The Central Asian Falconry Project was started in 2009 with a simple goal: to share a fascinating tradition with the world. While teaching English in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, Dennis Keen read about the famous “eagle hunters” of Bayan-Ölgii, a mostly Kazakh province in the west of the country. He finished his summer job and went to meet the hunters himself. Two weeks of travel and interviews led to the Project’s first published product: a thesis that Dennis completed during his final year at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dennis was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to continue his study of the tradition, but this time in Kyrgyzstan. After graduating from UCSC, he moved back to Central Asia and worked closely with Kyrgyz hunters to document their falconry practices and share their knowledge with the curious. He told tales of his field trips and adventures on his blog, Keen on Kyrgyzstan, and looked forward to one day writing up his work into a final product he could be proud of. A year-long Master’s Program at Stanford University’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies gave Dennis the opportunity to bring this dream to fruition. Working with the esteemed Kazakh anthropologist Alma Kunanbaeva, Dennis was able to revisit his fieldwork and access a new wealth of sources on the subject. The result was the thesis featured on this site. Mini-projects done while at Stanford (including some pieces on falconry) were collected on his site Eurasia Eurasia. Since June of 2013, Dennis has been based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Almost five years in the making, the Central Asian Falconry Project has come full circle back to the land of the Kazakhs, and it is there that the website was finally pounded out. The Stanford thesis is featured in its entirety, but in a beautiful new digital form. Citations are no longer limited to just books from the library – every interview has been transcribed and shared, every field notebook scanned, every photo uploaded, and this research data that is usually obscured by an author is available for inspection and collaboration. Annotated bibliographies provide a starting point for further exploration, and they’re growing all the time as Dennis scours the National Library of Kazakhstan for more material to bring to the world. The project’s progress is tallied in the blog, Ongoing, so check in, will you? The Central Asian Falconry Project enjoys your company.
Dennis Keen lives in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he collects materials for the Central Asian Falconry Project and teaches English on the side. He received an MA in Russian and Eurasian Studies from Stanford University in June, 2013.
Dr. Alma Kunanbaeva is a Visiting Professor at Stanford University, where she teaches courses in Kazakh language and culture. She has been Dennis’ Kazakh teacher, thesis mentor, and guru in all things Central Asia. She is the President of the Silk Road House, a cultural and educational center in Berkeley, California.
Abay Aitikulov was the research assistant and interpreter for Dennis’ Fulbright fieldwork. He lives in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he now works in publishing.
Sary Satylganov was Dennis’ primary falconry master in Kyrgyzstan. He has been hunting with birds of prey since 1943 and is widely considered the most respected and knowledgeable hunter in the country.
Almazbek Akunov is the leader of the Salburun Hunting Federation in Kyrgyzstan. As the face of the falconry community in the country, he was invaluable in introducing Dennis to local contacts.
IAF, the International Association for Falconry, has been instrumental in bringing falconers and researchers together, most recently meeting a cohort of Central Asian delegates at their annual conference held this year in Qatar.
Bakyt Karnakbayev, the Vice President of IAF for Asia, represents Kazakhstan’s falconry community on the world stage, and he has been instrumental in working with the Central Asian Falconry Project to promote the region’s best falconers.
Greg Ruben is the lead designer for the Central Asian Falconry Project. A graduate of the Design Media Arts program at UCLA, he’s currently based in New York, NY and is available for freelance design projects.