Friday, June 19, 2015

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty is located in southern Kazakhstan.  With a population over 1.5 million people it is country's largest city.  Алматы used to be called Alma-Ata and it is the former capital.  Today's it's the major commercial and financial hub of Central Asia.  The city is responsible for about 20% of the country's GDP.

The area was first settled around the 10th-9th century BC during the Bronze Age.  Between the 10th-14th centuries it became an important stop along the Silk Road.

Alma-Ata was founded in 1854.  From 1929 to 1991 it was the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.  When Kazakhstan became independent the city remained the capital until 1997 when it was moved to Astana.  However in 1993 the the city's name was changed to Almaty.

Akimat House used to be home to the Communist Party of Kazakhstan.  After independence and once the capital moved to Astana it became a city government building.  Part of the building is Almaty City Hall.

At Independence Square is the Independence Monument.  It is the Kazakh Golden Warrior on top of a snow leopard.

The Golden Warrior

The Palace of the President was supposed to be a Lenin museum but it never happened.  You can't go inside but the gardens outside are quite nice.

Zhambyl Zhabayev was a traditional folksinger who died in 1945 and was buried in Alma-Ata.  Although he sang exclusively in Kazakh, his many patriotic, pro-Stalin songs were circulated thorough out the USSR during the 1930s.

After independence many of the street names in the city were changed but not all were.  At Shevchenko Street there is a monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

The Lermantov State Academic Russian Drama Theatre was built in 1969.  It seats almost 850 people.

The Kazakh State Academic Drama Theatre is the country's oldest professional theater.  It opened in 1926 before moving to the capital in three years later.  In 1961 it was named after M. Auezov, a famous Kazakh writer.  I believe that the building was renovated in the 80s.

The Central State Museum is one of the oldest and largest museums in Central Asia.  It opened in the 1930s and the current building was completed in 1985.

The State Museum of National Musical Instruments opened in 1980.  The wooden building it's housed in dates back to 1907.

The Ascension Cathedral is also known as Zenkov Cathedral.  It was completed in 1907 and it is the second tallest wooden building in the world.

Abai Qunanbayuli was a Kazakh poet, composer and philosopher.  He was a cultural reformer toward Europeans and Russians based on enlightened Islam.  He died in 1904 and the bronze monument was unveiled in 1961 on what used to be Lenin Street.  It is now called Abai Street. 

The Almaty TV Tower was completed in 1983.  It is 371,5 meters (1,219 feet) tall is the world's tallest free-standing tubular steel structure.  Almaty is prone to earthquakes so the tower was designed to withstand a 10.0 quake.

General Ivan Panfilov
The city's most well-known landmark is Panfilov Park.  Ivan Panfilov was the commanding general of the 316th division that, despite heavy casualties, helped prevent the Nazis from reaching Moscow in WWII.  

The park is actually named after Panfilov's Heros - 28 soldiers from Almaty who died in the fighting.  In 1975 an eternal flame was lit to honor those who died in the Russian Civil War and in the Great Patriotic War (WWII).  The granite monument depicts soldiers from all 15 Soviet Republics and was unveiled as part of the 30th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany. 

In 2011 the subway opened.  It currently only has two lines which isn't bad except that construction began in 1988.  I've never opened a subway before but 23 years does seem to be quite a long time.  On the flip side it only costs 80 Tenge (about 54¢).  And how can you not be impressed with a marble subway platform with chandeliers?

Almaty hosted the 2011 Winter Asian Games and will host the 2017 Winter University Games.  It is also in the running to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.  If it wins it will be the first Olympics ever hosted in Central Asia.  Here's the Almaty bid video I found out on YouTube.


Update:  Almaty lost out on hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ata-Beyit Memorial Complex, Kyrgyzstan

About 25 km (~15.5 miles) southeast of Bishkek is the Ata-Beyit Memorial Complex in Chong-Tash.

Ата-бейит is Kyrgyz for "Grave of Our Fathers".  Here's the story...

In the 1930s the local nomadic people were forced to settle down by the Soviet authorities.  That's when the small village of Чоң-Таш, Chong-Tash (Big Rock), was established.  

As part of Joseph Stalin's Great Purge the NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, executed people all across the Soviet Union.  In Central Asia is was a means of cracking down on nationalist movements.  In 1938 the NKVD secretly brought 137 "counter revolutionaries" from the capital to here.  They were shot and the bodies were dumped into an underground kiln. 

For more than 50 years no one knew what had happened.  

Memorial with the victims' names

The site caretaker who witnessed the executions told his daughter what happened only while on his deathbed.  She kept the secret for another 20 years until after Kyrgyzstan gained independence from the USSR.  In 1991 she finally told the authorities and the site was discovered.  

The memorial opened in 2000.  There's a small museum on site that is designed to look like a yurt.


One of the men who was executed was Törökul Aitmatov.  His son,  Chingiz Aitmatov, went on to become a celebrated author.  He was buried here in 2008 and there is a memorial for him too.  

In 2010 Kyrgyzstan had another revolution.  There were mass demonstrations in front of the Kyrgyz White House and 89 protesters were killed by government snipers.  Across the field is a monument to those killed in the revolution.

Sixteen of the victims are also buried here behind the monument.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan and with 937,000 people it is also the country's biggest city.

Originally Pishpek, it started out as a small fort, in 1825, as a stop on the Silk Road through the Tian Shan mountains.  In 1862 the Russians set up a garrison here.  The name was changed to Frunze in 1926 and in 1936 it became the capital of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic.

Mikhail Frunze statue
In 1991, prior to independence from from the USSR, the Kyrgyz parliament changed the name to Bishkek.   Before independence the city's population was overwhelmingly ethnic Russian but by 2004 it was only about 20%.  Now it's only around 8% but everything is still written in Kyrgyz and Russian.

Бишкек isn't really known for its sightseeing.  It's a typical Soviet style planned out city.  There are lots of monuments throughout the capital.

The Martyrs of the Revolution monument was erected in 1978.  The main figure is Urkuya Salieva, an early communist in Southern Kyrgyzstan, who was killed by rich peasants.

The White House is the seven story presidential office building.  In 1985 it was built as the headquarters of the Communist Party's Central Committee.

In 1974 the People's Friendship Monument was unveiled to honor the 100th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's entry to the Russian Empire.
Museum of Fine Arts

The Victory Monument was completed in 1984 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War (WWII).

The red granite ribs represent a yurt while a woman stands over an eternal flame waiting for her son or husband who will never return from the war.

At Ala-Too Square is a monument to Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov.  The monument was displayed in 2011 for the 20th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's independence.

At Ala-Too Square is the State Historical Museum which is pretty interesting.  The flagpole was built in 1998 and there is an hourly changing of the guard.

Manas the Great is the national hero.  The Bishkek Airport is now Manas International.

Behind the museum is a statue of Lenin.  It used to be where the Manas statue is but was moved several years ago.  I think it's one of the last Lenin statues still up in Central Asia.

Not far away from Lenin, in Oak Park, is a statue of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

This building was built in 1936.  Until 1984 it was the headquarters of the headquarters of the Supreme Soviet.  Today it is the American University of Central Asia.

The Bishkek Circus was built in 1976.

The Red Guards Memorial is a mass grave for those who died in the war.  In 1970 an eternal flame was added but it currently isn't lit.

Kurmanjan Datka was a military leader and stateswoman.  She also served as a colonel in the Russian Imperial Army.  The monument of her was unveiled in 2004.

The granite monument of Friendship and Glory of Labor was erected in 1974 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Kyrgyz Communist Party.

Aaly Tokombaev was a national poet who wrote under the pseudonym Balka (Hammer) and contributed to modern Kyrgyz literature.  His monument was erected in 1996.

Jumabek Ibraimov was the mayor from 1993 to 1995.  He served as the country's prime minister from 1998 until his death from stomach cancer in 1999.  He was the first PM who publicly spoke out about corruption high within the government.

Since becoming independent there have been two revolutions in Kyrgyzstan.  This monument is in memory of those killed in 2002 and 2010 and it symbolized the victory of good over evil.

The Frunze Museum contains the home of General Mikhail Frunze who was born in Bishkek.  He was a close associate of Lenin and played key roles in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917.  The city bore his name until it was changed to Bishkek.

Panfilov Park contains more memorials, some nice paths, and lots of rides for the kids.  Although some of the rides looked as if they hadn't been serviced in quite some time.

The monument for Nasirdin Isanov was installed in 2003 as part of the city's 125th anniversary.  Isanov was the country's first prime minister.

Toktogul Satylganov was a poet, singer and musician.  This 1974 granite monument shows him with his traditional instrument, the komiz.

The philharmonic hall was built in 1980.

Bishkek was pretty easy to get around.  Almost everything is written in Kyrgyz and Russian.  Some of the younger people seem to understand basic English but it was nice to give my Russian a work out.

I found the old buses interesting.  When you get on, you enter in the rear.  You exit from the front of the bus as you pay the driver.  A ride was only 8 Som (~12¢).