Bazaar Networks of Central Asia: Towards a New Commercial Topography

Researcher: Hasan Karrar


This subproject explores the emergence of, the interlinking between, and everyday commercial practices in bazaars in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Karrar will also undertake field research in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China and northern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan Province) to explore the extent of commercial interconnectivity across the greater Central Asian region, and to offer a comparative perspective to Central Asia.

Despite being landlocked, and despite a centralized command economy for much of the twentieth century, today Central Asia boasts some of the largest wholesale bazaars in Asia — Dordoy (Bishkek) and Kara-Suu (Osh) in Kyrgyzstan, Barakholka (Almaty) in Kazakhstan, and Korvon (Dushanbe) in Tajikistan — where every year billions of dollars of merchandise changes hands, most of which is not formally accounted for.

Based on previous fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan (in 2013 and 2014), Karrar has assessed that nearly 80 percent of the goods sold in these bazaars originates from China. The large wholesale bazaars in Central Asia are both connected horizontally (for example, goods may flow from Dordoy to Kara-Suu or cross the border to Barakholka) and vertically (where the wholesale bazaars supply smaller, auxiliary markets). Karrar’s research project will explore the inter-linkages between bazaars, and will approach bazaars as sites of mobility: of people, merchandise, capital, and information.


Historically, this subproject focuses on how these bazaars originated and grew in the post-Soviet period;

As an extension, Karrar will inquire into how the bazaar become the site where, through informal practices, the state was, and is negotiated daily, while at the same time, it is also a site where people come to for economic survival;

Karrar will also explore the interconnectedness between the large wholesale bazaars, and the auxiliary markets supplied by the main commercial hubs;

Additionally, as a site where globalization from below is sharply etched, Karrar will investigate how Eurasian mobilities are forging new informal commercial topographies that frequently extend outside of a given state.


Karrar will rely on a range of methodologies and collect different types of data in the field. Primarily, when visiting field sites, he will be relying on open-ended interviews that range from ten to twenty minutes. The purpose of these interviews is to understand why people entered the market, the obstacles they may have faced, and to assess mobilities (where the goods are bought, where they originate, where the goods end up, how capital and information move). Through daily visits to the bazaar Karrar approaches the bazaar as an organic institution (with less focus on individual traders). He is also interested in understanding the transformative role of the bazaars on neighbourhoods where they are situated, and how the routes travelled by traders and merchandise has a transformative effect on local ecologies (the development of infrastructure, services, border towns, and markets).

Last, Karrar will also compile some of this data in a quantitative format, and will collect data for the combined dataset that is part of this project. He is especially interested in how this data can be mapped using GIS to reveal important patterns in mobilities.

Collaboration with other group members and contribution to the joint project

Besides the broad thematic overlap between my interest and those of others in this team, Rudaz and Karrar plan to work together in Kyrgyzstan (and possibly Tajikistan). Rudaz’s interest in entrepreneurship and Karrar’s interest in mobilities of traders has considerable overlap and they will benefit by working together in the field. Karrar also anticipates working closely with Khutsishvili; her interest in Georgian border markets, border crossings, and cross-border networks resonate with similar processes that Karrar will be studying in Central Asia. Additionally, Melkumyan also situates his inquiry in the bazaar, asking similar questions about origins and modalities, offering an exciting opportunity to draw comparisons between data from Central Asia and the Caucasus.