Unwritten Places in a Book Index…and a poem…

I’m speed reading the actual copy of the book “Till My Tale is Told” put together by Simeon Vilensky. I automatically went to the index to find Kazakhstan.  Nothing about this far flung republic of the former Soviet Union in a book that was published in Russian in 1989 and then translated into English and published by Indiana University Press in 1999.  So, what I see as I pored over the pages were many references to Djezkazkan, Turkestan, Karaganda, Kazakhstan, Aral Sea written by those female survivors who were exiled to Central Asia. However, no listing of these remote places in the book index.  To me, it shows a kind of Russo-centric approach to this faraway place from “Purge-Central” in Moscow.  In fact, the following is a quote that might be taken wrong by Kazakh readers who read this blog but it is actually what was thought and written:

p. 272 – Hava Volovich’s story: “In the UN, questions had been raised about Soviet violations of human rights, and there had been talk of sending a special commission to investigate.  Our representatives at the UN had stalled for all they were worth, but the home authorities had become alarmed and began to collect the “rubbish” and dump it as far away as they could, in places like Djezkazgan.

There had been mines there for a long time, but the exceptionally harsh living conditions (especially the lack of water) had meant that it was next to impossible to find workers, and the mines were limping along feebly.  But now there was a supply of prisoners, to whom ordinary human rights did not apply.  All you needed was rolls and rolls of barbed wire, handcuffs, machine guns for the guards, Alsatians…”

Where was Djezkazgan?  I only know about it because of a Kazakh friend of mine who was from there.  Several years ago she was in the U.S. for a summer on Work and Travel. Then she came to Astana to teach after she finished her pedagogical training in Karaganda.  This is what the book said about this far off place:

p. 83 – Djezkazgan – camp at Kengir – 50 miles from Karaganda – Copper mines there (on the waterless Solochak steppe – p. 271)

I need to find out more about Kengir and see if my Kazakh students who wrote narratives about their grandparents and great grandparents lives ever referred to this place.   Seems there is lots of history in Kengir, especially being a prison camp.  I’d like to find out more about this uprising:

p. 341 – 1954 – mass acts of disobedience by prisoners in Kengir (Central Asia) where tanks were used to suppress protests

Also, I want to find out more about this, I know my students have written about Basmachi in Turkestan

p. 89 – 1919 – anti-Soviet Basmachi groups in Turkestan (Central Asia) – Yelena Vladimirova helped organize famine relief in Volga region

I’ll end this blog post with a poem by Yelena Vladimirova, it shows just how very bleak things were for these women who were considered dangerous elements against Soviet society, similar to what was going on at ALZHIR.

p. 91 Poem “We’re Alive” by Yelena Vladimirova

“We grow fewer and weaker, my friends,

There are more farewells with each day…

We cannot tell what tomorrow may hold –

We don’t know what will happen today.

We live in hard, in frightening times,

Uncertainty followed by lies;

How we long to believe we are not alone,

To hear a cry from the dark, “We’re alive!”

As before, we hold true to the banners we love;

The skies may be clouded, but still

We measure our joy, now a thing of the past,

By what suits the commonweal;

Though my path be hopeless, though it be soaked in blood –

Yet I shall not cease my cries;

Summoning my last drops of strength, I’ll shout,

“Comrade! We’re alive, we’re alive!”

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    J. Otto Pohl said,

    There is a whole chapter in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago on the Kengir uprising in 1954. They were definitely not Basmachi. They were mostly Ukrainians. There is also a good article by Steve Barnes on the Kengir camp uprising.

    • 2

      kazaknomad said,

      Thanks this is helpful, I’ll look it up! I’ll also see what my former Kazakh student wrote about this. May have been a mix of Ukrainian and Kazakh or something but the name Basmachi is familiar to me for some reason.


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