In a sketch from the 80s, Coluche said this “Turkestan, the turki relaxes, do I know where it is me”, causing general hilarity. This passage of sketch evokes well the image for the less unknown or more often negative of the names of the countries which have a name which ends in -stan . It must be admitted that these countries often resulting from the dissolution of the former USSR appear to us in a geographical and political vagueness which provokes questioning and mistrust.
Seven countries ending in -stan
There are a total of seven countries whose names end with the Persian origin suffix – stan . With a little reflection, we quickly understand that this suffix means country, nation or place in Persian. Indeed, we certainly find its trace in stand (to stand) in English, Stadt (city) in German or even stan (apartment) in certain Slavic languages. It would come from the Indo-European steh , which means to stand.
The shadow of the former USSR
All of its countries are all in Central Asia. This corresponds to the areas where the ancient Indo-Iranians settled. Five of them (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) owe their appearance to the establishment of the USSR in the 1920s . population. To these countries must be added Afghanistan, which suffered Soviet occupation, and Pakistan.
Only here, at the fall of the wall these countries are not among the countries most prepared for their new situation. Moreover, these territories often rich in natural resources have remained in the bosom of the powerful Russian neighbor. It still considers these territories as its backyard.
A blurred and poorly maintained image
All of this has reinforced an image for Westerners of countries that are difficult to pin down, often autocratic and corrupt, and basically impossible to place on the map. This connotation is so negative that for example, in 2014, Nursultan Nazarbayev , then President of Kazakhstan wanted to rename the country. For him, this termination causes the mistrust of foreign investors and tourists. However, Kazakhstan has the largest economy in the region, as well as significant hydrocarbon resources.
The difficulties of renaming the country
He then evokes the idea of renaming Kazakhstan. A few months later, the idea crosses the border and reaches Kyrgyzstan. A political party, Ar-Namys proposes to hold a referendum to remove -stan . The leader of the party, former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov explains this approach as follows: “The ending -stan has Persian origins and the word ‘Kyrgyzstan’ was created in Soviet times”.
These steps will remain a dead letter, they generate too enormous a cost and complex technical means. This entails, for example, the creation of new passports, and a whole series of documents. All this without counting the wavering in national minds for a good period. Finally, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan did not take the plunge.
The role of the wrong country in fiction
They had to deal with the recurring appearance of fictional countries whose suffix -stan is used in fiction to name dictatorships, unstable, poor or war-torn countries. We all remember Kreplachistan in Austin Powers , and other Foussurlagueulistan in Titeuf . The tassel being in 2006, the film Borat . We are talking about a particularly backward Kazakhstan. You meet old people, prostitutes, and the inhabitants seem particularly stupid. Borat , a journalist from the small town of Kuçzek , is not really to his advantage. He is in turn homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist.
Against a backdrop of diplomatic misunderstanding
To complete the picture of this bad image, we must add many blunders of foreign politicians when it comes to evoking these countries. The standard example was US Secretary of State John Kerry, who got all mixed up calling Kyrgyzstan “ Kyrzakhstan ”. It is true that Americans are not known for their geographical knowledge of the world.
The real part of reality and caricature
Let us finish all the same, by pointing out that many caricatures seem to exaggerate and constitute a bias. However, some of these countries and their governments are not above reproach. If the caricature is easy, many critics are not without accuracy. It should be added that very often, criticizing the government is difficult in these authoritarian countries. This may explain some harsh attacks on the outside.
Well now, all those who cannot name from memory the seven countries concerned by the ending – stan , it is the opportunity to read this article again.