Despite the intrusion of the COVID-19 health crisis during much of the Spring 2020 semester, the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center has maintained a busy—and increasingly innovative—schedule during this time. Our life in these four months has been divided effectively into two halves: pre- and post-coronavirus outbreak in early March. Two major events that illustrate the difference occurred at the end of January and the end of April. The first was our annual face-to-face IAUNRC symposium, this year titled “Famine, Conspiracy, Orphans, and Ancient Apples: Perspectives on Central Asia” and focused on such topics as collectivization of agriculture, World War II-era adoptions in Uzbekistan, conspiracy thinking in Kazakhstan and Georgia, and the origins of the apple in Central Asia. The second was a virtual mini-conference on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, co-sponsored with three other IUB national resource centers and offering panels that provided interviews with leading specialists on how Europe is handling the health crisis, the fate of democracy in East Central Europe, and the challenge of dealing with growing migrant communities all over the European Union and among its neighbors. One other broad and successful event we co-sponsored was the 26th annual Association of Central Eurasian Students (ACES) Conference, which featured 46 panelists from 13 countries and a keynote address—“Hellenism in Central Asia? Archaeological Perspectives on Rural Bukhara during Antiquity”—by Professor Sören Stark from New York University.
The health crisis forced the cancellation of numerous events in the second half of the semester, especially those that might have required travel for the participants. Nevertheless, the IAUNRC was actively involved in supporting presentations by local talent, including a Distinguished Professor Lecture by Christopher Beckwith (“The Language of Zoroaster in the Scythian and Persian Empires”) and two ACES brown bag talks by graduate students at IUB: Ezgi Benli, “Contemporary Alevi Music: The Fusion of Religious and Political Themes” and Jessica Storey-Nagy, “NationalBranding.hu: Meaning-making and Hungarikum in Today’s Hungary,” the latter via Zoom and particularly well attended, which augurs well for that as a future format. Before in-person gatherings were banned we continued to co-sponsor annual events such as the Mongolian New Year and Estonian Independence Day, the latter marking the 100th anniversary of the peace treaty confirming Estonia’s entrance into the international community as an independent entity.
Our outreach activities were also hampered during the last two months, but we managed to organize, along with IUB’s Russian and East European Institute, an important workshop for students and faculty at Eastern Kentucky University on non-proliferation and nuclear security. Margarita Kalinina-Pohl, Senior Program Manager and Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, led the workshop and covered such topics as nuclear issues on the ground in the Central Asian region and US-Russian relations and cooperation in nuclear matters. IAUNRC’s outreach to younger learners also continued nicely in numerous formats, including visits to nearby elementary schools to introduce the culture and languages of our region, increasing use of interactive video conferencing for such things as Mongolian storytelling, and establishing an account with the visual social network Pinterest to share more widely the marvelous crafts of Central Eurasia.