Karakalpakstan. History and modernity

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Karakalpakstan. History and modernity

Historical Background

The territory of Karakalpakstan has been inhabited since ancient times. Earliest settlements include temporary Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age sites at the foot of the Sultan Uvays Dag mountain range and along the Amudarya River banks, used by hunters and fishermen who had a simple way of life.

In addition, there is a hypothesis of a Palaeolithic migration from the Northern Caucasus and its adjourning territories. It is assumed that migration could occur during the periods when the Caspian Sea level decreased significantly and its northern part dried up, creating a direct land link between the Northern Caucasus, Mangyshlak and Ustyurt.

The first Neolithic sites date back to approximately the IV century B.C. During this era, there were two main distinctive areas with different natural conditions, lifestyle and culture. The first area is an ancient delta of the Amudarya (the south delta of Akchadarya River) in Southern Karakalpakstan. The second area is located on the vast expanses of the Ustyurt Plateau.

The Akchadarya Delta was an abundant water flood plain with lakes, islands and swamps rich in fish, wild animals and birds. This area gave birth to the so-called Neolithic Kelteminar culture of ancient fishermen and hunters (IV–III centuries B.C.). It should be noted that Kelteminar culture had large scale villages which were each separate matriarchal clan settlements.

During the Bronze Age the Southern Aral Sea region was a place where the tribes and cultures of different origins actively mixed together. Later on, a Khorasmiya nation developed on this basis.

In the VI century B.C., the first Khorezm cities currently located in the regions of Khorezm, Uzbekistan and Tashoguz, Turkmenistan were founded. At that time, Khorezm was part of the Achaemenid Empire. According to Herodotus, it was part of the Persian Empire’s 16th satrapy. Moreover, it is mentioned that Khorezm warriors served in the Achaemenid army and took part in the construction of Persepolis.

The State of Ancient Khorezm originated at the cusp of the V and IV centuries B.C. The majority of its monuments are located within the boundaries of modern Karakalpakstan. During this period a number of fortified towns in the form of a unified fortress system were constructed.

The first centuries A.D. of Ancient Khorezm history are known as the Kushan Period, although it is still unknown whether Khorezm was an official part of the Kushan Empire.

Starting from the IV century A.D, Khorezm was ruled by the Afrigids dynasty that governed the country till the end of the X century After the Arab invasion Khorezm was divided into two parts: Kyate (right bank) that was left to the Afrigids dynasty, and Gurganzh, ruled by the Arab governor, the emir.

At the end of the VI–VII centuries, the Kerder culture originated in the Amudarya Delta (the Aral Sea region). It was distinguished by its own coins, original moulded ceramics and a new settlement layout. Its centre, Kerder city, was located on the ancient site of the Khaivan Kala Settlement in the Nukus district.

In the XI century a new state of the Khorezm Shahs (Khwarazmian) Dynasty was founded on the territory of Ancient Khorezm. It collapsed in the XIII century as a result of Mongol invasion. Despite mass destruction, Amudarya west bank lands were restored during the Golden Horde reign. Thus, in the XIV century Khorezm became the richest cultural area of the Golden Horde. It played a significant role in international trade that spread over a vast territory from China to Rome and the Baltic Sea to India.

In the XIX century the territory of modern Karakalpakstan was part of the Khiva Khanate. In 1924, the Karakalpak Autonomous Region with an administrative centre in Turtkul city was formed. In 1992, Karakalpakstan was transformed into a sovereign republic as a part of Uzbekistan.


Karakalpakstan territory can be divided into four botanical and geographical regions: the Ustyurt Plateau, the Kyzylkum Desert, the lower reaches of the Amudarya River and the dry areas of the Aral Sea. At present, approximately 1,000 higher plant species grow in these regions. A great number of these plants have beneficial properties and have been widely used in medicine since ancient times.

The Ustyurt Plateau is abundant in forage plants that enable cattle grazing year-round. Here you can find various plants such as biyurgun, wormwood, saxaul, keyreuk, ephemerals and ephemeroids.

The sandy expanses of the Kyzylkum Desert are covered with various types of vegetation: white saxaul, djuzgun, wormwood, cherkez and biyurgun. There are also different cereals, ilaks, ephemerals and ephemeroids, such as ephedra, sagebrush and selin. The selin plant is also known as three-awned grass. A great number of these plants are used as cattle fodder and medicine (ferula, ephedra and woodworm).

Another botanical and geographical region of Karakalpakstan, the lower reaches of the Amudarya River, is known as a typical plain without relief that has a faint slope towards the Aral Sea. The lower reaches of the Amudarya River are characterized by a high concentration of riparian woodlands growing within the area of the modern and ancient Amudarya deltas. They are considered the main area of riparian woodlands distribution in Central Asia. The other types of vegetation growing in the lower reaches of the Amudarya include reed, fodder, medicinal, dyeing and aromatic plants.

Vegetation from the dried bottom of the Aral Sea that people have started to cultivate only recently is still scarce. It consists of various types of halophytes: tamarisk species, djizguns, glassworts, selins and others. One of the most important subarborescent plants is black and white saxaul.


Karakalpakstan has quite a rich biodiversity represented by 498 vertebrate species, including 68 mammals, 307 birds, 33 reptiles, two amphibians, and 49 fish.

Karakalpakstan fauna has its own peculiarities. Desert inhabitants are considered the best runners. For instance, hedgehogs, which are relatively slowmoving animals, are represented here by eared and Brandt’s hedgehogs, which have considerably longer limbs than European varieties.

The most widely distributed mammals in Karakalpakstan include long-clawed ground squirrels, jerboas, wolves, wild boars, foxes and hares. Birds are represented by saxaul jays, desert sparrows and magpies. The most commonly encountered reptiles are lizards and sand boas. The fish species include grass carp, Amudarya trout, carp, pike perch, snakehead, silver carp and others.

The number of invertebrate species is seven times greater than that of vertebrates. The most common invertebrates include phalanges, scorpions, tarantulas and beetles. It is worth noting that Karakalpakstan is known for its large variety of insect species – 1,392.

In recent decades, the number of animal species has declined considerably. Sixtythree species have gained protection according to the Red Book of Uzbekistan (2003). The famous Asiatic cheetah and Turan tiger were added to the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an extinct mammal species. Mammals such as honey badger, Turkmen caracal, Turkmen onager, and Ustyurt sheep are included on the IUCN critically endangered list. The IUCN list also contains several endangered birds (marbled teal, Asiatic white crane and others) as well as various fish species (large and small Amudarya shovelnose and others).

Rivers and Lakes

Karakalpakstan water resources are mainly represented by large and small lakes and rivers, including the famous Amudarya River and the Aral Sea.

Amudarya is the most water-bearing river in Central Asia. It is formed in the mountainous areas of Hindu Kush and Pamir. The riverhead of Amudarya – the Vakhdjir River – has its source in the Vrevskiy glacier on the north slope of the Hindu Kush at a height of about 4,900 metres above sea level. The Amudarya River takes on its own name after the confluence of the Piandj and Vakhsh rivers. The overall length from the source of the Piandjr River to the Aral Sea is 2,574 kilometres and from confluence with the Vakhsh River, 1,415 kilometres.

The Amudarya Basin is divided into three main parts: upper stream (above the Kelif gauging station, which serves as a border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan); middle reach (between Kelif gauging stations and Tuyamuyun) and lower reaches (below Tuyamuyun). The territory of Karakalpakstan is crossed by the lower reaches of Amudarya River. The former length was 460 kilometres. Currently Amudarya has no direct access to the Aral Sea, because since 1977 its riverbed has been blocked by dams.

The largest lakes of Karakalpakstan include the Aral Sea and a Sudoche lake group with an adjoining Khodjakul-Karadjar lake group, as well as a number of artificially created reservoirs.

The main lakes and artificial ponds such as the Mezhdurechensk Reservoir, Makpalkol Lake, Maypost-Domalak system, as well as the Muynak, Ribachiy, and Zhiltirbas bays are located in the central part of the Amudarya Delta and its right bank. All Karakalpakstan water reservoirs are used for fishery. All lakes are fed by Amudarya waters or recurrent drainage from irrigated fields.

The Aral Sea

The Aral Sea is located in the heart of the Central Asian deserts, 53 metres above sea level. Before the 1960s it was still the fourth largest lake in the world (64,500 square kilometres) and had an average depth of approximately 16 metres and a maximum depth of 68 metres.

Throughout its history, the Aral Sea has undergone significant fluctuations in sea level. Remains of trees have been found on its bottom and during the Cenozoic era it was connected with the Caspian Sea.

The Aral Sea received waters from the two largest rivers in Central Asia – Amudarya and Syrdarya. Unsustainable use of river waters, as well as blocking of the Amudarya release into the Aral Sea during the 1970s, resulted in an ecological catastrophe; the Aral Sea has almost completely dried out. Over the past 30 to 40 years, the Aral Sea area has decreased significantly. From the beginning of the 1950s to 1960s the sea level was 53.5 metres above that of the Baltic Sea (according to the Baltic system of heights). Scientists started to track the changes in the Aral Sea water level in 1970 when it fell by 2.4 metres. As reported in 2009, the central part of the Aral Sea has completely dried up. At that time, the area was only 11,800 square kilometres and the total water volume was only 10 percent of that recorded in 1960. Today, the Aral Sea is divided into three separate bodies of water: the North Aral Sea (the Lesser Sea, or Small Aral Sea) and the western and eastern basin of South Aral Sea (the Greater Sea, or Large Aral Sea). Increased salinity caused a sharp decline in marine life, while the shallow water levels led to desertification and climate change.

In the 1970s the Aral Sea was inhabited by 34 fish species, 20 of which had commercial importance. However, in the early 1980s, due to its depletion the fishing industry was curtailed. Nevertheless, the

current state of seawater creates favourable conditions for the breeding of crustaceans (brine shrimp).

Biosphere reserve

The Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve (LABR), formerly known as Baday-Tugay National Reserve, is located on the right bank of the Amudarya River at the foothills of the Sultan Uvays Dag mountain range and the right side of Karatau Mountains. It has an area of 68,717.8 hectares.

The territory of the Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve is divided into three main zones. A strictly protected (core) zone was meant for conservation of natural riparian woodlands (tugai), and rare and endangered animal and plant species, preserving its unique biodiversity. The core zone prohibits any type of economic activities except research and monitoring of natural processes. Buffer zone rings around the strictly protected zone ensures its buffer with an area of intensive use of resources. A transition zone adjoins the western and buffer zones. It aims to develop a sustainable use of natural resources. The zone provides an area for a rural population, excluding large settlements as well as harmful and dangerous production facilities. Three hundred fifty-six vertebrate species, including 36 mammal species are registered in the Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve.

The Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve has conducted significant work in preserving the population of the Bukhara deer that was included in the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Red Book of Uzbekistan. In 1978, the reserve had 16 registered Bukhara deer. By 2010 the overall number of species exceeded 500 and in 2014 it reached approximately 700. Scientists believe that the reserve has become the largest shelter for Bukhara deer in the world.

Currently LABR floristic composition consists of 419 higher plant species. It includes 320 fodder, 68 medicinal, 73 alkaloid, 47 tanniferous, 20 dye, 56 noxious, 11 fiber, 40 bee and 25 essential oil plants.

Cultural Heritage

Karakalpakstan has a unique and rich cultural heritage. It includes ancient architectural and archaeological monuments, unique folklore, performing arts, ceremonies and customs, as well as traditional handicrafts.

The territory of Karakalpakstan is rich with architectural and archaeological monuments, most of which are defensive constructions, including a number of impressive fortresses along the borders of settlements. The majority of the earliest constructions date back to the IV century B.C., when Ancient Khorezm freed itself from the Achaemenid Empire.

At the beginning of the I century A.D., Ancient Khorezm was influenced by the original culture of the Kushan Empire that found its vivid reflection in the construction of the magnificent Toprak-kala Fortress and Settlement. During this period, new models of construction emerged, including smaller fortresses built inside the settlement areas.

Ancient Khorezm is the birthplace of Zoroastrianism. This is evidenced by a number of extant archaeological monuments: dakhmas, fire-worshipper temples, necropolises with ossuary containers and others. The rise of Islam in the VIII century A.D. altered not only the mode of life and religion, but also the architecture. Fired brick, a new construction material, was introduced. It became the main material for constructing sophisticated mausoleums, mosques and khanakas with domes, which were beautifully adorned with architectural decorations and epigraphic inscriptions.

For thousands of years the Aral Sea region was situated at the crossroads of cultures. The Great Silk Road, which played a significant role in developing cultural and economic relations with Europe, Western Asia, Caucasus, Central Asia and China, passed through the Ustyurt Plateau. It is probable that one of the Silk Road branches went through the ancient city Tanais, situated in the lower reaches of Don, then crossed Russia’s southern steppes, the Lower Volga region, the Aral Sea region and from there traveled through Southern Kazakhstan until reaching Altai and Eastern Turkestan, where it linked with the main route of the Great Silk Road. One of the route branches from the Northern Aral Sea region went to Sogdiana through Khorezm and then turned to the south. Consequently, several thousands of historical and architectural monuments relating to the history of the Great Silk Road can be found in the vast territory from the Fergana Valley oases to the desert shore of the Aral Sea.

The national identity of Karakalpaks is well reflected in their rich folklore, beautiful dances, original music, and ceremonies that still play an important role in people’s lives. Thus, the singer/musicians Jirau and Baksi, as well as the eposes Alpamis and Kirik kiz, among others, still enjoy great popularity today.

Karakalpak traditions are well represented in traditional handicrafts. Simple ornaments and forms of old workpieces indicate their relation to the arts of ancient and medieval nomads in Central Asia. Traditional Karakalpak handicraft developed primarily as necessary household items for the yurta dwellings and were made from available materials: wool, skin, bones, wood and cotton. At the beginning of the XX century women still made ornamental floor mats, multicoloured feltings for yurta decoration, woven rugs, patterned carpets, as well as patchwork. All adult women possessed the art of embroidery. Men plied more complex trades, making yurtas and musical instruments, engaging in wood carving, jewellery making, leather processing and other trades.


The rich and unique Karakalpakstan folklore has developed over the centuries. It includes all genres of oral folk arts: tales, proverbs, sayings, legends, poems and others.

The most characteristic and distinctive feature of Karakalpak folklore is an epic poem or epos (dastan). There are about 50 various types of dastan: heroic, lyric, social, historical and legendary, magic and romantic and others. They are performed by storytellers and singers – baksi and jirau – to the accompaniment of national musical instruments, the kobiz and dutar.

Eposes of the XI–XVIII centuries (for example, Sharyar, Koblan, Edige Ep Shora, Alpamis, Kurbanbek Ep Ziyar, Kirk-Kiz, and others) play a special role in Karakalpakstan oral folk arts. The main themes of the heroic epos Alpamis are consolidation, friendship and patriotism of the ravaged tribes. The Kirk-kiz epos, an outstanding monument and a masterpiece of Karakalpak culture, tells a story of female defenders as well as male heroes and patriots, who fought together against foreign invaders. There is no such epos in any other culture.

Humour and satire elements are often encountered in numerous genres of Karakalpak folklore, for example, in oral folk prose (anecdotes) or in the form of playful and humourous songs or dialogs (aytis or zhuap). They are performed during verbal contests, often by young men and women. Zhuap is based on the performer’s abilities to ask questions in a compressed, refined, imaginative and rhymed form and invent witty answers quickly and without confusion. It is performed without accompanying music and the singers have to change the song rhythm. There were verbal contests organized among Karakalpakstan national poets in the past.


Traditional musical culture of Karakalpakstan is based on the rich mythological, mythopoetic and epic traditions of the Khorezm oasis and the whole Central Asian and Middle Eastern regions alike. Based on its ancient cultural layer it can be concluded that Karakalpakstan music has relations with Turkic and shamanistic elements, which were reformed in the national artistic practice. In this way, Garipashik and Shakhsanem, Gorugli, Sayatkhan and Khamra dastans are popular among people who live in the lower reaches of the Amudarya (Turkmens, Khorezm Uzbeks, Karakalpaks).

Karakalpak poetry is inextricably connected with national music. The real existence of any poetic work could only be ensured by the means of its musical reproduction. Outstanding poets of the past were also musicians and singers – zhirau or baksi – who could play various musical instruments. The Karakalpakstan national song, kosik, is a traditional musical and poetic writing based on a simple poem. The very melody of the song, as well as instrumental tune or dastan melody, is known as nama.

There is a beautiful legend associated with Karakalpakstan musical heritage that reflects its musical and oral oeuvre: “A Song was travelling around the world. Once it decided to spend a night in nomad camps of Karakalpakstan. The news about this unprecedented and unheard-of arrival spread all over the country. A great number of Karakalpaks gathered in the lucky village and listened to the wonderful Song till dawn. Finally, the Song went asleep. After this, thousands of stories, tales, songs and narratives of the rich-voiced guest were engraved in the memory of Karakalpak nation.”


Karakalpak dance has its own defining characteristics. Moods and feelings are expressed through the movements of the dance itself. It is characterized by trembling body movements, including masterly foot movements, sophisticated and complex ornamental hand movements, as well as unusual moves of the head and shoulders.

In the XIX century, Persian diplomat Rizakuli Mirza visited the Khanate of Khiva. During his journey he observed and described local people. He emphasized that all Karakalpaks, especially men, love dancing during festivities. When Karakalpak men dance, the spectator is filled with the energy of the dance. The power of the male sound accompaniments – khu and kha – not only encourage the dancers but also excite the audience, increasing the heartrate and energy levels.

In the XX century Karakalpak folk dance reached the professional level and dancers began to perform it on stage. A great number of choreographic performances, such as Aykulash (Moonlight), Shagala (Seagull), Aral djigitleri (Djigits from Aral), Shopanlar (Shepherds), Karauy (Yurta), Kiyiz basu (Felting), Suygabargan kiz (The girl who came to get some water), and others are associated with ethnographic concepts – ritual, ceremonial and emotional activities typical of Karakalpak people.

For example, the choreographic performance of Felting reflects the process of felt mat production. Although the dance is based on illustrated labour movements that almost completely repeat the genuine labour process, it turned out very poetic.

The Aykulash dance on the contrary demonstrates a folk tradition of youth moonlight night festivals, when people fall in love for the first time.


Karakalpakstan national cuisine is famous for its farine and grain dishes, such as besh-barmak – white durra flour dumplings with meat.

The dough for besh-barmak is made of white durra flour, salt and hot boiled water. The dough is made into oblong dumplings with fingerprint ornaments. They are cooked in a meat broth. The finished dumplings are served with meat and an onion sauce.

Flat traditional breads (non) are made of wheat flour. The dough is kneaded in a large bowl and rolled out with a rolling pin. The same dough is used for cooking bauirsak (thinly rolled and sliced rectangular pieces of dough fried in oil) and sozban (large fried flat cakes). Dough for sozban is stretched by hand. Wheat flour is also used to make traditional Karakalpak noodles – kespas and kaysas. Kespas is very thin flat bread rolled into a tube and chopped into noodles. It is dressed with milk and sour milk. Kaysas is cooked in the same manner but seasoned with oil.

Another famous traditional Karakalpak dish – ak saulak (thin flat cakes of wheat flour) – is baked in a large cauldron. It is dressed with sour milk or butter. For special occasions ak saulak is prepared in advance, dried and served with broth and meat.

Karakalpak cuisine is also very famous for another unusual dish called mayek borek. Rolled dough squares are formed into envelopes and filled with whipped eggs and melted butter. The ready-made mayek boreks are cooked in a mixture of boiling water and fried onion in a large cauldron.

In coastal areas almost all dishes are made with fish. For example, a fish soup with dumplings from white durra or millet flour, as well as fried and dried fish.

Melons, watermelons and pumpkins are dried and eaten as sweets.

Yurta and its cosmogony

In the past Karakalpak people used two types of abode – the usual yurta kara-uy covered with dark felted cloth and a grand beautifully decorated otau-uy yurta, covered with light felted cloth and prepared for a newlywed couple. Every mud dwelling had a courtyard that was used as a spare space for yurta construction during winter. In summer, the yurta was placed near a canal in the shade of the estate’s trees. An air corridor was created inside by opening the wall coverings. Today, a yurta is only used during the hot summer season.

Yurta construction begins with the installation of a door. Different types of yurta are constructed from 6, 8, and, more rarely, 12 folding parts (kanat) and the supporting lattice (kerege). It can be installed or dismantled in a few hours.

Karakalpak yur ta design has its own characteristics. The crown spokes are straight and bend only at the lower end as they connect to the lattice, giving the roof a conic form. The yurta’s roof and lattice are fastened together with broad white ribbons. The roof is then covered with felted cloth and the walls are constructed of double-layered mat. Since ancient times a Karakalpak yurta entrance was made on the south side. In this case, the “place of honour,” located opposite the entrance, is considered the most comfortable part of the room – cool in summer and warm in winter. The roof crown (shanarak) consists of two hoops connected by pike-shaped studs. The mass of the shanarak keeps the frame of the yurta and acts as a window. In ancient times during winter it was also used as a chimney; therefore, the hearth was placed in the centre of the room. As a rule, there should be no unnecessary things in a yurta. Thus, in a Karakalpak yurta every woven ornamental runner was created for the practical fastening of a frame and cover. The runners tightened the wall lattice and crown spokes, and fixed the covering wall mat and roofing felt.

Since ancient times, people have identified the yurta model with space, dividing it into two equal parts. This expressed an idea of the equilibrium of opposing principles and their eternal interaction. It was the idea of the world order, life infinity and inviolability of the universe. Hence, the yurta was divided into two areas – male (on-jak) and female (sol-jak). On-jak was located on the left side of the entrance. It was used for keeping men’s outwear, musical instruments, riding equipment, guns, and men’s hunting and handicraft tools. This area was considered a dwelling place of spiritual patrons. The sol-jak area contained clothing bales, stands (sab-ayak) for large dishes and products, boilers, water containers, as well as women’s handicraft tools. The interior zone was associated with Mushel – an ancient 12-year zodiac calendar.

The yur ta’s sacred areas include: the entrance – bosaga (threshold), a centre – oshak (hearth), and a place of honour – tor (an area opposite the entrance). The tor was beautifully decorated. A net (bes-kur) made of red patterned ribbons (kizil-kur) was stretched above it while the tor wall was adorned with rugs and carpets. A number of cupboards (sandik) containing blankets and carpet bags (karshin) were placed near it. Tor meant the place of the house owner. When the family received an honourable guest, the place was given to them or spread toward the on-jak area.

The dome crown (shanarak) and hearth symbolised the sun and its hypostasis – fire. They were perceived as a pillar of the universe and the family’s coat of arms. Yarn amulets (ayak-bau) were hung up to the rim ring. They symbolised beams (nur) and the shaman’s whip (kamshi). The crown crosshair was oriented to the cardinal points. It was always open, closed only in bad weather. This allowed the observation of stars and the sun for telling time.

Textile art

In the past, handmade yurta textiles were part of the bride’s dowry. Under the guidance of her mother, an ordinary Karakalpak girl spent approximately 6 to 8 years producing the yurta’s adornments. The textile decoration palette replicated the colours of Karakalpakstan’s nature. It used calm but at the same time saturated range of ochre, red and brown colours interspersed with halftones of crimson, yellow, blue and green. Black and white had a special place. They were used for the ornament’s basic background as well as pattern lines.

A mosaic patchwork technique (kurak) with the core idea of wastelessness (israpsiz) has always been popular in Karakalpak culture. It was used for decorating tablecloths, duffel bags, wedding canopies, blankets, pillows, hinged door framing made of mat, baby clothes and others. The patterns were compiled from zhez-shiy (yurta mat), saut (chain armour), kalkan (shield) and tolkin (wave) motives. Kurak patterns were known as amulets and expressed the desire of rich posterity.

Decorative felting products included various types of floor mats, ornamental felt mats for the yurta’s entrance decoration and a saddle blanket. Felt mat was decorated with various patterns. A “travelling wave” motif with alternating colouring (the symbol of heavenly moisture) stood out against its background. This pattern is unique since its background is also read as a pattern.

A set of pile carpets included esik-kas (door lambrequin), karshin (a front side of a garment cover), kerge (a tableware bag), gilem (carpet), korzhin (saddlebags) and degde (saddle blanket). Originally an esik-kas mat adorned the inner side of the yurta’s entrance and was considered the main talisman of family happiness like an amulet-carpet karshin (a front side of garment cover for clothes and wool storage) and kerge mat (a front side of a hanging bag that was used for storing wooden utensils).

A great number of patterned yurta decorations were napless ribbons and runners (beldeu, kizil-kur, ak-kur) and carpets (alasha). They were made of cotton, wool and silk threads.

Other unique Karakalpakstan handicraft articles with relief patterns were woven using a combined technique. Their smooth background was made of cotton, while the pile patterns were produced of wool: akbaskur and jan-bau runners, and shiy-ongir and suu-agar mats.

The most labour-intensive rugs had a very characteristic composition – ak-baskur, janbau, bel-deu. Their independent groups of ornaments separated by a narrow cross pattern were alternated among the whole length (for example, gas-moyin – a gooseneck). These groups did not repeat themselves or were placed symmetrically towards the middle of the rug. After covering the yurta’s framework, paired episodes were placed against each other in the interior or symmetrically in the exterior.

A white patch was left from the ornamental strip’s top and bottom to the rug edges. It had a simple fine zigzagging pattern on both sides.

Wide alasha carpets were made by sewing narrow patterned runners together, which had been woven on an ormek loom. They were hung on a yurta’s wall and spread over the felt flooring. Karakalpak alasha resembled gadjarigilam rugs of nomadic Uzbek tribes.

The old female masters of Karakalpakstan had more than 60 types and names of amulet patterns. The most popular of them included various combinations of horn motifs – a symbol of fertility and prosperity: kos-muyiz (pair of horns), segiz-muyiz (eight horns), oneki-muyiz (12 horns), and others. The names of other patterns were associated with flora, fauna and household items: tay-tuyak (foal’s hoof), balik-koz (fish eye), garga-tirnak (crow’s claw), kus-kanat (bird wings), gul (flower), irgak (hook), tarak (comb), sirga (earring), salma (cannel), and others.

Savitsky Museum

Karakalapakstan State Museum of Art named after I.V. Savitsky is the most attractive place in Karakalpakstan. It is named after its founder and first director, artist I.V. Savitsky. Savitsky saw Karakalpakstan for the first time as a member of the Khorezm archaeological and ethnographic expedition in the 1950s. Collecting articles of folk art, he “fell in love” with Karakalpakstan for life. In 1966 upon his initiative a museum of art was founded in the city of Nukus. Until his death in 1984 Savitsky looked for and found new masterpieces for the museum’s collections. In 2002, he was posthumously awarded with a Buyuk Hizmatlari uchun Order (“An Order for Great Services”) by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov.

The museum is located in the centre of Nukus. Its collection includes about 100,000 exhibits. Exhibitions are divided into three main sections: Visual Art; Karakalpakstan Folk Arts and Crafts and Ancient Khorezm Art.

The museum has approximately 10,000 articles of folk art and crafts dating back to the late XIX–XX centuries. They include household items, rugs, horse equipment, wood products, and traditional clothes and jewellery, including the famous tobelik and saukele, traditional Karakalpak female headdresses. In addition, the museum has rich collections of Karakalpak, Uzbek, Kazakh and Turkmen jewellery.

The archaeological collection of more than 15,000 articles clearly illustrates the main stages of Karakalpakstan cultural history starting from the Bronze Age and the emergence of ancient states (one of the most prominent was Ancient Khorezm) through the early Middle Ages to the end of the XIV century, when Khorezm became part of the Temurid Empire. The Savitsky Museum collection consists of artistic and household items made of ceramics, plaster, stone, bone, wood, metal, glass, leather and fabrics.

The oldest museum artifact is a relish of ancient petroglyphs – the Bactrian camel images on a rock piece from the mountain range Bukantau (II millennium B.C.). The earliest terracotta piece in the archaeological collection belongs to the V century B.C. It depicts a seated woman dressed in a long ankle-length dress and a tiara-like headpiece covered with a veil. Another museum exhibit, the Tuya-Muyun horse sculpture (VII–VIII centuries B.C.), is also very peculiar.

The Visual Arts section contains tens of thousands paintings, including the works of Russian and Turkestan avant-garde artists of the XX century.

The museum exhibits the works of L. Popova, A. Shevchenko, A. Nikolaev (Usto Mumin), V. Lysenko, G. Nikitin, R. Falk, V. Pestel, M. Le Dantu, R. Mazel, A. Volkov, P. Benkov, M. Kurzin, N. Karahan, E. Korovay, U. Tansykbaev and others. Due to this unique collection the museum has received universal recognition and popularity.

The work of G. Nikitin, Portrait of Alisher Navoi, has a very interesting history. After the author died, the painting was literally on the verge of destruction. Savitsky begged the artist’s widow to give him the painting and he gave it to Moscow restorers for restoration.

The collection of paintings also includes the works of local artists: K. Saipov, K. Berdimuratov and J. Kuttimuratov. The works created by I.V. Savitsky himself are of special value for the museum.

The museum’s library collection contains about 10,000 scientific books in the fields of history, ethnography, archaeology and art history, as well as various reference books.

The museum and its collection are truly considered the “pearl” of Karakalpakstan. Not without reason it is recognized as “one of the finest museums in the world” (The Guardian) and “a place that you definitely must visit” (The New York Times).

State Museum of History and Culture of the Republic of Karakalpakstan

State Museum of History and Culture of the Republic of Karakalpakstan is one of the oldest museums in Central Asia. Its history began in 1929 when the local historical society of Karakalpakstan organized a local historical exhibition in Turtkul City. The museum is located in Nukus and numbers more than 65,000 exhibits grouped into three departments: Nature, Archaeology and Ethnography, and Modern History.

Exhibited items include ancient plant and animal fossils, as well as stuffed rare and extinct birds and animals that inhabited the Aral Sea region. A unique exhibit, “Last Turan Tiger” is also represented in its collection. These tigers commonly inhabited the area from Altai to the Black Sea region. Unfortunately, they were hunted for their beautiful pelt. The last tiger was killed in the Amudarya Delta by local residents in 1949. Upon learning this, the director of the museum took all measures to bring the tiger to the museum so it could at least be displayed as a mounted animal.

The archaeological exposition contains unparalleled artifacts and models of Ancient Khorezm settlements, including a small pillar cap in the form of an animal with ram horns and human face that was carved more than 2,500 years ago from Sultan Uvays Dag mountain range stone. Another unique item is a bronze cauldron of the VI–V centuries B.C. with a horse-like decorated handle. It stands on three animal-like legs.

Ethnographic expositions include ancient folk costume, jewellery, yurta decorations, rugs, traditional musical instruments, steel weaponry, armour and riding equipment.

The museum’s historical collection includes manuscripts, early printed books, coins, paintings of epic heroes and historical figures, as well as photographs that demonstrate the region’s development since the beginning of the XX century.

Open-air Museum (Ship Graveyard)

The Open-air Museum (Ship Graveyard) was formed on the site of former Muynak Port. Rusted, neglected and forlorn fishing vessels and barges that were furrowing the Aral Sea surface in the past are now forever frozen at the bottom of a formerly magnificent stormy sea.

The history of the city of Muynak, founded in the 1930s in the northern part of Karakalpakstan, is closely linked to the fishing industry. Formerly it was located on the shore of the Aral Sea, but today Muynak is hundreds of kilometres away from the sea. The city was famous not only as the largest fishery in Central Asia, but also for its beautiful and picturesque beaches and recreational facilities for children. Today this place is known as Aralkum – the third largest desert area.

The Open-air Museum (Ship Graveyard) now has hardly more than 10 ships. In the past there were more than 100.