Kazakhstan’s spiritual renewal will be supported by all society, scholar believes

ALMATY – Culture and spirituality are the life of the people, their mind and heart, their past, present and future, says Kazakh National Academy of Science corresponding member and Mukhtar Auezov Institute of Literature and Art Director Ualikhan Kalizhanov.


In his article “Course towards the future: modernisation of Kazakhstan’s identity,” President Nursultan Nazarbayev has outlined ambitious tasks for scientists, cultural figures and intellectuals.

Modernisation of public consciousness will become the core of the ongoing political and economic transformations. In Kazakhstan, the cultural and spiritual heritage of the people is systematically studied and promoted.

Since 2004, the state Madeni Mura (Cultural Heritage) programme has allowed, in particular, to return the manuscript collections of literary heritage, published in the 19th-20th centuries in the Arabic, Latin and Old Turkic alphabets, the texts of folklore that had not been published earlier. Only scientists understand the efforts spent to study the texts, restore the names of religious and historical personalities, tale-tellers, copyists and folklorists, clarify geographical names, compose various versions of texts and write scientific opinions and explanations for the unique corpus of Kazakh folklore “Babalar Sozi” in 100 volumes. I was a witness and participant in the preparation of the last 20 volumes of this project; I lived each one through my heart. This publication will make a significant contribution to the renewal of national consciousness, spirit and culture.

The Great Steppe survived both the times of great prosperity and the burden of turbulent times. Al-Farabi, Mahmud al-Kashgari, Balasaguni, Al-Khorezmi, Ibn-Sina, Yassawi and Ulykbek, who lived in different epochs, have made an invaluable contribution to the development of world civilisation. The works of the geniuses of the steppe gave impetus to the Renaissance in Europe. Today, the names of Navoi, Nizami, Magtumguli, Abai, Nazim Hikmet, Gabdulla Tukay, Chingiz Aitmatov, Abdi-Zhamil Nurpeissov and many other poets and writers became symbols of Turkic literature. Their heritage still continues to be studied.

The golden age of studying Kazakh literature is associated with the period of independence. What projects are implemented by your institute?

There is great importance of folklore, literature and art in the development of modern national consciousness. Thus, the publication of the classic works of Kazakh scholars of the past years enriched our science and was really embodied in the Gylymi Kazyna (Scholarly Wealth) project finished by the institute. It is important to show the way the ideas of independence were formed under conditions of sovereignty, the way we overcame the obstacles of censorship and ideological dictate. In the series “Classical Studies,” the works of Russian scientists, Russian orientalists, folklorists and collectors of the musical heritage of the Kazakh people are returning to modernity; they are gaining new life.

Speaking about preserving the national identity, the President stressed: “Our national traditions and customs, language and music, literature and wedding ceremonies – in a word, the national spirit – must remain with us forever. Abai’s wisdom, Auezov’s pen, Zhambyl’s penetrating lines, the magic sounds of Kurmangazy and the eternal call of Aruah are only a part of our spiritual culture.” The “Anthology of Kazakh Music” in eight books, published first by the Institute within the framework of the Cultural Heritage programme under the management of Doctor of Art History Sarah Kuzembai, is an original dialogue with the past and a spiritual testament to descendants, the opening of new angles of the original centuries-long culture of the Kazakh people.

No modernisation can take place without preserving the national culture. “A special attitude towards our native land, its culture, customs and traditions is the most important feature of patriotism. This is the basis of the cultural and genetic code that makes any nation a nation and not a collection of individuals,” says Nazarbayev. The head of state also notes: “Even largely modernised societies contain codes of culture, the origins of which go back to the past. The first condition for a new type of modernisation is the preservation of its culture, its own national code.”

Could you please explain the meaning of the cultural code concept which is actively used nowadays?

The cultural code of the nation is the key to understanding this type of culture, since it incorporates unique cultural features that are transmitted from its ancestors. The cultural code defines the people’s psychology and consciousness. In world history, in accordance with the epoch, the state policy and the level of culture, the role of socio-cultural codes gets transformed, but they preserve their identity and national features.

The cultural code of the people of Kazakhstan is original and unique, as are the culture and literature of ethnic groups inhabiting our republic. The literary process of Kazakhstan at the present stage undoubtedly has a common unifying principle. In the first half of the 1990s Kazakhstan experienced a literary boom, the creative activity of poets and writers became more active. Newspapers started publishing in Kazakh, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, English, German, Korean, Uzbek, Uighur, Turkish and other languages. Theatre and music performances appeared on the stages of national theatres; ethnic schools started functioning in places of compact residence of ethnic minorities.

The cultural code of the people of Kazakhstan is reflected in contemporary literature and art. Kazakhstan is a common motherland for everyone who lives in this land. The authors of works, regardless of nationality, are characterised by a very personal, emotional attitude to their homeland. The artistic concept of “My Kazakhstan” in a number of ethnic literatures is reflected as the Eurasian cultural and aesthetic mentality.

Literature continues to play an important role in the development of modern national identity. The newest literature of Kazakhstan is distinguished by the variety of topics, the richness of poetics and style. The national literature of the sovereign republic over the past 25 years has been enriched with significant poetic and prosaic works in which the preservation of national identity, the importance of historical continuity and ethnic memory are revealed through the strengthening of ethnic motives. The authors of the monographs “Literature of the People of Kazakhstan” and “Modern Literature of the People of Kazakhstan examined the national literature of the republic as a single community.

In general, the study of the cultural code of the people of Kazakhstan remains one of the key moments in understanding the essence of a particular person and nation in the new millennium.

The President proposed launching a project called “Modern Kazakh culture in the global world.” The Institute of Literature and Art has experience cooperating with translators and publishing works of Kazakh cultural heritage abroad. What has already been done in this direction?

Through the initiative of a number of diplomatic missions of Kazakhstan, the embassies in Turkey and Poland published “Kunge Ushkan Sunkar” in the Turkish and Kazakh languages and “Kyz Zhibek,” “Koblandy Batyr,” and Kazakh folk tales in Polish. In South Korea, in Korean and English, the epics “Kozy-Korpesh – Bayan-Sulu,” “Kyz Zhibek,” “Kambar Batyr” and fairy tales have been published.

In the Kasachiche Bibliothek series, works by Abai and prose by Mukhtar Auezov, Ilyas Esenberlin, Tahawi Akhtanov, Abish Kekilbayev, Moris Simashko, Gerold Belger, Valery Mikhailov and many other authors were published in German. Great assistance in helping the Kazakh embassy staff publish this series was provided by an old friend of our institute: publisher, writer and translator Leonhard Kossuth. It is thanks to him that Abai was first pronounced in German.

Abai’s poetic collections were published in Belarusian, translated by Mykola Metlitsky; in Polish, translated by Raissa Yukhnevich; and in Korean, translated by Kim Ben Hak. The institute has published a scientific collection, “Abai Kunanbayev’s Creativity in Foreign Presentations,” which demonstrates the popularity of the great Abai in different countries.

The institute promotes the best examples of modern national culture and literature to the rest of the world. With the support of the International Fund for Humanitarian Cooperation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the volumes “A Song is Singing Under the Dombra. Folklore and Literary Monuments of Kazakhstan,” “The Heavens Above My Head. Folklore and Literary Monuments of Kazakhstan,” and “Under the Sail of the Eternal Sky” were published in the Classic Literature of the CIS series. Editions were presented in the Sorbonne and in Vienna and Berlin, and transferred to the Sorbonne library. This will help European researchers get acquainted with the rich literary heritage of Kazakhstan and CIS countries.

The epic narrations of founder and first president of the Kazakhstan PEN Club Abdi-Zhamil Nurpeissov, “Blood and Sweat” and “Final Respects,” which address mankind’s actions in the 20th century, have been translated into 35 languages. New editions of “Final Respects” have been published in Russia, and now both books have been published in English. Well-known world newspapers The Washington Post and The New York Times both covered the publications. French literary critic Albert Fischler called the works of Nurpeissov “a great historical fresco” acquainting readers with the ancient and complex history of the Kazakh people.

Do the leading scientists of your institute study modern world literary trends?

Of course. In co-authorship with foreign literary scholars and critics, “Essays on World Literature at the Turn of the 20th and 21st Centuries” and “The Newest Foreign Literature and The World Literary Process of the 21st Century” were published.

The International Union of German Culture with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany in Moscow published the second edition of the anthology of German literature, “Der Misstrauischen Sonne Entgegen” (“Toward the Mistrustful Sun”). The works of Kazakh-German writers Rudolf Jacmien, Alexei Debolsky and Gerold Belger and articles about their work by well-known Kazakh literary critic and member of our institute Svetlana Ananiyeva were published there.

Tell us about well-received anthologies of modern Kazakh literature published in English.

The publication of the anthologies “The Stories of the Great Steppe” and “Summer Evening, Prairie Night, Land of Golden Wheat. The Outside World in Kazakh Literature” was a joint project of the Ministry of Education and Science, the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the United States, Columbia University and the Auezov Institute of Literature and Art. According to American scientists Robert Gutmann and Paul Michael Taylor, “The Stories of the Great Steppe” help readers take “an intellectual and literary journey to Kazakhstan” and open to the English-speaking reader “the new world of Central Asian literature – the diversity of culture and the multilingualism of Kazakhstan.” The book is used as a teaching aid in universities in the United States where Kazakhstan and Kazakh culture is studied.

Since ancient times, the nomads have developed their own specific vision of the relationship between man and nature. “Summer Evening, Prairie Night, Land of Golden Wheat. The Outside World in Kazakh Literature,” which includes works by 19th and 20th century authors, allows us to see how environmental issues have evolved and become better understood, and how the study of the problem of “man and nature” has developed. The reader finds in the works of Kazakh authors, from Abai to Olzhas Suleimenov and from Mukhtar Auezov to Satimzhan Sanbayev, pictures of the traditional way of life, historical events, landscape descriptions and so on.

The publication of the anthologies was an important milestone in advancing the achievements of Kazakh literature abroad, enhancing its international image. New translations of works by Kazakh authors have now become available to English-speaking readers.

Where did the presentation of these publications take place?

The anthologies were presented at the National Press Club in Washington, at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty, at Gumilyov Eurasian National University in Astana, and with the participation of the heads of diplomatic missions accredited in our country, at the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the United States and at the Permanent Mission Kazakhstan to the UN in Geneva.

I will also add that the collection “The World of Olzhas Suleimenov” was published in the framework of the ongoing scientific project “Kazakh-American Literary Cooperation of the Newest Age.” The collection of articles, reviews, responses, forewords to Suleimenov’s books published in foreign countries and interviews with the poet continues the series International Relations in Kazakh Literature and reveals Suleimenov’s creative role in Germany, Poland, Mongolia, the U.S., France, and South Korea. The presentation of this book was an event for the cultural life of the country and generated discussion abroad.

The authors of the new collective monograph “Kazakh-American Literary Links: Current State and Prospects” trace the transformation of the spiritual aspirations of writers and poets of the two countries. At the centre of the study of Russian and American literary critics is the newest period of Kazakh-American literary cooperation, the identification of trends and innovations in the system of contemporary literary and cultural contacts. The Auezov Institute of Literature and Art is developing the theme of the transformation of the American and Kazakh novel at the present stage.

Do you think Kazakhstan’s scientific and creative community is ready to implement the projects identified by the head of state?

Undoubtedly. This was also indicated by the previous fruitful activity of scientific organisations, theatres, creative universities, scientists, musicians, poets and writers … New projects, for sure, will be supported by all Kazakhs.

The President sees computer literacy and knowledge of foreign languages as a factor in the success of the nation in the 21st century. We will be known by our cultural achievements; that’s why the head of state includes competitiveness in the modern world of culture on the agenda for the next few years.

The spiritual renewal of our society, the unity of the people of Kazakhstan will contribute to the implementation of those global tasks.

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