In this Ex-Libris are some selected readings about history, traditions, religion, way of life and geographical locations of Wakhi people in High Asia. It was prepared for the travelers who intend to visit the Gojal Valley (Upper Hunza, Pakistan) or Wakhan Corridor (Tajikistan & Afghanistan). It could, also, be a post-travel tool to organise ground observations and to see them in a wider perspective.
Nazif Shahrani: “The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan — Adaptation to closed frontiers and war”, 1979, 2002, University of Washington Press. The author, a naturalized US citizen, is an anthropologist born in Sharan, an Uzbek village of Afghan Badakhshan. He started his academic studies in Kabul and conducted numerous researches, census and treks in Wakhan and Pamirs over decades. Due to his mother tongue, he was able to rapidly acquire Kirghiz language. Thanks to his deep involvement, his close relations and the mutual esteem with late Haji Rahman Qul, the greatest known Kirghiz Khan, he could produce a unique humanist and scientific work. His testimony about the people of “Bam e Dunya” has, probably, no equivalent, as of today. Moreover, it is written with a beautiful style.
Matthieu and Mareile Paley, in French: “Pamir — Oubliés sur le toit du monde”, in English: “Pamir- Forgotten on the roof of the world” 2012, éditions de la Martinière (also in German). A must read and a world class photographic master piece by this French photographer about Afghan Kirghiz and Wakhi people, he visited over numerous years, including in winter. The warm spirit of this long quest will, for sure, touch all the readers sensible to authentic adventure and passion while the esthetic dimension of the images is nothing but stunning. It is probably true to assert that French Matthieu Paley and his German wife, Mareile, common homeland is Chapursan Valley where they are considered as being part of the famous Alam Jan Dario’s and his remarkable brother, the late Sarfraz Khan’s, large family. It is worth to mention both learned Wakhi language in Zoodkhun with their relatives of adoption, who are proud of them.
“Sekr Yenj, the red canyon… Irshad Pass (4 979 m) is very close. We are still in Afghanistan, but I start feeling at home. Air has the smell of Pakistan, now so close” (Mareile Paley, 2005)
Odinamamadi Mirzo: “Wakhan — A scientific, historic and ethnographic study”, “Irfon”, Ministry of Culture of the Tajikistan, 2010 (firstname.lastname@example.org). A quite complete book in a small format about Wakhan. Many numerous detailed explanations about this specific area and about the Tajik Wakhi. The author was born in 1936, in Namadgut (Tajik Wakhan). On the soviet way, he got numerous medals. His « academic » writing is still dated from this period. The translation from Russian to English is poor. The low printing “quality” is not a help either. There is obviously a large number of contradictions and errors in term of history and religions in this compilation which is neither a scientific publication nor a tourist guide. Numerous locations of interest are presented, unfortunately with no maps. However, with enough determination the reader who wants to learn about Wakhan and Wakhani (as the author calls them) will take a great advantage in going until the last page. This book might still be available for purchase in Namadgut museum.
Gohar Abbas: “Heaven and hell”, Agence France Press (AFP), 2018. In French: “Le pays suspendu entre l’enfer et le paradis”. It is much more than what is called, today, “tourism.” However, in London, this article won, in the category “Travel and tourism story of the year” at the Foreign Press Association (FPA) Media Awards (considered as Oscars of Journalism). The nomination and, then, the award caused a strong enthusiasm and pride in Gojal (actually it was also the first nomination and the first award of this kind for the “Agence France Press”). Wakhi people in Pakistan, united by a strong community feeling, are always very prompt to celebrate the success of one them. It was again the case when some of their girls came back, recently, with gold medals from Dubai special olympic games. The author works for AFP in Islamabad. He is a Wakhi of Gulkhin Village in Hunza Valley, Pakistan. He explains how he left from Baba Ghundi (shrine after Zood Khun) and crossed, by foot, Irshad Pass (4 979 m) before meeting with Wakhi people in Afghan Wakhan Corridor. His beautiful real story shows how many things they have in common, sharing the same origin and the same geographical environment. However, being in the territory of his ancestors Gohar Abbas saw how the life is different, there, from the one of Hunza. He observed this dreamed heaven has also its hell sides. It would be extremly interesting to read about Tajik and Chinese Wakhi from Gohar Abbas. Hopefully, he will visit them in the future.
Peter Hopkirk: “The Great Game — On Secret Service in High Asia” published by John Murray, 1990. In French: “Le Grand Jeu — Officiers et espions en Asie Centrale”, published by Nevicata, 2011, 2013. This book is considered as one of the major tool for understanding the deep roots of Afghan crisis and wars since 1978. It was extensively exploited by those who had to write about the endless disaster faced by the unfortunate people of this country. However, its scope is larger, while embracing other territories of British and Russian competition in Asia: Turkey, Caucasus, Persia, Western Turkistan, Eastern Turkistan, Tibet and kingdoms in the northwest part of India. The period covered starts with Peter the Great to finish with the 1907 Anglo Russian convention.
At the end of the XIX century, in the middle of some of the highest mountains of the world, having reached their maximum expansion, the two large empires finally met at the borders of a third one, China. This is the area where live the small Wakhi nation. It explains why, since this time, Wakhi people are confined into four different countries within closed frontiers. Zoodkhun, the last settlement of Chapursan Valley, is an evidence of such a situation. In its south and east stays the state it belongs to, Pakistan, the Muslim regional legatee of the British empire. In the north of the village, mountains border China. Across the western ridges is the Great Game buffer, Afghanistan. A few kilometers from there is Tajikistan, the most southern part of former Russian and Soviet empires.
In chapters # 33, 34 and 35, Hopkirk precisely presents the historical process which, within a very few years, determined and froze the present territorial and political organization of Wakhi people. He gives numerous interesting and, sometimes, picturesque details. For example, on August 13, 1891, Francis Younghusband (who, two years before, encountered the Russian agent, Bronislav Grombchevsky, near Shimshal Pass and the Wakhi Shimshal Valley) met with Colonel Yanov and his Cossacks, in Bozai Gumbaz (altitude: 3,800m), a remote place of Afghan little Pamir. They shared drinks. They had common toasts for their respective sovereigns and diner together. However Russia having unilaterally decided Wakhan and Pamirs were of its belonging, Yanov threatened Younghusband with making him prisoner if he wanted to go back directly to Gilgit on the most direct way (possibly via Irshad Pass and Zood Khun) to report this annexion. The British agent had to detour via China (nevertheless entering Hunza via Wakhi territory). British press, parliament and public opinion fury brought the anti-Russian feeling at its highest level. Shacked by British military arrangements and vigorous diplomatic protestations, the Tsar and his ministers had to step back.
Hopkirk also indirectly introduces us to the spoiling effect, on local populations, of the modern strict “natural borders” (mainly rivers and mountains) concept. However, it was not his intention. On the opposite, he praises Abdur Rahman, Afghanistan ruler between 1880 and 1901, for having created a stable centralized authoritarian state under the sole control of Pashtuns. As a consequence, for a more complete information, it is mandatory to read the brilliant “Preface to the 2002 Edition: Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Global Terror, Inc.” (The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan) where Nazif Shahrani, an Afghan Uzbek anthropologist, shows how the country, designed for British and Russian interests, had its foundations built on sand but also on tyranny and spoliations against other ethnicities including the smallest ones, like Wakhi. Odinamamadi Mirzo (Wakhan) develops the dark Abdur Rahman’s legacy focusing especially on Wakhi people. The soviet Tajik background of the last writer can’t explain, by itself, such a negative opinion, which is adequately supported by tangible facts. Eventually, if Peter Hopkirk’s work stays without any equivalent regarding history and actors of the Great Game it, nevertheless, shows that a geopolitical vision, even with a deep local approach, misses the human factor.
Today, in High Asia, the Great Game continues without United Kingdom while Russia is being pushed out of the stage by China strongly promoting its leadership through the “Road and Belt Initiative” (BRI). The Karakoram Highway (KHH), which crosses the Wakhi area from Gulmit (Pakistan) until Tashkurgan (Chinese Xinjiang), can be considered as a prototype of this new way of implementing protectorates. In other parts of the world, where not countered by such a determined skilled interlocutor as China, there is a complete consistency of Vladimir Putin’s international affairs approach with the “fait accompli” politics applied by Tsarist imperialism at the time of the first Great Game. There are recent facts, over the last ten years, remembering Bozai Gumbaz and numerous examples exposed in this book. Instead of keeping their “Cold War” analysis model, Western rulers and political commentators should read Hopkirk again, whose contribution cannot be limited into the Afghan sphere. They would better understand and anticipate the current Kremlin’s moves instead of complaining, a posteriori, about what they consider its irregular and unpredictable behavior.
John Mock: “Shrine Traditions of Wakhan Afghanistan”, Journal of Persianate Studies 4 (2011) 117–145. This work is an outstanding source of information about religions in Wakhi areas. Conducting such a survey in Chapursan Valley woud be of great interest.
D. A. Scott: “Zoroastrian Traces along the Upper Amu Darya (Oxus)”, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland №2 (1984), pp. 217–228
Karim Khan Saka : “Parlons wakhi” (Let’s talk Wakhi), 2010, L’Harmattan, in French. The author is from Shimshal. He presents some information and comprehension keys about Wakhi way of life and traditions. This part is more useful than its language one while Wakhi words are written in an original alphabet composed by Russian researchers mixing Latin, Cyrillic and Turkish (?) characters. Then, reading, pronunciation and memorization of these words are less than obvious.
Guide to the Chapursan Valley: “Myths of Chapursan Valley”, quite a complete presentation of traditions and faith in the valley which houses Baba Ghundi Ziarat, a major Sufi shrine for Ismaili believers in Northern Pakistan. It is a good complement to John Mock’s article (see above).
Caravanistan: “The Awe-Inspiring Fortresses of Pamir”
Robert Middleton: “The Pamiri house” Pamirs.org, 2002
K. E. Eduljee: “Zoroastrian Heritage”, Heritage Institute
Dr. Kersey H. Antia: “Did Zoroastrian influences survive in Wakhan?”, Avesta, 1986
Bernard Grua, Nantes, France, January 8, 2020