Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Translation: Qudaiberdiev, "Qazaq Has No Month Names"

There are no month names in Qazaq

"Saryarqa," Issue 25, March 22, 1918. 

Our names for the months come from the names of stars [astrology]. We understand the stars' names as connected to the time of the year in which a person is born. That's why sometimes we argue whether "it's this or that month." For example, half of us say "Qangtar" and half say "Aqpan" for the star [astrological sign] of one born on the 15th of December.

In my opinion, our ancient ancestors (the ancient Turks) may have had names for the months. However, what those names were has been lost and the names of the stars we have mixed up. Those who have heard about the old months from old scholars have written to "Saryarqa." We say that maybe the old Turks didn't need to name the months. They named twelve stars [astrological signs], which made a year. Then they gave a name to each year in twelve, called a "mushel." There is also a name for each "mushel." After five times, or sixty years, the system repeats. So the Turks only paid attention to descriptions of the moon phases, as in "a new moon," "an old moon," "a full moon."

Now let's get to the stars' names. In our country there are many different names for the stars. For example, please look at the names of the months (from stars) in Issue 173 of the "Qazaq" newspaper in 1916, written out by the honored Hussein Ali mulla: in order, the months are Äz, March, Otzhaqpas, Kökek, Shilde, Sarsha, Qyrküyek, Mizan, Qarasha, Qazan, Qangtar and Aqpan, so that the name of one of them was unknown (March). However, here we call them, in order: Kökek (March), Mamyr, Mausym, Shilde, Tamyz, Mizam, Qazan, Qarasha, Zheltoqsan, Qangtar, Aqpan and one month.

Do you see the problem!? And how amazing it is that a Qazaq hearing these two can name another list of months! We see that the names of the highest stars come loosely from Arabic. For example, Mizan, Mamyr (Ma'mur), Mausym (Mausim) - these three are from Arabic. In the proverb that goes "Қараша-қауыс, кәрi-құртаңды тауыс," "Қауыс" is from Arabic. Also, in the proverb "Сәуiр болмай тәуiр болмас," the word "Сәуiр" is Arabic, and there are similar examples for the rest. My point is this: We should find old Turkic names for the months to use in Qazaq. If such names cannot be found, the people must get used to the Arabic names. If so, I think that all stars should be appointed to name only one month and the order of the stars [in astrology] must be kept in mind.

Қазақша ай аты жоқ

"Сарыарқа". 1918 22 Март. No. 25.

Бiздiң ай аты деп жүргенiмiз - жұлдыз аты. Жұлдызға қойған атты сол кездегi туған айға қоя саламыз да, ай аты деп ұғынамыз. Сол себептi кейде "бұл бәлен ай" деп таласамыз. Мысалы, декабрь жұлдызының он бесiнде туған айды жартымыз "қантар", жартымыз "ақпан" деймiз.

Менiң ойымша, бiздiң ескi тұқымда (ескi турiкте) ай аты болса керек. Бiрақ ол ескi аттар не бiржола ұмытылды, не жұлдыз аттарына араласып кеттi-ау деймiн. Осы айтылған ескi айлар туралы бiлетiндерiн ескi құлақты қариялар, оқымыстылар "Сарыарқаға" жазса екен. Ескi түрiктерде ай аты болмай қоймаса керек дегенiмiз: олар он екi жұлдызға ат қойып - бiр жыл жасап, он екi жылға ат қойып - бiр мүшел жасап, бес мүшелге ат қойып - алпыс жылдық бiр айналыс жасап отырған түрiк, "жаңа ай", "ескi ай", "толған ай" деп отырған түрiк не қылып ескерусiз қалдырсын.

Ендi жұлдыз атына келейiк. Бiздiң әр жерде жұлдыз аты әр түрлi. Мысалы, 1916 жылғы 173-нөмiр "Қазақ" газетiнде ардақты Хасенғалидың Байеке молдадан жазып алған ай (жұлдыз) атын қараңыз: әз, март, отжақпас, көкек, шiлде, сарша, қыркүйек, мизан, қараша, қазан, қаңтар һәм ақпан, ендi бiреуiнiң атын бiлмейдi. Aл бiздiң жақта: көкек (март), мамыр, маусым, шiлде, тамыз, мизам, қазан, қараша, желтоқсан, қаңтар, ақпан һәм бiрдiң айы.

Көрiңiз бе, атында қанша шатақ! Және бұл екеуiн естiген басқа түрлi ат қоюшы қазақтар мұны қандай таңырқар екен! Онан соң жоғарғы жұлдыз аттары арабшадан алынғаны көрiнiп тұр. Мысалы, мизан, мамыр (мағмур), маусым (маусим) - үшеуi де арабша. Мақалдағы "Қараша-қауыс, кәрi-құртаңды тауыс" дегендегi "қауыс", "Сәуiр болмай тәуiр болмас" дегендегi "сәуiр" арабша, тағы сондайлар толып жатыр. Мақсұт: қазақша ай атын ескi түрiкшесiн iздеп таппақ. Ол табылмаса, амалсыз арабша ай атына халықты жаттықтыру керек деп бiлемiн. Һәм жұлдыз атын тамам бiр атпен ретiн бұзбай атау керек деп ұғамын.

Notes on the Translation

Zodiac Fountain
Zodiac Fountain outside Academy of Sciences in Almaty
 Astrology and the Zodiac, while perhaps a laughable subject of study for many in the United States, provides much interesting insight in historical studies. While many dismiss astrology as useless superstition, the fact remains that many more people used to practice and study this field -- and still many people continue today, around the world.


In this article, Shahkarim mentions not only the monthly zodiac, but also the 12-year cycle. This cycle is familiar to anyone eating at a Chinese restaurant, with a few exceptions. The tiger is called a барыс, which is a more general term for large cat, including both the extinct Aral tigers and the snow leopard. The dragon is sometimes called a snail, but there are competing versions of that animal.

There are many that have looked for patterns of particularly fortunate and unfortunate years. In other words, some argue that the Barys (Tiger) year is generally one that brings about enormous change. A typical set of example years (in Kazakhstan, findable on many internet sites): AD 570 (birth year of Muhammad), 1890 (birth year of Mustafa Chokai), 1938 (Stalinist purges), 1986 ("Zheltoqsan" uprisings in Almaty), etc. Now, one can easily suggest that it's odd that Tiger years completely miss both World Wars, as far as citizens of the Russian Empire/Soviet Union were concerned.

Rabbit years are universally bad in this same system, being the years of Zhut (Жұт), famine, war, and other national catastrophes. The Bare Footed Flight of the Kazakhs supposedly began in 1723, a Rabbit year. 1963 was a Rabbit year, during which many livestock died. However, the great hero that united the Kazakhs, Ablai Khan, was born in 1711, a Rabbit year.

My point here is not to dismiss this system, but to point out that so-called "Mushel" years mattered in history at least as much as in contemporary Kazakhstan. Moreover, Shahkarim references the five-mushel-system, which I assume corresponds to the Five Element system (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water) in Chinese astrology, minus the Yin and Yang variations.

The Calendar in Kazakhstan today seems to have followed Shahkarim's suggestion: avoid Arabic names in favor of Turkic names for months. Some of the months' names are descriptive (February is Aqpan, from Aq Iqpa, or White Drifts), while others are neologisms (March is named for vernal equinox holiday Nowruz). When Shahkarim suggested avoiding Arabic names, it's not altogether clear if he meant the Arabic names of Astrological signs (in order in Kazakh spelling, starting with Aquarius): Dalu, Qut, Khamal, Kökek, Säuïr, Zauza, Saratan, Äset, Sümbile (actually Persian, not Arabic), Mïzan, Aqyrap, Qauys, and Zhädi.

Shahkarim also mentions the Arabic names of certain stars [Mizan, Mausym, Mamyr], but here I am confused. If he meant astrological signs, Mizan is the Arabic form of Libra. Mausym (mausum), also the source of English Monsoon, means season generally in Arabic, especially the difference between the rainy and dry seasons (in Kazakh: маусым, мерзiм, мезгiл). I am uncertain what Mamyr means, though perhaps it refers to al-bayt al-ma'mur, the heavenly version of the kaaba around which the angels worship. It is supposed to be directly over the kaaba in the heavens, so perhaps it is the name of a star? I have not found information that suggests or proves this directly.


List of Months/Astrological Signs:
English-Qazaq (Latin)-Qazaq (Cyrillic) - Arabic Astrological Sign (Cyrillic) - English Astrological Sign

  1. January - Qantar - Қаңтар - Дәлу - Aquarius
  2. February - Aqpan - Құт - Pisces
  3. March - Nauryz - Наурыз - Хамал - Aries
  4. April - Kokek OR Sauir - Көкек OR Сәуiр - Сәуiр - Taurus
  5. May - Mamyr - Мамыр - Зауза - Gemini
  6. June - Mausym - Маусым - Саратан  - Cancer
  7. July - Shilde - Шiлде - Әсет - Leo
  8. August - Tamyz - Тамыз - Сүмбiле (PERSIAN) - Virgo
  9. September - Qyrquiek - Қыркүйек - Мiзан - Libra
  10. October - Qazan - Қазан - Aқырап - Scorpio
  11. November - Qarasha - Қараша - Қауыс - Saggitarius
  12. December - Zheltoqsan - Желтоқсан - Жәди - Capricorn
For comparison:
Kazakh Month List A (Hussein Ali)
  1. Äz
  2. [March]
  3. Otzhaqpas
  4. Kökek
  5. Shilde
  6. Sarsha
  7. Qyrküyek
  8. Mizan
  9. Qarasha
  10. Qazan
  11. Qangtar
  12. Aqpan

Kazakh Month List B (Shahkarim)

  1. Kökek
  2. Mamyr
  3. Mausym
  4. Shilde
  5. Tamyz
  6. Mizam
  7. Qazan
  8. Qarasha
  9. Zheltoqsan
  10. Qangtar
  11. Aqpan
  12. ?

Translation: Qudaiberdiev, "About Nationalism"

About Nationalism

April 1918 Issue No. 3 of "Abai" journal, pages 15-16.

I have a few things I wish to say about our esteemed brother Mannan [Turghanbaev]'s article entitled "Nationalism" in the second issue of "Abai."

It seems to me that his point was thus: "Culture is born of nationalism, and humanity is born of culture." One needs proof for this! Looking at this, we see that nationalism and culture are the highest developed in Europe. Are they showing their humanity? In my opinion, they [Europeans] still have not escaped from nationalism, let alone from self-centeredness. And the reason? If nationalism gives birth to culture, it cannot also create a clean heart. We mean a conscience when we say a clean heart in Qazaq (and love of the soul, mercy, and justice). All the children of men must love each other, open their souls, and be just. If clean hearts do not increase, neither can humanity. Making a more complete, intact nation, finding a harmless way to exist with others is the work of the clean heart (conscience). Who is working for that? And our brother Mannan says, "All of the parties' aimed-for goals are correct." If a mistake is made and their intentions not correct, is that not a truth?

In my opinion, the skills of this 20th century - works done with knowledge - we have become like slaves to this unholy lust for knowledge.

In short, how can we reclaim our clean hearts? Where can we find men with clean hearts? Of course we must have a goal, we must have an intention. As Isa, peace be upon him, said: "If you don't do such things, if you don't stop such things, the Lord will not welcome you into Heaven." Everyone needs such a clean heart!

Ұлтшылдық туралы

"Aбай". 1918. No. 3, Сәуiр. 15-16 беттер.

Picture source: http://yvision.kz/post/367113
"Aбай" журналының екiншi нөмiрiнде ардақты Мәнен бауырымыздың "Ұлтшылдық" деген мақаласына бiр ауыз сөз айтқымыз келедi.

Менiң ұғымымша, ол кiсi: "Ұлтшылдықтан мәдениет, мәдениеттен адамшылық туады", - дейдi. Бұған дәлел керек қой! Көрiп отырмыз, ұлтшылдық бен мәдениеттiң ең жоғарғы басқышындағы - Европа, олар адамшылық қылып отыр ма? Менiң ойымша, әлi күнге шейiн асса ұлт, қалса өзiмшiлдiктен оза алған жоқ. Себеп не? Ұлтшылдық мәдениеттi туғызса да, ақ жүрек туғыза алмайда; ақ жүрек дегенiмiз - ұждан (һәмме жанға махаббат, шапағат, ғадiлет), қазақша - тамам адам баласын бауырындай көрiп, жаны ашып, өдiлет қылу. Осы айтылғандай ақ жүрек көбеймей тұрып, адамшылық және алмайды. Ұлтының кемшiлiгiн толтыру, артықты өзгелерге зиянсыз жолмен табу - ақ жүрек (ұждан) iсi. Оны iстеп отырған кiм бар? Және Мәнен бауырымыз: "Партиялардың бәрiнiң көздеген мақсаты дұрыс", - дейдi. Қате қылса да ындыны дұрыс демесе, хақиқат бiреу-ақ емес пе?

Менiң ойымша, осы XX ғасырдың өнерлiлерiнiң - бiлiмi қылған iсiнен - бiле тұра нәпсiсiне құлдығы зор сықылды.

Қорытқанда, ақ жүрек қайтсең табылады? Қайткенде соны көбейте аламыз? Бар мақсат, бар ындын сонда болу керек қой. Ғайса ғалайһисәлемнiң "Пәлендей iстi қылмасаң, пәлендей iстен тыйылмасаң, аспан патшалығына жете алмайсың" дегенi - һәммеге бiрдей ақ жүрек қой!

Notes on the translation

  • I chose to render Aқ жүрек as Clean Heart instead of White Heart to make it closer to the meaning of conscience in English. My rationale is that Aқ is one of the most versatile and idiomatic words in Turkic languages and means more than only the color "white." 
  • Mannan Turghunbaev (1886-1937) was another member of Alash Orda from Semipalatinsk who came of age in the same circle as Abay, Shahkarim Qudaiberdiev, and Akhmet Baitursynov. However, he has not yet received as much research as the other members of his famous cohort. What has been written appeared starting in 1999 and largely in connection with studies on Alash Orda and Alash Orda's de facto capital city of Semipalatinsk. Another piece of evidence of the paucity of research would be his rather short Wikipedia article available only in Kazakh, where most other figures have at least a Kazakh and a Russian language article.
  • "All of the parties' aimed-for goals are correct." // "Партиялардың бәрiнiң көздеген мақсаты дұрыс"  Qudaiberdiev used the plural form of the word party, so I'm not sure to which party (Alash Orda, Bolshevik, etc.) he is referring.
  • After studying my Quran, I don't believe this is an actual quotation of Isa (Jesus), but perhaps from a hadith collection.
  • With thanks to Damesh Satova, Alfrid Bustanov, and Akram Khabibullaev for their feedback on the translation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Shahkarim Qudaiberdiev: Introduction to Translations

I will be posting some translations of some texts written by Shahkarim Qudaiberdiev, but I would like to preface those posts with some information about the author and my reasons for studying him.

Who was Shahkarim Qudaiberdiev?

Picture of Shahkarim which appears in most books about him.
I have no knowledge of its provenance.

Shahkarim Qudaiberdiev (Шәкәрiм Құдайбердiұлы, Шаһкарим in some of his own texts) was born in 1858 and grew up in the steppe region of the Russian Empire bordering the Qing Empire. About his early life I can find few facts, but in middle age he became politically and creatively active. Following a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1906, he began to write. Following the rise of Soviet power in the steppe in 1920, he entered a life of self-exile until his death in 1931. In fact, some sources describe him as a hermit after the early 1920s, though there is little evidence or factual evidence for the last decade of his life. Since the 1990s, he has become a relatively famous historical figure in some parts of Kazakhstan: for example, in 1999 the Government of Kazakhstan decreed that the State University in Semipalatinsk be renamed in his honor.

Shahkarim's renewed fame in Kazakhstan seems to stem largely from the efforts of the late Gabdulkaium Mukhamedkhanov (1916-2004). Mukhamedkhanov is honored in Kazakhstan as a founder of Abay studies alongside one of the most famous historical figures in the history of Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961). Shahkarim, as an associate and contemporary of Abay and Auezov, became the focus of Mukhamedkhanov's scholarship, though as with Auezov's study of Abay, there was a personal history connecting all of these men. In a short biography of Mukhamedkhanov published after his death in Kazakhstanskaia Pravda, we learn that as a young boy Mukhamedkhanov spent some time with the elderly Shahkarim and that almost of Shahkarim's work was destroyed by Soviet repression.

A Little about the Field of Abay Studies


Abay studies (Aбайтану, Абаеведение) is a serious branch of scholarship in the modern Republic of Kazakhstan, much as it was during the time of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The fact that there are many continuities between the ostensibly repressive communist/socialist government of the Kazakh SSR and the ostensibly liberal free-market/capitalist government of Kazakhstan bears enunciating clearly. The raising of Abay to the highest cultural status in Kazakhstan generally echoes a similar process in other parts of the Soviet Union, where certain figures were credited with "developing" the literature of certain peoples or nations: Pushkin in the RSFSR, the Manas tradition in the Krygyz SSR, the works of Navoiy in the Uzbek SSR, etc. After the fall of the Soviet Union, these traditions unsurprisingly continued. However, some new figures have arisen in the pantheon in Kazakhstan alongside the adamantly pro-Russian Abay. These figures, the victims of Soviet oppression, have had their works republished. I would count Shahkarim among them.1

Although Abay is often presented unquestioningly as a universal character, by which I mean he represents a role model resonating with the entire Kazakh people, it is important to realize that Abay, his circle of acquaintances, the field of Abay studies, and scholars within that field generally share a specific territorial and tribal identity. In other words, if all Kazakhs can claim Abay for themselves, the Kazakhs of the Argyn tribe of the Middle Horde living around Semipalatinsk can contest that those are truly universal claims. One of the earliest texts propagating Abay (posthumously) as the most important cultural figure in Kazakhstan came from Akhmet Baitursynov (1873-1937). [«Абай — қазақтың бас ақыны», published in the journal Qazaq in 1913] Baitursynov, like Auezov, is a name every citizen of Kazakhstan knows. A political firebrand, Baitursynov was active in the movement for increased autonomy for Kazakhs within the Russian Empire known as Alash Orda before joining the Bolsheviks in 1920. He later served as Commissioner of Enlightenment. During the Russian Civil War and the days of the Alash Orda, Auezov, Baitursynov, and Shahkarim all wrote for the same journal based in Semipalatinsk. The journal's name was Abay and it ran from February until November of 1918.

In short, a very large portion of the representative culture of Kazakhstan was crafted first in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic and expanded somewhat in the current Republic of Kazakhstan from the work of a relatively small group of men, first Akhmet Baitursynov and, following the arrest and execution of almost the entirety of his generation of intellectuals, Mukhtar Auezov. This representative culture which they gathered, curated, and wrote themselves hails, broadly speaking, from a relatively small geographical area. Moreover, the original audience for much of this work was similarly small and decidedly not universal or national in character. Rather, these authors and their works were created in and for, generally speaking, those people near the middle course of the Irtysh River in today's Eastern Kazakhstan region, between the city of Pavlodar and Lake Zaysan.

I consciously echo Uyama in saying that such tribal affiliations were important, but not all-consuming. They were only a portion of a broader identity that functioned in a wide-cast network. 2 However, it's important to talk about what role this part of identity played in the history of Kazakhstan. Even if tribal affiliations were not examples of a zero-sum game, the fact remains that Auezov and Baitursynov played a much larger role than their contemporaries in shaping the face of Kazakh culture shown to the rest of Soviet Union. Even more, by the fall of the Soviet Union, following decades of cultural change accompanied by famine, sedentarization, and urbanization, that carefully constructed face had replaced for many any rival conceptions of a Kazakh past. This is not to say that the entirety of Kazakh identity is derived from the Argyn tribe of the Middle Horde -- only that we should recognize the historical accident that produced such an Argyn-centric face for the entire Kazakh nation. Tomohiko Uyama called their participation in the creation of the first group of Kazakh intellectuals "striking." Uyama also remarked on the interesting case of so-called white-bone people, those outside the tribal delineations of the Kazakhs, being connected to the larger Argyn orbit. In this case we must include Mukhtar Auezov, a Qozha/Қожа who lived alongside the Argyn.

With regard to intra-national affiliations in Kazakhstan, President Nazarbaev is in a difficult situation. In the interest of supporting the development of the country, he has strongly supported the study of Kazakh language, history, and culture. At the same time, he has requested that Kazakhs disavow their tribal divisions. From my personal experience, I believe this is unlikely to happen. I also believe that President Nazarbayev does not care about tribal identity, so long as it does not threaten the stability of the country.

Why do I care about Shahkarim?

Shahkarim is an intriguing historical figure for several reasons, including the fact that the time of his adulthood coincided with an extremely cataclysmic period of history in Central Asia. For the purpose of writing my dissertation, however, Shahkarim offers something more specific.

At the current moment, Shahkarim remains the first person of whom I know to write and publish the phrase "Bare Footed Flight," or Aқтабан Шұбырынды. In writing my dissertation I am gathering not only sources contemporary to the Bare Footed Flight (in the early 1720s), but also sources which help me to understand how the story of the Bare Footed Flight was told and retold for different audiences and with different purposes.

Unfortunately, I have not seen an original of this publication, which came out in 1911, according to a collection of Shahkarim's works published in Kazakhstan.3 I can share one interesting point of confusion. In the bibliography of Shahkarim's works, there appear two publications under that name in 1911: a 114-page work in Kazan and a 72-page work in Orenburg. Both original pamphlets bore the title "Genealogy of the Turks, Kirgiz-Kazaks, and Khans" (Түрiк, Қырғыз, қазақ һәм Хандар шежiресi). Unfortunately, following the repression of that generation of so-called "bourgeois nationalists," it seems possible that very little remains of much of Shahkarim's original work, though the editor of the collection did not give information as to the provenance of their copy of the work, only that it was republished following independence by two scholars: M. Myrzakhmetov and M. Qazbekov.

This, of course, is another avenue of research - finding their book, if not finding them personally, and asking about the original 1911 work(s).

The next mention of the Bare Footed Flight seems to come in the work of Mukhamedzhan Tynyshpaev, whom I believe knew and read the work of his contemporary Shahkarim, though I don't know of a specific citation for that fact. Naturally, I will continue to exhaust all possible resources - both in making a stronger connection between the two and in attempting to find earlier mention of the Bare Footed Flight.



1 A question for another time, which I write here to save for later, is what to make of those figures who were repressed by the Soviets but have not been rediscovered. An interesting case-study would be the work of Baqytzhan Qarataev, descendant of Abulkhair Khan of the Little Horde, who stands out as a figure opposed to both Tsarist tyranny and the nationalist government embodied by the Alash Orda in 1918-1920. The simple hypothesis is that only those who supported the Alash Orda are worth rehabilitating.

2 Tomohiko Uyama. "The geography of civilizations: A spatial analysis of the kazakh intelligentsia’s Activities, from the mid-nineteenth to the early Twentieth century." p. 83 [https://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/sympo/98summer/pdf/uyama.pdf]

3 There is a lot of serendipity involved in the research of any topic, I believe. In this case, in the same week that I first learned about Shahkarim and his involvement in the story of the Bare Footed Flight several years ago I visited the office of professor Devin DeWeese. On his desk sat the newly published "collected works" of Shahkarim, gifted to him, which he graciously let me use.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Other Ablai


I write these posts to collect some stray thoughts that likely will have very little to do with my doctoral dissertation. In the meantime, at least, I would like to write up some related thoughts and arguments to put them to rest in a safe place.

Opening Thoughts
I live very near a street named for Ablai (usually Aблай in Russian and Aбылай in Kazakh), a Khan of the Kazakhs at the end of the eighteenth century. I cross this street whenever I go the National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Ablai Khan's history is a very complicated one, given that his life (1711-1781) spanned a very complicated set of political circumstances in the steppes between Russia, China, and Central Asia. However, this blog post has relatively little to do with Ablai directly, but more to do with the curious nature of his name and its connections.


Many of Ablai's personal documents are preserved in the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the video interestingly describes his documents as written in Kipchak, на кипчакском языке). In Kazakhstan, his most famous descendant was his great-grandson, the famous ethnographer of the Kazakhs, Chokan Valikhanov (1835-1865).1 The name Ablai, according to Chokan Valikhanov, was the name of both the famous Khan and the Khan's grandfather.2 Chokan gives both forms: Ablai and Abulai. Valikhanov gives no explanation of the meaning of the name, but does explain that the first Ablai ruled in the city of Turkestan and for his many military victories earned the nickname Kan-Ichar (Qan-isher), or Blood-drinker. Perhaps unrelatedly, the name Alach (as in Alash Orda) also means Blood-Drinker in Oirat.

Valikhanov curiously opened the article with the statement that according to Russian chronicles, Ablai was a Siberian prince (tsarevich). This is, in fact, true -- but I believe Valikhanov was mistaken in connecting this Ablai with his great-grandfather. Indeed, the Siberian prince Ablai in Russian chronicles was not a Khan of the Kazakhs, but rather a Khoshote taiji in today's eastern Kazakhstan, near the river Irtysh. A taiji (sometimes written taisha in Russian and English, in confusion with the similar, but different, title born by Esen Taishi) was a title born by leaders of the Oirats subservient to a Hung-Taiji. There is plenty more on this topic one can read in either Atwood's Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire or in the work of Junko Miyawaki.

Eastern Kazakhstan and Northwest China
Ablai and the Russians
From Baikov's mission, one learns that Ablai Taiji provided forty camels and fifty horses for the caravan to China through Ablai's lands, which were made available to Baikov once he approached Ablai's territory on the Irtysh near present-day Pavlodar. Baikof started his trip to China in the autumn and spent that first winter living alongside the "Bukharans" that belonged to Ablai. Later Ablai sent thirty "Tatars," perhaps some retainers or nobles from those same settlements, to China with Baikov. It is worth noting that the official letter from Tsar Ivan to the Emperor of China was written in Russian and Tatar both, to better the chances of its being understood.

Baikov's mission occurred at a very momentous time, as during the same mission other subjects of the Russian empire were raiding along the Amur River along China's northern borders, while the Qing had only gained control of Beijing in 1644.Even as the Qing were gaining control of some of the modern territory of China, the Muscovite state was also not yet a great power in Siberia and Central Asia. In short, no demands were made of Ablai, who aided the mission because he, too, stood to benefit from trade with the new rulers of Beijing. Prior to Baikov's own visit, the Tsar had sent an emissary to prepare the way for Baikov, a 'Tatar' who seems to have gone by way of the Yenesei River rather than the Irtysh, thus avoiding the Oirats altogether. It is probably worth mentioning that the Russians failed in the main purpose of their first Chinese embassy: hand-delivering a letter personally between two equal leaders. Ablai's simpler aims of acquiring rights to trade were more easily met.


Ablai's Armor
Perhaps no figure in Siberian history rivals Yermak (Ermak) for fame and mystery. The legendary Cossack conquered the Khanate of Siberia almost single handedly, if you give much credence to Russian chronicles written far to the west, long after the fact. Baddeley wrote that, for the Russians, he was a "happy mixture of Hernan Cortes and King Arthur." I rather prefer Stephen Kotkin's version: he conquered nothing and then died. However, Yermak did not die before receiving two suits of armor from Tsar Ivan, featuring the royal arms. Whatever the truth of Yermak's activities, there is evidence of his fame outside the imagination of the Russian Orthodox chronicles. My source for this information is Baddeley.3

Oirat envoys traveling up the Irtysh River to Tobolsk, the source of Russian power in Siberia, requested in 1650 a favor from the Russians in return for future peace between the Oirats and Russians. Ablai taiji was about to go to battle with the Kazakhs, as he had done already in 1643. A large campaign under the leadership of the "Kontaisha" necessitated Ablai finding the armor of Yermak. The Cossacks in Tobolsk sent away to Moscow to get permission. The next year, with Moscow's writ in hand, they requested the armor from the descendants of the Tatar leader Kaidul and the Ostiak leader Alach. Following the death of Yermak, who drowned in his armor escaping across the Irtysh River [obligatory Tolkien reference here], his body and belongings were hidden by his killers, who supposedly witnessed many miracles and foresaw the future of Russian domination in Siberia.

The armor was apparently very well-made. Baddeley gives the measurements as 1 ell at the shoulders by 2 ells long. An ell is an old measurement related to the cubit. An "English ell" is five fourths of a yard, or roughly 1.14 meters. The mail had the royal arms on both shoulders and on the breast. Very high quality chain armor was thought to protect from bullets and arrows -- and this chain armor was of the highest quality, a five-in-one mail. Four-in-one mail is closer to standard quality. One can learn something about the patterns of mail in this YouTube video after the eighth minute.

The armor itself, sadly, does not survive. Indeed, a superstitious person might consider the armor cursed: Ablai himself later drowned in the armor following defeats in internecine struggles with his brother Ochirtu and the Volga Kalmyk leader Ayuka Khan. It perhaps adds to the mystique of the story, as the effort put in by Ablai to acquire armor that would protect him from arrows and bullets did not, in the end, keep him alive.

The Cossacks visited Alach's heirs, who professed total ignorance about Yermak's belongings. The descendants of Kaidul, on the other hand, handed over a coat of mail Not only did the Cossacks in Siberia comply with the request, but they also wrote down the affair and received Ablai's note of confirmation upon receiving the armor.

 Ablai and Tibetan Buddhism
Zaya Pandita, the creator of the Clear Script and a renowned Oirat scholar, was the adopted brother of Ablai. Their father, Bai-Bagas of the Khoshot, was called on to send a son to learn from lamas in the east. At that time, Ablai and Ablai's brother Ochirtu were not yet born -- so he adopted Zaya Pandita and sent him instead. From 1616 to 1638, Zaya Pandita traveled, prayed, and studied in the lands of Tibet. Upon his return, Baddeley tells us that Zaya Pandita performed the cremation and funeral for his adoptive father before traveling among the Khalkha Mongols to preach. Baddeley suggests even that likely the great accords between Oirats and Mongols in 1640 would not have happened without Zaya Pandita.

Zaya Pandita's biography, according to Baddeley, includes great information on his travels. It is from this account that we know it was during the winter he spent with his adopted-brother Ablai that he finished his creation of the Clear Script in 1648.

It would seem that not long after this, Ablai began building a monastery on the Beshka River, a small tributary that flows into the Irtysh near Ust-Kamenogorsk (Öskemen). Baikov saw the early stages of the work in 1655 as he left Ablai's lands for China and a more complete monastery again upon his return in the spring of 1658. That same summer Zaya Pandita consecrated the settlement, amidst a crowd of hundreds of Tibetan monks.

The exact nature of Oirat settlements has confused historians in the past, most recently Peter Perdue in China Marches West.4 Whereas Perdue writes of Zunghar (Oirat) rulers building cities of stone with large walls to enclose bustling trade cities, from Baikov and other Russian sources it seems that rather there was a loose network of religious, trade, and farming sites within Oirat territory. Baikov remarks how he would leave an area known for trading fairs (like Yamysh Lake, the destination of Cossack salt caravans) and arrive in a farming community of clay homes run by "Bukharan" slaves raising vegetables for the Oirats, only to leave those areas and then travel to stone-walled Buddhist monasteries. Perdue's error in this case is similar to the much less academically rigorous 2010 work of Leonid Kyzlasov, The Urban Civilization of Northern and Innermost Asia: Historical and Archaeological Research. Lost cities of stone in the steppes and taiga of Siberia are very romantic, but it might be best to not assume a universally recognizable model of "cities" and "towns," especially within the domains of nomadic pastoralists. Ablai Taisha of the Oirats, according to Baikov's first-hand accounts, made regular migrations to and from these smaller settlements, putting up his tents outside of them in order to benefit from the work of their inhabitants. In other words, the evidence seems to support a mobile power traveling between small sedentary populations (working in economic or religious production) rather than a nomadic power actually settling other nomads into large-scale city projects. The small number of domestic animals requested from Siberia by the Oirats is an interesting piece of evidence, but even small-scale pig or fox breeding would not turn the steppe into a densely populated area.

Indeed, it is worth noting that nomad-controlled sedentary settlements are of limited military importance for the same nomads, which might explain why none of these settlements seems to have survived the collapse of the Oirat population following the Qing campaigns of the 1750s. Stationary targets are a liability that a nomadic military traditionally attacks rather than defends.

The ruins of this same monastery remain, though little enough seems visible according to pictures of the site on the internet. The river Beshka appears to be named in honor of the site, however -- it is the Река Aблакет, or the Ablaket River.
View of the Monastery at Ablaikit5
Ruins of Ablaikit in Google Maps: [49'27" N 82'34" E]

And again, the same pictures with helpful highlighting. I have marked the outer wall in red and the outlines of the two structures in green.


Final Thoughts
I would love to find more information on the Khoshot lineage that produced Ablai Taiji. Oirat history is so enticing, but I cannot believe that the best time to learn a new language (Oirat) is while preparing to write my doctoral dissertation. In any event, I would like to work more to negotiate the historical connections between Oirats and Kazakhs, military, economic, religious, and otherwise.

Yamysh Lake and the Irtysh River [51'52" N 77'27" E]
Also, I think a trip to Yamysh Lake and the other sites mentioned would be a great future roadtrip!


1Chokan was born Muhammed Qanafiya, son of Chingis Valikhanov. Chingis Valikhanov's father was Wali, the son of Ablai by his second wife, Saiman. The direct father-son genealogy reads thus: Chokan son of Chingis son of Wali son of Ablai son of Wali son of Ablai "Kan-Ichar."
2Valikhanov's article on Ablai has been published several times. It is roughly 7 pages of text, depending on the publisher. The oldest version I can find is from a 1904 collection of Valikhanov's work which states that Valikhanov wrote the essay for a contemporary (mid-19th century) historical dictionary.
3John Baddeley, Russia, Mongolia, and China. (pp. 160-161, in the same chapter in which he covers Baikov's embassy at great length)
4Perdue combines the settlements at Khobuk Sair and Yamysh Lake into one massive city (pp. 106-107), including large stone walls guarded by cannons. I do not doubt that several Oirat taijis built various settlements, but there seems to never have been a large city like the one described by Perdue.
5 Pallas, Peter Simon. Travels through the Southern Provinces of the Russian Empire, in the Years 1793 and 1794. London, 1812.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Retreats, Losses, and Failed Resistances

The history of the Republic of Kazakhstan is one born of the history of the Soviet Union, itself one steeped in a military tradition of frontier adventurism and homeland defense. The military might of the Russian state, whether centered in Moscow or St. Petersburg, has failed on some occasions to protect property from invasion. Rather, strategic retreats and outmaneuvered sieges dot the landscape of military history. However, the stalwart defenders also receive their due, from the times of the so-called Golden Horde through the Napoleonic Wars of the Tsars and through the cataclysmic loss of life during WWII, or as Russian speakers continue to label it, the Great Patriotic War, or Великая Отечественная Война, the memory of which claims to be eternal.

Here in the former capital of Kazakhstan, in downtown Almaty, stands an enormous monument to the defenders of Moscow, the 28 Guardsmen, also known as Panfilov's Men. According to officially rendered history, these 28 men accepted martyrdom on November 16th, in the process destroying eighteen German tanks. This episode of the war took place during the German army's advance on Moscow. The citizens of the USSR memorialized the 28 Guardsmen, part of a battalion made up of recruits from the Kazakh and Kyrygz Soviet Socialist Republics. One particular phrase entered textbooks and monuments, "There is nowhere to retreat, for Moscow is behind!" 

The truth of the matter was known narrowly for many decades, but has since become more common knowledge [a summary is available on Wikipedia, even in English]. I do not think today's population is more cynical than in the past, but it certainly does not surprise a person to learn that a particular story preserved and presented by a government has been lovingly presented, embellished, and improved.

This is the context in which I would bring up several similar situations in the history of Central Asia. That the defense of property and the ability to withstand an enemy siege are popularly conceived as the crucible of heroism perhaps is not surprising. However, the history of nomadism offers many examples to the contrary. I suppose it seems odd to bring in examples from the ancients, but Herodotus and other observers of the Scythians (a general term for nomadic populations living in the pastures of Asia and Europe) remarked that one of their greatest strengths was the freedom to retreat at will. Indeed, there is an air of a "clash of civilizations" in Herodotus' tale of the Persian military wandering out into the steppe in fruitless search of nomads refusing to stand still. As if to remind us that Scythians, too, must eventually stop running, the reader is told that the only way to force them into a siege is to find the site where their fathers' bones lie buried.

Herodotus and others writing about the Scythians admitted the limits of their knowledge and even suggested, at times, that the Scythians were in some ways more advanced than their sedentary enemies. Some anthropologists and archaeologists, though I don't know if they are yet in the mainstream, have suggested and argued that pastoral nomadism is actually an economy learned by farmers and agriculturalists to take advantage of marginal land. This idea supplants the traditional notion of the Biblical patriarch nomad-model, a vestige of hunter-gatherers that lacks the civilization and sophistication of sedentary agriculturalists. Unfortunately, one of the greatest weaknesses of these models is its inability to represent the complexity of economy in either sedentary or nomadic lifestyles. The acquisition of food by farming or herding is only one small piece of a puzzle that also includes clothing production, the building of housing (fixed or moveable), production of tools, etc. The fact of the matter is that a nomad and a farmer both convince someone else to make their chain armor, to sharpen their axe, and to dress their children.

And yet, perhaps in the field of war we might see a more convincing difference between nomadic and sedentary ways-of-life. Whereas one assumes the Scythians did not judge themselves by Persian standards of war, it would seem that as nomadic lifestyles disappear, so, too, do nomadic conceptions of warfare, particularly regarding the defense of fixed structures. In a nomadic culture, mobility is not only a luxury but a necessity, as the herds consume grass much faster than it can grow. Movement is life and standing temporary.

The Republic of Kazakhstan's government has made sure that its citizens see a clear connection between the Scythians (or Saka, if one prefers) and the modern inhabitants of Central Asia. Regal and sophisticated, the ancient Scythians provide many illustrative models of the grace and resourcefulness of nomadic lifestyles. However, the thousands of years of history between the Scythians and the current year also could provide an explanation of how the Scythians morphed into the Kazakhs.1

The Kazakhs of the so-called Kazakh Khanate of the 15th-19th centuries were nomads, if that general term is to have any meaning across disciplines. Mobile pastoralists moving camps with the seasons, the Kazakhs also engaged in ritualized raids on each others' herds, a practice known as barïmta, or by a variant spelling. A word of Mongolian origin, barïmta referred to a custom governed by society and its rules. For example, if an adult man of one Kazakh nomadic grouping feels that he has been cheated in a previous trade of tools and food with a Kazakh of another nomadic grouping, the recourse most likely would have been barïmta, wherein this man and some companions would attempt to steal the amount of animals necessary to make up the difference.2 This would initiate a discussion involving both of the offended parties and a third-party officiator, who would then stand in judgment. Barïmta was a skill, of course, not practiced equally well by all. One may assume that for every average barïmtachi (barïmta doer), there were others inept and unable to make redress against their predators. Indeed, there were also heroes of barïmta, whose skill won them the title batïr (батыр), a title that many scholars continue to assume referred only to valor in battle. However, it seems that for the Kazakhs and other practitioners of barïmta (most of the inhabitants of nomadic Central Asia, including the frontier-dwelling Cossacks), there was no better training for military action than barïmta.

Barïmta seems to simulate very much what scholars can understand of Scythian military raids: incredibly quick attacks against lightly defended targets. The timing of these attacks was likely their single most important aspect.

One of the recurring topics of the Russian Conquest of the steppe is the idea that Kazakhs put up almost no fight, that no site was well-defended. This includes the "capital of the Khans," the holy city of Turkestan. Knowledge of the Scythians would have informed the Russians to caution, since here was a place hallowed by the bones of the forefathers of the Kazakh Khans. Instead, after a short siege, Turkestan, like Aulie-Ata, Chimkent, Tashkent, Samarkand, Jizzakh, and so many others, fell to the Russians. However, overpowering military might was not the reason. The adobe walls of these cities absorbed Russian cannonballs. When a siege ended, it was often the result of negotiation, subterfuge, or military genius, as in the cases of the falls of Aulie,Ata, Chimkent and Tashkent. In fact, it seems to me that the nomads themselves saw little danger in the changing of leadership over cities they had already lost to the Khanate of Kokand. Retreat in these cases makes the most sense for the Kazakhs - and despite Russian conceptions of cowardice, the continued resistance of Kazakhs to direct rule throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries illustrates something other than cowardice.

Another famous retreat, one very close to my heart, is the famed Bare Footed Flight of the Kazakhs in the early 1720s. Students in the Republic of Kazakhstan now learn of this event as one par with the German invasion of the Soviet Union, with much of the same terminology. Indeed, referring to the Great Patriotic War of the eighteenth century is increasingly common in monographs and textbooks about the subject. However, in this case one nomadic force overran the territory of another nomadic force. Why stand and defend grass that will be eaten and grow back on its own? Instead, however, the students of Kazakhstan learn of the myriad reasons for the failure to stand up to their enemies, of the cost of disunity and cowardice in the face of aggression. There is relatively little direct evidence for the course of events portrayed in official and unofficial renderings of the Bare Footed Flight, so that these narratives generally explain much more about the public imagination as informed by Soviet collectivization and the Great Patriotic War against the fascists than it does about Kazakh migrations and losses in the early eighteenth century.




1This is not to say that I subscribe to some theory of genetic connection between the citizens of Kazakhstan and the Scythians, though I certainly allow that the genes of some Scythians may be represented in a Kazakh today. Similarly, I suspect that anyone that lived 2200 years ago and also has living descendants will likely be related to people across a vast territory. Moreover, if that long-dead ancestor lived in the circle of area connecting Africa and Eurasia, I imagine their descendants may include a large majority of the current population of Afrasia.
2My assumption is that this is an animal easy to move at great speeds, so most likely horses. I haven't looked at evidence of specifc barïmta, though it seems possible sheep or goats could also be taken.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Almaty, Kazakhstan - Reflections after one month

I have lived in downtown Almaty for more than an month. I am in a 1-bedroom apartment in the center of the city, near the intersection of Furmanov Street and Abay Avenue (Абая-Фурманова). The cost is equal to the great location, being about 100,000 ₸ (Kazakh Tenge), somewhat less than $550/month. It is the perfect size for my small family and is furnished nicely. The location is the nicest attribute, being only a few minutes from many great locations for my research and for my family. One of the nicest unlooked for luxuries is the window A/C unit that came with my apartment, a hard-working Soviet relic that has yet to disappoint me.Utilities (water, sewage, electricity) seem much cheaper than in the United States, while the internet connection is easily both the cheapest and the fastest I have ever enjoyed. 

As far as getting around the city, the public transportation system is fairly straight-forward, but certainly improves if one has access to the Internet and/or a smartphone with Google Maps. Larger bus stops have timetables and a few even have digital readouts for the next expected bus or trolleybus. Speaking of trolleybuses, I never grow tired of seeing them or riding them. Together with the two tramway lines, they make Almaty seem like a mountain-side Central European city, or at least what I assume those cities would look like.

Naturally, settling into Almaty is not so easy. The first obstacle to overcome is jet-lag. Flying more-or-less directly from eastern USA to eastern Kazakhstan means a ten-hour difference. Moreover, Kazakhstan does not use daylight savings time, meaning that the sun rises before 6 AM in the summer and sets early in the evening.

One of the nicest things about living in downtown Almaty has been using the still-very-small subway line. It only connects a handful of stops, but because I live on the middle of the line, there are plenty of opportunities to use it. Naturally, the main reason is to escape the summer heat, while a second reason is that it costs the same as every other form of mass transportation. It is still very much a novelty, as every time I enter the subway, I notice tourists from elsewhere in Kazakhstan taking pictures of their friends. It is clear that the metro is very impressive to people seeing it for the first time.

I am trying to gather my impressions from my initial work at the State Library of Kazakhstan, but I believe that will be for another post.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Latinisms

For my own notes and perhaps helpful to others, I'm going to catalog the Latinisms that I have run into in my academic reading recently, including the tried-and-true variants known to "normal" people. It seems that running across many of these should raise red flags as to the intent of the writer, but with earlier works (pre-1960, at least) the average scholar used such coded language as a matter of course. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • et alii - known better as et al. Translates as "and others" and usually stands in for a list of multiple authors.
  • et cetera - known better as etc. or &c. Translates "and the rest"
  • ex ante - "from before"
  • ante bellum - "before the war"
  • a priori AND a posteriori - "from the former" and "from the latter," though their translations don't quite show their usage. A priori means presupposed or known ahead of time. The typical example is the argument "All bachelors are single," because the meaning of the word bachelor is "single man." A posteriori refers to something known from observation and is the reverse of a priori, the typical example being "Some bachelors are unhappy."
  • ah hoc - "to this," again the translation doesn't help. It refers to unplanned or unforeseen events, an ad hoc decision being one made with limited knowledge or forethought.
  • ad hominem - "to the man," refers to arguments made by attacking the person arguing. Thus, this is the name of a logical fallacy. "Don't believe his argument because he dropped out of college."
  • ad infinitum, or the more popular, ad nauseum - these expressions describe long lists, long arguments, or other interminable things, meaning either "to infinity" or "to the point of sickness."
  • ad libitum - known better as ad lib, "toward pleasure," or "as one pleases." It generally refers to improvisation.
  • alibi - meaning "elsewhere." This one is pretty obvious.
  • alma mater - "nourishing mother."
  • bona fide - "in good faith," "well-intentioned," and the plural is not bona fides but bonis fidebus, but getting correct is probably more damning that following custom.
  • casus belli - "cause of war."
  • caveat emptor - "let the buyer beware." Many varieties, including caveat lector, "let the reader beware."
  • ceteris paribus - "all things being equal."
  • confer - known better as cf. Translates as "compare (with)."
  • ex nihilo - "out of nothing."
  • cum hoc ergo, propter hoc - "with this, therefore on account of this," which describes the logical fallacy of causation from correlation.
  • curriculum vitae - "course of life," a document prepared by academics relating their education, academic work, and related information - the academic résumé.
  •  pace - "with due deference to," a polite way of introducing a scholarly disagreement
  • ibidem - "in the same place," usually seen in academic works as "ibid."