Archive for June 29, 2010

“Global ignorance” about ALZHIR in Astana, Kazakhstan

Many grand openings are happening all over Astana, Kazakhstan but I should have mentioned this memorial celebration about ALZHIR almost a month ago now.  A topic that is close to my heart, just not enough literature out there for western people to read and know about the atrocities visited upon the Kazakhs and other nationalities throughout the former Soviet Union. We are not getting as much news as I would like about what is happening in southern Kyrgyzstan either. A dearth of information makes for a global ignorance.  It saddens me that people in the U.S. and U.K. don’t seem to care about Central Asia. Is it because people can’t pronounce the names of these Central Asian countries? The following is from the Kazakhstan/USA embassy website.

On Eve of Memorial Day, Kazakhstan  Pays Tribute to Victims of Great Purge

Kazakh Foreign Ministry, june 1, 2010

May 31 is commemorated in Kazakhstan as a Memorial Day for the Victims of Political Repressions, which had a ravaging effect on the Kazakhs and other peoples of the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule, inflicting deep scars on those who suffered and the society as a whole.

On the eve of the date, on May 26, President Nursultan Nazarbayev met the descendants of those subjected to Stalinist repressions in the Akorda presidential residence. Guests came from Switzerland, Israel, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, as well as from different parts of Kazakhstan.

Addressing the participants, Nazarbayev said: “We have gathered today to remember those years, to pay tribute to our ancestors who were repressed during the time of Great Purge. We have the same history and the only thing we want is to get to the bottom of it objectively. Our children and grandchildren should keep in memory those events and never repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Among guests were the descendants of the victims of political repressions and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin and those deported to Kazakhstan from the 1930s through 1950s.

Those who came to meet President Nazarbayev included Rozetta Aitmatova, whose father Torekul Aitmatov was killed in 1937 and whose brother Chingiz later became the most prominent Kyrgyz and arguably Central Asia’s writer of the 20th century, Azariy Plisetsky, whose mother Rahil Plisetskaya was a prisoner ALZHIR (“Akmola camp for wives of traitors of the Motherland”) and whose sister Maja became a world-famous ballerina, Salman Geroyev, chairman of the Chechen-Ingush ethnic cultural centre, and the Paata Kalandadze, Georgia’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan, whose grandmother was also imprisoned in ALZHIR.

In Nazarbayev’s words, 1.5 million people of different ethnicities were deported to Kazakhstan. Remembering the tragic legacy of this land’s history, from the first days of its independence Kazakhstan has adhered to the ideas of tolerance, equality and friendship of all nations.

“Due to this our country enjoys respect and trust in the world; due to tolerance we host the Congress of the World and Traditional Religions Leaders in Astana. We have initiated integration processes not only on the territory of the Soviet Union but also in the world,” Nazarbayev noted.

According to official statistics, from 1924 to 1954 almost 100,000 citizens of Kazakhstan were subjected to repressions, the quarter of them were killed. Among them were outstanding public figures, representatives of creative and scientific intelligentsia, namely, Turar Ryskulov, Alikhan Bokeikhanov, Beimbet Mailin, Magzhan Zhumabayev, Akhmet Baitursynov, Myrzhakyp Dulatov, and many others.

Eleven GULAG camps across the USSR, including three in Kazakhstan, housed hundreds of thousands of prisoners. Almost 3.8 million Soviet people underwent Stalinist repressions, 642,000 of them were sentenced to capital punishment. Millions of families suffered from cruel and violent repressions, leaving no space to mercy or understanding. Around one million, or 42% of the Kazakh people of that time, died as a result of political repressions, and hunger caused by forced collectivization and sedentarisation of nomads. The same number of people had to leave their homeland.

ALZHIR was once one of those places of punishment for at least 20,000 women from 1937 to 1946 and beyond. According to the wall that surrounds the museum at the site now, located 25 km from Astana, at least 7,620 women are known to have perished at this camp.

The Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp was another among largest of the notorious labour camps of the Soviet era, founded in 1931 in central Kazakhstan. About 800,000 inmates were interned in Karlag over its history, most of them political prisoners.

Since 1997, May 31 is the Memorial Day of the Victims of Political Repression in Kazakhstan. The nation never forgets those times, handing down from generation to generation the testimony of predecessors’ history.

These days, Kazakhstan works to restore the historical justice in order to show respect to all victims’ families and relatives. Several decrees by President Nazarbayev ruled that everyone who was imprisoned during the time of Stalin’s reforms was rehabilitated, and the country witnessed the unveiling of museums and memorials at the sites of former prisons and forced labour camps.

At the meeting in Akorda, Nazarbayev said the government will undertake every effort to prevent the repetition of such mistakes from the past. The president asked all residents of the country to appreciate what the independent and free development of a multi-ethnic country provides for in terms of proper protection of inalienable rights and liberties of the citizens.

A number of other events are taking place in Kazakhstan these days commemorating the Memorial Day. On May 27-30, the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan in cooperation with the CIS Interstate Fund for Humanitarian Cooperation is holding a series of events within the international project “Memory for the Sake of the Future”, dedicated to the memory of victims of political repression. In addition, on May 28 the first international forum “From old times to the modern age”, involving historians from the CIS region, took place at the Gumilev Eurasian National University in Astana.

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