Gulbakhyt’s family story on her father’s side is one of fleeing the communist authorities which goes along the same line as several of the others I have heard from other students. Because his family was rich back in 1936, her grandfather escaped to China. Back in Soviet Kazakhstan they had been labeled “kulaks” simply for having too many sheep or herds of cattle. Consequently, Gulbakhyt’s father was born in China and went to school there but he only knew Kazakh. His family returned in 1956 to Karaganda, Kazakhstan when her father was about 9 or 10 years old.
As is true of other stories I have heard about “buried treasure” Gulbakhyt’s grandfather had hid all the gold and silver he owned before he left for China because he knew at the Chinese border he would have been stopped by the guards and would have lost all. We oohed and ahhed about what might have been if they knew where the treasure was hidden.
This triggered a memory from her classmate Baktiyar who has an aunt on his father’s side who escaped to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. They lived in a very bad situation before they moved back to Bishkek. Recently the aunt’s family received a letter from a Swiss bank telling of money deposited by their grandfather when he went to Switzerland during the purges. We joked with Baktiyar that he could help his distant aunt in retrieving the money by accompanying her to Switzerland. No, he would rather stay in Kazakhstan and let them sort it out on their own.
Another one of their classmates named Medet told us about his grandfather on his father’s side who was from Taldykorgan. He had owned many horses. He died in 1997 and had worked as a farmer on a kolhoz (collective farm). His grandmother had died earlier than her husband with health problems in the lungs.
Medet’s father studied at the medical institute and after he graduated as a dentist, he went to Semipalatinsk with his family. Actually it was a military city of Iagos where his father was stationed. Medet is the second in the family and his name means “Hope for Parents,” his brother was born in 1982, Medet born in 1984 and his sister in 1986.
As any good Kazakh should know, Medet was able to name all his ancestors back seven generations. I should have asked for the correct spelling of the names but this is how it sounded to me. His grandfather – Abuzatik, GG – Sulimin, GGG – Zahiby, GGGG - Mohamajan, GGGGG - Kozhakart. Next time someone gives me these important ancestor names going back that far, I will be sure to get the accurate spelling. I asked for the meanings of each of these names but Medet didn’t know.
On Medet’s mother’s side of the family his grandfather was also employed at a kolhoz and he was known as a manager who cares for the biological part of running a big farm. In other words, he was the Harvest Engineer. His mother was from the Aktobe or northeast part of Kazakhstan. Medet’s father and mother met in Almaty. His mother went to the Medical institute and became a pharmacist, his older brother is a dentist and his sister works for Air Astana with child care.
I learned a Russian expression from Baktiyar the other day, in the rough translation it is “don’t sit on my neck.” This means, “don’t be a burden on others or to be a freeloader.” In actual truth, the young people of today, especially in Kazakhstan, highly respect the older generation. Older people are not shunted aside or ignored and yet I’ve heard stories where many widows or babushkas cannot survive on the pensions they are currently living on. Those without family are nearly destitute. I want to put in a plug for the “Hands of Mercy” ministry that helps feed at least 90 older people in Almaty because noone else is helping them. I have met and know the people who bring cheer to these cast aside living “treasures.”
My students have inherited from their grandparents some amazing stories about their family histories if only we would take time to sit and listen to them. It makes me respect this culture more and more and desire that many more westerners would appreciate the hardships these older people from different nationalities living in Kazakhstan have endured.