Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan was a nomadic land until the 20th century. Russians annexed it in 1840-1860 and after the communist revolution forcibly settled the Kazakhs down. The fierce local steppes(-40 C winter temperatures) were then used for imprisonment, forced labour and murder of political opponents and persecuted minorities.

Kazakhstan thus became a prison and a grave to many Lithuanians after Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in 1940.

Today this part of the Soviet genocide is reminded by the Lithuanian-funded monuments. One of the largest GULAG concentration camp systems was the Karlag. Its prisoners were forced to exploit resources and to build the city of Karagandy (pop. 500 000). Its former Spask GULAG (30 km south of Karagandy) was once nicknamed "brotherly graves" for high death rates; a memorial cemetary now stands here. Its every "grave" is for a nation rather than a man. Georgians, Latvians, Koreans, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, even Japanese and Philipinos (POWs) have their memorials. Lithuanian victims of exile have one too (1990 small obelisk, 2004 larger monument). Some 5000 are buried in this cemetary, having succumbed to harsh conditions or killed on purpose. Not far away in a former Karlag HQ at Dolinka village there is a museum for GULAG victims. Even in 1954 (after Stalin died) this GULAG housed some 20500 prisoners, ~3000 of them Lithuanians (15% total, even though Lithuanians made up only 1% Soviet Union population).

Later many victims of exiles were permitted to leave Kazakhstan but this was difficult as all their property would have been confiscated. Thus Karagandy city still has a Lithuanian community, its leader Vitalijus Tvarijonas having established a Lithuanian-style farmstead.

Republic of Lithuania funded another monument in Steplag (Kingyr / Kengyr) Gulag. Some 3000 Lithuanians were imprisoned here when many political prisoners revolted in 1954 after Stalin's death failed to lead to their release. Soviets then murdered some 700 prisoners, an unknown number of them Lithuanians. The memorial "For Lithuanians who struggled and died in Steplag" has been built in 2004 (50th anniversary of the revolt).

The third massive Kazakhstan GULAG system was Peshchenlag near Lake Balkhash. Its prisoners built the Balkhash town (pop. 70 000). The local cemetary has at least 253 Lithuanian graves although the local monument is quite modest and reminds a gravestone.

Today ~7000 Lithuanians live in Kazakhstan. In addition to former political prisoners there are people sent in by the Soviet government as settlers (and their descendants). In addition to Karagandy a lively community exists in Almaty (the capital until 1997 and still the largest city) where it meets at the local chapter of Lithuanian embassy. Modern capital Astana (pop. 800 000) is largely post-Soviet and has few Lithuanians.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Europe (East), Kazakhstan Leave a comment
Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.


Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.