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NYT: Secrets and lies shroud origin of giant man-made swastika in Kyrgyzstan

Published: Friday September 15, 2006

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Secrets and lies shroud the origin of a giant man-made swastika in the mountain regions of Kyrgyzstan, according to an article in Saturday's New York Times.

"The forest stands overhead in the dusty mountain air, a dense composition of fir trees on a slope, planted by labor gangs decades ago," writes C.J. Chivers for the Times. "Its right angles are sharp and clear, forming a square cross with an upraised arm on one side and a turned down arm on the other."

"Viewed from this remote village, the effect strongly suggests a living swastika, a huge and chilling symbol, out of place and time," Chivers writes. "This is the so-called Eki Naryn swastika, a man-made arrangement of trees near the edge of the Himalayas."

In 1998, BBC correspondent Emily Buchanan reported on the swastika during a visit shortly after the demise of the Soviet Union.

"We passed a mountain on which a giant swastika design stood out," Buchanan wrote.

"It was entirely made of fir trees - it turned out to have been a practical joke by a German prisoner of war who was sent out to plant trees as a punishment," wrote Buchanan. "No one noticed the shape he had made until long after the war and no one has bothered to chop it down."

A travel website provides more on the swastika's purported "backstory."

"In the far-away mountain regions of Kyrgyzstan, a Second World War German POW was set to lead a squadron of workers planting trees in the high-altitude wastes," according to "Somehow he managed to arrange them into the shape of a Swastika without being noticed..."

"The man later died, but the trees grew up and still stand today, a vaguely grotesque Denkmal to the trickle-down impact that the war had in far-away regions of the world," according to the travel website. "The trees were in fact a kind of time-capsule, as the pattern only became visible years and years after they were planted, as they reached maturity."

The Times reports that despite "the tidiness of legend, however, the tale is not quite true," but that "[u]nraveling the origins of the lost Nazis' presumed insubordination is a chore undercut by time."

Excerpts from Times article:


Sultanbek Kandibayev, director of the regional forestry service, gave a different version, saying the trees were planted in 1953, after Stalin's death, under the supervision of a woman who was a German nationalist.

Into this confused history, Vladimir Yashchuk, a local guide, offered yet another account. He said when he was schoolboy his teachers told him the trees were planted in the late 1930s, as Stalin and Hitler were approving the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact.

"It was the friendship of peoples at that time," he said.

Or so said the lessons in Soviet schoolhouses, Yashchuk added. No one is really sure. "Every guide has his own variation," he said.