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The Swastika forest

The 200m-wide swastika that can be clearly seen in a fir plantation on a hillside near the small village of Tash-Bashat in Naryn Provice is an enigma that is clouded by legend and conflicting memories. The so-called Eki Naryn swastika is actually a reverse, left-handed swastika, with the top and bottom arms incomplete. Nevertheless, it is still an unmistakeable symbol, with all the chilling resonances that are normally associated with it.

The swastika is said to be at least 60 years old, and common legend tells of stranded German prisoners of war, forced into forestry after the end of the World War II, planting rows of seedlings in this shape. This legend is probably not the exact truth. There are others who say that the plantation was planted in the 1940s by Kyrgyz labourers from a local collective farm that was managed by a German Nazi sympathiser who, like many ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union, had been exiled to central Asia by Stalin during the war. Another theory suggests that the trees were planted just after Stalin's death in 1953 under the supervision of a female German forester. Another, unlikely, suggestion is that the trees were planted in the late 1930s at the time that Stalin and Hitler were signing a peace pact, together, as a symbol of Soviet-German friendship.

Whatever the exact truth, it is unlikely that German prison gangs ever worked in the area. There were labour camps near Bishkek and Osh, and some prisoners had been forced to dig uranium mines at Mailuu-Suu, but no-one in the area remembers Germans being used as labourers, although there do seem to be several recollections of a German woman supervising the planting of the plantation using local Kyrgyz labour.

There are those of the New-Age persuasion that decry the Nazi connotations entirely, saying that as a reverse swastika it is actually a representation of the sacred symbol frequently used in the Hindu and Buddhist religions, even suggesting that the name Eki-Naryn is a distortion of Eki Narayan, 'One God'. However, such a theory does not really correspond with the certainty that the trees were planted in the mid-20th century.