Posts tagged Stanford

Dr. Olcott’s “turn of phrase” about the Kazakhs

Dr. Martha Brill Olcott wrote a much more scholarly book about Kazakhstan, titled “The Kazakhs” than did Colin Thubron in his short chapters of “The Lost Heart of Asia.”  That is, if you can manage to navigate past the minute detail she got from her plethora of other “scholarly” sources.  My husband bought this book in 1992 which was published by Hoover Institution Press at Stanford in 1987.  Judging by Olcott’s sources, 100 western (in English, not counting her own) and around 350 Russian, obviously she knows Russian and adeptly translated all her sources. But my question is, are they accurate even though this volume on the Kazakhs was in a Hoover Institution series about the Crimean Tartars and Volga Tartars, Estonians and Georgians as well.


What is also obvious to me is that she shows a dearth of writings in the Kazakh language, only 17 that she documented in her bibliography.  My husband wrote in the margins of this book which he read over 17 years ago that he suspected Soviet or communist propaganda was bleeding through her Russian sources about the Kazakhs.  I would posit that someone else needs to write about the Kazakhs in English for curious western readers and have a more thorough going approach to the history of this great country.


What I found of interest in Olcott’s seminal work was in her Conclusion about Olzhas Suleimenov.  Remember as you read her words that it was before the Soviet Union dissolved and there was an internalized tug-of-war going on over the nationalities question.


“A group of Kazakh writers and historians has provided particular trouble for the regime because of their preoccupation with the Kazakh past and with the historical figures who helped shape it.  These individuals seek the right to present a Kazakh-centered view of history, one which implicitly rejects Moscow’s contention that all history must be told from the Russian point of view.  However, these people are often treated as though they have taken the first step toward ideological heresy.  A case in point is the book Az I Ia (Alma Ata, 1975), by the poet Olzhas Suleimenov, which seeks to retell the “Igor’s tale” from a Turkic perspective….


…Kazakh scholars may study individuals who opposed Russian conquest, but the conquest itself must still be depicted as voluntary submission by the Kazakhs, since Russian contact with the Kazakhs must always be construed as positive.  Because Suleimenov’s book reversed this relationship and denied the Russians a central role in the history of the medieval period, Moscow reacted furiously. (p. 253)


Still, Kazakh intellectuals remain preoccupied with preserving the historical legacy of their past, particularly since the economic policies of the 1960s and 1970s obliterated the nomadic way of life in all but the desert regions of the republic.  These intellectuals, like many of their Third World counterparts, are glorifying a past that poses them no direct risk.  They no longer have to suffer the wrath of traditional leadership, and so the past may be romanticized.  Many prominent contemporary Kazakh poets – such as O. Suleimenov and K. Murzaliev – and novelists – such as S. Sanbaev, A. Alimzhanov, and I. Esenberlin – have made their reputations from works that rely heavily on historical themes in a tradition as old as Kazakh oral literature itself.  Some of these writers, such as Suleimenov and Sanbaev, talk about the old values and tell tales about nomadic life before the revolution; others write historical novels about important personages in Kazakh history, such as Esenberlin’s Khan Kene (1971, about Kenisary Kasimov) and Kochevniki (1979, a three-volume portrait of Khan Abu’l Khayr).


These books, romantic treatments of times long past, reflect the influence of socialist realism as much as of traditional Kazakh themes; they are in no way meant to incite Kazakhs to resist Russians.  The books were published and many were widely distributed and translated as well; they are meant to portray the distinctive heritage of which all Kazakhs should be proud.  However, Moscow tends to view any increase in Kazakh national self-awareness as dangerous and so watches the Kazakh authors closely…” (p. 254)


“The philosophy of the Kazakh intellectuals is far more difficult to categorize and may ultimately be more dangerous.  Apparently harmless demands for greater Kazakh cultural self-determination potentially threaten the status quo, although the search for a modern Kazakhstan has thus far been restricted to cultural autonomy (witness Suleimenov’s reinstatement) – appear to have been met, and Moscow’s attack on erring Kazakhs has been relatively low-key.  Were the Kazakhs to demand greater control of their economic and political lives, they would be unlikely to receive a mild response.” (p. 255)


“The impact of the tradition of Kazakh secular nationalism on present political developments in Kazakhstan is difficult to assess, but some points are clear.  A minority in their own republic, the Kazakhs have managed to exert strong control not only in their political life but in cultural, social and religious affairs as well; they have politicized cultural issues in a way that other Central Asian nationalities have not.  As a result they have managed to preserve at least part of their history from complete reinterpretation by the Soviets.  Their literature is strongly linked to that of the prerevolutionary period, and although heavily ideological hack writers exist whose works receive wide distribution, they do not overshadow the large group of serious Kazakh writers.” (p. 256)


Yes, I would like to meet these serious writers, or at least read their works if translated into English.  I want to be able to read about this buried treasury of Kazakh history from what has been handed down orally for centuries.  I would hope that some of my own Kazakh students would take up this challenge and let the western world know what an amazing culture and country this really is!



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Solzhenitsyn’s Writings Live On and On

The following are texts from Kapusta Boxes 9 and 10 labeled “Solzhenitsyn Clippings 1977-1980” folder at Hoover Institution archives at Stanford University which I accessed June 15-19, 2005 regarding Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn.  God rest his soul, he saw much heartache in his 89 years of living.  His written words will live on and on.

Kapusta, (means cabbage in Russian) was a Ukrainian diaspora who had a high profile job with the State Department in Washington, D.C. and he followed Solzhenitsyn’s career very closely by clipping many newspaper and magazaine articles concerning Solzhenitsyn.  Many Ukrainians would object to Solzhenitsyn’s dismissive comments on Ukraine being similar to a state of Russia like Pennsylvania is to the U.S. (paraphrase of what A.I.S. purportedly stated, he was a Russophile to the nth degree).  However, no other writer documented so literally against the communist government as did A.I.S.  These atrocities were visited upon all nationalities besides the Russians, which would include Ukrainians, Kazakhs, et al.  My concern is for others to know what great sadness these nationalities went through, especially under Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s.


1) Sept. 1977 article by Raymond H. Anderson “Solzhenitsyn seeking chronicles of Russian émigrés experiences.”  Solzhenitsyn hoped to deposit stories in a special archive in Vermont. “For the library he has expressed particular interest in memoirs of the first 25 years after the communist seizure of power in 1917, the period of harsh collectivization of agriculture, the fear and suffering in the 1920s and 1930s caused by purses, arrests and other repressions, the ordeals that accompanied the German invasion…”


2) Asia Edition – TIME magazine front cover with four pictures of Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn on Sept. 27, 1968 Titled: “Russia’s dissident Intellectuals”


Book reviews London times June 27, 1974 by Nicholas Bethell

“A work of genius that is more political than literary…The Gulag Archipelago. Is far more important, not only because it is better written, but also because it assails the foundations of communism, which is still a powerful force in many countries today, and threatens the credibility of the leaders of one of today’s superpowers…many on the Left in Britain too will find the book hard to stomach.  Not many decades have passed since “The New Statesman” defended the purge trials and Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote:  “The administration (of soviet prisons) is well spoken of and is now apparently as free from physical cruelty as any prisons in any country are ever likely to be.” 


3) Sunday April 13, 1980 Washington Post

Solzhenitsyn wrote “Why America Fails to understand Russia

“Anyone not hopelessly blinded by his own illusions must recognize that the West today finds itself in a crisis, perhaps even in mortal danger.  One could point to numerous particular causes or trace the specific stages over the last 60 years which have led to the present state of affairs.  But the ultimate cause clearly lies in 60 years of obstinate blindness to the true nature of communism…

Two mistakes are especially common: One is the failure to understand the radical hostility of communism to mankind as a whole—the failure to realize that communism is irredeemable, that there exist no ‘better’ variants of communism; that it is incapable of growing ‘kinder’ that it cannot survive as an ideology without using terror, that consequently, to coexist with communism on the same planet is impossible…”

“link between communism and Russia where it first started.”


4) Folder 9-7 Literary Gazette, No. 46 Moscow, Nov. 12, 1969

Chronicle in the Writer’s Union of the RSFSR


“…A meeting of the Ryazan writers organization devoted to the tasks of strengthening ideological and educational work has been held.  In their speeches the meeting participants emphasized that under the conditions of exacerbated ideological struggle in the modern world every Soviet writer had increased responsibility for his creativity and public behavior.


In this connection the meeting participants raised the question of Ryazan writers organization member A. I. Solshenitzen. The meeting unanimously noted that A.I. Solshenitzen’s behavior was of an antisocial nature and fundamentally contradicted the principles and tasks formulated in the USSR writers Union statute.


As is known, in recent years the name and works of A. Solzhenitsyn have been actively employed by inimical bourgeois propaganda for slanderous campaigns against our country.  However,  A. I. Solzhenitzen not only did not express his attitude toward this campaign publicly but, in spite of the criticism of the Soviet public and the repeated recommendations of the USSR Writers Union, by certain of his actions and statements he essential helped to inflate the anti-Soviet racket around his name.


Proceeding from this, the meeting of the Ryazan writers organization resolved to exclude A. Solzhenitzen from the USSR Writers Union.


The RSFSR Writers Union board secretariat confirmed the decision of the Ryazan Writers organisation.”

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