Monday, May 5, 2014

People's Unity Day

written by Robyn

Kazakhstan prides itself on a long history of welcoming other peoples of different faiths and traditions.

Part of the ancient Silk Road, there have always been traders and travelers crossing its land.  More recently in the Soviet era, Stalin forced resettlement of many ethnic groups to Kazakhstan, and the Steppe was the destination for a number of people deported within the USSR or imprisoned in Gulags in its harsh climate, far from Moscow. Continuing its long history of taking care of its visitors, there are stories of the Kazakh people sharing food with suffering prisoners during the long winters, and welcoming them on their eventual release from prison, when many chose to stay locally.

I see this legacy today, even among my relatively small group of colleagues. There is the ethnic German who's married to a woman with a Kazakh father and a Ukrainian mother.  There are two Kazakhs, only one of whom speaks Kazakh (as she was raised in a village by her grandparents), and another who has a Kazakh father and a Chinese mother.  A Ukrainian colleague is ethnically Russian but grew up in Uzbekistan (so after one attempt at the subject we stopped talking about current Russian/Ukrainian politics), and an ethnic Ukrainian colleague was born and raised in Kazakhstan. Oh, and his wife is Polish.   And I always thought it was only Americans and Canadians who got so mixed up!

Hence, People's Unity Day is a fitting holiday, and worth celebrating in a region where there are many ethnic conflicts.  It is celebrated on May 1 and 2 (or whatever it takes to make a four day weekend).  While not a holiday for me, Kevin and I took a long lunch break to enjoy some of the local festivities including a Festival of Nations.

In the large square close to the Palace of Independence, a small village was set up with houses and costumed hosts representing the various ethnic communities living in Kazakhstan.  Some we can guess, some we don't have a clue.  Any ideas?

Who is this strong man?
Typical architecture...but from where?

Great pitchers, right?

or is this Uzbeki?

Kazakh!  or maybe Mongolian?
This tower is a clue...just not for me.
Jewish diaspora
We recognized the Ukrainians!
Clearly we need to learn more Russian to be able to ask where people are from... And in terms of we modern-day Western visitors to Kazakhstan? We'll have to get our own booth next time.

Nevertheless, a worthy occasion.  I think we could all use a day to celebrate unity, despite our different backgrounds.

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