Kazakhstan Marks 100 Years of Sagadat Nurmagambetov, Founding Architect of National Army

ASTANA – On May 25 Kazakhstan celebrates 100 years of Sagadat Nurmagambetov, the first Defense Minister of sovereign Kazakhstan, who laid the foundations of the national army force. His dazzling military career spanned over a remarkable epoch, from World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the establishment of an independent Kazakhstan’s national army.

Sagadat Nurmagambetov. Photo credit: gov.kz

Nurmagambetov was born in 1924 in Enbek village of the Akmola Region. His childhood was tough. At a young age, he lost his father and, later, his mother to the famine of 1932. Nurmagambetov was only eight years old when he found himself under the care of his older brother Sagit. When World War II broke out, in 1942 Sagit enlisted in the army and lost his life defending Pskov city in the early days of the conflict.

World War II

At the onset of the War, Nurmagambetov, aged 18, was enrolled in a machine gun school. Upon completing his training, he was deployed to the frontline in 1943, participating in the liberation of the Krasnodar region, Ukraine, Moldova, Western Belorussia, and Poland.

Holding the rank of major and leading a rifle battalion, Nurmagambetov participated in the storming of the Reichstag, Hitler’s Reich Chancellery, in Berlin.

In 1945, Nurmagambetov (L) was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Photo credit: gov.kz

In 1945, Nurmagambetov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his exemplary execution of combat missions during the breakthrough of enemy defenses in Poland and the crossing of Poland’s Pilica river.

Upon returning back to civilian life, he dedicated three years to studying at the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow before resuming his field career. He served in various staff and command positions: from senior officer to chief of staff, deputy commander of the troops of the Central Asian military district, and first deputy commander of the troops of the Southern Group of Forces in Hungary.

Independent Kazakhstan

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nurmagambetov was first appointed the Chairman of the State Defense Committee in 1991 and the Minister of Defense a year later. As the defense minister, Nurmagambetov was tasked with an important mission to train the newly established national armed forces in a country that had just gained independence. His major contribution was forming a base of highly qualified military specialists.

“The first and main lesson of the Great Patriotic War and many years of service in the army is to be closer to the soldier. To love him and to take care of him as if he were your own son or brother. A kind word, a smile could mean a lot. They are like a spring: pure and eternal,” he said in one of his interviews.

Nurmagambetov’s major contribution was forming a base of highly qualified military specialists. Photo credit: gov.kz

Reflecting on those early years, he compared the pressure to nothing short of the intensity felt during wartime.

“You wouldn’t believe it, the tension of those years, when the foundation stone was laid for the creation of our armed forces, was so great that it was comparable to wartime. It felt as though I was on the front lines. With the collapse of the [Soviet] Union, some generals and officers left for their ancestral homeland, there were units that were left without commanders. In addition, it was important to preserve the integrity of material resources and combat equipment,” said Nurmagambetov.

Even in retirement from the army in 1995, by which time he had received the title of Khalyk Kakharmany (National Hero), highest distinction in Kazakhstan, he continued his career as an advisor to Kazakhstan’s President and as a defense minister.

Nurmagambetov passed away in 2013 at the age of 89.

“If I made a certain contribution to the defeat of fascism, to the cause of strengthening the defense capability of the Soviet state, the formation of the Kazakh armed forces, I believe that I fulfilled my duty to the Motherland,” he wrote once.

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