About Uzbekistan

Termez. Part 1
13 March 2018
Termez. Part 1

Termez is a small (pop. 135,000) center of vast Surkhandarya region, whose mountains and plains we covered in previous parts. The city definitely worth visiting and by the scale of impression left Termez goes right after Samarkand, Khiva, Bukhara and Tashkent: the city has some special gloomy absoluteness. That's it. This is the edge. There is no way further, and beyond the Amu Darya is not just an empty, but foreign land, which can be conquered, but cannot be tamed. The name of the city originates from Greek "Termus" (Hot), or from Persian "Taramita" (Wet), in summer the temperatures here reaches 50 degrees, and in Alma-Ata and Tashkent they are joking not for nothing that "there are three poky holes of the place - Termez, Kushka and Mary": if there is an extreme North - why not be there the extreme South? But at the same time, from all Uzbek towns and cities only in Tashkent and Samarkand one can met more Russian people than here: the fact is that present Termez grew out of the Russian fortress founded in 1891 near the village Patta-Gissar.

We'll start a walk through Termez from the railway station, which is not only the gate of Termez, but also its starting point - the oldest archaeological finds were found here on the site of the station at city's peninsula between the Amudarya and Surkhandaryo. In fact, the railway serves as the boundary between the present and the old Termez, which was one of the centres of civilization and that we will cover in the next part.

The station has a rather nice interior, and its building itself is a clear result of the post-Soviet renovation of the "first wave" - most likely in the coming years it will be renovated to have a blue facade with aivan, to be similar with stations in Karshi, Urgench or Tashkent. At the entrance to this station is the strictest checks in whole Uzbekistan, with men and women being checked at different checkpoints, and female checks are even much stricter: after all, there is Afghanistan beyond Amudarya with all side effects that it brings.

But the most interesting building of Termez station is a tickets office house with a blue dome, especially when viewed from the platform: it is the station building of the old Bukhara railway. Termez fortress was built in 1891 right at the border of the two protectorates - Russian Bukhara khanate and the British Afghanistan, that is, at the stress point of the Great Game, where the British with the help of Afghans could easily grab Surkhandarya cut off by mountains from the rest of khanate. Neither the Russian Tsar nor the Bukharian Emir was interested in such a turn, and therefore, in addition to the trading Kagan, another Russian town appeared in the Bukhara Khanate - the military Termez. Communication with the fortress was unreliable, in the winter the mountain passes could be blocked by snow, Amu Darya covered in thin ice, unfit for either boat or sled, and for these reasons two Russian towns of Bukhara were connected with the railway, built entirely on the lands of emir through Karshi and Turkmen Kelif, where a similar station is also preserved, but without a dome.

From the train station to the city center leads straight At-Termizi street - there were 2 famous At-Termizi was two in the Muslim world: one collected hadiths and wrote one of the six canonical hadith compilations in Sunni Islam, the other was one of the most famous Sufi in the region and his mausoleum we will show in the next part about Old Termez. Whom the street was named after we don’t know, but most likely after the latter. In a couple of blocks from the train station is mandatory for any Uzbek city park with excavated in 1920-30 artificial lake. Below is the photo of park amphitheater with Alpamysh monument - this is not the sultan, who fought Mongols desperately but Turkic epic hero known in the whole triangle from here to the Altai and Tatarstan: it was the legend of the Mongol tribe Kungrats, who mixed with the people of all these lands and who considered the mountainous Baysun the birthplace of the hero.

Opposite the park is the most interesting sight of the "new" Termez: the archaeological museum, which was moved in 2002 into a posh building of Karimov's style. They say that the museum was established at the same time, but I would venture to assume that it was based on older collections - there could not have been a local history museum in the regional center taking into account precious finds from countless local settlements.

The exposition there is small in size, but leaves grandiose impression, and unlike in the well-known museum in Nukus, the tickets and the fees for taking photograph are very reasonable, the keepers of the halls are young, nice and competent.

The best exhibits are collected in a huge dome hall at the entrance, and a more detailed acquaintance with the local history - on the second floor, where original archaeological finds sit alongside "conditional reconstructions on motives". Of course, the most interesting thing for me was everything connected with the Greek-Buddhism and the role of Termez as a stronghold of this religion in Central Asia.

The museum and the park open the center of Termez, and walking further along the main street you'll come across everything that is supposed to be in the Uzbek regional center. For example, Dehkan-bazaar with teahouses and shopping complexes on the red line:

Post office with chimes "as in Tashkent":

There are a lot of Russians in Termez according to Uzbek standards, I would say about 5-7% of the total population, vast majority of them are descendants of the military, be it the garrison of the Termez fortress or the officers of the Afghan war, when Termez was the largest base of Soviet rear. It is also very easy to meet here the Afghans themselves, mostly the same Tajiks and Uzbeks, who moved here during the war and who have kept relatives here since the Emir times. 

The Khokimiyat (executive authority) at the intersection is the highest building of Termez, which dominates the city even when viewed from the surrounding steppes: in general, the khokimiyat high-rise towers (similar ones are in Bukhara, Samarkand and Navoi) are characteristic and some kind of one of the symbols of Uzbekistan. Termez joined the USSR in 1924 with the entire Bukhara People's Republic, and its regional status was very stable by Central Asian standards: the Surkhandarya District was created in 1926, it was abolished in 1930-38, and in 1941 it was simply replaced by an oblast (region) of the same name.

Basically, the center of Termez is such low-rise buildings, and this one, almost in front of the khokimiyat:

Actually, this is the same at-Termizi street, turning right behind the khokimiyat. On its other side is the central park, the Eternal Flame with the Sorrowful Mother and former esplanade. If I had come to Termez only six months earlier, then this street would lead me straight to the Termez fortress. But the fortress in Termez is no more - it was demolished last winter, just a few months before my arrival.

What for? Some say, "because it was dilapidated," others that "somebody needed this land," and everyone swears that it has nothing to do with the attitude to Russia. Nevertheless, madrasas are not demolished either because of dilapidation or the need for construction of something else, and the list of destroyed Soviet and Russian monuments and just buildings (including former churches) is growing every year - it seems that Uzbekistan is the only country of the former USSR where the ideological struggle against the past is not limited to monuments, but also directly affects the architectural heritage.

So, from now on we can witness the fortress only from the photos. And although the military were stationed here until the 21st century, it even managed to be a museum for several years ....

The fortress was almost a regular rectangle 900 meters along the perimeter with towers on the corners, and it was completely different from the fortresses built in the same years in Kaunas, Kerch or Konigsberg - there was no need to build complex semi-subterranean fortifications against the Afghans from the "buffer" khanates and Basmachi rebels from the vicinity, classical walls with loopholes were just enough:

Something also remained from the military unit once stationed here:

And by its structure the fortress resembled the ancient villages of Khorezm - the so-called "cities with residential walls". One acquaintance, who served in Termez in Soviet times, told how in the 1980s they lived here "right in the wall." But it is indicative that his first question, when I said that I write about these regions was "How is there in Termez? Is the fortress still stands?!" Not anymore, sorry ...

Shortly, it was absolutely unique to Central Asia monument, and its destruction - the wildest barbarism, and its destruction hurts even more than demolition of the Freedom Monument in Samarkand, and both monuments are among the hardest losses of cultural heritage after the collapse of the USSR.

On the other side of the park near the khokimiyat stretched Russian Termez, which turned out to be much more modest than Russian Samarkand or Kagan. In fact, it was not even a town, but just only a village by the fortress:

"Russian" style houses at times have characteristic Asian courtyards:

Something, of course, stands out against the general background - here is, for example, a couple of houses on a wide street, intersecting with at-Termisi on the corner of the former fortress:

This, for example, is the first school in Termez (1906) for children of the garrison. The memorial plaque, by the way, hangs and informs about it in Russian and Uzbek languages. Pay attention that the TV tower on the sidewall is not the Tashkent one, but the one from Moscow.

In the west, Russian Termez is restricted by another wide street of Sharaf Rashidov, behind which are stationed military units. The most capital building of the Russian Termez, which had spread out for half a block, was occupied earlier by the anti-plague headquarters of the Turkestan Military District (surprisingly it bore the same name in the times of USSR).

In the museum, I was told that initially it was the so-called State House, that is, apparently occupied by the village administration of Termez fortress:

Nearby is a wide irrigation ditch, leading through the quarter to the khokimiyat. If I would have walked along it straight, I would reach the Soviet House of Officers.

But at the next intersection I turned to the church of Alexander Nevsky (1901) standing in the geometric center of the Russian quarters:

That's how it looked before the revolution:

And by the sad appearance it's hard to guess that it was returned to believers back in 1990: the community is very poor, it's visible to the naked eye, but here you can feel love and care for each other, so valuable in a distant unfriendly land. 

Further just the houses and streets of Termez - I walked here without any guidance, and probably overlooked something important. An interesting feeling about Termez is that though it is not very tidy and clean, it has some inhuman correctness in it, even emasculation, which is sometimes felt in the town of the extreme North. The extreme North in front of the terrible uninhabited Arctic and the extreme South in front of the ancient and blessed Eukumene - in some way the opposites coincide.

The feature of Termez landscape is that in comparison with other Uzbek cities it has very little life:

As if the military camp had grown to five floors, had grown to hundreds of thousands of people, filled with newcomers, women and children, but still remained a military camp. And at the same time, the spirit of some meaningfulness of life strongly distinguishes Termez for the better from the equally uncomfortable Nukus.

But in general, I almost did not find places where my eye could stop:

Finally, let's explore the northern outskirts of Termez with its cozy kishlak-like makhallas - once the southern suburbs of the Old Termez they became the northern outskirts of present day Termez. Nevertheless, three ancient buildings are located literally within a radius of 1-2 km from the station. If you go from the station strictly to the north - you can find a small (54 x 54 meters) square ancient fortress:

It, unlike the Russian fortress, is not threatened with anything, since it is part of their own Uzbek history. The people call it Kirk-Kiz, and archaeologists believe it is about a thousand years old and was built in the 9-11th century at the heyday of the Muslim Termez, which in those days was nicknamed "Shahri-Gulgal" ("Noisy City"). But what it was exactly and what for it served no one really knows, and its name does not add to the clarity - "Kirk-Kiz" in translation means "Forty Maidens":

Legend, of course, says that this was a fortress, the last stronghold of the defense of Termez either from the Arabs or from the Mongols, where forty daughters of the local emir, led by the beautiful Gaukhar, held the fort. The clay walls were impenetrable, the maidens shot from the bows until the arrows ended, and according to one version they all perished in the fire-swept building, and by the other mortally wounded Gaukhar left the fortress and removed the helmet, and the enemy commander was so amazed at her beauty that he repented and left with the army. In principle, such legends in Central Asia are not uncommon, there is a Fortress of Forty Virgins in Khorezm, in Turkmenistan they defended the cave from robbers, and the name of the Kyrgyz people is somehow very suspicious, and of course there are tons of books written about the origin of this legend, but there is still no convincing version. Wars were not a rare event in these lands, there were just not enough men for all the battles, and it should not be a surprise that women often took part in the defense of cities.

According to another version, it was a fortified summer house of the ruler, where he could retire. I prefer the option that Kirk-Kiz is a female madrassah or even a female Sufi khanaka - the rarest, but still occasionally found institution in Central Asia, and here some archaeologists even talk about the architectural features of the "building designed for women." The local chronicler Ahmad ibn Mohammed Sagani Usturlobi (in our words Ahmad Mukhamedych Chaganian, nicknamed Astrolabe), the nephew of the same Sufi Khakim at-Termezi, mentioned in his writings the women's academy led by the highly educated for the epoch Ruhayda Binti Warrock, and that academy paid for her truthfulness: Ruhayda was invited by the Caliph himself, but in return she reminded him all the Arabs' destructions and atrocities, comparing him with the wild boar (and the boar is, for a second, a pig!), after which the Caliph threatened the governor to destroy the city. Ruhaydea had nothing to do but to close the school, dismissing the students to their homes and to stand for her position on her own. What happened with her later Ahmad Astrolabe not mentions, as well as what for the building was used after.

But most likely it had the same use as the legendary Tash Rabat caravanserai in Kyrgyzstan.

In one of the alleys, a tree was found in ribbons, immediately prompting me to recall the Buddhist past of Termez:

Another, no less mysterious building, is even closer to the station (around 1 km away), but diagonally to the southeast, almost a block from the locomotive depot. The construction with the dome and aivan is known as Kokildora - but in fact this word means the tradition of braids haircut of the grown boys, which was held here. Most of all, Kokildor resembles a mausoleum:

if not for the whole labyrinth of rooms - an incredible number of doors can be estimated by the photos above and below, but the doors also connect each of the rooms with neighboring:

According to the main version, this is a khanaka or a hotel for pilgrims of the 16th century, but there is also another version that this was the house of Said Ala al-Mulk at the beginning of the 13th century, and in the 14th century his descendant with the same name was honored by the visit of Tamerlane himself. You want to believe in such versions, thinking that in these very rooms sounded the voice of the great commander:

Be that as it may, Ala al-Mulk really lived in Termez, and Timur actually visited his house, and a little further away, around 2 kilometers from the railway station along the tracks, there is a huge complex of mausoleums at his grave - Sultan-Saodat:

... Like many Central Asian cities, Termez was devastated by Genghis Khan and never could return the former greatness of the Noisy City. Nevertheless, the life still glimmered here, and the new, already small Termez grew around the abode of Termez seids - theologians from among the descendants of the Prophet, who became the ideologists of Muslims fight with Mongol domination in the centuries after the invasion: the same Ala al-Mulk lived exactly in years of Genghis Khan's misfortune and inspired the people to fight with the invincible enemy and the revival of life in the devastated city. In general, such dynasties of priests and theologians, some kind of living guardians of the city, were not uncommon in Central Asia - I already showed Bukhara's Chor-Bakr, and Sultan-Saodat occupied the same place for Termez. However, if there was a city of the dead with a lot of buildings and cemetery courtyards, then here is the square, the Registan of the Dead surrounded by the mausoleums:

The oldest buildings here date back to the 10th century, the latest - to 17th. In each of these buildings there are several dozen gravestones:

The original building with the grave of al-Mulk closes the square - on different sides of the aivan are the mausoleum (directly), the mosque and the khanaka (on the sides), mostly built in the 10th century:

The tiles of Timurid times are very beautiful, and their pattern is somehow very local, in the style of Surkhandarya, not like everything that exists beyond the other side of the Hissar mountains:

And around an unusually beautiful cemetery with a high unfamiliar grass:

and, the ruins of clay mausoleums of some very bizarre forms:

And I finally saw the Amudarya and the bank of Afghanistan: after all, near Termez the great river forms an almost acute angle, and it close to the city almost from all sides. Old Termez is slightly to the north from the new one, but in the same way stands on the shore of Amudarya. But this will be in the next final part about what - in the next, the final part about Surkhandarya.

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