In Kyrgyzstan, water can be a highly charged substance. Coming from snow-melt and glacial sources in the mountains and associated with all that is clean and cleansing, it is both politically significant and deemed to have the power to heal. Compared to other Central Asian states, there is an abundance of water in Kyrgyzstan. However, its use in hydro-electric power creates significant tensions between Kyrgyz and down-stream Uzbeks who lack water, negotiating for it in exchange for gas. But as well as being negotiated for power, water has its own power. At mazars (holy sites) people come to the waterfalls and springs to collect water for healing, carrying wheel-chairs across the rocks, and taking the water away in bottles. In the Soviet era, healing springs were transformed into sanatoria, or hot baths, the minerals contained in the water listed on posters to reinforce the “scientific” reasons for them being beneficial for health. In contemporary Kyrgyzstan, healers can imbue water with power, but it can also have its own force and affect people, cleansing and protecting them. This paper explores the range of manifestations of power in water and the different kinds of reasoning people apply to explain its potency in the region.
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