Saken Seifullin: Resonant Advocate for Kazakhstan’s Quest for Self-Governance

ASTANA – Saken Seifullin, the founder of modern Kazakh literature, renowned poet, writer and politician, was among those who advocated for the establishment of a republic as a form of self-governance.

Saken Seifullin. Photo credit: New Asia/Facebook.

Born on Oct. 15, 1894, in the Ortau village in the Akmola district, his parents nurtured Seifullin’s passion for poetry and music from an early age. At 17, he published his first collection of poems, “Otken Kunder” (Days Past). Three years later, he founded the cultural socio-political society called Zhas Kazakh (Young Kazakh) and played a key role in launching the newspaper “Tirshilik” (Life).

Seifullin believed that the Kazakh nation should have the opportunity to develop independently, free from external influences, alongside the Alash Orda leaders who started the movement for autonomy, and statehood.

In his journalistic writings, Seifullin constantly addressed pressing international and domestic issues, urging citizens to express their needs in newspapers and magazines, stating that a “person who does not read newspapers and magazines is blind and ignorant.”

Seifullin was among the first to raise a fundamental question of identity because the Kazakh people had been called Kyrgyz for nearly two centuries. He addressed this issue in one of his articles, gaining support from the creative intelligentsia. However, this led to the Moscow leadership marking him as a nationalist.

He raised challenging issues regarding the status of the Kazakh language. Because of the “Kyzyl Sunkarlar” (Red Falcons) play, where he proudly spoke about the Kazakh nation, Seifullin was also subjected to a barrage of political criticism.

The people’s interests came first for Seifullin. He believed in Soviet power and hoped for its progress. On May 26, 1936, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor for the contribution to the Soviet state, but just a year later, he was arrested on charges of treason, being allegedly an enemy of the people under Article 58.

Seifullin endured severe torture in prison and was ultimately sentenced to death on charges of nationalism and terrorist activities. He was executed on April 25, 1938, in one of the prisons in Alma-Ata.

In April 1938, his wife, Gulbahram, was sentenced to seven years as the spouse of an “enemy of the people.” Their little children died during those terrible years of repression.

Twenty years later, on March 21, 1957, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union posthumously rehabilitated Seifullin due to a lack of evidence of any crime.

Saken Seifullin, a man of high moral character, a dedicated public figure who once served as one of the first chairmans of the Council of People’s Commissars, was deeply devoted to revolutionary ideals. Tragically, the revolution ultimately betrayed him.

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