Posts tagged Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

Lost Malaysian Jet and Humpty Dumpty Politics

Let the mourning begin. The closure can now happen for all those families whose loved ones perished in the Indian Ocean with the Malaysian airliner tragedy. I can’t even begin to know or understand what the family members went through with the misinformation that was thrown their way. Twenty-six countries were involved in the search and rescue and maybe that is what muddled things in the first place due to language and cultural barriers. They were trying to use the latest in technology and pinning the blame on the pilot. I have a difficult time believing that a pilot would willfully take down hundreds of people on a suicide mission. Once they find the jet’s black box and the bodies, they will know what happened. Until then, the puzzles remain.

I get many comments still on what I wrote on this blog over five years ago. I just got a comment from a Voron who is Kazakh, teaching in Malaysia. He was saddened by my misperceptions of his great country of Kazakhstan. I responded that I must have been having a bad day, week, month, well year teaching at the university in Almaty. I saw things that were over-controlled and dealing with minute details to the fraction of points on how to grade composition papers. What was most galling to me was the composition teachers would assign nearly impossible writing assignments which made it easier for them to grade but made it very difficult for students to write. If these same teachers had done their own assignments they would have found out what a crazy assignment it really was. Some of these “English” teachers could not put a sentence together in English to save their soul. I am still angry about what I went through under that system that was still very Soviet in nature.

It is true what Voron wrote that I didn’t have a chance to really know and understand what is under the surface of the Kazakh culture. I have a very high respect for Kazakhstan and what they went through in their long and troubled history. In fact, when I write about what happened in Ukraine during the Holodomor (forced starvation period of 1932-33), I cannot neglect to try and educate people that Kazakhstan went through the same devastation. You only have to read “The Silent Steppe: The Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin” by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, published in 2006 to know what the typical Kazakh survived during the purges.

That is how this blog got its name, “Kazakhnomad,” in honor of what Mukhamet wrote out in his ten years of seeing what Stalin was doing to his country and how it affected his family. Right now, the focus is on Ukraine and what Putin will do next. I would hazard to guess that Kazakhstan is very vulnerable right now in the northern area of Kazakhstan because Putin would use the same logic of saying that he needs to protect the Russian speakers from the Kazakhs. No different than what he is saying about going into eastern Ukraine to protect those of Russian ethnicity. I saw a joke something to the effect of a Russian in eastern Ukraine not speaking Russian anymore. How come? Well, he didn’t want Putin to come and save him from the Ukrainians. The Russians in Ukraine have more freedom than the Russians in Russia. Eventually what Putin is trying to do may implode on him. While all his troops are off to Estonia or Moldova, he will have unrest in his own capital.

For now, we just wait and see and try to puzzle out what remains of the former Soviet Union that Putin is trying to put back together. Probably no different than when the experts finally find the big pieces of the Malaysian jetliner. Only thing is that Putin is really Humpty Dumpty and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

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“Great Patriotic War” According to Whom?

Great Patriots

On a wall of our hallowed halls of academia in Almaty, Kazakhstan are photos which depict “patriots” who served on the Front of the “Great Patriotic War.”  We, as westeners, know it simply as World War II and did not buy into the coinage of these words promoted by Stalin’s propaganda machine.  The root word in Russian for “Fatherland” seems interchangeable with “father” and “patriot.”

What seems a paradox to me is that Kazakhs have a deep and abiding love for their forefathers.  To be a good Kazakh means you know your ancestral line seven generations back and can recite their names.  (I’ve met some Kazakhs who are proud to know the names going back 11 generations.)   Anyway, I’ve been recently reading journal articles concerning the deportation of nationalities into Kazakhstan, thanks to Stalin’s edict.  Better felt as a “deportation dumpground” because of the mixture of Korean, Ukrainian, German, Russian into the different tribes of Kazakhs. 

Currently over 100 nationalities are represented in Kazakhstan but decades ago some of these were people who were yanked out of their homeland and forcefully “deposited” in Kazakhstan.  Unfortunately, many did not survive travelling to the steppes of Kazakhstan but thanks to the bigheartedness of the Kazakhs, others did. 

I am waiting for a sequel to the book by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov which would help explain how his Kazakh family had everything taken from them but yet he fought for the Soviet Union’s “Fatherland.”  Miraculously, he survived the Great Patriotic War.  His book in English(translated from the Russian book “Sudba” = Destiny) only covers how he and his family survived the starvation period of the 1930s and up to his fighting and returning home after the war when he was about age 21. 

That’s about the age of tomorrow’s graduates who have led a very sheltered life compared to Shayakhmetov.  At our auspicious occasion of watching nearly 500 graduates cross the stage, I’ll see many different nationalities represented.  I’ll be imagining the stories these young people have in their families which sadly are being silenced with the passage of time. What is the destiny of these young people?  I hope there are more young patriots like Shayakhmetov who will rise up and write for the rest of world to read what happened under a tyrannical government such as the former Soviet Union.  Not a TRUE Fatherland for patriots, that’s for sure. 

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Kazakh Traditions Through Kim’s Eyes

Kazakh Superstitions

Mukhamet Shayakhmetov wrote in his book “The Silent Steppe” (p. 241) that Kazakhs are superstitious.  My friend Kim confirmed that information by telling me some of the superstitions she has encountered while living in Kazakhstan over a decade.  Kim, her husband and children used to live in a Kazakh village the first half of their stay and so she knows much about real Kazakh living.  Very different from the big city life of Almaty which is really NOT Kazakh from looking at the outside veneer.

 

One superstition Kim knew of was in keeping one’s home clear of evil spirits, the Kazakhs would collect a kind of holy grass from the mountains to burn it and shake the smoke around the house.  Another was to keep the home immaculately clean before going to bed at night.  A messy place would only invite unwelcome evil spirits to come lodge during the night.  (to my mind, nothing superstitious about that!!!) However, another way Kazakhs warded off evil spirits was to put a knife under the “besik” or swinging bed.  Kim also told me that a specific, significant bone from an animal would be picked clean and hung on the wall.  She admitted she didn’t know much about that tradition but she knew there were many other Kazakh superstitions.

 

Kazakh Life Events in the Home vs. American Mobility

Naturally Kim’s orientation is around the home being a mother of four children so she has observed that for Kazakhs, life events are very important such as birth, circumcision, weddings and death. Even though the Kazakhs come from a nomadic tradition, their homes in a yurt were the center of their universe.   That is why I suppose “leaving on a jet plane” for lands faraway holds little significance for Kazakhs.  However, for us Americans who come from a land of immigrants, a major life event for us is departing for lands unknown. Kazakhstan

is still very much an uncharted land of the unknown for many of us westerners.  

I recall when teaching at a university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 15 years ago, my Krygyz dean did NOT understand about jetlag messing up one’s sleep cycle.  Why couldn’t the Americans disembark from the plane and jump right in to teach the hour after we arrived?  My illustrious Kyrgyz dean painfully understood jetlag once she visited the U.S.

but not until several years after she observed Americans dragging around the university the first week.

Kim reiterated that Kazakh life events were very important and that their form of Islam does not take place in a mosque but rather in the home.  She had witnessed first hand how women memorialize a deceased loved one with their amazing musical abilities while they improvise a song of grief.  Such as when Mukhamet wrote in his book about his mother who very eloquently made a mournful improvisation after the loss of a dear family member.  According to Kim, for her it was haunting but beautiful to hear the Kazakh women’s strains of music in their improvised songs of grief.

 

Children Need to Memorize Kazakh Proverbs
Back in the
U.S. we used to have the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.”  That is back when the U.S was more of an agrarian society and there were many children sitting around a farm family table. It was only fitting and proper that children be seen at the dinner table and the adults were the ones to do all the talking.  This tradition fits along with Kazakhs where their young children were encouraged to sit and listen to the older and wiser members of the family.  Early on the Kazakhs were expected to listen and learn, really listen to the stories told orally and commit them to memory.  It was also the duty of adults 40 years old and older to use proverbs that they had memorized to explain life lessons to the children.

 

Again my experience teaching for a year and half in a Kyrgyz university 15 years ago showed the Kyrgyz students picked up the English language quickly despite the lack of any western style textbooks simply because the young people were good at memorizing and listening to intonation patterns.  That is essentially what language learning is all about, listening, imitating and memorizing.  I observed that oral skills prevailed in learning English for the Central Asians but understandably not written skills which requires certainly more reading.

 

That reminds me of something else Kim told me about some of her Kazakh helpers who have no concept of putting books away on a bookshelf.  Since all knowledge was committed to memory and living in a yurt and moving from place to place according to the season, Kazakhs owned no books.  Therefore, her Kazakh helpers will typically put books back upside down or binding cover to the inside and not facing out so you can read the title.  I suppose when westerners grow up from kindergarten on with access to libraries, you don’t realize that those without books or libraries would even care how to “properly” place a book on its shelf. 

 

Forbidden Subjects Among Kazakhs

What is taboo in general talk among Kazakhs?  Obviously money is not, nor the lack of it.  The borrowing of money is okay too.  However, nothing regarding the home and its personal affairs is allowed such as if a parent is having trouble with a child or if a husband is beating his wife.  All those topics are verboten outside the family.  Kim told me about a young bride who was getting initiated into her new family and having to serve her in-laws.  If the father-in-law was not happy with the way she served him tea, he could beat her.  That is why it is said the bride wears braids because once married she has no time to even fix her hair.  So busy is the young woman learning all the family traditions in her new home under the tutelage of her mother-in-law.  Kim said there is even a tradition she heard about where the in-laws wash each other’s clothes to show their solidarity with each other.  However, it is the bride who must suffer and keep all this pain to herself especially if she is married into a domineering family.

 

Neighbors and Mutual Indebtedness

Kim also related how being one’s neighbor in Kazakhstan is very important.  She told me about her neighbor in Almaty who had a goat.  When Kim’s youngest daughter was born and wasn’t gaining much weight, her Kazakh neighbor took it upon herself to daily bring goat’s milk for the baby to plump up.  Kim wanted to pay her neighbor money but the woman would have nothing to do with payment.  All she wanted from Kim was a promise of “insurance” that if anything happened to her goat, Kim would pay for the vet’s bill.  This reminded me of when I lived in China where the Chinese try to build “guanxi.” Where you are mutually indebted to another person, they can exact a favor from you on their own terms if they have done something for you earlier.  Money is totally out of the picture, it is a “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine” approach.

 

Some cultural afterthoughts

Of course, Kim and I talked about many other things as we sat on top of the Kok Tobe hill the other day.  Such as men are the only ones now to greet each other with “assalai magaleikum!” and the response in kind is “Aleikum assalaam.”  Also, how important it is for men to find others born in the same year as they were born, called kordas or something like that.  As if Kazakh men who share the same birth year are blood brothers.

 

One last thing that Kim told me and I’ve personally observed in my university setting is that the Kazakh people need someone to blame for their misfortunes.  This is because for them as Muslims, Allah cannot be blamed.  An example Kim gave was when a family had 7 girls and 3 boys and one of the boys died.  The death was attributed to a Russian who had just moved into the neighborhood and supposedly gave the boy the “evil eye.”  Someone else, outside of the clan, is to be held responsible for any sadness visited upon the family.  We talked of many other things but I wanted to document those things I remembered most vividly from Kim’s own experiences in this culture and land of Kazakhstan, a place we want to know and love.

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Kazakhstan’s “Elephant in the Room”

Thankfully we passed through the arduous attestation test in Kazakhstan.  Irregardless, without the help of President Nazarbayev, we still have an “elephant in the room!!!”  What we have at our institution of “higher learning” in Kazakhstan is an anomoly and does not fit in the same framework with the rest of the universities in this country and especially with the Ministry of Education.  Supposedly we have a western brand of education and the classes are to be taught in English.  (There exist many different Englishes in the world.)

Therefore, some of our dear Kazakh students who are learning their own Kazakh language along with knowing Russian need to know English as well.  Add to that their needing to be competent in using the computer to access information besides the computer games they love to play.  I see at least three problems and I know of many more which should to be eradicated from our university.

First, we have a few liberal, left wing liberals from the West who are promulgating their anti-God, anti-religion, pluralism, multiculturalism, diversity dogma to the Kazakh people who have had enough of the tripe handed to them.  They are eager to re-discover their roots before the tsarist government of Russia came to Central Asia (although they helped them from being annihilated by another foe).  After that was the Soviet propaganda of collectivization that destroyed Kazakh families.  So, there may be good reason to be skeptical of the West’s brand of education.

Second, you have Muslims from third world nations who speak a different kind of “English” teaching in subjects that are difficult enough for our dear students.  But it is not the Kazakh students fault for not understanding them.  Sometimes we as native speakers of English can’t understand these professors either!!!

Third, we may have especially in the MInistry of Education in Astana and other Kazakh university people who are really just former Soviet, communist leaders.  They love to accept bribes where plagiarism and cheating is rife.  These practices go on in all other universities in the country of Kazakhstan. However, our university maintains it is free of all that so that we can assess what our students REALLY know.  Our university’s motto is “Education to Change Society” really wants to end “the ways of the world.”  Some graduates of our university feel defeated when they go out and find the rest of their country isn’t changing. 

We have Kazakh students who are starving for better education in their country but we still have an “elephant in the room” that needs to be removed.  Reminds me of the quote about the starving Kazakhs from “The Silent Steppe” where on p. 189 Mukhamet Shayakhmetov wrote:

When you look at archival documents relating to those tragic years, you can see how much public money was spent not only on industry, but also on endless conferences attended by thousands upon thousands of people all over the Soviet Union.  The funds squandered on these alone would have been sufficient to save many lives.  Tragically, however, our leaders were more concerned about receiving accolades from Party delegates than they were about the deaths of working people.

 

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Expelled: Enemy of the People

In his book, The Silent Steppe, Mukhamet Shayakhmetov explains how he was able to embrace his communist-indoctrinated education in the late 1930s despite having been a victim of its ideology.  He will be forever thankful to his primary school teacher who gave him a chance at education despite the fact that his family had been labeled “Enemy of the People.”  Several more quotes from Shayakhmetov’s book and I will put it to rest.  Now in movie theaters near those in the U.S. is a new movie Ben Stein produced titled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”  Someone I know from Ukraine sent me his take on it and he can hardly wait to get back to the U.S. to see this “blockbuster” movie.

 

p. 251 Like so many others, I saw no contradiction in working within the system which had persecuted my family, choosing to believe that our sufferings were attributable to unscrupulous individuals, beginning with Stalin’s Soviet Party chief in Kazakhstan, Feodor Goloshchekin, and then the underlings down the scale, rather than Stalin himself and the ruthlessness of the ideology he worked to or the true nature of this personal tyranny…However evil the practice of the system, which led to mass destruction for the Kazakhs, I neither fostered nor harbored hostility for the system itself.  Indeed, I clung to its merits.  Education in a Marxist-Leninist frame was in significant measure education, and for that I was thankful.

 

I know that but for the perceptive and kindhearted mentor, I would never have got it or been able to complete my secondary education; and I have recalled Semion Akimovich’s kindness and generosity of spirit every day of my life since.

 

p. 255 Soviet historians used to contend that all the campaigns the Russian armed forces ever engaged in were conducted out of necessity, to defend the country against aggressors who were continuously attempting to capture its riches and threatening its independence: according to them, Russia was always a peaceloving power and had not once started a war.  The Soviet Government used the same cliché to justify its actions in Ukraine and Belorussia, claiming that it had extended a brotherly hand to save them from being enslaved by the German capitalist forces.  Most of us fell for all of this.

 

 

Expelled” Being expelled?  Well, you can be certain that the latest documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, has no more hit the theaters, some 1,000 of them nationwide, than the attacks against it have ratcheted up…This documentary which exposes the extreme liberal and atheistic bias of American education against academic openness and freedom in the scientific field, developed and produced by a very famous man who is not even a professing Christian but rather a Jew, has received strong endorsement by some of America’s most well known educators, scientists, and Christian leaders.  It is a glaring expose’ of how American academia has systematically stifled even the slightest discussion of the possibility that man came into existence through some form of intelligent design instead of a “big bang” that developed over millions of years from a tiny glob of something in a swamp into a technical marvel called man with an intelligence so advanced that one single brain cell can process three trillion bits of information per second. The main website for “Expelled” is this link

 

 

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Two-headed Serpent from Kazakh Folktales

Contrary to what some extreme left-wing liberals from western universities promulgate, Marxism and communism destroyed Kazakh families (as well as other families in the former Soviet Union).  The following Kazakh folktale is recited from Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s mother in his book “The Silent Steppe.”

 

p. 260 ‘Remember the old folk-tale about the two-headed serpent that conquered a kingdom and forced the people to provide it with a goat and young girl every month by way of a tax?  It threatened to kill off everyone if they didn’t say yes, so the people agreed to pay.  The families would take it in turns to deliver the victims to the serpent; it would gobble them up straightaway and then sleep peacefully for the rest of the month.  But as soon as it woke up, it would demand more food.  There was another bit in the story about how the parents used to suffer the night before they had to give their daughter up to be sacrificed.”

 

The next quote shows the destruction of the family structure according to Kazakh traditions during the era of communism.  (I make no apologies about being anti-communism, anti-socialism and anti-Marxism)  I am very thankful to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s writings to point out what he experienced under the two-headed serpent.

 

p. 170 Apart from consistently not having enough to eat, what drove my uncle to despair was the way Communism had undermined the foundations of family life.  He did not have any children of his own, but he had adopted his brother’s young daughter and his elder sister’s son.  It was a common practice among Kazakhs to adopt a relative’s child, even though the biological parents might still be alive, in order to reduce the strain on a family which already had a lot of mouths to feed: the parents for their part took an oath that they were giving their children up voluntarily, and would never demand them back or consider them as their own.  This was strictly observed even after the adopted parents’ deaths – although the biological parents might take their children back, the children retained their adopted parents’ surname and continued to be regarded as their offspring.  It was not just that people were afraid of breaking an oath they had made before God: their principles also forbade them from doing so.

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Eradicate the West’s Ignorance of Kazakhs’ Suffering

 Here’s a “questionable topic” for those “elite intellectuals” educated from western universities who have no idea what the Kazakh people suffered in the early 1930s when the communists forced the nomadic people into collectivization.  Starvation resulted, killing off at least one million people in a two-three year period.  This tragedy happened to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s family and many other Kazakhs like him.

I had planned to write a blog entry today about our dear Kazakh students not knowing how to cite sources properly using in-text citations according to APA style. Seems so trivial after reading The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin, I thought better of it.  Insidious elements continue to lurk about wanting to keep these truths covered up about Kazakhstan’s past.

 This should not mean revenge to all people from the West about their “ignorance” which reigns supreme about what socialism and communism did to destroy millions of lives throughout the former Soviet Union.  While we, as westerners, don’t read about the Soviet atrocities instigated by Lenin and Stalin’s dogma written in our history textbooks about Kazakhstan’s suffering, students at our university do not understand why it is important to give credit to an author and what he wrote. 

I give HUGE credit to Shayakhmetov for bravely writing these words about his past and having it translated into English.  Shayakhmetov valued education and I think he would want all young Kazakh students to learn as much as possible [in English] and not waste their educational opportunities to help the rest of the world know what REALLY happened on this great land.

p. 26 “These were people who sincerely believed all the slogans about the Soviet authorities ‘empowering the poor, freeing them all from bondage’ and ‘granting them the same rights and privileges as everyone else.’  Most of the activists were illiterate.  If a very small percentage of them could read and write, it was because some time in the past they had been taught by the poorly educated aul mullah.  Some of these young men had learnt to recognize the letters of the alphabet and read words by the syllable at the short-lived schools which were set up to eradicate illiteracy.

 

p. 45 Father’s anxiety to get me used to work on the soil did not mean that he was unconcerned about my schooling.  He deeply regretted being illiterate himself, and wanted me to go on studying until I was properly educated; he used to say, “If I have it my way, you’ll be an old man by the time you’ve finished.” Being educated, as far as he was concerned, meant learning to read and write letters, composing petitions and requests to official bodies and dealing with other business matters.”

 

p. 48 “in late 1930, and early 1931, the campaign to eradicate individual farms and collectivise agriculture becme more vicious.  Lenin (who died in 1924) had said that ‘Every minute of every hour, millions of individual peasant farms are engendering exploiter elements and must be destroyed.” And the Government was taking him at his word.

 

p. 49 Those [Russian] officials put in charge of running the country [Kazakhstan], were mainly strangers to it and neither knew nor particularly wanted to find out about the customs and mind-set of the nomadic population.  Some of them who originated from Russia, had no understanding of the differences between stock-breeding in nomadic Kazakhstan and the agricultural districts of their own homeland.

 

p. 72 The founder of our clan, Nauei, the progenitor of 25 male descendants in the course of one century (1820-1920).  If each of them had emulated him, one would have expected the total increase in the number of males over the next 100 years to be 625.  Instead, by 1990, it was seven.  Such was the tragic fate of our entire nation in the twentieth century.

 

p. 103 “People’s perception of living standards varies strangely, depending on their own circumstances at the time.  Only a year ago, Uncle Zhantursyn had been looked upon as an impoverished peasant with only one horse to his name; now his neighbors, who were all collective farmers, reckoned he was ‘wealthy.’  What it was really about, however, was the extreme poverty of the collective farmers.

 

p. 119 “It seems to me that, compared to later on, the farmers in those early years of collectivization had a more responsible approach to their work; they still had the natural instincts of honest workers and landowners, and had not yet learnt ways of shirking their duties.

 

p. 132 “The Kazakh deportees also used to get together in the evenings after work, but they did not play music.  They spent most of the time talking to each other, retelling epic tales and legends about warriors and good and evil rulers, and lyrical epic poems about people in love.  The men used to recite them from memory.  Whenever the conversation turned to everyday topics, the women would improvise songs and sing sorrowfully about the deportees’ misfortunes, nostalgically recalling their idyllic past life.  Touching upon the reasons that brought them to Ridder, they would mostly blame the aul activists who were responsible for carrying out Soviet policies.

What I still remember of these evenings when Kazakhs got together are the various fairy-tales and epic poems that were recited, not people singing at the top of their voices, laughing raucously or dancing wildly like the Russians.  In those days Kazakh people did not feel like having fun: life under Socialism was just too grim.

 

p. 140 “ On 1 September [1932], the children of Pozdnopalovka (near Ridder) and the children of the Russian special migrants started school.  Teaching was, of course, conducted in Russian.  None of the Kazakh children went to school; just as before, it was something I could only dream about.  Anyway, I had no time to attend lessons, as every day – from morning until nightfall – Mother and I were out looking for food.  I used to watch other children of my age enviously as they made their way to school, and sometimes when I spotted them playing noisily during break, I could not stop tears welling into my eyes.  I longed to study with them – but it was not to be.

 

 

 

 

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