Posts tagged Karaganda

Blogging is my way to Procrastinate!!!

I have only one more post to make after this one that would make it to 1,500 posts all together on this blog since I started it over seven years ago.  I have not been as frequent posting about Kazakhstan because I am living far, far away from a country I care deeply about.  So few people have heard about this ninth largest country in the world.  There are fewer people who actually live in this country and so the reason seems to prevail, not many people are out there to promote the good things about this former Soviet Republic.

I have lived in the two cities Almaty and Astana, I have visited other places like Karaganda and out west.  I went east to their version of the Grand Canyon, that is all documented on this blog.  I’d have to go back to see how to spell the names of these little known places.  A map would help but right now I am writing this blog because I DO NOT want to be grading the stack of 40 plus research papers that are 2,000 words long with APA formatted in-text citations and a Reference page of eight sources.  I brought this all on myself, it was my assignment for my freshmen composition students.  I want them to learn all that is possible before they go to the next level of Comp II.

Do my 85 students know that I care that they succeed?  I got feedback from one of my more genuine students when he said something to the effect that “not many students like you, but I do because you make us work hard. I have learned a lot from you.”  I guess I don’t go into this teaching gig with the idea of making friends with all my students by giving them the easy As or Bs.  If they are getting the grades they want, they will have worked hard for it or they already came into my class with prior knowledge.  Those of the latter set have had high school composition teachers that took the time to grade their papers in a diligent manner and told them the tough things that they needed to know to improve.

Right now, I should also be looking at the self evaluations and self assessments that I gave to my Comp lab classes, all three of them.  Oy, there is an overload here and I am looking forward to having a break.  I’m no different from the students.  I can fritter away time with the best of them.  I don’t remember working this hard with my Kazakh students even when I taught at KIMEP in Almaty and had 100 students, five classes of 20 in each. That was when I barely got their difficult to pronounce first names down…never mind trying to learn their last names.  I have all of my 85 students names figured out with these American students, some are from Florida, California, Texas…those are the football or basketball players.

We had a fun time decorating the Carnegie last week and it made the local newspaper the next day.  Some of the students seemed pleased that they are featured on the front page and also the group shot of them on the second page.  Well, I had to call it a service learning project, of course. You can’t have a field trip where all they do is decorate the halls of the Carnegie.  They had to learn about electricity in MN which was part of the traveling exhibit display.

I had better get to those papers, the clock is ticking and they do NOT grade themselves.

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Slavery in the 21st Century in KZ (Part II)

The following is a continuation of what I posted last week from Vox Populi.  Read on…

16. “Commercial slavery is a very profitable business for traffickers and pimps. Human slaves cost anywhere between 10,000 and 300,000 tenge on the black market and pimps make 20,000 tenge and higher a day. A family business associated with trafficking is the most fail-safe option. There have been instances where the wife is the pimp, the husband is the driver and nephews work as overseers or guard the girls. Girls are usually recruited from the streets, lured and deceived with offers of work as waitresses or nannies and then are forced into the car and brought to the den.”

17. “Sometimes commercial sex workers help us on a volunteer basis. They are registered in the center as volunteers. We help them to recover documents and children who were born outside of hospitals and the girls help us by telling us where girls are being kept, especially minors. We participated in raids together with the police. When the police enter the brothels, the pimps hide the girls and every corner of the apartment has to be searched.”

18. Victims of trafficking often try to escape, but they are caught and severely punished. Some girls try to commit suicide.

19. Written on a piece of paper belonging to one of the girls at the shelter: “It’s difficult for me to remember those days when we were together, you know that I want to return! Why did I ever come to Astana. Why did I leave home? Lord, please return everything back to my parents, my beloved ones!”

20. Saule (not real name) left home at 16 because of constant arguments, fights and alcoholic parents.

I came to Astana together with my friend. This one woman came up to us and offered us work. At first we didn’t understand what kind of work it was. When we got to the apartment, she told us what we’d be doing and offered us to stay the night and we could answer the next day. The next day we said that we weren’t interested and she answered us ‘I rented an apartment for you, fed you, and now you have to work off your debt.’ Then they just wouldn’t let us leave. One girl costs 5000 tenge/hour and one girl could serve anywhere from 5 to 20 clients a day. They beat us often. Once we had worked all night until morning but the clients wanted to extend their time until lunch. We refused. Then the pimps came, took us out into the Steppe, and beat us. Our pimp was a young 23-year old girl who herself had been a prostitute and our handler was an 18-year old boy.

21. 17-year old Lena has a psychologically-developed mind corresponding to that of a 10-year old child and was impregnated by a client to whom she became attached when she was a slave. She considered him her favorite person. Girls with mental illnesses sometimes only need just a hint of affection or some trinket and they become attached to him and believe him unconditionally.

“When I lived in a dormitory for former orphans, a car came by and took two of our girls. The girls ran away. When I came out of the dorm once, I met a woman named Tanya who offered me to work in her café. I went to the location and Tanya said that I’ll be a prostitute. Girls who refused were severely beaten and even set one on fire.

22. Vera is mentally retarded, finished only one grade and can’t read or write. She can’t explain anything by herself. According to Anna Ryl, a man helped her by telling the police. They beat her in the brothel. Before that, Vera lived with alcoholic parents who sold her into slavery. When she first came to the center, she couldn’t put two words together.

“I lived poorly. They drank at home. Mom beat me on the legs, wouldn’t let me walk around, but I wanted to go outside. I have a stepdad and a father. I love my real dad more and wanted to live with him.”

23. 17-year Saltanat left home because of numerous fights. Together with her friend, she left for Astana to find work, where she fell into the hands of traffickers.

“There were four other girls in the apartment. We got up at 4pm, cleaned the apartment and by 7, the handlers brought customers. Sometimes we worked all night till 9am. My family doesn’t know anything. I just want to forget everything and return to my hometown.”

24. Veleriya is raising a year-old daughter.

“My mother drank a lot and to her I was just an unwanted child. I was ten when she told me how she tried to get rid of me when she was pregnant and how she would love to get rid of me now. After my grandmother’s death, she drank the house away and I was given to an orphanage. When I left there, my mother told me to come live with her so that, as it turned out, she could sell me to some Uzbeks. When she disappeared, I was only 15. During the day, I tended sheep for my owners, but at night…”

25. “I managed to escape. Without documents or any things, I ended up on the streets. A lot of bad things followed, but now I’m here. At first I had the desire to find my mom, but now I don’t want to see her. The most important thing is my daughter, whom I give all the love that I never received from my mother.”

26. In addition to commercial slavery, the Komek Center all works with victims of labor slavery.

“The International Organization for Migration helps us with migrants. With their help, we are able to communicate with social workers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries so that they might conduct investigations connected with their citizens. Last year, we had 11 men of Uzbek nationality, of whom 4 were minors. Their passports were taken at work and held. On the phone, they trusted us and turned to us for help. As a result, together with the migration police, we helped the migrants to prepare documents and return home. As for the employers who violated Kazakhstani law, administrative actions were levied against them.”

27. “Two years ago, three people came to us who had been held anywhere from 4 to 15 years at the wintering grounds of Karakuduk in the Shetskiy District of Karaganda Region. Ukrainian citizen Tatyana Tverdokhebova was a labor slave victim from 1995-2009, Vladimir Solomatin from Temirtau was in slavery from 2005-2009 and Oktyabr Lee from Karaganda was held from 1995-2009. Oktyabr was the only one who stayed in the center. He has had poor hearing since childhood. After his release, due to inhumane conditions and poor food, he had to undergo four operations.

“I worked on this farm since 1986,” tells Oktyabr. “After the Soviet Union collapsed, there wasn’t anywhere to go and farmer Tursunbek Akzhunusov asked me to help him on the farm and I agreed. At first I was treated well, ate together with the owners, they weren’t rude and didn’t hit. He promised a lot of money, but never paid. The work was hard – I had to tend to almost 900 sheep and take care of each animal and clean the barn. When I started getting older, they understood that they I didn’t have much good to me and started to treat me like an animal. Sometimes Tursunbek would hire workers and pay them 20,000 tenge but all that was left for us were beatings and scraps. Tatyana showed up on the farm in 1995. She was a good worker on the farm, but the owners didn’t spare her and beat her while Tursunbek’s son was raunchy with her, raped her and did bad things to her. She begged to go home but they only answered with beatings and cut rations.

28. “In 2005 came the last of us, Volodya. Not a very tall man but a very healthy man. He tried to escape but was caught and was beaten like a dog, tied to a horse and dragged around in circles. The shepherd had seven sons and they all beat Volodya. I told them, ‘God will punish you for doing that, you can’t treat people like that…’ but they kept beating him while the 60-year old farmer, seeing that Volodya was completely battered, laughed, saying, ‘What happened, did you fall hard?” The beatings left him disabled for life.

29. “We were literally fed scraps from the master’s table: moldy rolls, stale bread soaked in water, spoiled soup. In court they told us we could have left by train! But where are you going to run away to? Climb up any hill and all you can see is Steppe. All around were Tursunbek’s people – half the village were his relatives. Three of his relatives worked in the local government who covered for the slaveholders. And we weren’t the only ones in this predicament – over at the neighboring farm they also held workers. Their conditions were even worse, they were fed animal fodder. There was a woman there who toiled away like Tatyana. The woman was impregnated by the master and they started beating her, hitting her in the stomach, so that she’d have a miscarriage, disfigured her face…

30. “One time, Tatyana managed to pass a note to one of the workers hired by the master. The person who got this note went to Karaganda and told his sister everything. Together with her brother, they returned to the village and took Tatyana. But at the nearest station, the shepherd’s son Yerzhan and his friends caught up with the escapees, forced Tatyana out of the car and beat her liberators. When the latter returned to the city, the local police pulled them over and told them not to stick their nose in other people’s business. Having returned to the city, they turned to the Department of Internal Affairs and a SWAT team came and for us and took me and Tatyana away but the master hid Volodya for another two months in the barracks. What a court case was launched against the farmers, the owner has to clean up Volodya, fatten him up, nurse him back to health. Before the trial, the Akzhunusovs tried to buy me off and promised that if I signed a statement, they would pay me 300,000 tenge. To which I answered that for 15 years they owe me no less than 3 million tenge. They refused to pay. The older Akzhunusov openly announced that ‘he would cut ten heads off and can buy anyone that he wants, including the courts.”

“In organizing a court session to take place at the village,” says Anna, “the courts did not exercise concern for the safety of the victims. Having seen the farm, where every room, barn, and handle from a shovel reminded the victims of how they were jeered at, they literally went into shock. Experiencing it all again brought them back to a state of fear and led to them not being able to objectively answer the judge’s questions. Of the three, only Tatyana was considered a victim in the criminal case according to article 126 (illegal deprivation of freedom). Judge Tokabekova sentenced Tursumbek Akzhunisov to a 3 year suspended sentence and his son Yerzhan to a 2 year suspended sentence. We learned that the judge lives in the same town as the accused and this causes difficulties in getting a fair verdict. But a “suspended” punished for 15 years of slavery it completely absurd. After the trial, we turned to the city court of appeals, but the outcome was similar to the first. Most interestingly, the prosecutor, speaking in court, was on the side of the guilty, saying that the victims of slavery wanted to extort money and the slave owners were decent people…

Most recently, the Komek Shelter received three victims of trafficking: a 35-year old woman from Tajikistan who is a victim of labor slavery and two minors, a 13 and 14-year old. The children were abducted and exploited in commercial slavery.

31.For those who want to help the center or consult with experts, here is their address: 1 Pushkin, Astana, Kazakhstan. Email: korgau_astana@mail.ru. State short number: 1409

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Slavery in the 21st Century in Kazakhstan

Many sad photos from Kazakhstan accompany this article. Since I’m not able to pull them off to put in this blog, please go to the Vox Populi website yourself to see real life that goes with each tragic story. http://www.voxpopuli.kz/en/post/view/id/607

“Slavery in the 21st Century” (32)  From Vox Populi March 2, 2012

Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry and a global problem in the 21st century, still existing in practically every country around the world. Sexual exploitation and human trafficking in Kazakhstan have grown to appalling levels in recent years. Cases of slavery don’t happen just in the far off corners of our country, but also close to home, even in trouble-free Astana. For three years, the Komek Rehabilitation Center has been helping victims of labor and commercial slavery, protecting their rights and providing medical and psychological care.

1. Five years ago, the center’s director Anna Ryl didn’t have thoughts of social work on her mind.

“Somehow I was asked to take this one teacher to a lawyer, whose drug-addicted daughter was accused of theft. The day we were supposed to meet with the lawyer, it rained. Waiting for me, the woman stood along side the road, hurriedly eating a Samosa. She was crying and on top of that she didn’t have an umbrella which explained why the client looked even more depressed. Seeing that touched me deep in my soul. Her situation forced me to reconsider what was important in life and I started getting pulled more in social work. Now, six years later, I run a shelter for victims of labor and commercial slavery.”

2. The Komek Center was created with funds from Korgay Astana under an initiative by the Ministry of Justice in 2009. The center is a non-profit organization which offers specialized services to victims of human trafficking. From April to December of 2011, 58 people have passed through the center’s doors.

“There are 7 people working in our organization,” says Anna. “All of them are highly-qualified specialists in various fields: psychology, jurisprudence, etc. Our employee salaries are small, just 35,000 tenge (~ $235/month). The place where we work is in my apartment, which I remodeled into an office.”

3. “Before entering the shelter, the girls must sign an agreement that they are voluntarily coming to the rehab center, fill out a questionnaire, undergo testing and a full medical examination including screening for mental illnesses.”

4. According to the annual quota, the shelter is designed to take in 24 people a year. Rehabilitation takes 6 months and can be extended to 9 months as required and at the request of the victims.

5. According to UNICEF research done in Kazakhstan, sexual exploitation is most prevalent in teenagers between the ages of 15-17. When interviews by journalists, most girls request that their faces not be shown as most often relatives are not aware of what has happened to them and they themselves try not to talk about it much.

6. “We try to create a comfortable and friendly atmosphere in the home,” says Anna. “This helps the girls to gradually return to normal life and overcome their frights of closed and dark spaces and to trust people.”

7. “The Ministry of Justice finances all costs of the center: rental of the shelter, meals, clothing, transportation fare home after rehabilitation, professional courses for the girls, and staff salaries.”

8. “Every girl receives a new standard kit when they arrive: a towel, sheets, hygienic items, a t-shirt and pants. Many of them don’t have winter coats and in winter, there is no way to go outside without one. That’s why we collect whatever is possible, clean them and distribute them among those who need them.”

9. Within the center, girls can get help from doctors, lawyers and psychologists. There are various additional courses as part of the 6-month rehab program. Girls can take classes on hair and nail styling or cooking.

“The biggest problem is replacing documents lost long ago or they just don’t have,” says Anna. “Without these documents, people cannot get benefits, be placed on the wait-list for social housing, get a job, or get benefits for children born while they were in slavery.”

10. “Many girls come from disadvantaged families and can’t read, write, or know what hygiene is. We teach them the basics, like how to brush your teeth.”

11. Creative development is also a part of rehabilitation. The author of this piece already finished the course and now has a full-time job.

12. The shelter has certain rules that the girls has to follow: clean up around the living area, help with chores, no swearing, no raising your voice, provoke arguments, leave the territory without written permission and accompaniment of a center staff worker, or use cell phones.

“Cell phones are forbidden in the center for obvious reasons,” says Anna. “Girls can call their friends are tell them where the center is, making it unsafe for others. They can always call their relatives from the center’s telephone.”

13. “Pregnant women are not uncommon at the shelter and more often than not the babies’ father are the clients. After having argued with her parents, one girl left Astana together with her fiancé, who then sold her to a brothel. She came to us already quick with child. After a few months the girl gave birth to a healthy baby. Somehow the pimps reached the parents and told them what she had done and that she had given birth. At first, the parents refused to accept her, but we managed to convince them to come to us and hear the girl out. Along with the parents, all of her family came too. On that day when they came to pick her up, everyone here cried.”

14. “It’s rare when victims of the slave trade are educated and from good families,” says Anna. “But we had one such case. Ainagul from Karaganda was studying finance, fell in love with a boy and moved to Astana with him. The rest is the typical story: the guy soon sold her into slavery, where she spent a year.”

15. “Most victims of commercial slavery are girls from disadvantaged families or girls with mental illnesses from orphanages. Mentally handicapped girls are especially in demand and are more expensive. These girls are gullible and aren’t aware of what is happening to them and don’t really resist. One of the highest-profile criminal cases, and the only time to date when exploitation in this category of victims, was successfully proven not long ago. Over two years, four traffickers removed 15 girls from Temirtau and other villages in the Karaganda Region. The traffickers went around the villages, looking for mentally retarded girls. They drugged the girls with Diphenhydramine [a hypnotic sedative], moved them to Astana and sold them. The traffickers were caught, convicted, and sentenced to 4-12 years in prison. All 15 of these girls underwent rehab with us. According to the girls, they were taken to an apartment, beaten, raped and forced to serve up to 10 clients a day.

16. “Commercial slavery is a very profitable business for traffickers and pimps. Human slaves cost anywhere between 10,000 and 300,000 tenge on the black market and pimps make 20,000 tenge and higher a day. A family business associated with trafficking is the most fail-safe option. There have been instances where the wife is the pimp, the husband is the driver and nephews work as overseers or guard the girls. Girls are usually recruited from the streets, lured and deceived with offers of work as waitresses or nannies and then are forced into the car and brought to the den.”

(to be continued)

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Scanning Kazakhstan’s past, a worthy pursuit

I’ve been scanning hundreds of old photographs from my hometown in Minnesota. What was written on some of the postcards or back of photos is very revealing of that era.  Some are short notes that have the brevity of a Twitter message. What some of the photographers wanted to be known for is also interesting, stamped boldly on the back.

I have three scans that I did that I’ll show  in this blog as I wonder how much was photographed of Kazakhstan.  I know that Max Penson was a Belorussian Jew (1893-1959) who went to Uzbekistan to do B&W photos of what was supposedly the “happy” Uzbeks.  I think he caught on that not all things were rosy as he was instructed to depict through his camera.  His artistry is amazing nevertheless and I’m glad someone has taken the time to scan many of his photos.  Google his name to find them.

Tonight on PBS there will be a four hour documentary about the “Dustbowl” by Ken Burns.  My husband’s dad, my father-in-law was born in 1899 took many photos of his Kansas town of Ulysses, KS.  The NY Times article shows one famous one he took and is featured at the beginning of the article (skip the advertisement).  It shows Main Street in Ulysses, looking north.  His parents’ photo studio is on the left hand side.   Two of these pictures of his dad’s were often published with the caption, “Daylight to Darkness in 30 seconds.”

Finally, I wonder how much of Kazakhstan was photographed.  I know that I scanned LOTS of antique photos while I was teaching in Ukraine from my students’ family albums.  I’m thinking that there were hardly any happy pictures to show of Kazakhstan when one third of the country was under the gulag penal system in the 1950s and 1960s. Political dissenters were sent to the Karlag in the Karaganda area not far from the capital city of Astana which used to be named Akmola and then another Russian name before it took on Astana.  Watch, I bet “Astana” is a place holder name for what it will probably be changed to…the current president’s name of the country of Kazakhstan. You got that bit of news free here on this blog.
Notice the advertisement on the S. Johnson stamp about this photographer is able to take shots at children and nervous people.

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Slavery is “alive and well” in Kazakhstan (Part II)

I am so proud of two of my former students who showed up at the American Corner in Astana last Saturday to listen to two speakers talk about human trafficking and then blogged about it.  I’m continuing what I started yesterday based mostly on the notes taken by Wizard of KZ, but this latest story is in the words of “New Challenge” which explains best what happens when slavery goes unchecked as it has for many, many years in Kazakhstan.  Read what New Challenge wrote in her blog about a living example:

A few years ago three people, two men from Karaganda and Temirtau and a woman from Ukraine, were freed after 15 years of forced work in a farm near Karaganda, the owner of which was rather famous and powerful in the local area. These three people were so far from the civilization that they even didn’t know about the independence of our country, about “tenge” (Kazakhstani monetary unit), they thought that people were still using rubles. They no access to Tv, radio, any sources of mass media, they just worked as slaves for no pay, under terrible conditions eating odds and ends left after the dinner of the owner’s family.

Initially, these three people were in good relationships with their “future” trafficker. They were having her internship in that farm before she was victimized, the other two men were simple workers and used to get salary and have good and friendly treatments at first. Then everything had totally changed. In those 15 years the woman lost her mother, and her sister moved to another country, so when she was freed (she was 28 years old when she was trafficked and was unmarried) she had nobody waiting for her back in her country.

Unfortunately, our guests [at American Corner] knew nothing about her further life. The “slaves” could not contact the police because one of the owner sons worked for the transport police, they just didn’t believe the local policemen. Fortunately, one of the owner’s seasoned workers was a really kind-hearted man, and when his work was finished, he reported the police about the situation happening in that family and could cause to release those “slaves”.  Anyway, the judge sentenced the owner and his son to three and two years probation. As it was discovered afterwards, the judge was a woman with three kids, and she was worried about her family.

That brings up a good point in this very sticky delicate crime against humans. The judges have to be strong to hand out sentences, otherwise the criminals will go after their families with threats or even death. May that NOT be so in Kazakhstan!!!

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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!”

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Double Punishment for being a Captive Soldier in WWII

I continue to learn new things from my advanced Speaking class, sad things about death and repressions. What irony there is in life but it often happened in the former Soviet union, double punishment for fighting as a soldier in a war and being caught as a prisoner. One of my student’s grandfather on her mother’s side was arrested by a German officer and put in a German concentration camp.  After the war, the Kazakh soldier was released and he returned to Kazakhstan only to be put in a Soviet gulag camp according to Stalin’s orders.  After Stalin died in 1953, he was released and lived only another 8-10 years, he died in the early 1960s.

Another student said that his grandfather on his mother’s side wasn’t imprisoned, he somehow avoided prison.  But he did not avoid the police station every night for several years.  He was asked over and over again the same questions and by 1953, he was convinced he hated communists.  I asked if he was beaten or tortured.  No, he just had to answer the questions correctly otherwise he would have ended up in a Siberian concentration camp.

Another instance in the same family was the grandfather was an officer for the NKVD.  After the Great Patriotic War there were a lot of gangs with guns in the Pavlodar region and he had to interrogate those who were causing much unrest in the area.  He would have been on the opposite side of the table as the other grandfather as he was the head of this police station.

Another Kazakh student of mine is from the Karaganda area and she doesn’t know much about her own grandparents.  [this is typical because there was a strict code of silence for all those in Karaganda and especially those who were finally released from the KARLAG once Stalin died]  She said that many intellectual people were sent to Kazakhstan from all over the USSR to the Karaganda region and they helped develop and build the architecture of that city.  Many Japanese, Russians and other nationalities brought enrichment to this area because of their expertise. The very skills that had drawn attention to themselves in a favorable climate, won them disfavor in the eyes of the ruling Moscow elite.

She did remember that her mother’s older brother had driven a tank during WWII and when he returned from the war he worked in a mechanical factory or plant.  When he was alive still she was very small.  She did say that what was a prison for political prisoners in Karabass is now a prison for hardened criminals.

Another interesting story came from a woman whose mother’s uncle was a tall Kazakh man with BLUE eyes.  He was somehow so unusual in his appearance that a German officer didn’t put him in prison but rather he stayed in his big house and helped built things around the house.  He was good with wood and made things for three years while living in Germany.  This Kazakh man spoke German very well but upon his return to Kazakhstan he was directly sent to Magadan in Siberia.  He stayed there ten years and when he returned to his native town he built a beautiful home.  He died at the age of 95-96. This student remembers that he was a vigorous, proud man who didn’t stoop but had good posture the last time she saw him at age 92.  He walked with a cane but had the regal look of a decorated officer, perhaps like the German officer who had spared him from prison camp while in Germany.

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Photos of CCCP helicopter from 1993

Sorry I missed posting my blog yesterday, I was trying to locate my copy of Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” where I want to read the last chapter that is about the Kengir Uprising in 1954.  Once I read that, I will post about it. I also want to go visit the Karaganda area (not too far from Astana) where this event happened when the political prisoners said: “Enough is enough!!!” They ran off the prison guards and administrators and enjoyed 40 days of freedom and their own self-governance.

Not much is known about this amazing act of bravery but since Stalin had died the year before in 1953, there were also other smaller uprisings in Kazakhstan and Siberia where the gulag systems were packed.  Naturally, the big USSR tanks came rolling in and snuffed out the Kengir uprising, that unusual period of freedom for the inmates. Many of these prisoners had been unjustly accused of some crime and had no business being in prison.  They wanted to be loyal subjects of the Soviet Union, but it was always a tightrope balancing act to know how to walk correctly during the CCCP (Cyrillic for USSR) period.

In lieu of more words, I’ll just post a couple of OLD, but interesting photos that I took back in 1993 when I first met Ken.  We went on an antiquated Aeroflot helicopter ride one early Sunday morning from Almaty area to a lake with some U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps people. (Brave for us to trust this relic) Quite romantic actually and my grandma used to say that was our first date, not quite but almost.

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“World Class” Universities in Kazakhstan

If you do a quick google search with the keywords of “world class universities” or “ranking international universities,” you are bound to find out some interesting information.  Of course, I’m all about Kazakhstan!!!  Therefore, I learned where my former university in Almaty fit in with the other 12,000 universities listed from around the world.

This “westernized” university in Almaty was constantly promoted as being “world class” to the point where I hated hearing those two words put together in reference to where I used to teach.  Indeed, it has much going for it, it has an excellent library, state of the art classrooms with the latest in technology, and some brand new buildings.  Yes, the Kazakh and Kazakhstani students are great too.  Those students who work hard because they know education is the key to their future and the future of Kazakhstan.

However, looking at how this university compared to some of the others in the rest of Kazakhstan shows that it does not compare well with the world’s universities. It shouldn’t be called a “world class” university because it is too young to tell yet.  Existing (and surviving) for only 15 years hardly makes it able to compete with other solid institutions that have been around for 100s of years!!!  Please be very careful with the overuse of “world class” as an adjective!!!

As you can see in the table below that I got from this link, Karaganda State Technical came out on top in the Kazakhstan rankings out of 12,000 universities worldwide.  Why would Karaganda have such a strong presence, if you look at the other Kazakh universities listed?  Perhaps because it is where many of the intellectuals from all over the former Soviet Union were exiled to the KARLAG, similar to the gulag of Siberia.  These smart people were castoffs to this area of Kazakhstan that was at one point about the size of Texas or even bigger.  Maybe between hard labor and trying to survive they set up schools in their prison cells or at least their children knew that education was the way out and thus highly prized.

Karaganda has a long tradition of having good universities because many good scientists and engineers from Russia were perhaps spurned for doing “good science.” Regrettably there exists “bad science” which goes on at our American top universities these days.  For now, see some of the listings of reputable universities in Kazakhstan which shows the student population, visibility, “rich files” and ranking of scholars.

POSITION
WORLD RANK UNIVERSITY SIZE VISIBILITY RICH FILES SCHOLAR
5433 Karaganda State Technical University 3,888 9,988 3,331 2,575
6043 Kazakhstan Institute of Management Economics and Strategic Research 5,198 8,191 4,853 4,535
6541 University of International Business 7,013 7,883 4,168 5,950
6830 Kazakh National Pedagogical University 5,000 9,286 6,743 4,389
7219 Kazakh Academy of Transport and Communication 10,917 3,736 15,209 10,216
7421 East Kazakhastan State Technical University 3,618 11,707 5,102 4,490
7616 South Kazakhstan State University 6,826 6,849 11,192 8,570
7645 Karaganda State University 3,236 10,742 8,393 5,253
7891 Eurasian National University 7,940 8,857 6,985 6,102
8145 Innovative Eurasian University 4,753 11,288 6,044 5,643
8594 Kazakh National Technical University 5,639 8,716 11,302 10,216
9132 Al-Farabi Kazakh National University * 4,044 14,039 6,642 3,966
9292 East Kazakhastan State University 3,697 12,082 8,117 8,570
9588 International Kazakh Turkish University 2,695 12,682 12,866 6,836
9606 Kazakh-British Technical University 9,013 8,314 14,737 10,216

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“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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