Posts tagged Uyghurs

How fluid are Kazakhstan’s borders with China?

While I lived in Harbin, Heilongjiang in the late 1980s, I had always heard about Urumqi in the western part of China.  Northeast China is a LOOOOnnnggg ways away. Just compare the distance of East Coast of the U.S. with the West Coast.  I lived closer to Urumqi while I lived in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana.  Missed my chance to see what used to be considered Uyghurstan or whatever spelling you choose for an ethnic group that was Muslim and did not look Oriental.  I remember when I was visiting in Shanghai or Guangzhou, we would be bombarded outside of our hotel with “change money, change money…” by the Uyghurs.  I wonder if they still do that or if they have become more sophisticated in making money off of the clueless foreigners.

Anyway, I know friends of mine who did cross the Kazakhstan border into China and it was an arduous task.  Long waits and no service mentality to come to the aid of hapless travelers who didn’t know what they were in for except an adventure to China.  I’m including a map of Kazakhstan and China’s border from a Chinese perspective.  I would like to know more about this region of the world.  I’ve suggested many times to my husband that we could always go to Mongolia to teach, another place I’d like to visit.  We shall see.  For now, maybe I should just rent out the movie “Close to Eden.”  Besides wonderful cinematography, it shows a clash of Chinese and Mongolian and Russian cultures all in one mix.

I’m also wondering about human trafficking between the borders of China and Kazakhstan (or Kyrgyzstan for that matter), how easy is it to cross illegally over the Tien Shan mountains?  I need to find someone who knows the geography of this little known area in Central Asia.  Of course, the traffickers know where the leaky places are and perhaps they have also greased the palms of those who are in charge of law enforcement at the borders. So much corruption on both sides, too many victims will sadly fall prey to the traffickers deceitful lies.

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Taking Exception to Kazakhstan being a “Dumping Ground”

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

What I found with a quick google search:

 Stalin’s Dumping Ground, By Jeri Laber

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Kazakh Students Thoughts on Stalin (Part II)

The following is a continuation of yesterday’s blog about my Kazakhstani students responding to the question about Stalin and Vavilov whose life and reputation as a great scientist were destroyed by Soviet policies in the name of collectivization in Kazakhstan

A. Y. – Personally, I do not believe in the effectiveness of system existed in USSR.  On my point of view, it’s only the people’s will that made socialism exist so long.  Maybe because of that I do not have positive attitude towards Joseph Stalin.  According to Christopher Robbins book there were millions of people who died, lots of prisons organized. And all of these facts were hidden from citizens.  As I’ve heard, the extract from “Apples are from Kazakhstan” I’m more persuaded in my opinion.  Yes, it’s a widespread thought that if there wouldn’t be Stalin’s politics in 1939-1945 USSR will not win Great Patriotic War.  But I disagree with that.  How can be admired such person, who killed intelligentsia (destroyed traditions, culture) who deported different nations without their wanting, who sent own citizens to Front of the fighting people?

 

L. K. – I know a bit about Joseph Stalin and when you ask older people in KZ, they all have different points of view about him.  Some older generation people praise him and say good things about him.  At the same time, there are many people who think that he was a despot, especially those whose close relatives suffered from his regime.  For instance, if their husband or father was killed, sent away to the prison or camps because they were “enemies of nation” as Stalin said and they were not guilty.  So many people died because of it, families had been destroyed.  Their wives were sent to a special place to live, children couldn’t study at universities.  During Stalin’s regime, people were afraid of everything.  They were afraid to say something freely about the regime or their life otherwise they would be punished severely.

 

M.T. – I think that Joseph Stalin was a very bad leader, because he did everything just for Russia, not USSRMoscow and in its only interests.  Also, he tried to erase the culture of nations, therefore, everyone spoke only Russian, learned Russian history and literature.  He didn’t let people who didn’t think the way he did to live in their motherland.  He tortured some of them worse than fascists. It is hard to think of what it could have been if he wasn’t a ruler.  But for us personally, it could be that Uyghurs had their own country, separate from China or they still would be a part of ChinaKyrgyzstan and people who died in plane crash would have lived.

 

K. S. I think of course if in Soviet Union was no Stalin life of all people was different.  Some people said that Stalin is a great man, but most people of course disagree.  In Soviet Union was many prisons where famous people were, x-scientists and others.  Vavilov was in prison too and he died there.  I think its stupid to try to do nomad nature, culture and people into agricultural.  From history we see that people can do nothing against nature and human nature.  Stalin was powerful and even despotic man.

 

N. U. – J. Stalin was one of the famous persons in twentieth century.  He controlled all over big land and huge population all over 30 years.  In that time in , Stalin had a great impact to people, that they always felt afraid and also they felt patriotism of community.  But today we have so many arguments about him, that the most starting hate him.  And the many reasons was the year of 1925-35, but when there was Second World War, people from Kazakhstan say that he was great person.  So, whatever person some to government, he will always have the enemy and people who loves him.  So, it is political system and it is the main rule.  Not all people will love government.

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