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A Personal Note:
Edward A. Allworth

Upon meeting a visiting important person from Uzbekistan Allworth said something polite in Uzbek. The response was, oh, you speak a little Uzbek? Nettled, Allworth said that he spoke “rather a lot” of Uzbek. Professor of Altaic studies, Emeritus Professor of Turco-Soviet Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Central Asia, Columbia University; indeed he does. Well known to US academics but considerably better known in the Soviet Union, and not only in academe: for example, upon one departure, strip searched for samizdat’, mortified hosts pushed aside.

Years ago I met him by wandering into a Kennan Institute symposium on the status of US research concerning Central Asia. During a break I asked him what he thought about the seemingly few home grown Americans present compared to the number of émigrés, and struck a responsive chord, this situation being one of his worries.

His many kindnesses, from the general -- Shebanyi Khan’s admiration of Timurid art-- to the particular -- slogging through a poor quality microfilm of 19 volumes, the 1911 Report of the Inspection of Turkestan Country -- and above all, languages. A skilled linguist, when once I was whining about having to learn Russian, he said that he hadn’t found it particularly difficult, say, in comparison with medieval Uigur. He regularly came up with word explanations, for instance, kanaus, a loan word from Persian (ghanawiz) for damask (which he sent along in Arabic script), applied by Turkmens to a silk cloth not of the first grade, with equivalents in Uzbek (kanobuz), and for good measure, Russian (kanaus).

His greatest value, however, was that I understood what he knew and this awareness kept me straight, in that while I knew a thing or two that was all I knew. For this there is perhaps an analogy having to do with bird-watching -- birders who can identify nearly everything, and casual birders, knowledgeable about some things, but limited. So, too, for amateurs looking into distant cultures.

Because of Edward Allworth I always understood how much was unknown to me and that excavated archival nuggets having to do with carpets and their kindred were a small part of a much larger domain.

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