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Notes on the Geography of Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini)

Sadriddin Aini was one of the 20th century's best known writers in Tajik Persian.  His autobiography has been partially published in English as The Sands of Oxus: Boyhood Reminiscences of Sadriddin Aini, translated by John R. Perry and Rachel Lehr (1998).  In it, Aini describes the intense poverty in the village of Soktare, northeast of Bukhara.  That's where he grew up in the 1880s, when landlords controlled the countryside.  How are things 120 years later?

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Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 1

Along the way you can hardly miss the great minaret at Vabkent, built in 1198, some 70 years after the Kalon Minaret in Bukhara.  The conception is the same, but the proportions have been slimmed.

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 2

The mastery of bricklaying is still very evident, especially around the lantern. Alas, climbing wasn't allowed.

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 3

Outside Vabkent, cotton dominates a wide swath of country all the way to Soktare.  It hasn't always been this way. Aini writes that the countryside was "rich and produced a varied crop, including rice and vegetables, which require a great deal of water."

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 4

A quiet road leads into Soktare, which has only a few merchants.  The name of the town is pronounced approximately Sock-ta-RAY.

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Dry goods.

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A beauty salon.

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The biggest commercial structure.  The brickwork is not very arresting, but surprises lie ahead.

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 8

A high-end house is carefully ornamented.

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 9

And then this, not only executed in brick but with embedded brick columns directly descended from Bukhara's Samani Mausoleum.  Who owns such a house?  Convoluted answer: the Soviets eliminated the landlords and established a cotton monoculture.  Since independence, the government of Uzbekistan has leased the immense fields to local syndicates.  A condition of the lease is that the land stay in cotton and that the cotton is sold to the government at below-market prices.  That's good for the government, which resells the cotton at a profit. The lessees must do all right--otherwise, they'd quit.  The victims are the laborers whose salaries must be kept very low.  In a way, things haven't changed so much from the bad old days. 

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 10

So the offices of the cotton syndicates are in good shape. And how do the poorer villagers live? Well, we've left the main road for some back roads in the village.

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 11

Pretty typical.

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Here's the Soktare mosque, built--or rebuilt--by Aini's grandfather, Sayid-Omar Khoja.  It's a museum now.

Uzbekistan: Soktare (Sadriddin Aini) picture 13

Nearby is Aini's childhood house, still in the family.

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It's laid out around a U-shaped courtyard.  This is the best side.

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This is the open side.

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Opposite the best side there's an outdoor kitchen.

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A group of villagers.

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Back to business.

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And always cotton.  The fields are still harvested entirely by hand.

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