Nuraida Abdykapar kyzy is an independent researcher currently based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her article “Female Heroes in a Man’s World: The Construction of Female Heroes in Kyrgyzstan’s Symbolic Nation-Building,” co-authored with Helge Blakkisrud, appeared in the April 2017 issue of Demokratizatsiya.
Demokratizatsiya caught up with Nuraida to get a behind-the-scenes look at her research and find out what’s next for her.
DEM: What first sparked your interest in female heroes in Kyrgyzstan?
NA: I started working on this article in 2014 and was primarily interested in researching nation building in Kyrgyzstan from the gender perspective. 2014 was also the year when the state sponsored movie “Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains” was produced and presented, signifying the shift in nation-building, which had previously been heavily focused on male heroes. This shift inspired me to look into how Kyrgyz female heroes, including Kurmanzhan Datka, are constructed and what roles they play in nation-building.
Another exciting aspect of working on this article was rereading school history textbooks. I grew up in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, studying national history according to the recent generation of history textbooks. I was fascinated by the idea of rereading the latter as a researcher and was particularly interested in finding some surprising elements.
I would also like to mention that this article is my contribution to the “History writing and nation-building in Central Asia” project, carried out by fellow researchers from Central Asian countries and Dr. Helge Blakkisrud, the co-author of the article. Being the only female member of the research group, I felt the responsibility to bring women’s perspective.
DEM: Was there anything that surprised you about your findings?
NA: Being relatively familiar with the content of the history textbooks from school, I certainly expected that the textbooks would contain fewer women than men. However, it was surprising to discover that women were invisible mainly due to the fact that it was not considered necessary to mention their names in the textbooks. We provide examples from the textbooks in the article, where women are referred to as someone’s daughter, wife, etc. Female figures’ names were considered unnecessary and their roles were limited to being a connection between two male figures, such as husband and father. Moreover, it was also interesting to explore how female figures who were assigned significant roles were constructed as masculinized, “honorary males” representing masculine values. The “Female Heroes with Masculine Traits” section of the article provides a more in-depth discussion of this tendency.
DEM: Why do you think it’s important to understand the ways in which female heroes are framed?
NA: Looking into the construction of female heroes primarily allows for an exploration of the gender dimension of nation-building. Students learning about the Kyrgyz nation according to the current history textbooks, especially the girls, are likely to perceive the nation and themselves based on how female symbols are presented to them. Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of the shortcomings of the current outcomes of using female heroes in nation building, in order to look for more constructive alternatives.
DEM: In what ways are the findings of your research significant outside the context of Kyrgyzstan?
NA: One of the general aims of the article is to contribute to the wider literature on gender and nationalism. Hopefully, our findings will serve to study the official narrative’s reproduction and promotion of gendered national identity in other states that are newly launching their nation-building projects.
DEM: What’s next for you?
NA: Currently, I am continuing my research on nation-building in Kyrgyzstan to contribute to the second phase of the “History writing and nation-building in Central Asia” project. My next work is going to be a book chapter on how Soviet history textbooks have been revised in independent Kyrgyzstan.