Archive for September 16, 2007

Downtown = South; Uptown = North

It is cooler and a good day to take a break about town which I did.  Almaty has mountains to the east and the south, so it is a city on a slope.  “Down town means “South”.  Uptown is north, towards the mountains.  There’s a big difference from up to down, in altitude and in pollutants. 

When I lived here in 1992-1995, I sublet an apartment  where I lived on Derzhinsky Street, named for the first head of the Soviet KGB.  Now, all those Soviet names have been replaced by Kazakh national heroes.  Though, the locals still refer to the old names.   In some period of time soon I will move, probably “uptown” 20-30 minutes walk from our university depending upon whether I’m coming to work – a brisk down hill trot, or returning home, a slower trudge sometimes, I’m guessing. 

Right now, I am luxuriating in campus faculty housing, a stone’s throw from a very modern campus with a wonderful collection of books and periodicals.  Last night I browsed Foreign Affairs, the Journal of Transitional Economies, and some others. There are also Russian journals.  Next door, is the National Agrarian University, and hopefully persons I can meet and periodicals I can use as I intend to begin post – Soviet agricultural studies, abandoned 10 years ago when I began a career in higher education management and business course teaching. 

Our university is a premier institution of its type in Central Asia, one ridden with problems, but the only one like it.  It has 4,500 students and looks a lot like an American college, from the library, to the cafeteria trays, to the stationary store.  Most of the students are Kazakh, a Mongolian people (round faces, dark hair and eyes) who speak a Turkish language.  Turkish started in the east and went west to present day Turkey, with a swath of similarly related dialects. 

A Turk I knew here in 1993 said he understood “40%” of Kazakh, and more of the languages (Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Turkmen, Azeri) as he went west.  There are some, maybe 15% Caucasians here, Russians mainly, and a certain percent of Koreans, thrust here by Stalin in the mid 1950s. (Stalin enjoyed relocating people against their will.)   All are urbanized and all speak Russian. 

I use a bit of Russian in class, pretending to be learning it, I ask them what a word is in Russian.  The kids with better English know, tell me the Russian, I repeat it, and it helps the newer kids on this all – English speaking program. (Well, mostly all.) 

Yesterday, Friday, when I have only 2, not 4, classes, I rushed into the class to be told by a Kazakh woman historian that it was her time slot. I’d come an hour early to my room.  I learned from this historian, that there are classes here on “collectivization” the 1930s phenomenon of civil war against independent peasant farmers, which in Kazkahstan probably resulted in the death (mostly by starvation) of 1 million, perhaps one forth of the population.  Others fled the country, many to China or Mongolia. 

The president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev, writes about collectivization in his autobiography, a translated edition of which I checked out of the next door library last night.  I’d read excerpts of it in a newspaper in 1993.  Probably much of the book is “ghosted” but I’m sure the part about his grandfather and father and mother is true and heartfelt. Nazarbaev grew up as a boy speaking the languages of other children, of various ethnic groups.  His father had refused to take over management of a flour mill where he had worked, when it was expropriated from a hardworking Russian middle class family (who were deported) but took to the hills to herd sheep. Nazarbayev writes about all those who died when their property was collectivized.  I am still reading about his later life, running into independence in 1991 and a few years beyond.

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