Haunted by ALZHIR Stories of Brave USSR Women

The wind is howling wickedly outside today worse than it was yesterday.  Yet with this fierce, cold weather we are enduring in Astana, Kazakhstan, we have so much to be thankful for compared to the Soviet women from all over the USSR who were cruelly deemed as cast offs, spurned to this desolate area of Central Asia.  All 15 countries or former republics of the USSR were represented.  Very few intelligensia were spared during the Stalin purges.  My students marveled that so many of the creative, smart ones were destroyed in the past while our university is currently trying to create an intelligensia to move this country forward.

As a class field trip, we went out to see this ALZHIR museum that was built in 2007.  We picked up taxis across from Mega Mall by the sauna and with four of us riding in each taxi, it cost 1,000 tenge one way.  The road is narrow and sitting in the front, I had to trust the skill of our driver to get us to our destination in one piece.  These drivers have no idea how unnerving it is to narrowly miss a hair’s breadth away from hitting the oncoming cars and trucks.  The bumps, crevices and potholes gave an extra thrill for those three riding in the back seat. Fortunately, we were able to get taxis going back into Astana (25-30 kilometers away) after not too much standing in the wind and cold.

How sad to hear all these women’s stories from our Kazakh guide. The cost was 100 tenge for student rate and 150 for me as their teacher.  It would probably take a week, 8 hours a day to really know and understand each sad saga that is represented behind the faces of these ladies whose pictures were on display.  I am eager to find out what my PDP students’ reactions were to all this.  One from the south of Kazakhstan didn’t even know this gulag existed so close to the capital city.  Another student showed me the name on a list of his grand, grandfather who was considered an enemy of the people.

These 18,000 women were considered political prisoners and first they had their husbands taken from them and then they were yanked away from their children.  Some women came pregnant and after their children were 3-4 years old, they were taken away to be put in an orphanage.  Sometimes the women were lied to and tricked into being interrogated to their own demise.  Initially they were told they were to meet up with their missing husbands again. In some cases, they would put on their finest clothes only to be placed on a train going south to Kazakhstan.  Another instance I read in the English brochure produced by the British Council is that a husband and wife met in the hallway where they were being interrogated.  They were in a mad embrace and would not let each other go until their arms were brutally hit with the butt ends of rifles.  Oh…the sadness!

Today I’ll show the photos from inside the main lobby area but we could only take photos on the outside.  Too cold to go to the back wall where ALL the women’s names were engraved into a stone slab similar to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    I am glad there are people who write about it. You know there are not so many resources in English about ALZHIR, and that’s why not all people know about it. I have found a very good this link about ALZHIR in your blog https://kazakhnomad.wordpress.com/2008/12/21/aidas-grandmother-life-in-alzhir/
    Having read it I want to say that it is a valuable information.


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