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Central Asia: Photographer’s “White Road” Exposes Life in White, Black, Shades of Gray

Anyone who’s traveled in the vast open spaces of Central Asia has heard it, or seen it plastered on roadside monuments punctuating long stretches of highway: Ak Jol in Kazakh and Kyrgyz and Oq Yol in Uzbek. “White Road.” It means something like “safe journey” or “have a good trip.”

The refrain, which is the title of this new book, marks the places in-between, the places where photographer Ivan Sigal found himself constantly between 1998 and 2005 – a traveler in a region on the move, a region searching for work, and meaning, in a vacuum as wide as the steppe.

Working in the liminal spaces blown open by the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sigal blurred the line between artist and documentarian, offering an intimate portrait of a changing region. At times the images are sharp, sunlit and full of hope. Others are melancholic, even tipsily blurry, and full of tension.

Sigal can offer such a range of emotions because he is one of the actors, an outsider on the edges of each frame, acknowledged as such by himself and his subjects. Aware of the responsibility that brings, and freed from the burden of working on deadline, his creative strength remains unsapped by demands for objectivity from far-away editors and armchair observers. He’s close, inside the action; there is no zoom lens here.

The photo sequences weave around with a purpose, like Sigal did in those years while working on media development projects, between Tajikistan’s high Pamirs and Bukhara and Kabul and Karakalpakstan and Osh and the Yenisei River in Siberia. Sigal takes us on his relentless journey, pairing images obsessively until readers, like the photographer, feel displaced, with only a faint sense of where they’ve landed.

On one page, a young woman toasts a group of friends, arm outstretched, fingers cradling a stopka, or shot glass, in the air. On the next, a Soviet-era mural in Aralsk shows a young Central Asian man hoisting a rifle – his gun-toting fist mirroring the delicate hand armed with vodka. In between, a furtive child, looking off the frame, pops his head up, before we return to the women toasting in Shymkent.

Every sequence is conscious. “Each journey has its own story, and with this project I’ve been thinking about change to the region less from the perspective of political theories or social science abstractions, and more as the accumulated weight of the specific histories of many individuals,” Sigal told me.

Text accompanying the photos helps explain Sigal’s drifting, confirming he is on a journey with no particular destination, wandering in a region stuck between an extinct Soviet past and no apparent future, unable to pull over or turn around. “Central Asia is far from everything, even from itself. Travel on roads narrow and potholed, on slow trains with many stops, long delays at airports, local flights cancelled for want of fuel or passengers,” he writes.

Like his writing, Sigal’s photos often say more about his view of the world and his relationship with his subjects than the places he visits. As co-editor Paul Roth notes in the afterword, Sigal “sought to make photographs more allusive than descriptive, more poetic than reportorial, and, ultimately, more revelatory about the enigmas of life. … Over time, what emerged from Sigal’s lens, and from his pen, was a series of vignettes: a travelogue through a realm of dislocation.”

Throughout the book, Soviet-era maps serve as signposts, charting a life that was, or could have been: These orderly plans of towns constructed at 90-degree angles belie today’s decay. The neat maps embody the palpable Central Asian nostalgia Sigal has not just witnessed, but feels deeply enough to share.

Ivan Sigal’s “White Road” (two volumes, 471 pages) was published in November by Steidl. The accompanying exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, runs through January 27. For more information, visit Sigal’s website or find him on Twitter.


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Afghanistan to build first Women’s Police Town

KABUL: To encourage more women to join the police force in this deeply conservative and male-dominated society, Afghanistan has launched a housing project for female officers.
Women’s Police Town was inaugurated on Monday in Kabul and is funded by international donors, with Canada providing $26 million for its first phase.
It includes construction of 10 apartment buildings, each with 30 units and able to house 300 policewomen and their families in Kabul, the US-led coalition and Afghan officials said.
“This is the first such project for female police in the history of Afghanistan,” Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh told Arab News on Tuesday.
“It will be expanded to other parts of the country in later stages. The purpose is to encourage women to join the police ranks.” The project is due to be completed by 2020.
The proposed complex will be constructed in four phases, and will include an elementary school, child day-care facility, medical clinic, fitness center and community center, officials said. The government will manage and operate the school and day-care facility, they added.

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Wounded Taliban undergo for treatment inTajikistan,claims Afghan MP

KABUL:Afghan MP claims that wounded Taliban militants are undergoing medical treatment in hospitals in Tajikistan.

According to VOA, member of Loya Jirga from Kunduz province, Eng. Kamal Sapai, said on Wednesday that Taliban militants who have been wounded in clashes with government forces in Kunduz province are undergoing medical treatment in hospitals in Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities deny this statement as absolutely ‘unfounded’.

“Information spread by Afghan parliamentarian through the Ashna TV is an egregious lie,” Muhammad Ulughkhojayev, a spokesman for the main Border Guard Directorate at the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) of Tajikistan, told media in an interview .

“The Taliban Movement is designated as a terrorist organization and any contacts with it are banned by Tajikistan’s legislation,” said Ulughkhojayev.  “Official Dushanbe has never had any contacts with Taliban and that’s the end of it.”

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Senior Cleric Says Iran ‘Fully Determined’ To Boost Missile Power

Tehran interim Friday Prayer Leader Ayatolllah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami said the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully determined to upgrade its missile power aimed at “confronting whatever threat posed by Israel”, IRNA reports.

Addressing the worshipers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khatami said “in a world where wolves rule and there is no logic in their behavior, the Islamic Republic should be armed and powerful”.

The senior cleric said Iran’s military missile might is one of the main components of the country’s policy of deterrence.

“We have missiles, we would continue building more missiles and increase their ranges”, he added.

The senior cleric further said that the most important principle of Iran’s military power is defense through deterrence.

Ayatollah Khatami said Iran would never make atomic bombs, adding that based on a Fatwa issued by Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Iran remains to believe that it should not develop and possess nuclear weapons.


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