Archive for September, 2008

Corruption at Our University???–Not so fast!!!

The following are what my Kazakhstani students wrote:


I think ours is the only University without corruption using money as a source of it, but I’ve heard about sexual corruption here, when girls get A+ for being with a lecturer couple times.  Fortunately, Kazakhstan politics let foreign professors come and teach here!


I heard that there are some corruption here.  Some securities helping to students for money to enter the teacher’s office.  And the students grabbing their exams even they can log on their computers to find information about exam.  I think students who are doing this are doing nothing good for themselves.


There was one situation when I first entered our university, I asked is it possible to pay to a teacher so he will get you A+, somebody told me that if you want A+ you should buy a teacher a car!!! And after that I didn’t even think about it.

Today, I didn’t see that someone is trying to “buy a teacher.” But there is a group of people that help students.  For example, made different assignments for us.  Sometimes it is very comfortable.  If you have many subjects and you haven’t time to do assignments, you can ask this group to do it instead of you.  Of course, it is not fair and you don’t learn the main points that your university teachers gives to you!


I have never met corruption at our university and I’m really happy with this, this place is the only university, where there is no corruption in Almaty (in suburban areas situation is even worse).  I think the only reason why corruption still exists is teachers’ small salaries and I think that they are not guilty, this is the government’s fault.  Teachers and doctors are the main professions and their salaries are less than accountants or manager’s, that I think is simply not fair!  Ours is a private institution, that is why it pays good salaries and is independent.  It does not depend on government payments, that is why there is no corruption here.


Taking into account the level of corruption that we have here in KZ (According to the list of most corrupted countries, we are in the top list, definitely top 50 😉 However, our university is considered as non-corrupted, but to tell the truth, you can compare our place with the U.S. where common people do not give or receive bribes but very few people in power do.

I heard very few stories of bribing teachers, usually they are some local teachers, almost none are foreign.  It is understandable that people who are educated, and intelligent and if they earn enough money, they will not get involved with things like bribery. 

On the other hand, teachers in state universities of KZ are also educated and intelligent but they earn almost 5 times less than our university teachers.

Most cases of bribery we may witness at the higher level (like administration), people are merged in groups and lobby interest of each other, relatives work together and things like that happen.

As tolerance of our people is pretty high, I can say that corruption will still exist until new generation comes to power.


Actually, I haven’t heard or seen any cases of corruption here because our institution is private.  I don’t know how it is supported by politics but I know that the President [Nazarbayev] helped it a lot at the early stage of growing when it was only opening.  This place is financed completely form its students.

Honestly, I never heard anything about corruption here at our university.  I didn’t have any professor or staff asking me for a bribe.  There are many professors who come from other countries and I think they think it is not normal to ask a bribe from students in order for them to get a better grade.  However, here we have many professors who are from Kazakhstan and I still didn’t hear anything about corruption because in my opinion they value their job and they make a decent amount of money.  In contrast, I know that in many other universities in Kazakhstan, bribery is a normal thing.  For instance, students can buy the grade that they want.

I don’t know a lot about Kazakhstan’s politics because there are so many things happening in the world.  However, our President [Nazarbayev] visited our campus’ new building this summer.  It was shown everywhere, on TV, newspapers.  My thought is that it was some kind of advertisement for our school.  Our President is very good at International Relationship matters.  Globalization is happening so we need people who can speak English and know about other countries.


I believe teachers at our university do not take any bribes.  But there was a story, last year when we were preparing for our final exams, my friend came to me and said: “Oh, you’re preparing for an exam? Stupid you are.  Here are the answer keys, take it.”  It shocked me.  When the exam day came, I saw that the answers were the same as in the answer key that she gave me.  I got angry.  I think that it is dishonest.  Then I asked her: “Where did you get this answer key?”  She said, “From security.” This answer made me calm, I was happy there was no bribe among teachers.

And what about politics in Kazakhstan, I think it helps the future of our university because in the Ministry of Education of KZ, they made some correctnesses [sic] in the constitution of education and some rules are changed, I think it will help for the future of our school.


I’ve never been a witness of corruption in our university.  Nevertheless, it’s rumored that some students buy answers to the exam.  To be more clear, it’s necessary to say they steal them.  Main tool for doing this dishonest action are the securities.  But in my point of view, that’s not true.  Firstly, most of professors are foreigners.  And second reason is that teachers wouldn’t leave exams in the cabinets.  Even if they do, there are lots of cameras nearly everywhere.

Kazakhstan politics helps our university directly by inviting professors from abroad.  It’s unusual for them to take bribes.  And the exchange programs help a lot, our students are punished in another country and would not like to experience the same feelings coming back in Kazakhstan.


I’ve not heard so many kinds of corruption but a little where people who I’ve heard from said that it is very dangerous and mostly impossible.  Firstly, I heard to buy a diploma from our university and to be finished here (but I don’t know what mark and GPA you will have) it costs about $15,000, but it depends on your mark and GPA that you want, (this is my point of view).  Secondly, I’ve heard that two semesters mark you can get for $6,000.  So Kazakhstan’s politics helps to stop corruption in our university but I don’t think you can stop corruption, not even in 50 years because it is now like a normal thing.



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Curious and Creative Questions asked by students


1.     Do you think the idea or policy of collectivization was good or bad especially from an educational side or urbanization?

2.     As a result of collectivization, why did not the economy develop in socialism?

3.     Why did people like the “kulaks” not go abroad in order to save their families and property?

4.     In what way did collectivization change rural communities?

5.     What are the results of collectivization in different parts of Kazakhstan?


Deportation – Relocation

1.     Which nations suffered the most from being deported or relocated by Stalin’s dictates?

2.     Why have lots of Germans moved back to Germany (wave of migration in 1995) from KZ but other deported nations have not?


Famine of 1931-33

1.     What do you think is the main reason of famine in 1931-33?

2.     How were people able to survive?

3.     Do you have grandparents who witnessed famine and know anything about it?

4.     Do you think famine happened because of the natural reasons or because of the political system in USSR?

5.     How many people died all together during the famine in USSR? How many people died in Kazakhstan?

6.     What were the main reasons for denying the famine in Ukraine?

7.     During the first stages, 1928-1931, what areas of Kazakhstan the most at risk?

8.     Which policies shifted the incidence of the famine to produce distress in other areas of Kazakshtan?


Education in USSR

1.     What was education in USSR like compared to other big countries?

2.     Why do our grandparents say that education in USSR is better than now?

3.     Why did we change our education based on western pattern when we know that in the USSR education was on a very high level?

4.     In your point of view, was the USSR educational system good or not?

5.     What are the main differences between modern educational system and the USSR system?

6.     How did USSR’s education differ from today’s education?

7.     Is there a definite feature in the USSR’s educational system that differs from other systems?


Medicine in USSR

1.     What were the major issues in medicine in USSR?

2.     Almost all services in USSR were free, even medical care.  But in capitalism, it is too expensive to go to the medical center.  What is the difference between them?And how does it affect the quality of medical care?

3.     Can you tell us about experiments that were held in “enemy of the nations” camp?

4.     Why in capitalism is medical staff (doctors, nurses, etc) better educated and able to serve people more effectively?

5.     It was said that USSR scientists tried to cure incurable diseases? Was there any research money designated for that and if so, how much?

6.     What should the Soviet government have done in order to prevent alcoholism in Soviet Union?

7.     What are the effects of radiation on the Kazakh population?

8.     What are the effects on health of people in live in the Semipalatinsk area and is it still affecting the health of the population today?

9.     What kind of medical experiments did doctors do in the gulag?

10. What is the “presumption of mental health” and what role did psychiatric reform play in USSR?


Nationalities Question

1.     Describe how the nationalities question was put to the people in the USSR?

2.     Which nationalities suffered the most under Stalin’s regime?


Soviet Living Conditions

1.     Why was it not possible to make economic conditions better?  We know that the USSR was one of the richest countries?

2.     Why if USSR’s conditions were not the best, the houses called “Khrusevki” still exist in KZ?

3.     In which terms and how far behind socialism had put economy of USSR from other capitalistic countries?

4.     What was done to improve living conditions in USSR?

5.     Soviet living conditions were not bad in my opinion, what do you think?

6.     What was the attitude of people towards their living conditions?  What caused such problems in living during the Soviet Union?

7.     As we are living in a Muslim country and customs and traditions are respected a lot, how do you think Kazakh women and their husband reacted on women being made into class-conscious workers (batrakas?)

8.     How do you think Soviet Union government solve the problem about class discrimination in 1920s? Did this change only affect “people on the top?”


WWII – Military – Spies

1.     Why after WWII were a lot of spies classified as “enemies of nation?”

2.     Who was the most famous spy of USSR? How did he die?

3.     Has the USSR government used up all the military resources (tanks, rockets, etc?)

4.     How do you think publicizing heroes at the time of war helped to strengthen the USSR ideology?

5.     What were the benefits or risks in being a spy during WWII?

6.     What was the main aim of spies?  What problems did they and their families face after WWII?

7.     What does it mean “Great Patriotic War” mean for each nationality in the USSR?

8.     What spy tricks were used during WWII, name some famous spies if you know.

9.     What is the difference between the names of “Great Patriotic War” and WWII?

10. Why do you think the number of deaths in WWII was minimized?  For whom was the war profitable?

11. What nations were “under the pressure” during WWII?

12.  What reasons were Kazakh people called traitors?

13. During war we can see that people of same nationality help each other? Why did this happen?

14. Whom the most famous names in Soviet partisan mythology belong?


Soviet Economy

1.     How did WWII affect SU’s economy?

2.     In 1960s were the years of “agricultural boom” in the whole SU, how much money was spent on that?

3.     Retailing business in USSR, did it exist or not?

4.     Do you really think that Soviet economy can even be called an economy? If yes, prove it!

5.     How much money was spent on “perestoika?”

6.     How did Perestroika positively or negatively impact the Soviet Union’s economy, what are the reasons?

7.     How did female work affect the economy of the Soviet Union?





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Kazakh Students Thoughts on Stalin (Part III)

A. I. Actually, I don’t think I’m the person who can judge Stalin, but if to pretend to be a judge, I would say that Stalin had both good and bad sides, which effect on the lifes of Kazakh people.  Of course I’m against his violent actions that he did in the past.  That kind of people, I suppose, never can do “good” things but from one side I agree that he did some sort of “useful” things on Kazakh land.

He was the first who made Kazakh nomadic nation to step, and to learn agricultural things, Vavilov said that it’s not right, I agree that many millions of people died in those years, but we just need to mention that 1930s were the years of war, years of pain, and the whole world began to increase their industrial power, while our Kazakhs were only around sheep.  So that I think, probably, Stalin made a first step to civilization on Kazakh land, from this side I can say that Stalin was “useful” person, but as in whole he was “cruel.”


V. K. Stalin is one of the most recognized leaders but not only from a good point of view but from the bad as well.  I think he was bad for KZ because of sending people here as enemy’s of the Soviet Union, the hero from the story, Vavilov, who was a really important person to USSR, was sent to KZ. 


AA – I think that Stalin’s regime was as good as well as bad for the citizens of KZ, because of some reasons.  Firstly, Stalin was the authority in the whole Soviet Union, some people, even the majority of people loved him and adored him because they thought that he is a great person.  But people who knew about Stalin something wrong, they didn’t stay alive for long, because Stalin didn’t want to know all people, so he did all possible things in order to do that person – the enemy of the country.  Also people didn’t see any bad things about Stalin because he controlled everything, and even magazines and newspapers were directed by special people who controlled the text, etc.  The best Stalin’s regime’s advantage that in his times Soviet Union  In spite of not good enough guns and other equipments, he did that.  For this I appreciate him.  But I still cannot understand why he thought that most people are enemies, and did he think that he is God, who can take the people’s lives?  Of course, after the death of the person we cannot say bad things about him, also we don’t know what there was exactly, so I think that it is unfair to destroy people’s lives like he and his government did.  They sent lots of people to the prison and the camps or shot them.

Maybe if he had not been ruler for the 30 years, my grandparents view on something would be differently, but I think that nothing would be changed, because Stalin was only in Russia, but my family lived in Kyrgyzstan and they didn’t know at all how Stalin had ruled.


D. K. – To be honest I do not know what to say about life of my family if there wasn’t be a Stalin, maybe my grandmother would be killed, maybe won’t, I don’t know what would be if Borbachev or Chernenko were the leaders of USSR in that time period.  I think it is a prerogative of scientists and writers to think about this.  But I can say that for Kazakhstan it was a terrible time during Stalin’s leadership.  He wanted to ruin an ancient Kazakh style of life.  To move Kazakhs to Syberia it is the same to move native Africans to North Pole.  Kazakhs cannot survive without their animals, horses, sheeps, camels, etc.  And these animals cannot live in arctic climate.  So they would all die.  It was a madness, real madness; not to do this but even only think about it.


M. K. Overall, I believe that Stalin wasn’t a good leader for Soviet Union.  Everybody knows how many crimes he had committed; because of him millions of people either died or just were lost, especially the intelligence of the USSR – the scientists, writers, teachers were killed or under repression.

But there were some good things about him as well, because there should have been something that makes our grandparents good about those days.  Also, who knows what would have been the result of WWII without Stalin, because during war time a nation needs a strong leader.  But what amazes me most is that our relatives who lived at that period in USSR remember those days with smiles despite everything they went through.


B.Y – I think that Joseph Stalin wasn’t so generally good for all countries, which were in USSR, not only for the citizens of KZ.  Even as we know his attitude to his mother was bad.  He was strict and strong.  But these qualities of him helped to win Germany, with the help of other countries won the war against Hitler’s army in WWII.  For our generation he seems to be so good.  But for people who lived at that time he was the best.  Even they cried when he was died.  They thought that, everything would be destroyed.  Nobody would be like Stalin.  But as we see, we can live without Stalin’s regime and we are developing countries.


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Kazakh Students Thoughts on Stalin (Part II)

The following is a continuation of yesterday’s blog about my Kazakhstani students responding to the question about Stalin and Vavilov whose life and reputation as a great scientist were destroyed by Soviet policies in the name of collectivization in Kazakhstan

A. Y. – Personally, I do not believe in the effectiveness of system existed in USSR.  On my point of view, it’s only the people’s will that made socialism exist so long.  Maybe because of that I do not have positive attitude towards Joseph Stalin.  According to Christopher Robbins book there were millions of people who died, lots of prisons organized. And all of these facts were hidden from citizens.  As I’ve heard, the extract from “Apples are from Kazakhstan” I’m more persuaded in my opinion.  Yes, it’s a widespread thought that if there wouldn’t be Stalin’s politics in 1939-1945 USSR will not win Great Patriotic War.  But I disagree with that.  How can be admired such person, who killed intelligentsia (destroyed traditions, culture) who deported different nations without their wanting, who sent own citizens to Front of the fighting people?


L. K. – I know a bit about Joseph Stalin and when you ask older people in KZ, they all have different points of view about him.  Some older generation people praise him and say good things about him.  At the same time, there are many people who think that he was a despot, especially those whose close relatives suffered from his regime.  For instance, if their husband or father was killed, sent away to the prison or camps because they were “enemies of nation” as Stalin said and they were not guilty.  So many people died because of it, families had been destroyed.  Their wives were sent to a special place to live, children couldn’t study at universities.  During Stalin’s regime, people were afraid of everything.  They were afraid to say something freely about the regime or their life otherwise they would be punished severely.


M.T. – I think that Joseph Stalin was a very bad leader, because he did everything just for Russia, not USSRMoscow and in its only interests.  Also, he tried to erase the culture of nations, therefore, everyone spoke only Russian, learned Russian history and literature.  He didn’t let people who didn’t think the way he did to live in their motherland.  He tortured some of them worse than fascists. It is hard to think of what it could have been if he wasn’t a ruler.  But for us personally, it could be that Uyghurs had their own country, separate from China or they still would be a part of ChinaKyrgyzstan and people who died in plane crash would have lived.


K. S. I think of course if in Soviet Union was no Stalin life of all people was different.  Some people said that Stalin is a great man, but most people of course disagree.  In Soviet Union was many prisons where famous people were, x-scientists and others.  Vavilov was in prison too and he died there.  I think its stupid to try to do nomad nature, culture and people into agricultural.  From history we see that people can do nothing against nature and human nature.  Stalin was powerful and even despotic man.


N. U. – J. Stalin was one of the famous persons in twentieth century.  He controlled all over big land and huge population all over 30 years.  In that time in , Stalin had a great impact to people, that they always felt afraid and also they felt patriotism of community.  But today we have so many arguments about him, that the most starting hate him.  And the many reasons was the year of 1925-35, but when there was Second World War, people from Kazakhstan say that he was great person.  So, whatever person some to government, he will always have the enemy and people who loves him.  So, it is political system and it is the main rule.  Not all people will love government.

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Kazakh Students Varied Thoughts on Stalin

After reading part of the first chapter “Apples are from Kazakhstan” by Christopher Robbins to my class, I quizzed my students on vocabulary words such as arable, detractors, diatribe, eradicate, nemesis, ostentatious, sacrosanct, protégé, etc.  Another part of the quiz I got responses to the question: What are your thoughts on Joseph Stalin and whether he was generally good for the citizens of Kazakhstan or bad.  If he had not been ruler for 30 years in the Soviet Union, how do you think you and your family’s life would be different now?


A. E. Joseph Stalin was such kind of man who was not interested in other people’s lives.  He was very selfish one.  Only what he said must be true.  The same was in the case of Vavilov.  Stalin just destroyed him.  Vavilov was very good agriculturist, he knew a lot about Kazakhstan, about Kazakh land, but what he knew didn’t make sense to Stalin.

By the way, I think that politics of Joseph Stalin wasn’t good for Kazakh people because he destroyed the culture of this nation.  As we all know, Kazakh have a very strong culture and destroying was very critical for Kazakh people.

And what about living conditions, if he [Stalin] had not been ruling for 30 years, in my point of view, the living conditions would be better.  Because the time of Stalin control stopped the spread of globalization in USSR, which is not very good for people as for economy of the country.

In conclusion, I want to say that life could be better.


R. A. – There are a lot of contradictable opinions about Joseph Stalin.  Some people would say that he was very cruel leader and that his regime killed too many innocent people.  But we the citizens of post-Soviet countries shouldn’t forget about Great Patriotic War and his contribution to victory of Soviet people over Fascist invaders.  Maybe, if he [Stalin] hadn’t such an enormous power, Soviet people wouldn’t be so united and wouldn’t have won the war.


A. I. In the totalitarian world, of course, he was the best as the ruler.  But he was like an Evil for the people.  He had an absolutely power in that regime and all Soviet people had to some kind of worship him.  Anyway everybody thought that they couldn’t survive without him.  He was like a God in USSR.


A. B: I think Joseph Stalin was brutal tyrant.  He had only military ideas in his mind and he would stop at nothing in order to reach his goal.  He was rather bad for KZ.  We would have a better life.


Z. S. My personal opinion about Stalin changed when I was 17.  Before that I always thought that he was a very strong, powerful and just leader, during whose ruling life in the USSR was controlled but calm, people were not afraid of robbery or murder, everyone could get a job and etc.  Only when I was 17 and I was in the U.S. and further when I came back and talked to many historians both at our university and other KZ universities, I found out the truth.  The fact that at those times life was calm and determined it was the consequences of all the horrible things he had done like collectivization, famine, repressions and many more things.  Only he himself killed so many people which only a war could do.

I understand older people still wish he was alive and we were living under communist regime, but this is only one side looking to issue, maybe because they haven’t seen another style of living and even if they did (current KZ, where everything such as wealth is in the hands of a few people), they did not like it.


A. T: Generally Stalin was not as perfect for KZ citizens, on the other hand, the policy which was provided was not so bad, I mean the policy of concentration citizens of cities or “auls” (villages).  It is not a secret that Kazakhs at the beginning of the century was without any education and towns and villages make the education possible.  But the ideas of the policy was “killed” by their realization.  Repressions killed a lot of Kazakh peoples, who can’t live in an urban area.  I think that without Soviet policy, it was a chance that KZ now could be like a Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan, fully nomadic or non developed or even developing country.  Soviet policy make a good base of developing for KZ now.


K. V. I think that Stalin was strictive man.  All those bad things that he did were done by thinking.  He killed many people that did not deserve death.  And without Stalin and his strong character USSR wouldn’t won the WWII.  As someone said in the class, when Stalin died, many people were crying, because they felt strength of Stalin, and when he gone they frightened, because they didn’t imagine life without “this cruel man.” There are many people who hate Stalin and they have their own reasons.


Y. K. – Joseph Stalin was not the best ruler of people, USSR, he made a lot of bad things, killed a lot of people, however, USSR won the World War II, and one of the main reason of that was that the ruler was Stalin, psychologists think that only he could win Hitler.  So if Stalin had not been a ruler, we might not sit in this class now.  Sure, after the war, it was really hard to rebirth the country, all economy production, and a lot of people died as victims, but who knows, if it was another ruler would it be better or not?

Stalin was very smart, but as we know, authority spoils everyone.  People loved him, they were really happy that they were ruled by him.  So I cannot say whether my life could be better or worse, it is simply could be no me and not my family now.


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Danna’s Grandparents and Soviet Living Conditions

 Speaking about early times I’d like to say that my parents and grandparents always tell me their stories about that time. They teach us to be confident, support each other in any situation and always give us their useful advices. My parents always compare nowadays and Soviet living conditions, they try to show us life conditions which they live in and evaluate it. I had heard that the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. My parents told me especially about that period a lot. They said that there was a lot of hardship at that time. Instead of helping each other, people thought only about their own fate. It was very hard not only for my parents, but also for all people.  Also, I know about communism through what I heard from my parents and grandparents. In the Brezhnev era life was easier because it was a calm time. But if you consider the period before Brezhnev, for example the Stalin and Lenin eras, it was harder for people due to mass repression.

In Soviet Union getting higher education was easier but living conditions were harder than now. I think when my parents were in my age, they had more privileges than I do. Living now is a struggle, you have to work hard to succeed. In their school years, my parents had no problem entering a university and gaining a profession with the base knowledge they acquired in school. But now, you must study hard at school and have private classes to get prepared for entrance exams to university.

They’ve told me that the situation in 1991 was very difficult. In order to buy food, they needed to stand in very long lines. At that time people had money, but there was nothing to buy. And now it’s the other way around. You can buy almost everything but you don’t have the money to do it. Everyday life has perhaps become better when we compare it to the perestroika years. At that time it was so difficult to get food and clothes for babies; you could only get them with coupons. But morally, it was better at the beginning.

It was the months the Soviet Union collapsed, the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) was formed, and life as many people knew it was changed forever. I’d like to say that I’m proud of my parents and grandparents, so I want to make their lives much better than now.  

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“Buried Treasure” in Four Students’ Stories

        The following are stories about grandparents I received orally from my Kazakh students and some are real treasures worth the time digging up.  As I wrote notes, I asked questions all along the way.  Their names are typical Kazakh names, Aigerim, Bahtiyar, Galymzhan and Dana.  Some names are difficult to pronounce for westerners.  Of course, each has a meaning unbeknownst to me until I ask and usually they will tell me the Kazakh meaning. 

My first story starts with Aigerim.  She is an attractive 22 year old and very communicative.  She talked about her dad’s grandfather who was born in Kyrzlorda in 1904 and died in 1999.  She recalls hearing that the early years of 1930s were very difficult ones where many people starved.  Fortunately for her family, they went to another country of Turkmenistan, she can’t remember if it was Ashgabat or not but her father was born in Turkmenistan. 

When her great grandfather found out that things had normalized after the starvation period, the whole family returned to Kazakhstan again.  Aigerim’s father graduated from school and went into the army at age 19 and when he returned from where he was stationed in Ukraine after two years of service, his grandfather had moved the whole family to Almaty.  The great grandfather of Aigerim had checked it out because one of his daughters had married a man from Almaty and he found that it was a suitable place to live. 

Aigerim commented that it was very unusual for an older person to make such a decision to leave their home place where he was born.  Perhaps it was because he had worked for the railroad during WWII and was used to moving around.  She knows that her father was very thankful for the move from Kryzlorda to Almaty and he would often say, “Thank you my grandfather” for the move.  Aigerim’s father was the oldest of 8 children, he is 47 years old now as he was born in 1961.

Second, Baktiyar probably has the best English skills in speaking of the four students and he is a faithful member of my English class.  He has some Uighur connection and has heard many different stories about what has happened to that particular ethnic group.  He was cynical when he said there are two different versions of his grandfather’s death.  One is that he was a tragic war hero during WWII but the other story is that he liked to gamble and he was shot during a fight.  Baktiyar thinks the second story is more likely, he didn’t have as much to share about his family history.

However, Baktiyar DID say that his grandmother was married five times.  She had five children, four sons and one daughter.  After WWII the family moved to Almaty and unfortunately the half brothers and sister didn’t get along with each other, while they shared the same mother, they each had a different father.  Such was the life of struggle when there was no man in the family.  All this is on Baktiyar’s father side.  On his mother’s side, her mother died when she was 10 years old and her father had died earlier.  So Baktiyar’s mother’s big brother was like a father to her.

Third, Galymzhan is from Shymkent and had help from his classmates to get his story out, he has the weakest English skills.  He will be getting married on October 24 to another woman from his hometown but whom he met in Almaty. Once married, he is determined to go back to Shymkent to find out more information from her still living grandmother.  He wished he knew more to tell his inquisitive American teacher.

As it turns out, Galymzhan’s great grandfather was a very rich man many years ago on his mother’s side.  In fact, in his village or aul, he was considered a powerful leader.  When things got dangerous for him after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, his great grandfather knew he had to bury his gold and silver in the ground.  He ran off to Mongolia or China, Galymzhan doesn’t remember which country and there he hid out.  Meanwhile his family was left behind near Turkestan, about 30 kilometers away in a village there, a place called Kemtau.  The group joked about how they would like to go back to Shymkent and find that “buried treasure.”

Galymzhan said that his grandmother was from Taras and she worked all her life in a factory on a sewing machine.  She was awarded many medals by the USSR for her outstanding work.  Yes, she was a good communist, we all smiled at that thought.

Finally, bubbly and funny Dana spoke about her father’s parents, her grandmother and grandfather.  They were in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan but later moved to Shymkent and then Aktau.  Her father is a lawyer who practices law representing a factory in Almaty.  Her mother is 44 years old and a teacher at an elementary school.  She got married when she was 17 years old, they have five children, two boys and three daughters.  Dana recalls that her mother’s father was very handsome, tall and intelligent.  He never was sick a day in his life, when he went to WWII he got many medals.  He died around 1991 and Dana was so surprised because he always appeared so healthy.

Dana had a funny story to tell about her father because she thought the day’s assignment was to come up with a “funny” story.  NO, I had wanted a “family” story and I was glad that all four had complied.  I am hoping to find out more from my other students tomorrow.  I believe every single Kazakh, and other nationalities who are called Kazakhstani, have interesting stories to tell about their grandparents. Ethnographers and qualitative researchers would have a treasure trove to dig up if only they would travel and live in the “ends of the earth” for a spell to discover what a great country Kazakhstan really is!!!

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Two Very Different Lives, Arman’s Grandparents

          I only know the parents of my mother because my father left us when I was six month. I know just a little about him and his parents that’s why I’m regarding my mom’s parents like my grandparents! They are very strong people! Morally and physically too. They had never used to drink an alcohol or smoke a cigarette.


         My grandfather – Baizhan ata (means “Rich Soul”) was born in 1917 in a big and rich family. He had more than ten brothers and sisters. Almost all boys in the family except my grandfather were educated in medrese (Islamic school). My great-grandfather did not let him study in medrese because they had a farm with a huge amount of animals like horses, sheep and even camels. They were shot of workforce, so my grandfather worked in farm while his brothers were studying in medrese. But he was telling me that he wanted to study too. Once, he wanted to escape his family and he did so! He came to the medrese to be educated person but his father returned him back by biting [?] and telling him that there is no need to go to medrese while his brothers doing so. Also he said that there is enough people in medrese from their family and someone should work in farm. That is why my grandfather can not read and write. He can only write first 3 letters of his surname when he need to sign a document. But it is another story of my grandfather related to his surname because he does not belong to “Zhanpeissov” family!


 My grandmother’s past was quite a bit better than her husband’s. Her name is Kunbope (means “Sun baby”) and she was born in 1926 in a big and well known family. Her mother died when she was a child, so she had stepmother. Her father Tursyn ata was well known and respected person in the Ulytau of Saryarka region. He was very wise person! He was counted as a “peacekeeper” within the region. My grandmother’s past life is the opposite of my grandfather’s past life. In contrast to my grandfather, she studied in school five years and can read and write. They did not meet and did not know each other before their wedding. Their parents decided to marry them.


         There were many terrible things in our land in the XX century! “Rulers” started to industrialize the vast area of the Russian Empire. It led to the death of millions of its inhabitants! In the 1930s my grandfather was sold or exchanged for two sacks of wheat. Causes of this kind of action was collectivization that was started in the end of 1920s. Many Kazakh families became poor and lack of food caused an unusual action like my great-grandparents did. This is the only story that he told me about his past but it is good enough to understand that he lived in very dark times. It was so hard to live in that time and almost impossible to survive in famine when you are poor and do not have a family that could support you! He survived only because of his strength of mind!


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“My Granny’s Story” by Serik

Early twentieth century was a harsh time for everyone. I never thought about those years. How it was for our grandparents? What were they doing to survive? Other many questions which I ask myself never came to me before the story I heard from my grandmother. She told us stories from her childhood right before her peaceful soul left this world. Even that time I did not pay big attention. But now after discovering some further information on my grandmother’s family, I realized how interesting her life was, even if she had a hard time.

          My mother’s mother almost whole her life spent in Bayin Olgey. The city where mostly live only Kazakh people, but the city itself is in Mongolia. Do not miss this point: how amazing it is that several pure Kazakh people are still alive and live in the heart of Mongolia. The country, which always threatened Kazakhstan, and used to be their most dangerous enemy. Of course my granny died there. She left this significant historical account of her father and uncle.

 The story begins from rich graph of a big tribe Sukirbay, who had two children. Dorvodhan (my grand – grand father) and Dallelhan became graphs in their early ages, when on one occasion their father Sukirbay died. But time was against them. Just after a while getting those important posts, USSR expansions got to their territory. The USSR blamed them that they helped the “Reds” so called group which was against the “Whites”. Not thinking long my grandmother’s father and his brother left everything, including their family and all the gold they had. They ran towards China hoping to find help there. Nevertheless in short distance from the borders government army caught them. The only dungan agent tried to help them. But knowing that he could not let both of them leave alive, he offered a deal. So the deal was that he would shoot one of them while everyone would be looking at this action, so that the other could run away. Not letting the dungan officer wait long my grand – grand father told these words to his younger brother: “My brother you are too young to die. Let me die, because I lived half of my life and I am older. Just promise me to survive this war, take care of my family, especially my daughter, grow to be a man, whom everyone will respect and do not let down our family name. I believe in you, now run as fast you can.”


So after these words young Dallelhan left to China. As he promised after studying at Moscow University and finishing his KGB courses in Tashkent he finally became a general of specific area in China. He helped his family, relatives and his brother’s family to emigrate from Mongolia. Settling them in Eastern Turkistan (Xinjiang) he lived his life trying to separate this are from China. His dream was to break out from China with territory of Eastern Turkistan and for his goal he even became a spy for USSR. The region was strategically important and rich in minerals (oil, gold etc.), then if the territory was successful in independence admission and admitted by the world coalition, USSR was planning to make it as one of the Soviet Republics (as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc.). That was the reason why the Russian government was helping him. But Chinese were cool hearted and more smart, so when the Soviets plan gone down China occupied and crashed the so called Autonomy of Eastern Turkistan. USSR had no choice, but did a secret deal with Chinese and those leaders (who were used by Soviets, as my grandmother’s uncle).


Though after some time, those leaders died on airplane crash including Sir Dallelhan. The reason of the crash is still not discovered, but there is some gossip that actually the Soviets planned this operation. So that they would not let leak the information, which the leaders obtained while working for Soviets.   

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Tribute to My 91 Year Old Great Aunt Izzy

Why do we learn things too late from a dear person’s obituary, as in the case of my Great Aunt Isabelle Aslakson?  I already knew she enjoyed “rock star status” in her small town of New Rockford, North Dakota. Many people appreciated Izzy for the spunky, former lady pilot and historian that she was.  I know she was highly revered for what her late husband had started 50 years ago as a celebration of old steam threshing machines.  She owned at least three of these dinosaur tractors that need an expert engineer’s know-how and a warrior’s bravery to start and run.  Izzy’s grandson, my Uncle Leigh or others would drive her steam engine tractors in the parade of the fairgrounds for this yearly fall festival event. I was told when the 40 year reunion happened in September 1998, all the steam engine tractors blew their whistles at a set time, the deafening bellows were heard at distances of over 10 miles away.


Yesterday I was rather melancholy because I was missing the bitter-sweet family event of 50 years of celebrating steam engines and imagining what they would do to celebrate this time. Seems they celebrated Izzy’s passing in a poignant way.  I found this out from my Mom of how the organizers honored my Great Aunt and Uncle Aslakson, (please read to the very end).  


In tribute to my Aslakson relatives, I proudly wore my sweatshirt that reads “Central North Dakota – Steam Threshers Reunion.”  I bought my shirt last year when I gave a research presentation about another quiet but hardworking Norwegian relative of mine, S.A. Olsness.  As it turns out, my unassuming Great Aunt Izzy died on Sept. 15 on the very start of the day of the 50 year reunion.  Because her funeral happened to coincide with the steam threshers reunion, my aunt and uncle from North Carolina, my other uncle and aunt from Montana were there to celebrate her long life along with my parents and brother Tony.  Since they had earlier arranged to be at the big event, now it was not only a happy but sad one for them.  Izzy was truly a pioneer of women in the sky since she had been my Great Uncle Ole’s only female student in an aviation class back in the early 1940s. They were married September 8, 1941 and Izzy had been a widow for over 30 years, Ole died in 1977.


Great Aunt Izzy was always so self-deprecating whenever I asked questions about her life.  She knew of my desire to research more about her late husband, my Great Uncle Ole Aslakson and write up about his life as a pilot, mechanic, and farmer. Apparently Ole knew everything there was to know about the inner workings of the steam engine, he was a highly esteemed mechanic.  He had built his own plane according to what S.A. Olsness wrote about him in his many diary entries concerning the Aslakson family.  As a true lover of history, Izzy wanted to help me out in my desire to ferret out these little known facts about her husband.  Together we surveyed the contents of the museum in New Rockford where she volunteered her time.  I found out later from people at an aviation museum in Fargo, North Dakota that she actually had the old log books that Uncle Ole kept of his flying days.  They were squirreled away in her house.  I hope one day to see these flight logs since I talked to a few old pilots who remembered Ole and had hunted with him.  I seem to recall one said that Ole had engineered a rig on his plane so that he could shoot fox from the cockpit and still maintain altitude.


I am fortunate to know a little bit more about Izzy because my Mom and I would see her every  Memorial Day weekend as we made our customary day trip together to the Grandfield Lutheran church graveyard two hours west of us.  That is where Great Aunt Izzy is now buried next to her husband, my Great Uncle Ole Aslakson.  I will always remember Izzy spading up dirt at the cemetery at Grandfield, close to Sheyenne, North Dakota because she would carefully plant geraniums next to her late husband, Ole, and other Aslaksons in the family. She was known to have a green thumb and had a garden even last year at the age of 90. She was always interested in reading books.  As she got older, she became more deaf and so perhaps her curiosity about everything and her active lifestyle is how she maintained her youthful appearance. I don’t know how many 90 year olds keep up with their loved ones, but Aunt Izzy had e-mail and she would write me.  I have many short messages from her still in my inbox and she would always call them EMs.  Maybe she learned to abbreviate words from her pilot days. 


Izzy hopefully got my last letter I sent from Kazakhstan about 3 weeks ago by snail mail but just in case I had asked her daughter Kristy to print out the same so it would get to her sooner. I knew from Kristy that Izzy was failing in health but I hoped that she would hold out long enough to celebrate the 50 year reunion.  Seems her life ended just when it was supposed to, while people from all over the U.S. and Canada could celebrate her long, illustrious life.  She was known not only as the widow of the man who had started the Steam Thresher’s reunion, but she was sweet and dear Aunt Izzy to me.


The following is the last Izzy wrote on Jan. 3, 2008, eight months ago.


K. I think either tomorrow or Saturday will be O K  it you want to come over, but I don’t know how much information we  will be able to    find  in that amount of time.                                 I have been unusually busy this morning, with phone calls, oil delivery for furnace,   paying bills, etc.                                       Let me know, if you can, or if you have ti   me to do so!                    Happy New Year!   Belated, Isabelle


The following is what my Mom wrote to summarize the event I wish I had been able to attend but is yet another family reunion that I missed because I teach half way around the world in Almaty, Kazakhstan.


There was a very emotional moment for many of us in the crowd at the Steam Thresher’s Show when a small yellow airplane flew over and circled back over the grounds in honor of the founder of the show, Uncle Ole and Izzie.

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