Posts tagged German

Madina’s Ethnically Mixed Family Background

I am mixed. My father is Kazakh and mother is half – Russian and half – German. My father’s father and mother are Kazakhs. They were born and grew up in a village (“aul” – in Kazakh) in Almaty region. They married when they were 17 years old, it was normal for that time. They have eight children (it’s also normal for that time), my father is the fourth child. If you know Kazakhs had a tradition of giving their first baby to parents or any other relative; it can be aunt who can not have a child due to some reasons or sister-in-law, etc. So my eldest aunt was grown up in another family; my grandfather’s sister-in-law could not have a baby.

My father’s father worked (he is on a pension now) on railway station all his life and has several awards for his job. My father’s mother was a housewife and now she is on a pension as well. I am not intimate with them because they were against my parents’ marriage and other reasons. But anyway I spent every summer in a village with grandparents. I appreciate it I had a practice of the Kazakh language. It helped me in school and at the university. I remember that grandmother made me a present on my birthday. It was a T-shirt with some slogan on it. It made such an impression on me because I was waiting for my parents and thought that nobody would congratulate me.

My mother’s father is German and mother is Russian. My mother’s father was a miner (he died of asthma 11 years ago). His father was a well-to-do miller, he was famous among peasants, and even Kirghizs came on camels to buy his flour. In 1930s during Stalin’s repressions he was arrested as an “enemy” and then died in a prison. After World War II his wife with children was deported to Western Siberia at that time my grandfather was 10 years old. It was a very difficult time to them, they had to survive everyday.

My mother’s father was a strict person. Sometimes my mother tells stories about her childhood. There is one of them – one day Victor (her father) found out that money left on a cupboard disappeared. As none of his three daughters confessed to a crime he decided to punish all of them. Punishment was to be on their knees on the floor sprinkled with salt. As you can guess finally in the morning the eldest sister confessed that she spent money on sweeties. I think it was a good lesson to her and of course to her innocent sisters.

My grandfather cooked well. I remember his pancakes and fried potatoes (not chips). As we lived in different cities and now in different countries we did not see each other too often. Usually he visited us maybe once a year and it was a real occasion for me and my brother. He played, went for a walk with us, we enjoyed that time together. My mother’s mother was a miner as well and she is on a pension now. As a consequence of her profession she speaks loudly. When I was a child I was afraid of her. I thought she scolded me. Now I understand that she is a wonderful grandmother. She came to my wedding party two years ago in spite of her age and state of health. My grandmother and my two aunts live near Moscow now.

I hope that my grandchildren will love and remember me.

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Taking Exception to Kazakhstan being a “Dumping Ground”

Writing about Kazakhstan’s history is a highly complex one, no wonder I was having trouble writing my paper for an upcoming TESOL conference in Denver, Colorado.  After I had a long talk with a fellow American expat who has lived in Almaty for 16 years, I was able to create a handout with three graphic tables showing Kazakhstan’s different eras. Once done, I made swift progress with my paper titled “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. Infoliteracy: What’s a Teacher to Do?”


Yesterday afternoon I had talked to a Kazakh man who teaches Kazakhstan’s history at our university and I showed him my one page handout.  He said that only because I’m an American could I get away with stating what they all know to be true.  I think I fulfill a purpose at our university in finding out from the oral histories of people in Kazakhstan, not just for Kazakhs but for Koreans, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Uyghurs, etc.  For the most part, the Kazakhs are known as a very peaceable people but with very clear memories still of what happened in their own families and country.  I, as the American, can be neutral when finding out as a curious outsider, what actually happened during the 70 year era of the Soviet Union. Any information about the inner workings of this totalitarian state formerly known as the U.S.S.R. had been purposely blocked.  Still is, not much is written in our American history textbooks and they are mostly all positive and glowing about the former socialist state.


Last night I stayed longer at the office than I had intended but it was meant to be since I got negative feedback from a Russian colleague friend of mine about my one page handout.  I simply showed her the three figures and she immediately took exception with Kazakhstan being known as the Soviet Union‘s “dumping ground.”  She loudly disagreed with me on that term.  I said that I have to give my American audience in Denver some kind of quick, historical background before I can really talk about “infoliteracy.”  She said that I was very biased.  She also stated that it means that if her mother came down from Russia that I’m saying that her mother was “garbage!!!” 


NO, what I meant was that there were many nationalities (Korean, German, Ukrainian, etc.) who were dumped off of railroad cars in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan. Often the oral testimonies I’ve heard is that the Kazakh people helped these exiled people find food and shelter.  My friend kept shaking her head and arguing with me.  She said that we as Americans used to be called a “melting pot” but now better known as a “salad bowl.”  Yes, those are much nicer terms than “dumping ground.”  I’m wondering what term she would use instead to help explain the throwing together of about 120 different nationalities in Kazakhstan???  Apparently, Stalin wrote a book in Russian titled “The Nationalities Question” or something like that.  Supposedly Stalin had his own agenda about mixing things up.

However, I am trying to put myself in my Russian friend’s shoes with how she feels. And she DOES FEEL strongly about this issue. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was in the Karaganda penal system as a political prisoner and perhaps he was the first to coin the phrase that Kazakhstan was the USSR’s “dumping ground” in his famous book “One Day in the Life of…” Solzhenitsyn was a Russian nationalist, through and through.  But for my friend, Kazakhstan is where she was born as a kind of Russian “immigrant” and her Russian parents had jobs here in Almaty with the communist party. 


If one does a quick google search, there are other authors who write using the word “dumping ground” and Kazakhstan together. True, there were many other different “dumping grounds” that Stalin used such as Siberia, it was not just Kazakhstan.  Yet the network of gulags encompassed about one third the land mass of Kazakhstan, so that’s a LOT of prisoners from other former republics of the USSR to keep behind barbed wire.

In the very well built up memorial at ALZHIR about 20 kilometers outside of Kazakhstan’s capital in Astana, you can watch a video at the end of your tour of the three tiered building.  In this video, President Nazarbayev states his purpose in putting money into this memorial in order to remember these sad facts of Kazakhstan’s Soviet history.  In so many words he says, “It is not Kazakhstan’s fault that it was used as a ‘dumping ground’ for the USSR.”  He further stated that too often Kazakhstan is blamed for housing all the political prisoners, however, the Kazakhs had no say in what was happening on their own soil.  The directives came from Moscow and the politically elite.

From a historical point of view, many Russians and Ukrainians came voluntarily to Kazakhstan to open virgin farming land (there is some good land) during the Czarist period.  Particularly at end of 19th and early 20th century during the Stolypin land reforms, which might be vaguely analogous to the US Homestead Act.  It gave peasants and small farmers the right to own land. Unfortunately, I don’t think my friend’s parents came down for the farming that failed on Kazakhstan’s soil.  No, apparently my friend’s mother taught history as a school teacher during the Soviet era.  My guess is that she promoted whatever was in the Soviet approved textbooks that were published in Moscow.  That would certainly have the Russian bias to it and thus NOT the Kazakhs take on history.  No wonder my friend takes extreme exception to my using the term “dumping ground” when referring to Kazakhstan.


Earlier yesterday I had been talking to an Australian friend of mine who has had similar encounters with Russians who were born in Kazakhstan and who have this strange “derangement disorder” of not confessing to the sordid side of their communist past.  The Kazakh man who currently teaches his own Kazakh history is right, he could never say what I had put in my handout.  I’m beginning to wonder how Kazakhstan’s history will ever get sorted out with the pressures from the Soviet past still looming large.  I’m sorry that my friend thinks I’m biased but sadly she does not see herself having her own biases.  Anyway, we have to agree that we disagree on issues relating to USSR history and Kazakhstan


What I found with a quick google search:

 Stalin’s Dumping Ground, By Jeri Laber

As representatives of Helsinki Watch, a colleague and I traveled southeast in the Soviet Union, almost to the Chinese border, to visit the vast and little-known Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, where serious abuses of human rights have occurred, not just in recent years but also in the past.[1] Kazakhstan‘s steppelands were among Stalin’s favored sites for labor camps and exile communities, and we had been told, accurately as it turned out, that the region would reveal the scars of the Stalin years more vividly perhaps than any other Soviet republic.






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Alina’s Pride in her Roots–Her Grandparents


     I think that everyone have his own roots.  I’m very proud of my grandparents because they were great people.  They went through The Second World War and restored the economy of country.  I think that it is the most significant fact.  Our family is interesting because my Mother’s parents were deeply rooted in China and Arabian side.  At the same time, my father’s parents have roots from West. His mother was heir of a gold extracting industry in tsarist Russia.


         At the same time there were added German roots of grand grandparents. As always that time was keep the conflict between parents and their children which cover the time of my grand parents, grandpa was poor farmer who fell in love with my grandma who belonged to a rich family.  They got married and in their little family appeared five children, the fourth one was my father. It was time of civil war 1917. As a result economic and social view in country has changed. So my grandparents were deported to Kazakhstan. When they lived there friends in Kazakhstan advised them to change their surname to name of the grandfather. Consequently, my ancestors have lived as Antonovy since 1950. Grandpa was joiner and grandma was director of the restaurant at the railway station. They lived in an industrial district, in spite of all the misery, they were a big happy family.


         As to my mother’s parents, they refer to another social level. Grandmother was born in a family of rich farmer and jeweler, who escaped from China during the Great Chinese Revolution. All members in grandma’s family have economy and medical education. They combine several nations: Chinese, Uigur, Russian and Dungan.  Grandma knew seven foreign languages, and could drive a car, tractor, helicopter and combine. She was a director of agricultural complex, at the same time she was deputy in the parliament of country. During The Second World War grandmother lead collective farm and they sent provisions and clothes to battle-front. After the war she got a lot of honorary medals. Grandpa’s ancestries were Arabian prince. But he became an orphan very early. Despite that fact, he graduated from the University in St Petersburg, teacher’s training college, military college in Moscow. He went through the Great Patriotic war and he has a lot of honorary medals.


     For me, it’s very important to remember about my grand parents in order to organize my future and make them proud of me.

     “Take care about present, foresee future and remember past” (Seneka).

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A Kazakh Linguist’s “Secret” to Learning Languages

Last night we enjoyed a meal at our place with a very talented linguist (let’s call him Murat).  He claims to know 15 languages and I believe him.  Russian was his first language even though he is ethnically Kazakh.  Eventually Murat mastered Kazakh, as well as Ukrainian, Uzbek along with being very proficient in German and English.  What a delight to get acquainted again with Murat after a hurried meeting in the Minneapolis airport 14 years ago when Ken was traveling with him from Washington D.C. to visit some Montana farms.  Ken and Murat go way back with their shared experiences in Soviet agriculture.


Twenty years ago, as a Communist party leader, Murat traveled with President Nazarbayev to the U.S. looking at American agriculture.  Later their delegation went to Canada representing the U.S.S.R.  In the U.S. they went as private citizens to many states, notably Kansas and later to New York where Murat’s cousin lived.  Their per diem as “communist big wigs” was $17 a day.  Murat’s cousin hosted them in New York and handed them hundreds of dollars of extra spending money, he knew $17 was not enough, especially in New York.  This same cousin of Murat’s, who is a noted Kazakh poet, was nominated to run against President Nazarbayev in an earlier presidential election.  Somehow he was talked out of his ambition for Kazakhstan’s top job and encouraged to pursue his career in poetry.  Murat’s cousin currently has an ambassador post in Italy where he can represent Kazakhstan while he writes Kazakh poems. Being linguistically inclined must run in Murat’s family.


Murat shared this advice about language learning which I think an important clue to his success:  “You have to love the people of the language you are studying.  Learn their songs, their jokes, their sayings…it does not work for Kazakh students to be forcefully told by the President to learn English or to think you will get a better job if you master the language.”  Murat went on to say that the best Russian spies who worked with the Germans succeeded only because they loved the German language and German people. (Putin comes to mind.) 


Murat emphasized, “Basic [to language learning] is that you have to love their tradition, their music.”  He heard someone say, “Switch off the Kazakh music!”  Murat is able to predict that that person would NEVER learn Kazakh with that kind of attitude.  Murat has translated into Kazakh the American folksongs “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” and also “This Land is Your Land.”  Murat did the same with translating four verses into Kazakh a German folk tune he learned from ethnic Germans born in Kazakhstan.  However, back in Germany the Germans only knew two of the verses to this very famous tune.  Obviously Murat has an ear for music which helps in language learning


Another secret to Murat’s achievement as a linguist who has mastered many languages is “Then you have to work hard, work continuously.”  He began reading English since 1966-67 every day.  He tells young people, “if you will do this, you will be better than me.”  Murat also strongly exhorts young people with, “Lazy bones, you can’t even imagine self-study in the 1960s when I learned English with only a rotating record and 25 lessons on it.  I couldn’t even imagine to travel or live in English speaking countries back in those times.  Now there is CNN to listen to American and British English, this generation has it so easy.” 


Even after 40 years he still has some of those first lessons in English committed to memory:  Mr. Green gets up early in the morning.  He dresses himself, he washes himself.”  He asks “Is breakfast ready?” then “We are having some people over for supper this evening.”  “It comes as a surprise to me what strange things people eat.  You stick to fish and chips I suppose.”  Murat listened and repeated after the record phrases over and over again.  Murat also added, “Most important I enjoyed doing it, I tried to pronounce in the same way as the native speaker, to pick up a faster speed, as fast as he speaks.”  Another key to his accomplishment was he would remember one sentence, but then insert other words in that sentence. 


Murat is a true linguist as he puzzled over westerners’ use of the word chernozem which means “black soil” in Russian.  [A very sophisticated classification system of soil was invented by Russian agronomist, Dokuchaev which unfortunately has fallen into disuse]. Agriculturalists today worldwide will mistakenly say “brown chernozem” or “chestnut chernozem” or “dark brown chernozem” but most confounding to Murat was when westerners say “black chernozem” which means black black soil to him.  We had a laugh about the nuances of languages.


Another sad but true story was when Murat was awarded by President Nazarbayev one of the first prizes for Peace in 1992.  Back then two others were also given the honor with the equivalent of $10,000 in roubles.  However, in those chaotic, first days of Kazakhstan, the worth of the rouble was plunging.  Murat’s prize amounted to only about $500 in cash prize, but the three had not even received that amount.  When Murat asked about it a year later, he was only given $200 worth of money.  Ten years later, Murat learned from other honored recipients of the distinguished, Presidential prize they received their full compensation of $10,000 worth of tenge.  He just shook his head with a smile, wistfully thinking what might have been.  Many people lost money during the early years of Kazakhstan.


Finally, as an English writing teacher I HAD to ask Murat what helpful hints he could tell me about his learning to write in English.  As a scientist, he knows how important writing is even though he has written many books about agriculture in Russian and Kazakh; he gets much of his material from literature in English. Murat said, “I worked in an international center for ten years, where every day I was writing.  More reading, more translation, if you do automatic translation, learn to speak and translating simultaneously, writing comes more naturally… you have to be committed, I knew that writing is important, as a scientist I had to learn how to write and later to publish.


One thing Murat ruefully noticed while he worked in this international office is that, “All [Kazakh] staff was local, all spoke English, but they didn’t make any effort to improve themselves in writing. They reached a certain level of proficiency and that was enough for them.” 


I fully appreciate President Nazarbayev’s vision about higher education in Kazakhstan.  In his most recent book The Kazakhstan Way on p. 329 he ended with a Kazakh proverb: “Try to master seven languages and know seven sciences.”  I believe Murat has more than achieved that as a linguist and as a scientist.  I would hope my future Kazakh students would share Murat’s contagious enthusiasm for learning. 

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