Backing the stewards of cultural and biological diversity/

Central Asia and Turkey

According to a local legend, when the God was distributing land to the people of Earth, the people of mountainous Central Asia were skipped. To makeup for this lapse, the God ended up giving the Kyrgyz and Tajiks the most fertile and beautiful pieces of land that were originally set aside. The God bestowed this treasure on the people with one condition: That they must take good care of the land.

We work within montane landscapes of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkey to assist communities in reestablishing relationships with the land in order to revitalize biocultural diversity and support a variety of livelihoods, from the Kyrgyz “felt people” to the montane farmers of the lush valleys of Eastern Tajikistan. To complement these landscape-focussed efforts, we also support the development of policies and cultural expressions at the national level in the newly independent states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, because cultural outcomes on the national level are crucial to the future of these landscapes.

Primary themes for grantmaking and priority landscapes

1. Living in Biocultural Landscapes –

Felt People: This cluster of work is around nomadic pastoralists, who live in mobile felt dwellings, hence their self-identification as the “felt people.” The theme embraces the core issues of reestablishing connections to the land, traditional ways of life, identity and culture. This theme is realized in these Montane Landscapes:

a) Northern Tien Shan (Issyk Kul, Naryn and adjacent areas as necessary of Northern Kyrgyzstan); b) The Murghab Plateau of the Eastern Pamirs/Badakhshan in Tajikistan. This vast landscape is one of the most ancient areas of pastoral transhumance. The Northern Tien Shan is most important for its alpine meadows and the Murghab for its unique arid ecosystem at an elevation above 4,000m.  Traditional land use systems have been substantially eroded after seventy years of Soviet alienation from nomadic practices through settlement, collectivization and the industrialization of livestock production, followed by a chaotic transition to independence and the free market.  Substantial efforts are now underway to re-establish reciprocal relationships between cultures, livelihoods and ecology.

Innovative Dehkans (peasants): This program focuses on support of Central Asian peasants – known as Dehkans – their innovations and practices that sustain important kinds of biocultural diversity: agrobiodiversity of fruits, nuts, root crops, cereals and their wild relatives; medicinal and wild food plants and herbs; and the associated agro-ecosystems and cultural land management practices and livelihoods necessary to sustain this diversity. This theme is realized in the work in these landscapes:

a) The Southern Fruit and Nut Forests of Kyrgyzstan, and b) The High Altitude Agricultural Valleys of Eastern Tajikistan. Southern Fruit and Nut Forest Landscapes of Kyrgyzstan (Batken, Jalalabad and some adjacent areas) are the largest remaining wild fruit and nut forests in the world. These forests are of global conservation importance, being dominated by walnut and containing many other fruit and nut trees, including a high diversity of apple, pear, cherry and apricot species. This area is widely known as ‘Eden’, reflecting the uniquely high diversity of edible fruit and nut species, together with their extraordinary role in human history and culture, involving dispersal along the Silk Road.

High Altitude Agricultural Valleys of Eastern Tajikistan (valleys of the Panj and Vaksh rivers). This area, Badakhshan in particular, is linguistically and biologically one of the most diverse regions of Central Asia whose many distinct Indo-European tribes are renowned for rich cultural historical traditions in agriculture, sacred sites and sages/saints, and in music/dance.  Rasht, in the relatively broad valley of the Vaksh River is included as the most productive montane agricultural area in the region. Khovaling and Muminobod of the Kulyab/Khatlon region are ecologically and culturally rich and distinct, located among vast Aeolian deposits above the cotton-farming plains of the south and west.  Together these areas comprise the most important montane agrobiodiversity of Western Asia and associated biodiversity.

The Caucasus of Northeast Turkey

The Turkish Caucasus include a mosaic of landscapes that range from the deciduous forests on the mountain slopes of the Black Sea coast, some of the most biodiverse temperate systems on the planet, characterized by intensive management of the forest-farm interface. Three quarters of the world’s hazelnuts come from this region, which is also a major bird fly way and home to large populations of Eurasian mammals. In Northeast Turkey, we are supporting previous grantees doing work around migrant birds, montane wetlands and agro-ecosystems, from the arid steppe around Kars to the moist deciduous forests and alpine meadows of the Black Sea Coast. The Christensen Fund is currently not considering new grants for Turkey, except for rare, invitation-only cases.

2. Securing National Cultural Change -

This thematic program is aimed at filling the political, cultural, and agricultural void left by dissolved Soviet rule with acceptance and implementation of policies and practices that recognize the importance of traditional culture, spirituality, artistic expressions and economies. The goals are to awaken cultural memory by supporting festivals, works of art, music and media; to increase the recognition and protection of sacred sites; and to build national institutional capacity for the promotion of agrobiodiversity and agroecosystem resilience. We emphasize the importance of diverse spiritual and cultural values as a barrier to fundamentalism; and aspire to get young people engaged and excited about their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge.