Monuments of Bishkek: architectural and monumental complex Manas
This article from the magazine of the Laboratoria Ci “Monuments of Bishkek” (May, 2018). In this issue we refer to urban objects, this time to its monuments and memorials. They interest us because they serve as symbolic objects, documenting the dominant idea of the discourse or vice versa losing this dominant idea over time in view of the changing political and socio-economic context. Thus, we turn our attention to the processes and narratives in which these objects appeared, transformed and continue to exist.
The square in front of the Philharmonia is one of Bishkek’s sights. In warm weather in the evenings there are quite a lot of people: students, families with children, tourists stroll along the avenues, and behind the monument, in front of the entrance to the building, skaters and fans of extreme cycling arrange evening rides. In the vernacular this place is known as simply “philka.” And here is where one of the most large-scale and recognizable monuments of the city is located – the architectural and monumental complex Manas.
In the fifties, at the intersection of Stalin Street (now Chui Avenue) and Krupskaya Street (Tabyshaliev Street), a city square was built, which was called Soviet Square. “From the square to the National University, trees are planted, flowerbeds are installed and the street is called Frunze Boulevard. During the days of the Millennium of the Manas Epos celebration (1995), the Soviet Square was named after Manas… […] And in the year of the 125th anniversary of Bishkek city, the boulevard was decorated with lanterns and paving stones and was called the Avenue of Youth” (Petrov, 2008, p. 54).
In 1980, the construction of the building of the state philharmonia was finished. The initiator of the construction was the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kirghizia, T. U. Usubaliev. It was a gift to the townspeople; it was not in any general plan (V. Petrov, interview, April, 2018). In 1981, in front of the main entrance of the Philharmonia on the square, the sculptural and architectural complex Manas (sculptor T. Sadykov, architect A. Pechenkin) was installed, which for the first time embodied form the images of the epos in the monumental sculpture. “The central place in the composition is occupied by the equestrian statue of the main hero of the epos – Manas. A single group is formed by the figures of Kanykei and Bakai installed on separate pedestals of different heights and configurations that associatively resemble the volumes and outlines of mountain landscapes”(Alyshbaeva, Budaichiev, Prytkova, 2001).
In the 1982 article in the Sovetskaya Kirghizia newspaper, the architectural complex is described as follows: “The leading idea of the central part of the monument is the struggle between good and evil. On his flying horse Ak-Kula Manas leaned back with his whole body, in his right hand he is holding a sword – a symbol of fearlessness, and in the left – a shield, a symbol of the defense of the Motherland. It seems that the glorious batyr is about to start the battle and defeat his enemy. Under the hooves of the horse is a twisted dragon, playing the role of a plastic-constructive figurative element. Being the foundation of the composition, the dragon simultaneously shows the greatness and sternness of Manas” (Asanbekov, 1982).
Manas is the main hero of the cognominal Kyrgyz epos, which, according to legend, united Kyrgyz tribes in a single nation. The historical significance of the personality and its preservation can be judged by souvenir cards, school diaries, notebooks with the image of the architectural and monumental complex Manas. Tourists who visit Bishkek are offered all sorts of souvenirs, including postcards, photographs of Manas fighting the dragon. In 2011, a monument to Aykol Manas (fergananews.com, 2011) was erected on the Ala-Too Square and in the same year they started collecting signatures to rename Bishkek city to Manas (for.kg, 2011). The central avenue, the airport, a university, square, monuments, ethnocultural complex “Manas Ayily,” a medal, a chamber orchestra, a cinema are all named after Manas in Bishkek (kaktus.media, 2017); the commandments of Manas are studied in schools, the subject of Manas studies is taught at universities.
Yet, in the history of the study and popularization of the epos, there was a time when it was banned, and many Manas researchers, or even those who somehow had a connection with the epos, were either subject to repression or were under close surveillance of the Communist Party (T. Bakchiev, 2012, p. 25). In this regard, a Kyrgyz playwright M. Baydzhiev – the son of one of the political prisoners in 1949 – wrote: “The attitude toward the epos “Manas” in different years has changed in accordance to the needs of political conjuncture in the state. During the Soviet era, it was given political recognition, then on the contrary, it was criticized by the authorities on the basis of class and party characteristics” (Baydzhiev, 2001, p. 226).
Many of those who collected information about Manas in the 1930’s were accused of pan-Turkism, nationalism, pan-Islamism and executed by shooting. In 1937, many of those who prepared the full edition and translation into Russian of the Manas, Semetei, Seitek trilogy, as well as the 1100th anniversary of the epos, died. Among them: T. Aitmatov, B. Isakeev, H. Jeenbaev, I. Arabaev, K. Tynystanov, E. Polivanov and others (Baydzhiev, 2004, p. 14). Persecution continued until the early 50’s. Only after Stalin’s death, in 1953, many political prisoners were rehabilitated. From this time the attitude towards the epos begins to change.
The issue of the epos’ anniversary celebration is of interest. For example, in 1940, the Council of People’s Commissars adopted a resolution on the resumption of preparations for the 1100-year anniversary, it was proposed to hold a jubilee in 1942. But with the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, active preparations for the jubilee are again interrupted. Then the 1100-year anniversary is set for 1947, which never took place (Baydzhiev, 2004). And in 1995, our country celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the epos. Of course, the dates of the celebration are conditional, but it is interesting where these figures were taken from, and based on what principle the calculation was and is made.
Summarizing, we can say that the architectural and sculptural complex Manas is a cultural symbol, it refers us to the epos, where the protagonist is the defender, the conqueror. Unlike Aykol Manas (Manas the Benevolent), installed in the main Ala-Too Square, which is politically more charged, both from the point of view of the place (central square), and from the point of view of the context and the processes of its installment.
- Zh. Alyshbaeva, B. D. Budaichiev, L. A. Prytkova (2001). Monumental art of Bishkek. Moscow: Galart.
- Petrov (2008). Frunze the Soviet. Bishkek.
- Baydzhiev (2001). In the battle for truth. Literary essays of different years. Bishkek.
- Bakchiev (2012). Manas studies. Textbook for higher education institutions. Bishkek.
- Asanbekov (August 13, 1982). Comprehending the nature of time. The Soviet Kirghizia. #188 (16363).
- Baydiev (2004). Tashim Baidzhiev. Literary portrait against the background of the era. ZhZLK [Lives of great people of Kyrgyzstan]. Data from http://www.literatura.kg/articles/?aid=360
- The Sign of Heaven: A monument to Manas the Magnanimous was opened in Bishkek. (August 31, 2011). Data from http://www.fergananews.com/articles/7069
- Representatives of a number of organizations initiate the collection of signatures to rename Bishkek city to Manas. (2011, August 1). Data from: http://www.for.kg/news-157570-en.html
- Country of Manas. What in Kyrgyzstan is called in honor of Batyr. (29 October, 2017). Data from: https://kaktus.media/doc/365446_strana_manasa._chto_v_kyrgyzstane_nazyvaut_v_chest_baatyra.html
- Episode from the life of the classic. Auezov helped to defend the epos Manas. (September 28, 2012). Kazakhstanskaya pravda. Data from: http://inozpress.kg/news/view/id/37406