On the Street of the Knife Makers, Istaravshan, Tajikistan

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To see and hear a little traditional Uzbek music and dance, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8agnbAz0zU

These great horns are a colorful bit of Uzbek culture, although I’ve seen them used to announce the wedding of a Tajik couple in a Zoroastrian ceremony. The sounds they make, (are they musical notes?) are similar to a bleating sheep, perhaps deeper and richer but lasting only about as long. Tourists love them.

In countless villages and on the open steppe of Central Asia, these horns serve an important purpose. Like every element of a culture, there’s a good reason for their existence.

I’ve heard men call to each other from a half mile away on the open steppe imitating the sound of these horns. To announce an important event, four or five men walk through a village, stopping occasionally to raise their horns high into the air to blow a note or two. Like a call to prayer from a high minaret, the sound is heard from one end of a village to the other washing over walls and rooftops.

Last week the New York Times ran an article reporting on the popular re-election of the president of Uzbekistan. The reporter went on to say the president had no serious opponent because political dissent is not tolerated. He’s a dictator. The article went on at great length to inform its readers that something evil held Uzbekistan in its grasp.

And yet they have a vibrant culture and a generally happy population. Their television programing, theatre and contemporary music are unequaled across all of Central Asia. Somehow, they manage to dance and sing, laugh and joke, all without America’s form of democracy.

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