Posts tagged Karlag

Working Upstream from the “Sexual Gulag”

I just had my heart broken all over again as I listened to a young Cambodian girl named Nhu give her horrific story about what she went through as a 12 year old sex slave.  Thankfully she has broken free from her “sexual gulag” that so many young girls who are born in grinding poverty are caught in.  When talking to Dick Wexler, co-founder of “Not for Sale – MN” last December, he talked about organizations that are going “upstream” from where the traffickers perpetuate the sexual gulag hellholes. First, I need to explain two things: 1) what it means to be upstream and 2) why is it called “sexual gulag?”

Let me explain Gulag first. As many of my readers know, gulag is a Russian acronym for “Glavnoe Upravlnie Lagerei” which essentially means “Main Camp Administration.”  In Kazakhstan, they had a similar term “Karlag” which has the same meaning but in the Karaganda region where the headquarters were in Kazakhstan.  What was notable about the gulag and karlag was that it was far, far away from any civilization.  The people who were sent to these places were either political or criminal prisoners during the Soviet Union with little chance of escaping. The term “sexual gulag” has many of the same connotations for those women caught in the sex trade but the major difference is that it is done in the major cities, sometimes in open view to everyone.

I remember one time when my husband and I were walking around in Amsterdam about ten years ago, we were trying to avoid the red light districts.  But somehow we got off track and walked right into an area close to the main train station where women were showing their “wares” in store front windows. They were like moving mannequins but scantily clad, we quickly moved away.  The “sexual gulag” is right at our doorsteps and not somewhere far removed, except in our minds if we continue to let it.

Many of my faithful readers of this blog know I have long been at this problem of trying to make people more aware of the USSR’s gulags and especially about Kazakhstan’s karlags. So it would seem a natural thing for me to move into the outrage that should be created with the 21st century sexual gulags we have in our midst. I guess I’m upset about what happened in the Soviet past and now incensed about what is going on in the present. In a book written by Anne Applebaum, she wrote the following about gulags:

“In the course of the Soviet Union’s existence, at least 476 distinct camp complexes came into being consisting of thousands of individual camps…The total number of prisoners in the camps generally hovered around 2,000,000, but the total number of Soviet citizens who had some experience of the camps, as political or criminal prisoners, is far higher.  From 1929, when the Gulag began its major expansion, until 1953, when Stalin died, the best estimates indicate that some 18,000,000 people passed through its massive system.”

I’m getting this information from a report done by Lisa L. Thompson when she gave a talk representing Salvation Army to a special committee about sexual exploitation of children to the U.S. Congress in 2005.  What Thompson reported were some staggering statistics while comparing the numbers of the Soviet gulag to our present day “sexual gulag.”

“UNICEF reports that one million children enter sex trafficking per year. Approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years.”

Lisa Thompson has many other interesting analogies to make between the Soviet Gulag and the current sexual gulag we are experiencing.

Now I want to explain what it means to be “working upstream” from all these problems of children getting sucked into sex slavery.  The way it was best explained to me was by Dick Wexler. Caring people can go to countries like Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Viet Nam and find out where the girls are who are being preyed upon. Usually it happens if there is only one parent left or there is a new stepparent who comes in due to divorce or a number of other problems that drives desperate people to extreme measures to get them out of poverty.

The “Remember Nhu” organization is working upstream when they try to find girls who are vulnerable and help feed and educate them.  Check out the following website and you will see many of the same things I looked into.  I believe this is a very worthy cause to find girls who the traffickers might prey upon. This helps them to become employable by making money for themselves before they are snatched away to be sex slaves.  Too often the trafficking shelters that are trying to help rehabilitate those girls who have escaped sex slavery see a high recidivism rate because these girls are so broken, damaged, hooked on drugs or alcohol to help cure the pain in their hearts.  Sadly, the girls who are no longer in the sexual gulag after years of damage are found downstream with lots of emotional baggage.

Yes, working upstream to help eliminate poverty for those families who have girls that might be sold into slavery is the best way.  Check out “Remember Nhu.”

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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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“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.

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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Seventeen Questions about Astana from a Well-Seasoned Westerner

I’ve been very distracted by events in our neighboring country, my former home in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I have friends there who are reporting they are okay, waiting on one other couple to give me a thumbs up.  Sorry, I have no photos, pictures, poems or pithy sayings for today’s blog. I almost didn’t get it done today, so much else to do.  I did answer 17 questions from someone who has applied to our new university.  This person has lived in many different countries so he knows the right questions to ask.  I’ll give you all the questions but will be very discrete with the answers I gave him.  On top of writing about what is going on in northern Kazakhstan I’m thinking about what is happening south of us, it still feels too close for comfort.

1.  Do they hire teachers who are married, or do they prefer only single teachers?

3.  Is there a British high school for the children of expatriate workers such as us?

4.  How is the housing for a family of three?  Do you live in a compound, or are you assigned rentals?

5.  Is there high-speed WiFi Internet connection at the University, and can you access it in your apartment?
The common Internet connection is Megaline, which we used in Almaty but there are some other providers as well such as KazTelecom.  We have to pay on our own for the Internet at our flat.

6.  How do you get around? bus, train, taxi, hired driver, or do you have to buy a vehicle?
We get around the city of Astana by either “gypsy” cab or by bus.  A car is easy enough to flag down and if you negotiate with the driver before you enter the car, the standard fare starts at 200 tenge but to cross town could be as much as 500 tenge.  One bus that goes from the airport (close to the campus) and all the way to the train station is Bus #10.  It is 60 tenge to take a bus but a micro bus is 65 tenge.  When the weather is warmer, I think it would be easy enough to walk around or to use a bike. My husband often comments that he would like to buy a car like he used to drive when we were both in Almaty in 1993-1995.

7.  Is the salary paid in British pounds, Euro, or Kazakstan currency?

8.  How expensive is fresh fruit, vegetables, canned foods, milk, etc.? We buy our groceries either at Ramstor (Turkish run) or at Kerun (sp) shopping center.  The Gros store just went out of business which is close to the Baiterek monument.  Food can be a bit more pricey but you pay for quality at these food stores that have the modern check out system.  The best place to get ground beef is at Ramstor.  In Almaty we would go to the Green Bazaar to buy in bulk but I’ve only been to the bazaar once in Astana since I arrived two and half months ago. There are also little mini-markets to buy a quick loaf of bread or milk, kind of like a 7-11 store.  I am sorry I don’t pay much attention to food prices, my husband does most of the shopping.

9.  How are the physical facilities where you teach?

10. How is the technology? At the western university in Almaty where I taught, it proved that we
could not use YouTube on campus but of course you could at home yet it was slow.  It would chunk up and you would get the clips in segments with long pauses in between.  The restrictions on Internet were
imposed by the university in Almaty otherwise the students would be downloading music and videos slowing down the campus wide connection for everyone, so those were the only restrictions I encountered.  We had full use of Ebscohost on campus and from home, we also had subscribed at our library ProQuest, SAGE, J-Stor etc.  I would think that our British university will have all those electronic databases and more.  That should not be a problem as China experiences with their censorship.  I’ve not followed very well the latest tussle with Google and China, sorry.

11. How would you characterize the local Muslim population’s support of terrorism?

The Kazakh people are nominally Muslim and I had a conversation several years ago with a Kazakh man using my bad Russian and his equally poor English but we were able to communicate about the ongoing
war in Iraq.  Some Kazakhs see this as something to side with their Muslim brothers on but for the most part they do NOT support terrorism, the Kazakhs are a peaceable kind of people.  With the current events going on in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people have been pushed to the limit and have not had the success as Kazakhstan has had to improve their lot since the fall of the former Soviet Union.  What you might read in the news about the events in Bishkek has been a slow burn from over 10-15 years of corrupt government.  The Kyrgyz people are smart enough to know there is a better life besides what they are enduring but they would not align themselves with Muslim terrorists, they are just wanting to survive in a true democracy.

12.  How do you like your students?  Are they teachable, how prepared are they when they enter your classroom? I LOVED my Kazakh students, they are very teachable and malleable…Through no fault of their own, many of the Kazakh students are not ready to enter the classroom as if it were a western classroom in either the U.S. or U.K. because there has not been support to adequately train the Kazakh teachers. Besides, the Ministry of Education has mandated that all learning must be tri-lingual (Russian, Kazakh and English) Those that are prepared to learn are students who are curious and are good with computers, they have learned by doing.  They know more than their teachers in some cases so the digital divide is ever widening in Kazakhstan.

13.  Training:  The job description said there would be a training period in London prior to departure, any information on that?

14.  Curriculum: How is this set up and are the teacher procedures, sequences, strategies dictated, or is there some teacher choice?

15.  What kind of family activities are there when you are not working?  Or on the weekends? I know someone who cross-country skied everyday (even when it was very cold).  I think there are some health clubs (but they are quite expensive).  I know that there are things to explore like the National library and its
archives. Or for a family event go to ALZHIR museum that is about 15 kms outside of Astana, there is about a 2 hour drive away Karaganda and Dolinka and the KARLAG to explore if you are into finding out more
about the penal history of the former Soviet Union.

It really is what YOU make it because this is such a new city there is not as much going on here than at Almaty, the cultural center. However, there are concerts and other Kazakh cultural events at the
Pyramid.  Also, sporting events to attend like hockey games and figure skating.  But you would have to be the one to initiate finding out about it.  I have joined the Astana International Women’s club and it
has frequent updates on what is happening in the city.

16.  What does it cost to fly from the U.S. or from London to Astana? I just came back from the international TESOL conference in Boston and it was about $1,600 for a round trip with Lufthansa from Astana to Frankfurt to Boston.  When living in Almaty we were used to taking the KLM connection to Amsterdam and then to Minneapolis.  Again, non-peak it is usually around $1,500 but during peak season in the summer it can be as much as $2,000 for RT.  You want to avoid flying through Moscow, Russia.  Stick with KLM or Lufthansa, is my recommendation.

17.  Do you have to pay for re-entry visas/permits when you take off in the Summer, or do most of the teachers stay in Astana?
I think most teachers want to go home for the summer, be it the U.K. or U.S. just to be with family again.  However, the temps in Astana will have vastly improved in the summer time and there are places to
explore here in Kazakhstan if you want to find out more about this great country.  Astana and Almaty are NOT Kazakhstan and there is much to discover of its beauty and history in the other cities.
If you were to get the job at our university, it costs $200 one year, multiple entry visa and I believe there would be support to pay for that for your family members as well.

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KarLAG Buildings in “Stalin’s Neoclassicism” Style


According to the Museum brochure this structure was built in 1933-35 by forcing 1,000s of prisoners to construct it.  It’s purpose was to house the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), it was an imposing structure of Greek Roman style columns surrounded by little houses in a simple farming village.  This two story building was meant to look threatening to the prisoners but inspire grand feelings in those who did the repressing of “Enemies of the People.”  By 1961 the agricultural training college was placed there and then it was turned into a sanatorium for children called “Brigantina” from 1971 to the early 1990s.  It was planned to be changed into a rest house for miners but after the bankruptcy of that enterprise, the windows were bricked up and it sits waiting to be rehabilitated. As of 2005, the building will hopefully have a new life once the Museum of Memory of Political Repression find enough funds to restore it. 


This was the mess hall or dining room for all the officers and higher ups.  Now a shopping place for those who dwell in Dolinka and was painted purple a year ago.  An unusual color in a place so bleak.


Either called the “House of Technics” or “Technology House” was built in 1943.  The leadership of GULAG (Main Administration for Corrective Labor Camps) tried to show that prisoners could work very well.  Therefore, the kolkhoz was called Gigant took part in All-Union exhibition every year.  In 1938 the experimental agricultural station was set up here.  This building now houses the Abay district electric nets since 1974.

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Dolinka, the KarLAG and its Repressed Artists



dolinkaThe approach to the little village of Dolinka (50 km from Karaganda) was ominous, it was overcast and foggy.  The asphalt roads could have been icy but thankfully they were not, just full of potholes and slush.  Most impressive about the little museum with its information about the KarLAG was that it used to be the hospital for political repressed victims in Dolinka.  A map prominently shown in the museum was the network of gulag systems in Kazakhstan is the size of France.  Kazakhstan is FOUR times the size of France so you know how invasive this imprisonment was to the Kazakh land and their people who often pitied those outcasts who were dumped in Dolinka from all parts of the U.S.S.R.prison-fence


Since I enjoy viewing artwork, I was struck by the HUGE canvas showing an image of Lenin at the table and Stalin pointing to a map of USSR electrification along with workers and soldiers.  No one knows the name of the artist of this @ 20 foot long by 7 foot high painting.  No doubt this artist of the karlag was trying to get back into the good graces of the elite in Moscow.  However, I’m wondering if it is the same artist who painted in 1991 the samovar on the decked out dining table in the stalovaya of the guest house where I stayed one night in Karaganda.  I wish I had written down the name of the artist, it was in the bottom left hand corner of the painting.samovar


Much talent and skill during the USSR times were wasted but our guide to the museum took us over to another technical building where they tested for breeding of different grains, corn or potatoes.  Famous agriculturalists were imprisoned but kept up their experiments in that building.  Damira said that her family would buy the Dolinka brand potatoes because it was of good quality. 


For now, I hate to think of all the poets, writers, artists and musicians (refer to the photos from yesterday’s blog) whose lives were destroyed over bad policy, bad governance that was meant to help people.  It did quite the opposite.  Stalin and Lenin’s system repressed millions of those they claimed as their own.

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Meanings behind Kazakh Names and Proverbs

Good to be home to warmer Almaty after two days away in Karaganda, the northern part of Kazakhstan.  The university people treated me so well, part of Kazakh hospitality.  I had three minders that helped me get around from start to finish.  Irina met me at the train station upon my arrival, Aigul sat with me during the conference sessions and translated. Finally, Aigerim brought me back to the fast Spanish train last night.  I gave a workshop yesterday morning for about 90 minutes concerning my paper “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy” and it was well received by 50-55 Kazakhstani teachers.  I asked them to answer several questions for me and one of them was what their names mean:


Aigerim = beautiful moon

Aigul = moon flower

Aizhana = moon spirit or beautiful moon

Akmaral = female deer with very beautiful eyes

Albina = white deer

Damira = stone

Dinara = Arab coin, money

Gulmira = flower of the world

Khalida = long living or eternal

Safura = wisdom

Saule = a ray

Umit = hope

Zamzagul = vivid flower

Zarina = gold ring

Zhanargul = shining flower


As you can see, anything name with “gul” in it means flower.  Now the following are what I asked of my eager teachers what some of the Russian or Kazakh proverbs are that they know.


From Aigerim:  “Fall Down in the Fire for your Motherland, You won’t be burned; Get into the water and you will not drown.”

Means:  Do the best for the sake of your country.


Three great proverbs from Akmaral:

Stupid head disturbs the legs (Kazakh proverb means worrying too much is a waste)

While a bald man combs his hair, the party is ended. (Kazakh-Russian – means vanity to go to party is useless)

The dog asks dog, that dog asks the tail (Kazakh – means too much bureaucracy which puts off the one who questions something to the next level of authority, passing the buck)


Yana wrote:  “Don’t open your mouth at somebody’s cake.”  Means that you should not eat the bread that someone else has baked, don’t use someone else’s effort and claim as your own.


Another Aigerim wrote:  “A girl has got 40 souls or lives.”  Kazakh proverb [my thoughts on this which puts the women’s lib mantra to shame.  Kazakh women know who they are and their place in society, it is highly exalted]


Irina wrote:  “A cat in gloves cannot catch a mouse.”  [no explanation but I think it means that you are ineffective if you are hesitant to do something]


Aizhana wrote: “Meet with clothes but pass by mind.”  When you meet a person you didn’t see his clothes but you see whether his spirit is beautiful or not.


Another Irina wrote:  “To live with wolves, to talk as a wolf.”  Means if you are to succeed in the society of wolves, you have to be like them – [negative connotation, if you are with aggressive people, you must also become aggressive and pushy]


Gulmira wrote:  If the girl grows, it will be the beauty of the nation; If the flower grows, it will be the beauty of the earth.


After the workshop, I then went with Damira to Dolinka, the karlag museum about 50 kilometers away.  The roads could have been icy but they were not, just slushy and the weather was foggy.  Leaving Karaganda it was warmer than upon my arrival but I was glad to be on my fast train home.  My wonderful husband was there to greet me.

Tomorrow I will show photos of the conference and of my excursion outside of Karaganda.

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ALZHIR…Facing Every Blow of a Fierce Life…

The following poem by A. Ahmatova is engraved on the black wall of female victims outside of the ALZHIR museum close to Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital.  I wrote about this prison in my last blog.  I can’t even imagine what these women (wives of “Enemies of the People” went through at this ALZHIR prison.  The blowing and howling cold winds of the flat steppes must have been their most formidable enemy when fighting for survival.  However, the museum, statues and memorials help us to remember that their lives were NOT wasted.  This is roughly translated into English:

And wasting our youth
we were facing
every blow
of a fierce life.

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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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