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South Kazakhstan Regional Historical Museum

A good place to start your sightseeing in Shymkent is just south of the Central Park at the South Kazakhstan Regional Historical Museum. It is well laid out, with labelling in Kazakh, some Russian and occasionally English. A display on nature features the stuffed animal-filled dioramas beloved by this kind of museum. Then archaeology, with items on display from the Palaeolithic to the medieval periods. There are patterned ceramics from the Otrar Oasis and Sayram, and tilework from medieval Turkestan. Ethnography follows, with displays of jewellery, costumes and the packed contents of half a yurt. A short English-language description of the local crafts includes the intriguing 'weaving of mates'. Now that would be a good skill to have. There are displays of the utensils used by both pastoralists and crop farmers, reflecting the regions location at the interface between traditionally nomadic and traditionally settled agricultural communities. There are displays too on the Kazakh khanates.

The exhibits continue upstairs, with items relating to life in Shymkent under the control of the Khanate of Kokand in the 19th century. It was evidently not an altogether happy experience, as there were local uprisings against the demands of the Kokand khan in 1821 and again in the 1850s. The arrival of the Russians in 1864 put an end to that page of history, and Shymkent became an uyezd administrative capital three years later. There is a mock-up of the comfy office of the uyezd administrator, and one of a living room of Russian immigrants to the area in the late 19th century, with an icon in the corner of the room and a samovar on the table. Items related to the 1916 uprising against the Tsarist rulers include a photograph of the round-spectacled Turar Ryskulov, one of the rebellion's local leaders.

Coverage of the early Soviet period includes a mock-up of a 'red yurt', a scheme to bring ideologically tinged education to nomadic communities, its contents including a blackboard, arithmetic textbooks and a golden bust of Lenin. Coverage of World War II includes a list of the local Heroes of the Soviet Union inside a large red star. Photographs of the Shymkent lead factory show it geared up to wartime production. Items related to local wartime heroes include a French newspaper article, recounting the exploits with the partisan resistance of Akhmet Bektaev, an escaped prisoner of war. There is a bust of wrestler Hajimukan Munaytpasov, who gives his name to Shymkent's 37,000-capacity stadium, the home of local football team FC Ordabasy.

The displays cover some of the grimmer episodes of the late Soviet period: the bloody conclusion to the 1986 demonstrations in Almaty, the Chernobyl disaster and the war in Afghanistan. An eerie frieze depicts balbals with machine guns and Red Army helmets. There are photographs of artistic and sporting stars from the region, of whom the best known internationally is the gymnast Nellie Kim, who was trained by Vladimir Baiden at the Spartak Sports Society School in the city. In the Montreal Olympics in 1976, Kim became the first women's gymnast in Olympic history to receive perfect 10 scores on both the vault and floor exercises, securing these scores with the first ever performance in the Olympics women's events of a Tsukahara with full twist on the vault, and double back salto on the floor. But she had to settle for silver in the all-around, beaten overall by her arch rival, Nadia Comaneci of Romania. The Portuguese-Canadian singer Nelly Furtado (full name Nelly Kim Furtado) was named after her.

Coverage of the post-independence period includes photographs of President Nazarbaevs visits to the region. There is an embroidered cloak presented to the president, and a fur-collared version given to his wife. Displays highlighting the output of local factories include packets of pasta and Shymkent beer.