Trans Eurasia travel

Karaganda Historical Museum

Take Lobody Street running around the back of the Miners' Cultural House. This is something of a cultural district of Karaganda: you pass a musical comedy theatre on your right and a small puppet theatre on your left. At the next intersection, with Erubaev Street, stands the local historical museum, set back from the road.

This is one of the better regional museums, with a good number of displays in English, as well as Kazakh and Russian. The first room is devoted to the post-independence achievements of Kazakhstan. Then comes the natural environment. One display here focuses on the 458km Irtysh-Karaganda Canal named after Satpaev, constructed at the beginning of the 1970s to bring additional water supplies to the industries of Karaganda. The next room explores the region's wildlife through the usual array of stuffed animals. The ducks are for some reason translated into English as 'woofs'. A display of the work of the Phytochemistry Institute in Karaganda features a photograph rather charmingly labelled, in English, 'demonstration of foreign scientist'. Another display describes the disintegration of a Proton rocket, fired from the Baikonur launch site, on 5 July 1999. Fragments were scattered across the region. There is a photograph of the rocket's twisted engine, surrounded by worried-looking officials.

Next comes early history, with a model of the Golden Man taking centre stage. There is a Bronze Age burial and a model of a kurgan from the early Iron Age. The next room continues the chronology. There is a fragment of turquoise tilework from the 13th-century Mausoleum of Jochi Khan in the Ulytau Mountains, and wall maps depict the Golden Horde and the formation of the Kazakh Khanate. There are displays on the fighting between Kazakhs and Dzhungars. A diorama depicts the ruins of a Kazakh village after the Dzhungars have left. There are photographs of the ceremony of oath-taking of the Kazakhs of the Middle Horde to the Russian Empire. The Tsarist-era resettlement of Slavonic peoples to the area is illustrated by a mock-up of a home of one of the resettled families, with log walls, an icon in the corner, a samovar on the table and large quantities of linen. A copy of a document dating back to 1895 from the Governor of Poltava announces the resettlement of 50 peasant families to Kazakhstan. A display on the lives of the early coal miners includes some appallingly bleak photographs of life below ground, as well as photographs of Honorary Miners, proudly showing off their numerous medals. There is also an ethnographic section, with displays of jewellery and embroidered costumes.

The displays continue upstairs. The next room focuses on the Kazakh nationalist movements of the early part of the 20th century and on the rebellion of 1916, a painting of whose leader, Amangeldy Imanov, dominates the room. Next comes a somewhat dull room, full of photographs of the past stars of the region's theatres, and then a room chronicling the development of coal mining in the region. There is a display about the works of the geologists, such as Aleksandr Gapeev, who explored the area's coal reserves. The establishment of the Kazstroyugol organisation in 1929 heralded a major uplift in efforts to develop the coalfields. Awards given to those involved in the effort are on display, and there are photographs of workers at the Stakhanov Mine No 20, taking its name from a legendarily productive miner.

The next room provides an uneasy combination of displays about the GuLag labour camps with ones about World War II, the latter focusing on local heroes of the military campaign. The GuLag displays include a map showing the huge expanse covered by the administrative area of the Karaganda camp complex known as KarLag. A stark relief at the end of the room depicts those incarcerated at KarLag toiling in shifting rocks, and then laying down to die. The war heroes whose exploits are described in the adjoining displays include Nurken Abdirov, whose mother is rather intrusively photographed gazing at a photo of her son, and Honorary Miner Bekbosin Sikhimbaev, who came out of retirement to go back down the mines in order to dig for victory.

The museum displays continue into the post-war Soviet period. A photo shows the miners of Karaganda holding aloft the billionth tonne of coal extracted. With further abrupt changes of tone, a display on noted local literary figures abuts one on the young men of the region killed in Afghanistan. There is a display on nuclear tests held around Semipalatinsk, and one on the sports stars of Karaganda Region. The next room focuses on space, with a reverential display about Kazakhstan's first cosmonaut, Tokhtar Aubakirov, who hails from Karaganda Region. The tubes of food consumed by the cosmonauts, looking just like toothpaste tubes, are on display. The Soviet space authorities did not go in for alluring presentation: the tubes are labelled, baldly, 'fruit dessert' or 'coffee with milk'. The following room covers post-independence Karaganda, with displays about the industrial enterprises of the region. 'Made in Karaganda' food products are exhibited, including bread, ice cream and chocolate squirrels. The last room focuses on President Nazarbaev, with photographs of the young future president working at the Temirtau steel plant and, as the First Secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party, speaking with striking miners in 1989. He is also shown back at the Temirtau blast furnace in 2000, testing the quality of the molten metal.


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