The Ministry of Eagles

While visiting a friend in Kazakhstan’s capital last week, I dropped in on Yerlen Ospanov, the Acting Director of the Association for National Sports. I first met Yerlen at the IAF meeting in Qatar, where he struck me as an ambitious young man who cared a lot about his country and its culture.

Yerlen sits at the head of the falconry bureaucracy in Kazakhstan. His organization is financed by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, and they work to promote not just eagle hunting but traditional horse racing, wrestling, and more. But falconry is most dear to Yerlen’s heart, and last year he helped organize an international conference where falconers came to Astana from all over the world. What I most admired was that the Association had just published a text on falconry, Sayat Qustary, that had been written by Kazakhstan’s most famous ethnographer decades ago but never published in its full form. It was to go to falconry schools around the country to serve as a kind of textbook. Preserving that kind of traditional knowledge is very important, and it’s heartening to see that it’s taken seriously as such a high level.