Mirlan Bektursunov wins 2024’s Irene Hilgers Memorial Prize

Every year, Central Asian Survey awards The Irene Hilgers Memorial Prize to a junior scholar, who has published an outstanding article in the journal volume from the preceding calendar year.

This year’s award recipient is Dr Mirlan Bektursunov, for his article ‘Two parts – one whole’? Kazakh–Kyrgyz relations in the making of Soviet Kyrgyzstan, 1917–24. Mirlan has a Master’s degree and PhD in area studies from Hokkaido University and is currently a Research Fellow at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center at Hiroshima University, Japan.

Picture of a man against a wall

We asked Mirlan Bektursunov what inspired his research;

“The inspiration for my research stems from my interest in understanding the historical dynamics in Central Asia during the collapse of the Russian Empire and the emergence of the Soviet Union. The link between these two periods is not necessarily acknowledged in cultural, political, and social disciplines within Central Asian studies. My article was an attempt to fill this void by exploring the evolution of the historical relationship between Kazakh and Kyrgyz national elites from the Imperial to the Soviet periods.”

The Irene Hilgers Memorial Prize, which carries a prize fund of £500, was set up by the journal in 2014. The prize is dedicated to the memory and scholarly achievements of Irene Hilgers, a German scholar of Uzbekistan. Hilgers died tragically young in 2008, shortly before completing her doctoral dissertation at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

The 2024 prize was judged by Adrienne Edgar (Vice President and President-Elect, Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies) and Erica Marat (Associate Professor at the National Defence Museum, Washington DC, USA).

Adrienne states that “this excellent essay examines the relationship between Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in the Central Asian “national delimitation” of 1924-25. The author uses archival sources along with published materials in multiple languages to analyse the intertwined relationships among Kazakh and Kyrgyz elites, tracing their role in the division of Kazakhs from Kyrgyz and the emergence of Soviet Kyrgyzstan. An original contribution to the history of early Soviet Central Asia and the emergence of “national-territorial republics.” 

Erica noted the paper’s “novel approach and contribution to literature on Central Asia […] and the insight it provides into how Central Asians needed to navigate the demands of the Russian occupation”.

We asked Mirlan what the prize means to him;

“Receiving the Irene Hilgers Prize for the best article by an early-career scholar holds great significance for me. It is with great honour and humility that I accept this award. Just as Irene did back in 2008, I, too, recently completed my PhD (2022), and it is truly humbling to be associated, even tangentially, with her legacy.”

Mirlan’s article has been made free to access until 30th June 2025. Browse Mirlan’s article and past award-winning papers on The Irene Hilgers Memorial Prize page.