Day 12: Osh – Kokand (Uzbekistan): Another day, another border crossing. The Uzbeks are the worst of the countries we visited for controls, they search everything both going into the country and leaving. Reckon on 2 hours at least for their side of the border, the other side is usually quicker. Bored border guards with no sense of being ambassadors for their countries's tourism fill their hours in rifling through your belongings.

We were then driven through the Fergana Valley, a very fertile region which was the breadbasket of the Central Asian USSR and is still one of the wealthiest parts of the whole region. The Fergana Valley was an important conduit on the Silk Roads (more precisely the North Silk Road), which connected the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an to the west over the Wushao Ling Mountain Pass to Wuwei and emerging in Kashgar before linking to ancient Parthia, or on to the north of the Aral and Caspian Seas to ports on the Black Sea.

Lunch and a tour at the city of Fergana which was founded as a garrison town by the Russians after they captured the khanate of Kokand. At present Ferghana is an important industrial centre.

We stop in the town of Margilon, centre of the still thriving Silk trade in the area. We had an explanation of the entire silk-weaving process from cocoon to end product. The explanation was good, even though the factory (they pretended it was still operating, but it clearly was not) was merely a tourist draw.

We then went on to visit Rishton, renowned for its blue & green ceramics. I am usually wary about "an opportunity to buy" stops on guided tours - they invariably mean commission for the guide and little else - but in this cast the pottery was superb and prices for the quality very reasonable. The problem was of course in getting any large purchases back home in one piece - reluctantly I decided against purchases. However it was really interesting to see the craftsmen applying their outline design, then filling in the intricate patterns laboriously by hand.

And we ended the day at Kokand, which is on the crossroads of the ancient trade routes, at the junction of two main routes into the Fergana Valley, one leading northwest over the mountains to Tashkent, and the other west through Khujand. As a result, Kokand is the main transportation junction in the Fergana Valley.

1917. The Tashkent Soviet initially recognized the authority of Kokand, but restricted its jurisdiction to the Muslim section of Tashkent, and demanded the final say in regional affairs. The Jadids hoped to establish a unified nation for all Turkic, Muslim peoples, while the Bolsheviks envisioned a more divided Central Asia based on lines. As a formal challenge to the Bolshevik model of nation building, the Jadids founded a unified provisional government in the city of Kokand, with the intention of remaining autonomous from the Soviet Union. After lasting only one year, 1917–1918, Kokand was brutally crushed by the forces of the Tashkent Soviet. Red Army soldiers and Armenian Dashnaks thoroughly pillaged Kokand, carrying out what was described as a "pogrom," in which around 14,000 people died. This massacre, along with the execution of many Ferghana peasants who were suspected of hording cotton and food, incensed the Muslim population. Irgash Bay took up arms against the Soviets, declaring himself "Supreme Leader of the Islamic Army," and the Basmachi rebellion started in earnest.

Kokand saw ethnic violence in 1989. The New York Times reported on 10 Jun 1989.

Ethnic violence is continuing in Uzbekistan, the Government reported today, with scores of people wounded by gunfire and troops hard pressed to rout mobs of Uzbek marauders hunting down the republic's minority Meskhetians....In the worst incident, the Soviet television said a mob of as many as 5,000 armed with automatic weapons, knives and clubs marauded through the centre of Kokand and, by the authorities' estimate, shot as many as 100 people....The violence, rooted in long simmering ethnic tensions, broke out last weekend in Fergana when more than 40 members of the Meskhetian minority were slain by angry mobs. Homes Set Afire. With gangs roaming and setting fire to Meskhetian homes, the death toll is at least 80, including a number of Uzbeks. About 400 people are being treated in hospitals, according to Government information...''The crowds are well organized and have special political goals,'' said Gen. Yuri V. Shatalin, national commander of the 12,000 internal troops trying to put down the rioters. ''Apparently some people don't like what's going on in the country and in Uzbekistan in particular,'' he declared in a television interview from Kokand...The television report this evening measured the anger of the crowds by noting that a local Communist official who faced a crowd was ''unable to find a common language,'' and that they then ''moved on him with sticks and stones. ''This evening, additional troops were being flown to Uzbekistan, and Meskhetian neighborhoods, scarred by arson, were emptying out as families fled to outlying refugee camps under the protection of military garrisons. A reported factor in the tensions is the Uzbek domination of the local party and Government apparatus, which compounds the Mezkhetians' underdog status.The violence is centred in the rich Fergana Valley, with most of the casualties reported in the city of Fergana.

None of this was mentioned by our guides. Today the principal sights of Kokand are

Click on any of the thumbnail images to get a larger photo

First stop, for lunch and culture was Fergana. A walk round the town took us to the Khamza Museum, dedicated to Kokand’s Soviet hero Hamza Hakimzade Niyazi The only interest to me was their collection of Soviet WW2 posters, somewhat remisiscent of "Your Country Needs You" in Britain in WW1.
The visit to the Silk Factory - portrayed by the guides as "authentic", was quite clearly a tourist demonstation site, but interesting none the less. I am unclear why they wanted to palm it off a authentic!.
Rishton is one of the most famous and oldest centers of ceramics in Uzbekistan. Legend claims that the art is over 800 years old, passed down from generation to generation. A fine quality reddish-yellow clay deposit 1-1.5 meters deep and 0.5-1.5 meters thick underlies almost the whole Rishton area. The clay can be used without refinement or addition of other types of clay from other regions. Besides clay, the potters of Rishton extracted various dyes, quartz sand, and fire clay from the surrounding mountains. The craft looked as if it might die away but recent new poteries have reviced the skill
Dakhma-I-Shokhon burial vault. Outside the doors local women "cured" anyone that came with health problems. Apparently many would go before seeing a doctor - it's cheaper. Their aim seemed to be to beat the badness out of people.
The Palace of Khudáyár Khán was built between 1863 and 1874. Upon completion, it was one of the largest and most opulent palaces in Central Asia. Nineteen of its original one hundred and thirteen rooms survive and now host a museum.

On to Khodjent

Back to Silk Road journey