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Tashkent - reprised


Our organised tour would conclude with a bus trip to the Harzat Imam Complex.

Many of you may have noticed that earthquakes and other natural disasters don’t spare the holy places. See our visit to Lisbon, Portugal on this website, where a series of natural disasters caused many to lose faith in the Catholic Church, if not religion altogether, after the earthquake fire and tsunami on All Saints Day 1755, killed an estimated 100,000 people, many of whom were in church.  Since our return, the relatives of people killed in Lombok when the mosque collapsed in the earthquake on Sunday 5 Aug 2018 must be having similar doubts.

In the 1966 in Tashkent the devastation obviously included the Mosques. Since independence the Harzat Imam Complex in Tashkent has been reconstructed around the now restored 16th century Barak Khan Madrasah and the tomb of the poet Kaffal Shashi. The adjacent 19th century Tila Shaikh Mosque has been joined by the 2007 Hazrat Imam mosque. It’s all very new looking.


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The Harzat Imam Complex - Tashkent - with the19th century Tila Shaikh Mosque and the 2007 Hazrat Imam Mosque


More interesting is the Muyi Moborak library where one of five original first transcriptions of the Qur'an (Koran) is on public display. As you may know, in 607 CE in a mountain cave named Hira, The Prophet, Muhammad, received a visit from the Archangel Gabriel. The revelations received in the cave would be recited poetically in a series of inspiring sermons to his followers, like the Gospels of Jesus.

And like the Gospels of Jesus the only records of The Prophet’s sermons are the transcribed recollections those who heard him speak. It would be about twenty years before these were first collected into a single text known as the Qur'an (the recitation).

This collection was ordered by the Third Caliph, Uthman in 650 CE. It is said that he was concerned that the few who’d heard the Prophet speak, before he died in 632 CE, would soon themselves be dead. So he ordered that five true copies be made and that differing records and the working drafts be destroyed. Fragments of several of these originals still exist, confirmed by carbon dating.

Of course it doesn’t really matter what was actually said. The written word becomes the Word. In this respect the Qur'an is probably a much more reliable record, of what was actually said, than the Gospels. The most original of the Gospels, from which the others are drawn, is attributed to the Disciple, Mark. This is unlikely to be Mark’s firsthand account as he was probably illiterate and the author makes reference to the Jewish-Roman war in Juda in 68 CE. Thus scholars believe that it dates to between 68 and 70 CE (Anno Domini). The two other Synoptic Gospels, Mathew and Luke, are thought to be at least ten years more recent, as both make reference to the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues, in 85 CE, and Luke reprises and corrects elements thought to originate in Mathew, for example Mathew Chapter 1 where the genealogy of Jesus has insufficient generations to match the historical time frame, in a more scholarly way; and in Greek.

Uthman himself was said to have been violently cut down while reading his copy, that thus bears his blood. In the years that followed many of copies of these originals were made and a number are systematically stained with blood, perhaps as a tradition.

The copy on display here is either the original Uthman Qur'an, with Uthman’s actual blood, or a copy of similar age with blood systematically applied. This copy has a well-known provenance since the time of Tamerlane (Timur). It was held in Timur’s library before finding its way to the mosque of Khodja Ahrar in Samarkand, Timur’s home town.

When Samarkand fell to the Russians in 1868 a scholar purchased it and removed it to the collection of the Russian Imperial Public Library in Saint Petersburg where it and its provenance came under considerable scholarly analysis. They noted that it’s written in the eastern Arabian dialect of Classical Arabic. Yet Muhammad, originating from Mecca, is known to have spoken the western dialect of Classical Arabic, so there was already an element of translation inherent in the first Qur'an. They also noted that Uthman’s blood had marked several facing pages, as it they had been turned while the blood was still wet, suggesting a deliberate act.

After the October Revolution in 1917 a request was made to Lenin to return ‘the holy relic’ to Muslims and in 1924, the year of Lenin’s death, this was finally granted. It was first transferred to Tashkent; later to the Khodja Ahrar mosque in Samarkand then, after independence in 1991, to this purpose built museum in Tashkent. Needless to say it’s very holy and can’t be photographed. And doubting its authenticity is heresy. But the museum holds many other Qur'ans in numerous languages and some replica pages of the original that we were free to snap.


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One of five original Qur'ans is on display here - no photographs of the actual book


As we were spending a couple of extra days in Tashkent after the tour ended we took advantage of the favourable exchange rate and booked into a five star hotel near the Opera House. Here everything worked, the facilities and breakfasts were on a different level and the staff to guest ratio tripled, including a complementary upmarket limo to the airport. We could even get BBC World and other Western channels on the TV. But we did miss the space.



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A change of hotel


Serendipitously the Opera House was in the park across the road. We’d already bought tickets to both the ballet (Swan Lake) and the opera (Tosca). They were in the third row in the centre of the auditorium in this very traditional Opera House, all gold filigree and chandeliers. But they were so cheap, around $50 for two sets of two tickets, that we were expecting an amateur performance by a handful of travelling ‘artistes’, like the Australian club circuit, or perhaps students.

To our surprise several of the performers, particularly the lead tenor in Tosca, and the prima ballerinas and boys in Swan Lake might have graced any grand Opera stage in the world. Stage management, often clumsy in non-professional performances, was seamless with sets both effective and changed without apparent effort. Costumes were similarly professional and the orchestra faultless. We were flabbergasted. We’d enjoyed two world class performances from seats that might have cost 20 times more elsewhere.



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The Opera House - Tashkent - and a performance of Swan Lake


We also enjoyed two fine art galleries, that had been closed on the Monday of our first visit. In addition to the Art Gallery of Uzbekistan we walked around to the Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan that surprisingly holds two Kandinskys in addition to some fine European works. Although as the chief curator is presently serving nine years for selling artworks on black market and replacing them with copies, maybe the Kandinskys are not. 


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Art Gallery of Uzbekistan
with a lot of Impressionist works



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Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan
A surprisingly catholic collection in an officially Muslim country - there were several other nudes


The State Museum of History of Uzbekistan, not far from our second hotel, has a great deal of medieval period and Silk Road arts and crafts. As I remarked in Tajikistan the pre-history of human settlement is dated in line with current scholarship and does not accord with the Biblical version.  There are quite a few explanations in sometimes quaint English but a lot is not translated.  Nevertheless it was informative and interesting.


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The State Museum of History of Uzbekistan


The top floor is dedicated to the current government's political structure and economic achievements. It's behind on who the current world leaders are: 'The Donald' is not there but Hillary is. Yet it remains current on local and Russian leadership as nothing much changes in that regard around here.


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The State Museum of History of Uzbekistan - Government Achievements
Wouldn't Malcolm love to use our museums for propaganda!
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After independence Uzbekistan became a presidential constitutional republic, with a bicameral parliament.  Yet although the constitution provides for two five year terms, the previous President, Islam Karimov, served for 25 years. 

As in the US, the Constitution gives the President the power of executive government while the Parliament is the legislature.  But laws must be signed into effect by the President, creating a near dictatorship. Late in 2016 elections were held and in this firmly controlled society the previous Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev simply stepped up to succeed Karimov as President with little effective opposition.  This should stand as a warning to Australians when considering Constitutional reform.

So far Mirziyoyev has proven to be a little less dictatorial and in addition to relaxing visa restrictions to Tajiks he has lifted the 22:00 curfew allowing Uzbeks to enjoy the streets at night, a privilege they have taken up with gusto. Time will tell.




# Richard 2018-09-23 01:50

Interesting to hear your update on China’s Silk Road. In 2007 we travelled from Beijing to Kashgar then down the Kakoram Highway to Tashkurgan [less than 30Km from Pakistan border]. Whilst travelling we also visited Xiahe [with its large monestry] and noted the Chinefacation of this area. In fact recent photos of Kashgar seem to show that much of the old town has gone.

Interaction with the Uyghurs.indicat ed that they were not happy with the Han invasion.

A very interesting part of the world.

Richard Walker

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