Posts tagged Alma Ata

Lapse of Posting My Blog Entries

I never thought it would come to this, my not posting in my blog as frequently as once a day, now it has been almost once a month.  I have been busy writing about local history and that has NOTHING to do with Kazakhstan.  None whatsoever.  Where I come from and my hometown in northwestern Minnesota are about as far apart from Astana or Almaty as can be.  So I thought I might put up a  sunrise or sunset shot and let you guess which it is.  I hope that once I am done teaching my composition students in May that I will write more that is pertinent to Kazakhstan.  I need to clean through my files to find more material that I collected about Central Asia. I owe my faithful followers and readers that much!

For now, please read the following blog about Alma Ata written by a former colleague of mine when I taught at KIMEP in Almaty.  Cheers! Molapse!


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1930s photos from Central Asia

Rare to have any photos from the 1930s in Central Asia, rarer still to see what kind of Soviet education was going on in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  A Kazakh friend of mine (she has an interest in history as an economist) sent me these photos and an explanation about what these pictures of Central Asians were about.

“Rabochiy Fakultet (Workers’ Faculty) though was quite an important part of education policy of early Soviet Union.. According to Russian census in 1897 there were only about 5-6% of literate people in Central Asia. So this institution was supposed to bring the illiterate peasants and workers up to speed in a very short time to enter higher educational institutions. In spite of all the horrors of Stalin’s time, there were still something positive in educational sector (especially for Central Asia). “

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“I Write as I Please” 1935 book (Part IV)

If you look at the index of Walter Duranty’s book, it is chock full of names and places, five pages worth.  As a journalist Duranty knew to include as many people as possible which may have brought this book up on the charts of the New York Times bestseller list, if they kept track of such things back then.  People like to see their names in print whether in a newspaper article or in a book, so he knew that all who were “readers” would like to buy a copy of this book which was published so long ago.  Yet, there are many things that remain the same or history definitely repeats itself.  I’ll continue where I left off with what I think are interesting quotes:

p. 212 – Liatsis theory of Red Terror and warning and example [other references to who wrote the manual on terror and how to get people to do what the communist regime wanted them to do]

“His Majesty’s Opposition” – English phrase – W.D. learned to read between the lines of the Soviet Press. “Bewildering difference between Russian and non-Russian and Bolshevik and non-Bolshevik mentality.” [I have the same problem here in Astana, what is Kazakh and not Kazakh, what is post-Soviet and what is just human nature?]

In the spring of 1930, Walter Duranty went to Alma Ata where Trotsky was first exiled to do an interview.  So few references to Central Asia so to me this is interesting.  Christopher Robbins, in his book “Apples are from Kazakhstan” writes about Trotsky’s exile to Kazakhstan.

I like the following poem that Duranty quoted, it fits with living here in Kazakhstan, especially in the capital city of Astana:

p. 240

There was an owl who in an oak

The more he heard the less he spoke

The less he spoke the more he heard

Soldiers, imitate that wise bird

p. 247 – “The tempo of life by which the Bolsheviks /////[can’t read my writing] the rush of their progress, the haste of their desire to catch up and surpass the capitalist world in material achievement, has been too swift to allow any of them to pause awhile by the wayside, and think.”

p. 249 Three old enemies of newspaper:  time, space and selection

How to handle news in Russia – 1st rule – believe nothing that I hear, little of what I read and not at all of what I see

p. 278 – “I had no intention of being an apologist for the Stalin administration” [whether he intended or not, he was the mouthpiece that many people listened to, especially Governor Roosevelt from New York, who later opened up relations with U.S.S.R. in 1933 when he became President.]

(to be continued)

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Third year anniversary blogging about Kazakhstan

Hard to believe I started this kazakhnomad blog in the fall of 2007 when we lived in Almaty.  Indeed, my husband and I have come a long way from our Almaty courtship in 1993, the former capital of Kazakhstan once known as Alma Ata.  That’s what we called it back then.

To keep up with the steady changes in Kazakhstan, now the current capital city is in the north,  Astana.  It’s original name was Akmola which means “White Tomb.”  (There has to be a good story behind THAT name!) Around 1954 it was changed to the Russian sounding name of Tselinagrad (means Virgin Lands during the campaign to put all turf under the plow and farm on this boggy soil). Then the name of this fair city was changed back to Akmola again 20 years ago when Kazakhstan became its own country.  Now to be even more precise the Kazakh name for “capital” is Astana, thus the current name.  If there is another name change they should have a moratorium of at least 10 more years because it takes a lot to change signs and maps and people’s mentality.

So, name changes happen everywhere throughout the former Soviet Union. Perhaps that is why street names are a bit perplexing for people, the names could change again.  Thus, the intriguing architecture of the buildings in Astana serve as landmarks.

Today I had an interesting discussion with a recently returned Bolashak scholar (Bolashak means “future” in Kazakh).  He had studied in Indiana and as I was looking out my window I asked him which direction I was facing in my new, temporary office.  He immediately said east because his office down the long corridor faces the same direction.

This young Kazakh man commented that his impression of Americans was that they ALL knew their directions. I said that that might be a Midwest trait stemming from our agrarian background.  Out East with winding roads and the Appalachian mountains, people might not have such a good sense of direction.  Back at the farm, you always had to know where you are in order to tell people where things were located.  I told him that back at our farm place in Minnesota, we often say things like “west of the shop,” or “south of the granary” or “on the east side of the house.”  In a planned city such as Astana, it is easy to give those kind of directions to people, we are south of town and the airport is south of our university.

At least some things remain constant, the welcome morning orb will always climb out of the eastern horizon and this same sun, which we see out of our west window will always set in the west.  If you really wanted to get turned around just be in charge of changing the direction of sunrises and sunsets.  However, I’m glad our Creator is constant. They can do what they want with street and city names according to the whims of whomever is in control of certain land at a given time.

I took a photo the other night from our west window (the screen window shows through a bit).  Ken called this blaze of glory to my attention and I’m glad he did though it took me some time to find my camera and by then it was not as brilliant as when I first saw it. I’ll keep blogging until the sun starts setting in the north.

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Dilyara’s Kazakh and Tatar Ancestors

They were born in hard revolutionary time when a stubborn struggle for authority occurred in the country. The Soviet authority established the regime revoking the rich people of their privileges and providing the poor people with great opportunities which had been unknown for them earlier. And if you have both sorts of the people in your family, it is not easy to examine the historical events which occurred almost one century ago.

The parents of my father were from the south of Kazakhstan in the neighborhood of Taldy-Kurgan town. It has very picturesque surroundings. The grandmother was the daughter of very rich and noble birth man. But falling in love she ran away with the poor man. In Kazakhstan, bride theft was the widespread phenomenon.

So the Soviet family of my grandfather and grandmother was formed. Then two sons were born. Two children were rather slight for those times. Their younger son became my father in future. Probably if the war had not happened, the number of children would be more.

At the beginning of World War II the grandfather was recruited to serve in the army on front of the war. There he, after stubborn and bloody battles, was taken prisoner. He was lucky to survive and to return home from the war, but his health was strongly undermined. And he died a little later after returning from front. The grandmother becoming widow brought up the two sons due with support of family of the brother of her husband.

Recalling the parents of my mother, in fact, I know nothing about the grandfather who also has died on the Finnish war. He gave up the memory about himself as my dear mammy. A remarkable gift of fortune!  Thus, I can tell more detailed about the mother of my mother, another about my dear grandmother. My grandmother was the remarkable woman who wholly has created herself: from the simple poor orphan she was up to the very respectable and highly educated woman of those times.

She made significant contributions in development and teaching of many generations of Kazakh people being in the rank of the director of school. She was very purposeful and skilful to distinguish main from minor. So many life principles were inculcated in me by her since childhood years. Even the teacher profession is transferred to us from her like a baton in a relay race.

My grandmother was born in the Tatar family of the shoemaker in the north of Kazakhstan in Kustanai city. The family was poor and had 13 children, though at the year of the birth of my grandmother the family had moved to the new house, therefore it was considered that Jamal (it is name my grandmother, she was the penultimate child) had brought happiness in the family.

However, the next years, as it is known from our history, in Kazakhstan the terrible famine began. It was caused by either barbarous policy of the Soviet authority on liquidation of cattle from the population and natural cataclysm, it is named jute: drought and loss of cattle. In those awful famine years population of Kazakhstan lost about 42 %, about 3 million people died.  The parents of my grandmother could not survive these terrible suffering tests. They died.

By that time older children became already independent, and younger children, including my grandmother, were sent in relative families basically as servants. But for my grandmother certainly it was unacceptable to remain all her life in such role.

The Soviet authority enabled working young people to receive education free-of-charge. My grandmother being a single, young girl had overcome all difficulties of hungry student’s life. At first, she had received secondary education under the intensive program, and then the higher education in Alma-Ata. It is enough to say, that, in those hungry years, practically 90 % of the students through the study were in search of earnings and more fat of life.   They were units among most persistent and purposeful, especially of women, who finished the institutes.

After graduating from high school, my grandmother devoted all her life to the business of enlightenment and education of her people. She has given birth and brought up two daughters, including my mother.

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Aidar’s Grandparents – Tragic Family Story

Reprisals of 30 years in the former USSR have been much talked about in each Soviet family. It is possible not to believe this first phrase, but actually it is the truth. My grandmother had suffered greatly in her early youth. She was 17 years old when she studied at the first year in Kazakh teacher training college (KazaPi) in Alma-Ata.  However, she was excluded from institute and from Komsomol «for communicating with enemies of the nation» – her own father and elder brother.

The father of my grandmother was a merchant who carried goods to the Russian cities – Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. He was very much a man of means. But in 30 years it had been dispossessed (all its condition had been expropriated). Earlier he had tried to go abroad with his family, but was detained, arrested and banished in Karlag. The brother of my grandmother was a  student of the Kazan University. But after the First World War, and then revolution in Russia, he was given possibility to finish the institute. He had returned home to Kazakhstan, he had accepted the new power of the Soviets and was engaged in creation of “red yurtas.”

The formed [collectivized] people like him wandered together with Kazakhs, taught them to read and write – attached to civilisation. But in 1937 he was arrested on charges of being involved in “anti-Soviet” activity and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. My grandmother had not only lost her father but now her elder brother and also her possibilities to graduate. Last time she saw her brother was on the railway platform where there was a structure built for the condemned. There were many people who cried out names of their relatives in hopes that someone would respond. She found her brother who asked to bring the newspapers to him. One of the security guards told her that the structure would stand until 6:00 in the morning of the next day.  However, when she returned the next morning with newspapers, the structure was not any more. At night it had been sent far on to the east.

My grandmother remained only with her mum and her younger brother. She got a job in the children’s home and continued to hope for the best. During all of 1937 she wrote letters to Stalin that her father and brother were innocent and condemned wrongly.  Thus, she was excluded from university. In 1938 there was a decision signed by Stalin in which it was decreed that children should not be responsible for their fathers. As a result of the edition of this order, many children of the condemned parents were restored to study and in the ranks of VLKSM. Among them there was also my grandmother.

Until the end of her life, she had been assured that Stalin did not know about the tragic destinies of children and when he had read their letters, he was strongly dissatisfied and was disposed to restore justice. Fortunately, her father did come back home, he had been released on amnesty.  But from her elder brother she had received only one letter in which he wrote that they were floating on the Ohot Sea in Magadan. He did not come back home.

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Encounters with Soviet People (Part II)

Perhaps some of my readers may think it odd to write about Soviet people when the Soviet Union was dissolved 17-18 years ago but the Soviet mentality still exists.  I know, because I will be teaching English this fall semester once again in Almaty, Kazakhstan at a “westernized” university. The following quotes I typed up ring true even today in Kazakhstan.  My guest writer, Frank R. Thoms, for this series on “Encounters with Soviet People” was maybe a Fulbright Scholar for several months in Alma Ata (as it was known back during Soviet times).  I have never met this writer but appreciate his unpublished document he left behind with my friend Tatyana about his experiences in secondary schools, specialized schools of English in Almaty.  Maybe some of my Kazakhstani teaching colleagues knew of Frank R. Thoms.  I would love to meet Zoya of whom he writes about.

p. 99 – “It was not many years ago, however, when the evaluation of Soviet teachers was based on the performance of their students.  Though this practice has been abolished, its residue remained.  National Teachers Day aside, teachers do not receive much respect from students or parents.”


p. 108 – “I preferred to teach from the curriculum, to mingle with the texts of their lives, their daily fare, rather than to use my own material.  It was enough difference that I was an American.  Though I enjoyed addressing larger groups, I preferred the classroom where I could mix with the students and their textbooks.  Somehow I felt that the texts would be a bond between us after I left.  As the same texts are used in all schools, the lessons become a shared memory within the school and throughout the city and the country.  Mention “What is More Useful” or “The Black Cat” and all students of English in special schools will remember.”


p. 110 – “I then labeled the Stages of History, putting each one higher and to the right of the other.  Everyone recognized what I was doing.  I then wrote ‘Socialist” slightly higher and to the right of “Capitalist”, and put “Communist” higher than that.  I added another live above “Communist” and put a question mark.

“Marx said the dialectical process is inevitable,” I continued.  “Do you agree?” Everyone nodded.  “It must go on and on.  If that is true, how can the end of history be Communism?”…The students were perplexed.  I think it was more than my American dialect, as they had met American teachers before.  But it might have been the first time in their schooling that they had been asked to evaluate Marx’s theoretical realities.  School learning required that they memorize texts or at least be able to retell it.  With so much to cover at each lesson there was no time for discussion, for reflection.  By the eighth year many students became numb to the disparity between the texts and their own realities; some were already cynical and most were bored.  In asking them to consider the implications of what they had read was another matter.”


p. 111 – “In the classroom, after all, a teacher is a teacher and students are students, adults and children teaching each other, learning from each other—at least that’s the way I have always done it.  I cannot see myself as “the teacher,” the one who knows, and “the students,” the ones who must learn from me.  It has never worked that way…

Zoya was fascinated with my teaching methods.  After the lesson on Marx, she said she wished she had been one of my students.  “You teach them to think.”


p. 112 – “The ebullient feeling that had permeated the room during the break vanished.  Her [Zoya] voice took on another rhythm.  The structure of the lesson in the text seemed to absorb her personality.  It was as if an Inspector had walked in, an Inspector who looked for the lesson to be performed as designed in the teacher’s text with each question, each explanation, each step to be carried out exactly as written.  I had heard that Inspectors could be that precise.  Zoya became “Soviet teacher” and her students become “Soviet students.”  The lesson materialized as if it had come from the book I read about Soviet education.  The children responded to her as if they were automatons, and she spoke to them as if she were on a language-lab tape.  When in pairs practicing dialogues, her students spoke to each other – back and forth, back and forth—without feelings, without emotion.  Nobody was having fun.  Nobody was charged with energy.  Nobody was thinking.  Everybody appeared bored.  They acted bored.  Yet everyone was involved.


…the lessons were more methodical than mine as teachers asked predictable questions, and students responded with predictable answers.  Because they were speaking from memory and retelling the texts, participation was guaranteed.  Besides, Soviet teachers can not tolerate silence as there is too much to cover.  Nor do they allow for mistakes as students are subject to being graded every day.  Therefore, methodical routines improve chances for success.  Success is better for everyone.  For students, good grades mean better choices after graduation; for teachers, they mean better evaluations.


…They spoke when asked and presented dialogues—retold, repeated, regurgitated without hesitation.  The voices were robotic—Zoya’s as well.  And the rhythm of the lesson, a relentless pattern: a question, hands raised at the elbow, standing, speaking, sitting; another question, hands raised at the elbow, standing, speaking, sitting.  If a student hesitated, the rhythm paused…No time for silence, no allowance for patience.  Too much to cover, too much to do.”




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