There are some highly revered national shrines in the history of each people. Among those are the places which bore witness to great talents' birth, formation, maturity. Such are Mikhailovskoe and Yasnaya Polyana for the Russians, Weimar for the Germans, Florence for the Italians, Stratford-on-Avon - for the Englishmen. With the Kazakh such a place of worship is Shyngystau, the birthplace of three geniuses of the Kazakh literature - Abai, Shakarim, Mukhtar Auezov.
The land of Shyngystau, spaciously outstretching over the steppe of Sary-Arka, has given us three men of letters of the world rank, which in itself is so rare a thing in the history of mankind, but not only them.
Prior to those three here lived and worked such notable people as Kengirbai, Oskenbai, Kunanbai, Nisan - biys, orators, sages, akyns, grieving over the people's sufferings and sorrows; batyrs Aktanberdi, Mamai, Toktamysh, who sacrificed their glorious lives for the benefit of their homeland.
This land cherishes the memory of the days and months, spent here by Chokan Valikhanov, Fedor Dostoevsky, Ahmet Baitursynov, Sultanmakhmut Toraigyrov, Amre Kashaubaev, Kanysh Satpaev - scientists, poets, writers, singers. The majestic flow of Irtysh, the infinite bounds of Shyngystau, the inimitable odours of the steppe could not leave any of them unimpressed. Yet it is with the name of Abai that Shyngystau is primarily associated in the minds of the Kazakh people.
In the history of our thought and literature Abai takes as outstanding a place as the peak of Khan-Tengri, worshiped by the Kazakhs since time immemorial. Majestically mute and enigmatically inaccessible, it glares in the sunlight, embodying all the might and beauty of Nature. Like a super-giant, it towers over the neighbouring peaks, whose dazzling height and splendour make Khan-Tengri look all the more resplendent. Similarly does Abai look all the more significant against the background of his no less renowned followers Shakarim and Mukhtar, all together making up the glory of Shyngystau.
Not only Shyngystau alone, but the whole of the Kazakh land can take pride in being Abai's homeland. Nor does it imply that Abai is the only one for the Kazakh people to be proud of: speaking of Pushkin's Russia, Shakespeare's England or Goethe's Germany we do not at all exclude other great people of these countries. But inseparably intertwined with the history of their countries each of them has come to symbolise his motherland. Revering Abai as a symbol of the nation's spiritual wealth, we reread his lines over and over againl
Look deep into your soul and ponder on my wordsl To you I am a puzzle, my person and my verse. My life has been a struggle, a thousand foes I braved, Don't judge me too severely - for you the way I paved.
These heart-felt sorrowful lines sound as a welcoming message to the generations to come; they bear the stamp of his genius and of his hard-lived life. So does his birthplace: the icy springs of Kaskabulak, the streets of Semipalatinsk, leaden-grey waters of Irtysh, the holy stone of Tanbaly, the cave of Konyr-Aulie - everything here seems to have preserved the sacred memory of Abai, the spirit of his time.
Great people's biographies contain milestones as well as the routine of everyday life. And the facts, which seemed insignificant or unimportant, may with the lapse of time turn out to be invaluable relics of the Greats' life and work.
In this book we offer some facts from the biographies of Abai, Shakarim and Mukhtar Auezov with the aim of bringing them closer to our readers. It was not an easy thing to have done with regards to Abai and Shakarim, concerning whom almost no documentary data has been preserved. While there exist numerous photos and memoirs about Mukhtar Auezov, the few photos of Abai and Shakarim, we had at our disposal, are rather illegible. We do hope that a detailed presentation of the places where the poets spent their lives will compensate for the lack of dncumentary evidence and help us understand them and their poetry better.
The virgin nature of Shyngystau has not changed since Abai's times. Winter remains the same as described by him in one of his poemsl
Broad-shouldered, grey-haired, in a white fur-coat He comes, blind and dumb, with a great silvery beard.
As summer comes, in July, the cattle is driven to meadow pastures. Abai's descendants still live here, at the seething waters of Bakanas. In autumn colours die out of grass and trees, flowers fade away, the sky is as cloudy, and the earth is as foggy, as in the times of Abai.
Shyngystau's nature, ineffably beautiful all throughout the four seasons of a year, was a source of constant inspiration for Abai. Nature and poetry has always been inseparably linked with each other.
Steppe. A long road running across it from Semei westward is the one young Abai took, impatiently hurrying his horse and companions, when getting into his native aul from the town. It is the road from which one can enjoy the sight of peaceful yellow hills, green meadows, a vast silvery carpet of feather-grass. It is the road Shakarim and Mukhtar used to take when going in search of knowledge to Semei and getting back to Shyngys. It is the road along which trade caravans moved in ancient times. This road saw such outstanding people of the past as Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, Przewalsky, Chokan Valikhanov, Fedor Dostoevsky. Many celebrities of the present - famous poets, writers, scientists, public and official figures - came here along this road to pay homage to the memory of great Abai.
Others came here to try the local people's stamina and the solidity of earth: soviet scientists Kurchatov and Sakharov placed here a nuclear test site to develop a most deadly weapon. This blessed land and steppe road has born the wrong done by accursed NKVD.
The clay road across Shyngys mountains creeps upwards so unnoticeably that on getting from Semei to the district centre of Karauyl one hardly notices having risen 1000 metres higher above the sea level. The very first stop is made in the ravine of Kushikbai, from where Abai's life-story, his poetry, his wisdom begin.
Kushikbai himself is buried under the highest hill, strewn with stones. When the tiny aul was attacked by an enemy, the famous batyr was laid up with small-pox. So the invaders did not expect him to offer any resistance. But the proud and self-willed warrior stood up on his feet and, despite his illness and open wounds, defeated the enemy. Having driven the invaders away from his land, Kushikbai strained his way to the ravine, wherein he died, exhausted by the struggle and his illness. In commemoration of his feat people named the ravine after him.
There is another relic of those old cruel times to the left of the road - ruins of a barn. It used to be the dwelling of a poor girl Gaziza, the prototype of a personage in M.Auezov's story "Korgansyzdyn kuni". The legend has it that here, under a small hillock, rests the body of that fragile girl, who froze to death on a stormy wintry night at the grave of her father, mourning over her unhappy lot.
Passing by the ravine of Kushikbai with its tragic stories, we reach the Abai district, which is situated 250 kilometres away from the Shyngystau mountain ridge. This ridge stretches for 220 kilometres. Before the advent of the Soviet power all this land belonged to the clan of Tobykty. Later on it was called the Shyngystau district, to be renamed after Abai in 1940. This vast terrain with its picturesque lakes, mixed forests, bizarre hills and stones, equals the territories of two states - Albania and Sweden - taken together. At the time of Abai there lived 5 big auls, divided by clans. Centuries-old mode of life was broken by the October Revolution, which made people leave their nests. Collectivization, famine of 1931-32, repressions of 1937, cataclysms of World War II, and four decades of anti-human nuclear tests reduced the local population manifold. Humankind has a tendency towards reproduction, but the Tobykty-clan has not a regained the pre.Revolutionary level in terms of its population. The years spent under the soviet rule brought about nothing but drain and emaciation of both the people and the land. But the people of this land managed to preserve their national traditions and customs, to keep the memory of their glorious ancestors. Numerous memorials attest to the fact that people here remember and honour the countrymen, who sacrificed their lives defending the motherland during the Great Patriotic War. To name but a few, those were Z.Belibaev, fighting against the fascist on the banks of the Dnieper; B.Baigozhyna, who participated in the seizure of Berlin; Zh.Moldagaliev, who silenced the enemy's machine- gun by throwing himself upon its embrasure.
Crossing the Abai district, the road forks in two different directions, one going to the left, the other - to the Shyngys mountains. But whichever direction you go, you are sure to come across something associated with Abai. So let's first go to Abai's birthplace, Kaskabulak.
Kaskabulak is located near Semei, at the foot of a hill washed by a mountainous river. It was here, in a traditional Kazakh yurta, that Abai was born on August 10, 1845. Every year, in spring and autumn, his father's aul moved over to this valley. His grandmother Zere and mother Ulzhan, used to sing lullabies over Abai's besik (a child's bed). It was from his grandmother Zere that Abai heard his first tales and folk-legends about Enlik and Kebek's tragic love-story, voyages and battles of Abylai and Kenesary. The marching song of zhyrau Aktanberdi was Abai's favourite since childhood. His first poems were composed under the impression of what he had seen and heard in childhood ("Autumn").
Climb up on top of Kaskabulak and look around. To the south-west you'll see the peak of the mountain called Sholpan. It is the place where Murseit Bike was born - the man, who copied Abai's first poems. Manuscripts of Abai's works, rewritten by Murseit, were sent to Petersburg and printed there.
To the left of Shyngystau, across the Yeraly valley, runs the river of Ashchysu, a tributary of Irtysh. The most remarkable event that took place in this area, was the birth of the Kazakh theatre: here, on June 7, 1917, the very first improvised first-night performance of Auezov's play "Enlik-Kebek" took place in the yurta, where Abai used to live with his wife Aigerim. All the parts in that performance were played by descendants of Abai and Auez. The Kazakh Romeo and Juliet Enlik and Kebek preferred to die rather than to part because of intertribal strife. A hymn to fearless and faithful love, the play "Enlik-Kebek" became one of the best pearls in the treasury of Kazakh national drama.
Bordering on the Yeraly valley are the mountains Small and Big Akshoky. Akshoky is known to be the cradle of Abai's talent. It is here that his literary and philosophic genius developed and matured. It is here that Abai created many of his poems and songs. Here is a couple of lines from one of them:
The language of lovers dispenses with words: With their looks, with an inner sense they converse.
Among those composed in Akshoky is the song "Aittym salem, Kalamkas", ever since most popular with the Kazakh. The greatness of Abai's talent made Kalamkas reminiscent of and comparable with Pushkin's Tatyana Larina.
Mukhtar Auezov wrote, "Songs and poems born in Akshoky, were immediately copied and learnt by heart. Enchanting by their novelty and sincerity, they spread all over Arka. Those songs were unlike anything people heard of or sung before. New melodies and new words, carried by the wind to the remotest nooks of the great steppe, seemed to have broken its centuries-long silence, as if bringing spring into these parts of the universe. They were sounds of a new era..."
Not far away from Akshoky one can find the grave of Abai's father Kunanbai, inlaid with black rock. The Polish traveller and geographer Januszkiewicz wrote about Kunanbai, "Kunanbai looks as mighty as the steppe itself. They say, he is a son of a plain man. Nature has endowed him with an extraordinary wit, sound health and with the gift of an orator. A very industrious man, he is concerned with the welfare of his kith and kin. He knows perfectly well both the laws of the steppe and rules of the Koran as well as Russian decrees concerning the Kazakh. A powerful biy judge) and an exemplary Moslem, he has been promoted to the rank of aulie. Young and old, poor and rich people from all auls seek his advice and assistance... He knows his business from A to Z, putting all his energy into it. His power is so great that hardly does he move his shoulder when every word or wish of his is obeyed. When he starts talking, his face loses the touch of sternness and despotism, and the bais surrounding him are not good enough even to wear his shroud".
The same grave-yard is the burial-ground of Abai's coevals lskak and Kakitai, Mukhtar's grandfather Auez. Kunanbai seems to have lost none of his relatives even after death...
But let us return to the slopes of Kaskabulak. To the east one can see the ridges of Baigabyl, Araltobe and Borly. Here the roads merge again into one. Borly is the place where on September 28, 1897, a great writer and scientist Mukhtar Auezov was born. This joyful event was celebrated by two auls - of Abai and of Auez - together. Here, in Borly, Mukhtar spent the years of his childhood and youth. Here he brought his bride Raikhan; his children Muglima and Chokan were also born here. Here he wrote his first stories and plays: "Enlik-Kebek", "Baibishe-Tokal", "At Syban's grave". The stories he had heard in his early childhood from grandfather Auez and grandmother Dinasyl, made up the basis of his epopee "Abai's Way". His father Omarkhan, mother Nurzhamal, grandmother Dinasyl, elder brother Kasymbek and other relatives are buried here, in Borly. As for grandfather Auez - his tomb neighbours that of Kunanbai, as the two friends stuck together in their life-time.
Close to Borly there are settlements Araltobe, Tyshkan, Baigabyl. The first was Abai's winter stay, the second - Akylbai's, the third - Magauiya's. Interested in sciences and arts, all the three preferred to live not far from the town.
Since early childhood Abai was conversant with the poetry of Saadi, Firdawsi, Nizami, Hafiz, Navoi, Fizuli, Babur; studied logic, philosophy, ethics, oriental history, culture; living in Araltobe, he was well acquainted with Russian and Western literature, enjoyed reading Tolstoy and Saltykov.Shchedrin, translated Krylov's fables and Lermontov's verses into Kazakh.
At present Araltobe, the cradle of Kazakh poetry, bears the name of Aigerim, Abai's love, who was born and buried here. Abai wrote about her:
The rose of my heart will never bloom - No matter how brightly the sun shines or the moon glows! For only you I love in the whole world, While I'm only one of many who love you.
These heartfelt lyrical lines, familiar to every Kazakh, reach the innermost depths of human soul.
Further on the road will take us to the Orda mountain ridge. At the point where it halves into Bigger and Smaller Orda, the road again ramifies in several directions. The most remarkable place in this vicinity is the mountain Arkat: it is the locale of events, recounted in the legend "Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu". The picturesque slopes of Arkat strike the eye of a traveller with the abundance of flora and fauna. The trade-way to China and Central Asia passed right across these parts. Such famous people of the past as Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, Przewalsky, Valikhanov, Januszkiewicz are known to have been here. Fedor Dostoevsky is said to have walked and rested in the shade of huge stones and trees, to have drunk the crystal clear water of the Kopa lake. An ardent hunter and dead-shot, Shakarim and Mukhtar with his friends used to chase birds here. Over here Abai would meet his younger brother Khaliulla, and later, his son Abdrakhman, returning after their studies in Russia.
Bigger and Smaller Orda are divided from each other by the cleft of Shilikti. Thick bushes, waist-high Alpine meadows made an unforgettable impression on the poet. The beauty of these places helped Abai to live through the torment of losing his beloved Togzhan. It is here that he met Aigerim, whose love and beauty rekindled the fire of love in his soul and revived it, inspiring his poetic talent. This period of Abai's life, alongside with many others, is vividly depicted in M.Auezov's epopee "Abai's Way". The subtle lyricism, richness and expressivity of Auezov's prose enlivens our image of the great poet.
Finally we get to the mountain called Shyngys. It is as huge as an elephant, and as grey as an old man. Numerous mountainous rivulets flow down Shyngys. Their transparent purling waters get lost in the thickets of Alpine meadows. Each of these rivulets has a name of its own: Shet, Karauyl, Kas, Buzau, Kundyzdy, Mukir, Takyr, Bokenshi, Koldenen, Karazhartas, Shagan. Over 40 species of herbs, sweetbrier, rose willow, poplar and birch-trees grow on the slopes of Shyngys. Sizable populations of foxes, wolves, wild sheep and goats, deer inhabit Shyngys. High up in the mountains, where the foot of man hardly ever stepped, one can find lynxes, hawks, golden eagles, on shores of lakes - white swans, geese, wild ducks. It was a favourite hunting-place of Abai, Shakarim, Mukhtar, who, like many Kazakh, were inveterate hunters and great connoisseurs of race horses, hunting birds and dogs. It was in the seclusion of the mountains that Shakarim spent the last, most difficult years of his life.
Every stone in the Shyngys area could tell us about interesting and significant events that occurred in the long history of the Kazakh. It would be impossible to mention all.
Here are just some of them. According to scientifically ascertained data, the white yurtas of Chinghizkhan were once set up at the foot of the Orda mountains. As stated by Januszkiewicz, the great khan stayed here for two winters, and the remains of brick walls built by his warriors could confirm it.
On one of the Shyngystau peaks, bearing the name of Khan, the leaders of different Kazakh tribes headed by Maiky-bi raised Chinghizkhan on a white koshma (woollen carpet, traditionally used by the Kazakh) in token of their recognising his khanship.
An yet, these places are first and foremost associated with the names of Abai, Shakarim, Mukhtar, who won the world by word and wit, not by sword or lance. The words inscribed on the monument standing in the centre of the Abai district in Karauyl, run:
But is it possible to say, that the man is dead, If he's left in the world the immortal word?
(translated by I.Darkanbaeva) These words unambiguously assert the priority of words and knowledge over the physical strength of weapons or muscles.
The river and hills of Karauyl were Abai's favourite places. Here he spent the best years of his life, filled with joys as well as sorrows. Here he got acquainted with Togzhan, whom he fell in love with all the ardour of youth. Time did not obliterate his feeling of love for this girl, he did remember her to the end of his days, forever nostalgic for the purity and beauty of Togzhan:
You are the apple of my eye, The fire of my soul. My hearth will never stop bleeding, Hurt by this fire.
The mouth of a river in the Zhidebai valley is the place where Abai died. He was buried on June 23, 1904, in Zhidebai, not far away from the Shyngys mountains. Writing shortly before his own death, "Let the earth not be damp when I die", he seemed to have foreseen it.
After Abai's death people streamed to Zhidebai in an unending flow to bid farewell to this great man. This flow of people coming to Abai's memorial has not ceased to this day. People enter the house where he lived, touch things which he had touched, see his dombra hanging on the wall. It seems that if you run your fingers over its strings, it will tell you something about Abai, the man whose life was like a poem in itself. The poem of Abai's life was masterly rendered into prose in Mukhtar Auezov's book "Abai's Way".
Another distinguished man, who lived in Shyngystau, was Shakarim. One of the most progressive people of his day, Shakarim was a poet, philosopher, historian. He maintained correspondence with Leo Tolstoy. Following Abai's advice, he studied different foreign languages, thus getting an opportunity to familiarise himself with ancient sources throwing light on the history of the Kazakh people, written in Chinese, Turkic, Arabic, Russian. He collected and systematised all these sources, which, added to the manuscripts of his own works, made up a rich library.
Later on he got subject to persecution and repressions, because the regime feared and hated progressively-thinking educated representatives of the indigenous population. The inquisitors shot him and threw his dead body into a dried-up well. In an act of vandalism they burned almost all Shakarim's books, manuscripts, photographs. Many years later the poet's remains were found and buried in close vicinity to Abai's grave in Zhidebai.
To the west of Shyngystau, on the bank of the river Shagan there is another shrine - the cave called Konyr-Aulie. It is a fanciful creation of nature 25 metres high and 100 metres long. On one of the stones in this cave there are hardly noticeable, obliterated by time inscriptions and signs - symbols of different Kazakh tribes. This place is supposed to have been the scene of a fierce struggle once.
To the east of Shyngystau lies Kundyzdy, where Abai spent the most difficult years of his life. At the upper-head of the river Shet once there was the aul of Barak, Abai's fellow- fighter. Here is what Januszkiewicz wrote about Barak: "Sultan Barak is a man of enormous height and sturdy built, with a bright radiant face. A steppe Hercules, he is richly endowed by a quick wit, valiant hearth and steel character. He is a noble baron brought up in the spirit of feudal knighthood; he is second to none in the skills of bow- shooting and horse-taming. His name of the winner in a Kazakh tournament - baiga - is known all over the steppe. Just like in Walter Scott's novel the hero's name inspires reverence and fear, and the steppe plunderers keep away from him. Other sultans lose their majesty and look mobbish by his side..."
17 famous akyns, poets, writers were born in Kundyzdy at different times. The gift of poetry seems to pass over from generation to generation. Syban, Zhangobek, Baigara, Aktailak, Sabyrbai, his daughter Kuandyk, later Zhanak, Tubek, Orynbai, Dulat - all of them can be called paragons of wisdom and eloquence. People of literary talent are born to this land at our times as well: the poet Shakir Abenov, novelist Kamen Orazalin, writer Zhaken Zhumakhanov represent the new generation of the Kazakh literature raised on the blessed soil of Kundyzdy.
It is well known that Abai had never left his native land - he had spent all his life in Shyngystau. The farthest places he went to were Karkaraly, Ayakoz, Semei. But thanks to the breadth of his mind and knowledge Abai's thought managed to embrace all spheres of human life, to penetrate into the innermost corners of human soul.
Abai was one of the best-educated people of his time. He had a free command of Russian, Arabic, Persian, Chagatai languages, which enabled him to study masterpieces of world literature in the original. As Auezov put it, three great sources nurtured the ocean of Abai's knowledge: ancient Kazakh culture, preserved in oral and written folklore; the best samples of Oriental culture; and, last but not the least, Russian, and through it, world culture.
Owing to his superior intelligence, natural inquisitiveness and knowledge of many foreign languages he could avail himself of all the benefits of world enlightenment, of all the riches of both western and eastern cultures. Hence his encyclopedic knowledge, progressive world-outlook, a rare gift of verbal expression, which, integrated with his kind thought and clever feeling, bestowed upon us his unwithering poetry, wise precepts, subtle poetic translations.
Finally we reach the road linking Shyngystau with Semei, the main road of Abai's life, which he went by since the age of it up till the last of his days. He used to go to Semei to visit the medrese, the library, his friends; to settle the lawsuits of poor illiterate Kazakh people against tsarist officialdom, defending the innocent.
The Semei of those times had 12 mosques, a medrese, a Russian school, a library, a regional museum, the exploratory committee on statistics, over 30 administrative buildings. Many outstanding representatives of Russian intellectuals, Dostoevsky, Michaelis, Dolgopolov among them, lived and worked in Semei during their exile. Abai could have met Dostoevsky and Valikhanov in the streets of this town, when he studied here first in the medrese of Ahmet Riza and then in the Russian school. Besides, they could have met each other in the house of Tinibai, frequented by Dostoevsky and Valikhanov, where Abai sometimes came to see Makish-apa, the hostess of the house.
Abai presented the Semei regional museum, which was opened in 1883, with more than 60 valuable exhibits. Two years later Przewalsky visited the museum and was impressed by the richness of its collection. The American geographer J.Kennan after his stay in Semei wrote the book "Siberia and Exile", in which he spoke highly of the steppe thinker Abai. Michaelis, Dolgopolov, Gross were long-standing friends of Abai. It was thanks to their beneficial influence that Russian and Western philosophy became closer and more understandable to Abai.
There are quite a few places in Semei, which are associated with the name of Mukhtar Auezov: the town college, the seminary, the club. In between 1909-1919 Mukhtar studies in the college and seminary, In 1915 he, together with Nazipa and Nurgali Kulzhanovs, staged an amateur performance of "Birzhan and Sara's Aitys". Here he wrote his first stories and plays which brought him fame and recognition.
Many streets, parks, educational institutions of the town bear the names of Abai, Shakarim and Mukhtar. Many times this town was the venue of nation-wide holidays, marking these great poets' jubilees and demonstrating people's eternal love for them. Paraphrasing Abai's lines, cited above, one who creates immortal things, will live forever.
The blessed land of Abai has withstood many hard times, and under the blue flag of independence it is sure to overcome all the difficulties it faces now. A great future is in store for our motherland. The people of Abai are building a new life their best sons have been dreaming of. Striving for intellectual and humanistic heights, for unity, democracy and freedom, we shall succeed in our efforts.