Mengli Mamedova. Contributor from Turkmenistan.
There is a legend that goes around Turkmenistan about the old village of Nohur, which is about four hours drive to the west from the capital city of Ashgabat. Situated among the Kopetdag Mountains of Turkmenistan on the border with Iran, it is believe that the place received its name from “Noh” (Prophet Noah) and “Ur” (to swim), which means the place where Prophet Noah landed after surviving the Great Flood.[i]Residents of Nohur valley are also called the descendants of the Alexander the Great who left his injured soldiers in Nohur and ordered them to settle in this area.[ii] Today, local residents speak one of the dialects of Turkmen language, and some move to the capital city, where they preserve their ancient traditions from the Nohur valley in the places of their new residence.
Being one of the variations of the tribal groups of Turkmenistan, Nohursare full participants of the every day events and life of the Turkmen community. Just as other Turkmen tribes, such as Teke, Yomut, Ersary, Saryk, Goklen, Chovdur and others, Nohur tribe includes a number of small clans, such as Karadashly, Emreli, and Shihs.[iii] As many other Turkmen communities that reside on the same territory for a number of centuries isolated from the inter-tribal marriage and preserving their unique version of Turkmen language[iv], Nohur tribe promotes its historical roots and ancient traditions, such as marrying within the community and practicing peculiar wedding ceremonies, and emphasizes the importance of knowing where they come from and what makes them special. However, the tribe demonstrates ideal integration within its greater Turkmen community based on tribal affiliation. While identity, clan politics and kinship issues are interesting topics for scholars studying Central Asia, the case of the Nohur tribe in Turkmenistan demonstrates an ideal integration of the community into a broader society.
So what do young decedents of Nohur tribe know and think about their ancestors?
For this essay, the author interviewed four representatives of the Nohur tribe residing in Ashgabat. Their answers are reflected in the summaries or quoted as stated by the participants.
Modern Nohurs are educated about their ancestry and the legends, such as the one about being the descendants of the Alexander the Great. While the respondents were very proud to hear the legendand see expressed interest in their tribal history, three out of four said that the legend is not true as it is not supported by any historical evidence and writing. In fact, Nohur tribe is rarely mentioned in the history books about Turkmen tribes, but the oral stories of their emergence traveled through the centuries. One of the respondents said that the tribe originates from “those who arrived on nine donkeys. “No” in Persian is “nine” and “hur” is “donkey”,” mentioned one of the interviewees. As the respondent explained in Safavid Albeniya, nine people were put on donkeys and sent far away from the country for committed crimes. They arrived in Nohur area and settled down on this territory. Meanwhile, Annamyrat B. mentioned that the legend about Alexander the Great was created to integrate Nohur people with the rest of Turkmen intelligentsia. “By spreading the legend, people tried to gain historical advantage and respect.”
The interviewees noted that, in addition to the internal clan division, the modern tribe is divided into two big groups: “urban Nohurs” that come from Ashgabat and “rural” that stayed in their historical residential area. Most of the urban representatives of the tribe are employed as drivers, mechanics and other technical and mechanical jobs. On the other hand, the rural population is involved into agriculture. However, modern Nohurs are not too keen to continue their ancestors’ way of living. Two of the interviewees mentioned that they would like to be employed by the government; one said he wants to make business, and another has not decided yet. Annamyrat B. shared that he is “proud to live in this country and I would like to become important here. I like to make important decisions and I think that I am good at it.” Another participant said “My goal is to become a minister; if I cannot do it I will do business in my country. I finished university and my family supports me. If I cannot work for the government I will do business.”
In terms of involvement with the whole Turkmen community, respondents were unanimously positive about disclosing their Nohur identity and integrating with the society. “All of my friends are from Ashgabat. We are Nohurs, but we are Turkmen too. 50% of my friends are Nohurs and another 50% are Turkmen from Ashgabat. We somehow find each other. Maybe because most of us have relatives in the Nohur area.” Thinking about what integration and preservation of the old traditions means, one of the respondents mentioned “We speak Nohur at home, but when I am with my friends, at school or work I speak Turkmen. Because I live in Ashgabat, I speak Ashgabat dialect, if I lived in Dashoguz, I would speak Dashoguz.”
While being one of the tribes of Turkmen, Nohurs preserve their language and cultural practices. However, as it becomes clear from the responses of the interviewees, young generation of Nohurs residing in the capital city do not see the difference in language and practices as utterly important. Instead, they demonstrate that tribal identity does not need to go against the overall national consciousness.
[ii] http://www.abandonthecube.com/blog/nohur-the-last-call-to-prayer/ Nohur: The Last Call to Prayer by ‘Abandon the Cube Travel Journal’
[iii]Российский этнографический музей. Глоссарий. Туркмены
[iv]Джикиев, Ата, dissertation Этническая история населения Южного и Юго-Восточного Трукменистана в XVI-XIX вв., 1988, Tashkent, http://cheloveknauka.com/etnicheskaya-istoriya-naseleniya-yuzhnogo-i-yugo-vostochnogo-trukmenistana-v-xvi-xix-vv