Return the Face to its Owner

Emilia Roza Sulek
Humboldt University in Berlin


A photo-story
(Return the face to its owner)

During my fieldwork in Tibet, I carried with me photographs taken by travellers and anthropologists who went there before, and hoped that someone recognizes the people in those photographs. And yet, I was surprised when it happened.

Sitting in a small village somewhere in the mountains, eating candies and fried bread, I conducted an interview with an elderly nomad. The man – advanced age, with a brown face and a grizzly-like posture – sat on the other side of the stove, answering my questions. His wife, perched on a small stool like a little bird, got up every now and then to pour more tea. Carrying a huge kettle, she threw a few words into our conversation. The leading voice belonged to the man, but she made sure that what he said agreed with what she remembered.

Interview with Rock' photos (Photo E.R. Sulek)

Interview with Rock’ photos (Photo E.R. Sulek)

The man talked about the past, which land belonged to which tribe, and how Ma Bufang, the governor of Qinghai, wrote this on paper, sealed it, and handed it to the leader of the tribe to which my hosts belonged. His signature and stamp testified that this piece of land belonged to these people and to no one else. That was during the time of the Republic of China. Now it is the People’s Republic and many things have changed.

Talking about the past (Phoo E.R. Sulek)

Talking about the past (Photo E.R. Sulek)

That tribe leader who got Ma Bufang’s sayig or land decree could not be among the living anymore, but he could have some living relatives. “Yes, his son is here”, my host said. “How do I find him?”, I jumped with excitement. “He’s around, sometimes here, sometimes there…”, the answer did not sound promising, but was typical of a society where people move a lot, coming and disappearing again.

At that moment, the door to the mud house opened. A man in a yellow hat and thick glasses on his nose entered the room limping slightly. “Well, here he is!”, my hosts exclaimed. Astonished with this deus ex machina way in which the old leader’s son appeared in the door, I only managed to ask, “How did you know you should come right now?!” The man, already in his late eighties, answered, “I always know where nice ladies are”.

I moved closer and, sitting almost at his feet, absorbed his words with almost all senses: the history of old tribal leaders, of his father who got the land from Ma Bufang and of what happened later.

“Can you show him the photos?”, my host asked. Everyone knew that I had with me a folder full of photographs, those which both I and other people took, sometimes decades ago. Among the latter, there were photographs by Joseph Rock from the National Geographic Magazine. The old leader’s son studied them carefully. Suddenly, his face brightened. “I knew this man”, he said. There was a photo of a man with a cocked hat and eyes looking straight into the camera. “Gomba, nicknamed Dadda, chief of the Jazza clan”, the caption said. “Not Jazza. Lowa”, the old leader’s son corrected. “His name was Lowa Ngawang”.

A story followed. The old leader’s son was jailed in 1958, when Tibetans clashed with the Chinese Communist troops. He was lucky and was released quickly, but many of his relatives never left prison alive. There, in prison, he met the man from the photograph: Ngawang, chief of the Lowa tribe who neighboured Jazza. Lowa Ngawang was there together with one of his sons, a Buddhist lama. They were jailed by his other son who supported the new power. “He tortured them a lot, even your worst enemy wouldn’t have done so”, the man said. Lowa Ngawang was 73. He died one month later. What happened to his monk-son is unclear.

For Lowa Ngawang alias Dadda the history ended in 1958. But what happened to his younger son, who secured for himself a place in the ranks of the new Communist functionaries in his region? He was removed from his post during the Cultural Revolution, when many followers of the new government lost their jobs, and sometimes their lives during outbreaks of violent struggle sessions. That was his fate. The story could be a basis of another Shakespeare-like tragedy: of family betrayal and craving for power. The wheel of history turned, destroying both the father, the leader from the old times, as well as his son, a communist, who had gained power, but all together it was only a short-term guarantee of survival.


People from the past, photographed by travellers or anthropologists, are not anonymous representatives of their folk. Their faces, stored in archives and reproduced in books, detached from their owners, gain a life of their own, becoming “vignettes” of their time or region they come from. How many such images do we have, not knowing whose faces these really are? Intricate paths of life, history and coincidence made these people step into a photographer’s lens and start another, photo-life. But they once had names and biographies which later on were lost in transmission.

Lowa Ngawang alias Dadda played an important role in Rock’s narrative being his guide to Golok, but we know little about him. During that interview, he stopped being just a figure in a travelogue and regained part of his biography. However, he was an important person in his community. Would it also be possible to find something about those people who were less important, who were not guides but nameless escorts, not leaders but nomads whose paths accidentally crossed with those of the photographer and whose names the photographer never knew?

Scores of unknown people from the past, both women and men, populate our books. Maybe it is still possible to return some of these faces to their owners.



Joseph Rock’s photograph courtesy of Harvard-Yenching Library.

The author thanks Norma Schulz for her help in editing this post.

Blogger in Tadschikistan verhaftet

unicef-tm-web-banner-990x257-2Alexander Sodiqov, der seit einiger Zeit den ausgezeichneten und sehr kritischen blog “Tajikistan Monitor” betreibt und für globalvoices aus Zentralasien berichtet, wurde vor einigen Tagen in Khorog von tadschikischen Sicherheitsbeamten festgenommen (angeblich von einer Truppe, die von amerikanischer Seite im Anti-Terrorkampf hochgerüstet wurde). Seither fehlt von ihm jede Spur – Kontakt zu seinen Familienangehörigen und Anwälten durfte er bisher anscheinend nicht aufnehmen. Angeblich wurde er seit seiner Verhaftung am 16. Juni zweimal im lokalen staatlichen Fernsehen vorgeführt. Ihm wird Spionage vorgeworfen.

Alexander Sodiqov, der auch an einer Dissertation an der Uni Toronto arbeitet, war zu wissenschaftlichen Recherchezwecken in den Pamir gereist, um dort ein Forschungsvorhaben der Uni Exeter (UK) zu unterstützen und wurde während eines Interviews mit einem lokalen Politiker verhaftet.

Die gewaltsamen Auseinandersetzungen im Mai in Khorog (Chronologie der Ereignisse hier) scheinen die Behörden noch dünnhäutiger gemacht zu haben, als das nach dem Militärangriff auf die Hauptstadt der GBAO im Herbst 2012 sowieso schon der Fall war. Mit Alexander Sodiqov wurde nun erstmals ein Wissenschaftler von den staatlichen Stellen verhaftet, ohne sich dabei im geringsten um seine Rechte zu scheren.

Wir posten hier den Aufruf von amnesty zur Unterstützung und umgehenden Freilassung Alexander Sodiqovs! Einen Aufruf von Freunden und Kollegen Alexander Sodiqovs gibt es auf

Tajikistani national Alexander Sodiqov was arrested on 16 June in eastern
Tajikistan while conducting academic research. There are fears for his
safety and concerns that he may face torture or other ill-treatment.
Alexander Sodiqov, who lives in Canada, was detained on 16 June by two State
Committee for National Security officers in Khorogh, capital of eastern
Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). He has not been heard
from since he rang his wife on 16 June at 9.30 pm local time. He did not tell her
where he was being held.
He has not been heard from since. He is not known to have been able to contact a

Alexander Sodiqov is a PhD student at the University of Toronto. He had been
conducting research for a British Economic and Social Research Council project
called Rising Powers and Conflict Management in Central Asia which involves the
Universities of Essex and Newcastle. He was detained while conducting a research
interview with a civil society activist and deputy head of the Social Democratic
Party of GBAO, Alim Sherzamonov.

On 17 June police went into his mother’s home in the capital, Dushanbe, searched it
and removed computer and storage equipment. On 17 June, the State Committee for
National Security (SCNS) issued a statement accusing him of spying for foreign
governments. According to Asia Plus and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Alexander
Sodiqov appeared on local television in Badakhshan on the evening of 18 June and the
following morning talking about the situation in GBAO. Radio Free Europe’s
reports said that some observers felt the television footage had been edited. On 19
June the head of the SCNS, Saimumin Yatimov, made a statement saying that foreign
spies were operating in Tajikistan under the guise of NGOs and trying to undermine
safety and security in the country.

Alexander Sodiqov has now been held for 72 hours and under Tajikistani law he should
be charged or released.

Please write immediately in Tajik, Russian, English or your own language:
Urging the authorities to reveal Alexander Sodiqov’s whereabouts
immediately, as 72 hours has passed since he was detained and he must be either
charged or released immediately;
Urging them to ensure that he has unrestricted and confidential access to a
lawyer of his choice in line with Tajikistan’s national law and international
Calling on them to ensure that he has immediate access to any medical attention
he may require.

Bilder von der Beerdigung Massuds

Grablegung Massuds

Grablegung Ahmad Shah Massuds

Nur noch sieben Tage sind auf arte+7 die beeindruckenden Bilder zu sehen, die im Spätsommer 2001 auf der Beerdigung Ahmad Shah Massuds in seinem Heimatdorf von seinem Chefkameramann und seinem Team aufgenommen wurden. Für die arte-Reihe “Verschollene Filmschätze” wurden 26 Minuten davon zusammengeschnitten und kommentiert. Continue Reading →

Langer Marsch für Gerechtigkeit


Karte Belutschistans gepostet von der Konferenz Belutschistan: vergessenes Volk, leidendes Volk s.u.

Mohammad Hanif ist neben Mohsin Hamid der wohl interessanteste zeitgenössische auf Englisch publizierende Autor aus Pakistan. Neben seiner Schriftstellertätigkeit setzt sich Mohammad Hanif auch für politische Themen ein. Auf dem blog „naked punch“ bezog er in einem Interview Stellung zu der in Pakistan und international totgeschwiegenen Protestbewegung der Belutschen. Continue Reading →

And the winner is…

tethys gratuliert Emomali Rahmon zur Bestätigung im Amt. Mit 83,6% der abgegebenen Stimmen konnte der seit 1994 amtierende Präsident sein Ergebis von 2006 noch einmal um knapp 4% verbessern.

Von amnesty wurde gleich ein Memorandum für den neuen alten Präsidenten aufgesetzt und gefordert, fortan die Menschenrechte in Tadschikistan zu respektieren und zu schützen. Das Memorandum im Wortlaut gibt es hier!

Die Amtseinführung wird für den 16. November erwartet.

Keine Überraschung: Oynihol Bobonazarova darf nicht gegen Rahmon antreten

Nachtrag zum Artikel “Überraschung…”

And the Winner is....Kalender der Demokratischen Volkspartei Tadschikistans aus dem Wahljahr 2006

And the Winner is….Kalender der Demokratischen Volkspartei Tadschikistans aus dem Wahljahr 2006

Oynihol Bobonazarova hat die per Gesetz zur Registrierung als Präsidentschaftskandidatin erforderliche Anzahl von Unterschriften nicht erreicht! Laut Wahlgesetz, das 2005 im Vorfeld der letzten Präsidentschaftswahlen erneuert wurde, hätten fünf Prozent der Wahlberechtigten (insgesamt 210.000 Unterschriften) die Kandidatur von Oynihol Bobonazarova mit ihrer Unterschrift unterstützen müssen. Am gestrigen Abend stellte sich heraus, dass für die Kandidatin Oynihol Bobonazarova nur 201.236 Unterschriften vorlagen. 8.764 zu wenig, um sich am 6. November zur Wahl stellen zu dürfen. Continue Reading →

Überraschung: Bürgerrechtlerin wird Kandidatin der Opposition zur Präsidentschaftswahl in Tadschikistan

Der Autor dieses Beitrags ist der Redaktion bekannt

Am 9. September 2013, dem Unabhängigkeitstag Tadschikistans, drang die Nachricht an die Öffentlichkeit: Oynihol Bobonazarova wird die gemeinsame Kandidatin der großen Oppositionsparteien bei den Präsidentschaftswahlen am 6. November. Tatsächlich hatten damit nur wenige gerechnet. Eine Frau wird zur Spitzenkandidatin der Vereinigung der Reformkräfte Tadschikistans, zu der sich die zwei größten Oppositionsparteien des Landes zusammengeschlossen haben – die Sozialdemokratische Partei mit ihrem Vorsitzenden Rahmatullo Zoirov und die Partei der Islamischen Wiedergeburt mit Muhiddin Kabiri an der Spitze.Oynihol Bobonazarova

Präsidentschaftskandidatin Oynihol Bobonazarova Continue Reading →

Beobachtungen am Rande des mongolischen Wahlgeschehens

Ein Beitrag von Michael Angermann

Es ist der Vorabend der mongolischen Präsidentschaftswahl. Mit meiner schwedischen Mitstreiterin, Übersetzer und Fahrer stehen wir auf dem Rücken der Khankhukh-Bergkette auf über 2000 Meter Höhe, gut 1000 Kilometer westlich der Hauptstadt Ulaanbaatar und halten vergeblich Ausschau nach dem Aldar Bag – „Aldar“ heißt „berühmt“ und „Bag“ ist die kleinste administrative Einheit der Mongolei. Aldar Bag ist das nächstgelegene Wahllokal in unserem Einsatzgebiet als OSZE-Wahlbeobachter. Seine Berühmtheit versteckt diese administrative Einheit hinter grasüberzogenen Bergkuppen und sporadischen Baumsprengeln. Das mongolische Viehquartett: Kuh, Schaf, Ziege und Pferd hat bisher unseren Weg geziert. Ein Kamel überrascht uns im Lärchenhain. Wir stehen im Wald.

Suchbild: Kamel im Lärchenhain

Suchbild: Kamel im Lärchenhain

Continue Reading →