Gulnara Aitpaeva (ISSRPL 2006) is the founder and executive director for the Aigine Cultural Research Center (ACRC), a non-governmental public foundation in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. One of the pioneers in studying traditional knowledge and sacred sites in Kyrgyzstan, Aitpaeva has initiated a number of projects and activities at the center that explore the utility of tradition to address relevant contemporary challenges.
ACRC’s activities are directed at preserving, developing, and integrating traditional knowledge into contemporary life, aiming to incorporate the positive potential of traditional wisdom in decision making at all levels of public and political life. Its main projects are the systematic study of sacred sites and pilgrimage practice in Kyrgyzstan; research into and revival of the master-apprentice system in traditional music; protection and development of Kyrgyz epic heritage; and preservation of many other areas of traditional knowledge and practices. The center has established strong contacts and close cooperation with bearers of traditional knowledge, Manas epic reciters, sacred site guardians, and spiritual practitioners. ACRC’s data on more than a thousand sacred sites has been published in 10 books in Kyrgyz, Russian, and English, and it completed the first full video compilation of the Manas, Semetei, Seitek epic trilogy. This video compilation, comprising 67 hours of recitations by 14 renowned contemporary epic chanters, has become an invaluable tool for safeguarding, studying, transmitting, and developing the Kyrgyz epic heritage and has been distributed to more than a thousand educational institutions throughout the country. As well, ACRC’s work in preserving and promoting traditional music resulted in the development of a unique music teaching methodology, named En-Belgi, which is rooted in the traditional master-apprentice system. The peculiarity of En-Belgi is that it enables music lovers to master komuz (a traditional Kyrgyz three-stringed instrument) playing without prior musical education. Using this methodology, ACRC has conducted yearlong training courses for music teachers and visually impaired and blind children, creating a strong and steadily growing network of komuz players throughout the country.The above banner photo shows Aitpaeva (left) interviewing pilgrims to a sacred site in Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan.