouble, the huge Aral Lake is finished, and the boats that are left on land in the steppes that emerged with the drying of the lake, which was once a fish paradise, give the impression as if they have fallen from the sky.
Leaving the city of Moynak alone with its fate, continue on my way, I’m going to the Mizdakhan Cemetery. Near Nukus, it is a place dating back to the 4th century BC, with thousands of tombs, mausoleums and madrasahs on a very large area. It was a Zoroastrian cemetery in the past, but when Zoroastrianism began to decline in the region over time, Muslims began to be buried here.
Mizdakhan, 4th century BC. It was one of the largest cities of the Hazerm Khanate and had been inhabited for about 1,700 years. Near this city where Zoroastrians lived, a burial place was built and the dead were treated according to Zoroastrian traditions. Zoroastrians would lay their dead on top of a circular, high hill or structure called the “tower of silence” to prevent the soil from being contaminated, for the corpses to decompose and be destroyed by animals. The corpses were usually eaten by vultures and other scavengers, the remaining bones and skeletal remains were first buried in a temporary tomb, after a few years the skeletal remains were removed and preserved in a chest, box, jar, or container called an “ossuary”. This meant that instead of large burial sites, more bodies were kept in less space.
The ancient Mizdakhan Cemetery, located near the ruins of the “Gyaur Kala” fortress, which defended the region in antiquity, is one of the oldest and most visited pilgrimage sites in Karakalpakstan. When the Arabs learned that the castle was used by Zoroastrians before they invaded, they named it “Gavur Castle”, which means “the castle of the infidels”.
VIII. After the capture of the castle by the Arabs in the 16th century, Zoroastrianism was banned in Central Asia, and Zoroastrian burials began to be buried in the Mizdakhan Cemetery area according to the Muslim religion. Legend has it that Adam’s tomb is also considered to be in the Mizdakhan Cemetery, which caused it to be considered a holy place. In addition, the tomb erected over the imaginary tomb of Adam also has a special meaning. Every year a brick falls from the walls of the shrine, legend has it that when the last brick falls, the end of the world will begin “the judgment day”, so pilgrims who come here believe that God heard their prayers and put the bricks back in place. For this reason, this place is also considered a place of pilgrimage.
Timur made successful expeditions to these places in the 14th century, took the region under control, and destroyed the city of Mizdakhan and other settlements. The evacuated city has been used as a burial place since then. Most of the tombs and masjids here belong to that period.
According to the findings from the excavations in the burial places, it is understood that Zoroastrianism and Islamic traditions were intertwined in the Middle Ages. This archaeological site with a history of 5000 years is still used as the burial place of Zoroastrians and Muslims. The influence of Zoroastrianism is still visible in the tombs in the Muslim section.
There are almost thousands of tombs and tombs here, all of them have different stories, the most important of which are the tombs that those who come here usually visit;
- In the 14th century, many rich and noble people want to marry Maslum Khan, the beautiful daughter of the Mizdakhan ruler, but the beautiful princess is in love with a poor man. He does not accept the marriage proposals, and when he learns the situation, the king, enraged, declares that he will allow his daughter to marry someone who will build a tower that will rise as high as the sky overnight. The amorous worker, inspired by his love, builds such a minaret in one night and comes to the palace in the morning to ask for the girl. However, the monarch still does not allow his daughter to marry. The grieving youth jumps from the minaret he made, followed by the beautiful princess. It is believed that their souls are united with death. The king is very upset about this situation and orders the young lovers to be buried together and a tomb to be built on their graves made of minaret bricks.
This shrine has been a frequent destination for all lovers, especially hopeless lovers.
- In the times when Islam was not around, a person named Shamun Nabi came to the land of Khwarezm before the messengers of the Prophet Muhammad and invited people to believe in one God. Yahya and Zakaria, who came here before him, were working secretly to spread Christianity, but they were caught and thrown into prison. Shamun Nabi first enters the palace as a protector and then gradually rises to the position of treasurer of the state. He learns of the place where Yahya and Zakaria are imprisoned, and the ruler explains to Gaur that they are both prophets and may be of use, and asks for their release. The king agrees to their release provided they can prove they are truly prophets, and in order to do so, he asks them to raise the dead and heal his blind daughter. Prophets resurrect the dead and cure the girl’s blindness. Thereupon, Yahya and Zakaria are released. Also, Shamun (Simon) works many miracles, treats the incurable, controls the weather and the movements of the celestial bodies. In addition to many other features, the heroic warrior, who was afraid of nothing, could also speak the language of all wild animals.
Well (!) believe it or not, but there are hundreds of shrines with such legends here, all of them have different stories, all of them have stories full of miracles, all of them have different believers and customers. It is in all religions and beliefs, hoping for help from something. Those who want children, who want to get married, who want a house, job, money, whatever, come to these shrines, pray and make vows. If it happens, it’s from Allah, if not, keep asking, don’t be in a hurry! A book called “shrines” was published in Turkey, the same stories.
In all religions and beliefs, even in the same religion and beliefs, beliefs about what will happen after death are different depending on geography, so burials and graves are very different. I had the opportunity to visit tombs belonging to different religions and beliefs in many parts of the world, there are more extreme traditions than you can imagine. There are also very different rituals in Muslim graves and burial events around the world. Which of these would you say would be the correct, logical and clear answer to ascend to God? So is it important? We don’t know, it depends on your level of belief!
This is the place that attracts my attention, where there are predominantly Muslim graves in a large area. The Muslim tradition of burial is very different from what we know and hear;
I wondered how Muslim funerals are buried;
In the Mizdakhan Cemetery, Islamic funeral procedures and ceremonies continue under the influence of Zoroastrianism. Most of the Karakalpak Muslim tombs in the cemetery are not covered. This is a reflection of the Zoroastrian tradition of showing the funeral.
The corpse is brought to the cemetery, shrouded, on the shoulders on a wooden ladder several meters long. When I say ladder, you know, it is a stepped ladder used to lean against a wall and go to a high place. The corpse is placed in a two-meter-deep pit, such as a room that has been dug separately. Afterwards, the pit is filled with straw, covered with earth, and a wooden ladder is placed on top of it. Over time, as a result of events such as rain, the soil on the straw collapses and the burial place emerges as a pit. The ladder remains at ground level above the grave. Prayers and a ceremony, in short, something like this. The stairs are steps for the earth to collapse and form a pit, for the dead to come out of the ground easily when they are resurrected in the End Times, and for the stairs to reach the heavens to God. It is not known whether it has been seen, but if it happens, continue. In general, since there is no order, there are burial pits everywhere. Some of them are surrounded for protection, but most of them do not have protection measures, so if you are not very careful, you can fall into the pit at any time and become a permanent guest next to the meftan.
There are also places where non-Muslims are buried, the places where Zoroastrians or non-Muslims are buried are called “gavur graveyards”.
Anyway, let’s leave the other world’s affairs for later, keep going, I’ve been on the streets since midnight, it’s been a long day.
If you happen to be in Nukus, there is a magnificent museum that you should definitely visit. You cannot imagine such a museum here.
Painter, Archaeologist Igor Savitskiy (1915–1984), an artist from Moscow, comes to the Karakalpakstan region as a member of the Archaeological Khwarezmi Expedition of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in the mid-20th century. Working as an explorer/researcher painter at first, Savitskiy realizes his love for the region and decides to settle in Nukus. Savitskiy, who is interested in ethnographic applied arts, begins to collect many works of artists who were persecuted during the Stalin era, as well as paintings by young Russian and local painters. Also from Uzbekistan, Moscow, St. Together with the paintings, original prints and sculptures of avant-garde artists he collected from St. Petersburg, he established the Karakalpakistan Museum of Modern Art in Nukus in 1966 with the support of Moscow.
Today, the museum exhibits a magnificent collection of 90,000 pieces in the fields of ethnography and archeology, 15,000 works of art, and the second largest collection of early 20th century Soviet avant-garde art in Russia/Asia after Moscow. st. It has the second largest collection of Russian avant-garde paintings in the world, after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.
Here, you can find all kinds of information about the civilizations that lived in these lands, the cultures, pasts and traditions of the Karakalpaks.
The new building of the museum in the city center was officially opened in 2003.
The parliament of Karakalpakstan can take independent administrative decisions within themselves, but it is standing with the support of Uzbekistan, they use Uzbek passports for international travels.
They are trying to renew themselves and breakthrough, but their job seems a bit difficult.
There are only 3 textile factories in the country, no further progress has been made in terms of production. Nukus, the capital city, is in an effort to renew rapidly, there are wide streets, modern buildings on the street and they want to open up to tourism. In fact, it is like an oasis in the middle of the desert, so the temperature difference between summer and winter and day and night makes the job a bit more difficult.
Here and throughout Central Asia, the question I am most curious about and asked is, is life in the Soviet era or living in a new independent order? Majority average; “In the Soviet era, education was free and better, arts and sports were important, almost everyone could get an education in this direction. Everyone had a good or bad job, we were working in the government, there was no job search problem like now. Now our roads are wider and smoother, the number of private cars is higher than before, but unemployment is high, people go to Russia to work or the talented go to work abroad. In Soviet times, if anything was to be done in the village, city or region we live in, Moscow would decide, otherwise it could not be done. Today, education is both bad and insufficient, good schools are paid, but only those who have the opportunity can go. In this order, those who can take their job can live in good conditions, bribery and corruption are at a high level, maybe they were in the past, but we were not aware of it.” The answers are at this level, it seems, people are increasingly segregated and the gap between classes is getting wider. Of course, it is also very important to whom you ask this question, the answer of a person who has a strong car and who goes to work by bicycle and lives daily is at different ends. But the majority is trying to throw the cover abroad. In other words, like any place where there is no real democracy and human rights, as in all underdeveloped countries.