Trans Eurasia travel

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North of Central Square

Take Beibitshilik Street northwards from Central Square. One block on, outside the pink-walled columned building housing Astana's court, is the Monument to Justice, erected in 1998. This statue depicts the seated figures of Kazybek Bi, Tole Bi and Aiteke Bi, the respected wise judges, each representing a different zhuz, who in the 18th century promoted the unity of the Kazakh tribes in combating the threat posed by the Dzhungars. An inscription in Kazakh, Russian and English addresses the importance not only of fair judgments, but also of both unity and indeed authority: 'If there is no owner of the fire, your motherland will be enveloped in flames'.

A further block north, turn right onto Seifullin Street. Another block on, at the corner of Seifullin and Auezov streets, stands the attractive single-storey log- walled house built for a 19th-century merchant named Kazantsev. It now houses the recently restored Saken Seifullin Museum. Seifullin, born in 1894 in the present-day Karaganda Region, was a Kazakh writer and political activist. He studied in Akmola before teacher training in Omsk. His political activities took over from his brief career as a rural teacher, as, back in Akmola, he created the Zhas Kazakh ('Young Kazakh') movement and supported the Bolshevik Revolution. One of his poems written at this time is credited with being the first piece of Soviet literature written in the Kazakh language. He became a member of the Soviet authorities in Akmola, and was arrested when the White forces took control of the town in June 1918. Escaping from captivity, he returned to Akmola via a spell in Aulie-Ata. He edited the newspaper Enbekshi Kazakh ('Kazakh Worker'), became Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, and headed the delegation from Kazakhstan which attended Lenin's funeral in 1924. But like many intellectual ethnic Kazakh politicians, he was considered as suspect for his 'nationalist' views, and fell victim to Stalin's repression. He was shot on 25 February 1938.

The museum authorities insist that you wear canvas slippers over your shoes. These refuse to stay on properly, causing you to shuffle round the exhibits. The first room contains photographs of the moustachioed Seifullin, as well as a large wall carpet portraying the writer and Lake Borovoye. This room takes you to a corridor, with the rest of the museum's collection off it. The first room on the left has photographs of his early life. Then comes a room focusing on the revolutionary and early Soviet periods, with a model of the house in Akmola in which he lived and a large painting portraying his arrest in 1918. There is a photograph of the smart house in Orenburg in which he lived from 1922-25. Photographs of Seifullin from the early 1920s show his moustache varying enormously in length, from clipped-above-the-mouth to twirly and expansive.

The next room offers display cases with items of his clothing, both Western and Eastern in style, a battered suitcase and an umbrella. There is a mock-up of his study across the corridor. The frontispieces of his works are displayed, in both the Arabic and Cyrillic scripts, as well as photographs of his family life. A gold pocket watch was presented to him by the government in 1936 to mark the 20th anniversary of his literary and public activity. Just two years later he was shot as an enemy of the people, an episode covered in the next room, which also includes books written about the (rehabilitated) Seifullin, and a display of items related to the centenary of his birth in 1994, including a postage stamp issued to mark the occasion.

Outside the museum is a statue of Seifullin, installed in 1994 as part of the commemorations of the centenary of his birth. It depicts the seated artist in a relaxed mood, his coat slung over the back of his chair.

Continuing east along Seifullin Street, turn right at the next intersection onto Respublika Avenue. One block along, at the intersection with Abai Avenue, stands a bulky statue of the Kazakh poet Abai, wrapping a cloak around himself us protection against the cold. The monument was installed in 2000, suitably located in front of the Hotel Abai. A somewhat downcast expression on the poet's face suggests that he may have stayed there.