Aron Atabek – the man, the writer, the poet and the fighter – was born on January 31, 1953. His great-great grandfather was a Kazakh poet-warrior and among the leaders of the rebellion against Russian tsarist rule.
Aron’s father survived the Golodomor mass famine under Stalin in the 1930s but was subjected to long years in the Gulag. Aron studied linguistics and Mongol and Turkic culture at universities in Kazakhstan and Russia and read widely. He wrote about the dramas in life – the historical, the mythological and the tragically commonplace. He also studied and lectured widely in linguistics and local history and culture as well as serving in the State Committee for Cinematography and separately organizing political activities and publishing.
Some of the poems in this book show that on many occasions in his life, Aron has clearly felt at one with his ancestors – fierce warriors of the steppes and believers in the Tengri faith. At other times he has found himself alongside socialists in struggles for justice and against modern-day tyranny.
Before the collapse of Stalinist dictatorship in the region, and supposed independence for Kazakhstan, Aron witnessed and wrote about the violent confrontations with armed police in December 1986 in the country’s then capital, Almaty.
Twenty years later, in 2006, he was amongst peaceful demonstrators who confronted the bulldozers sent in to destroy the shanty town of Shanyrak on the outskirts of the same city. Hundreds of poor families had been attempting to put a roof over their heads. He was badly injured in the clashes. For his pains, he was arrested and imprisoned in 2007 for 18 years on false charges of killing a policeman during the battles. (Witnesses who spoke against him in court, later admitted they had lied under extreme pressure, but Kazakhstan’s courts are not prepared to consider this as grounds for Aron’s realease.)
His defiant spirit and refusal to be silenced have amazed Aron’s admirers and constantly angered his enemies. He has endured the harshest of treatment while in prison, spending most of his internment in solitary confinement – punishment for his unceasing criticism of the Nazarbayev regime. His determination to think clearly and to write, to protest and to hold on to his humanity and sense of humour, have never ceased to inspire those who know him (and to anger those who hold him in chains!).
Many of Aron’s works have been published and won international recognition and awards. He is known as the poet-defender of the down-trodden and in 2010 was awarded the ‘Imprisoned Artist Prize’. Now some of his letters and poems written in prison are emerging. One of his earliest ‘tortures’ by the authorities was depribing him of paper and pencils. NGOs worldwide, like Pen International, have helped publicise Aron’s case. Some, unfortunately, such as Amnesty International, have refused on the spurious grounds that he might have had a hand in killing the policeman – guilty until proven innocent! This must change.
Aron Atabek is one of the most famous political prisoners in the country – along with the human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin. Vadim has been locked away for exposing the horrific abuse and torture of prisoners that goes into solitary confinement as cruel revenge for having the audacity to speak up against the authorities. These heroes remain unbowed. The London-based Campaign Kazakhstan, which has helped with the production of this book, may not share all of Aron’s political views, but it champions his valiant fight against the powers-that-be. The campaign continues for the dropping of all charges against him and for his immediate release.
We sincerely hope that this modest publication of some of his poems in English for the first time will bring wider attention to his plight and help build a campaign for his freedom and that of all political prisoners in Kazakhstan.
Preface to RE-ZONA-NCE by Elizabeth Clarke
This endeavour, of course, would have been impossible without the painstakingly beautiful translating of the original verses written in Russian by Alfia Nakipbekova along with Niall McDevitt.
This book was launched at a gathering in London to mark the fourth anniversary of the bloody massacre by state forces of workers and their families in Zhanaozen on December 16th 2011.
My father was a slave of the Soviet State,
In the gold mines of Kolyma.
And my destiny, too, is repeating this pattern –
Of the Kolyma’s brutality.
The father was tired in court as an ‘ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE’,
So, it turns out that I am a ‘SON OF THE ENEMY’,
I break rocks with a pickaxe, together with him –
Not different from him.
Russia is my Mother, and my Father is Kazakhstan,
My childhood spent on the Volga-river, I grew up in Alma-Ata,
I used to kick-open the doors to the Throne Room of those in power,
With a strong belief in my rights and righteousness.
Ah, Borchzhigan-Berish, the Kagan tribe,
It was giving me the mystic power and strength,
The people followed me in rapture –
And our might was unconquerable.
And we fought and won for our Shanyrak,
And, with it, the whole country of Kazakhstan,
And we were inspired by the spirit of Makhambet –
And we were free of fear.
The Truth is discernible even in a small drop of reality,
We fought against Nazarbaev – a Dzhungar,
His rule is venal and base –
He is a traitor of the Land of Kazakhstan.
Shanyrak lives and will live on and stand firm forever.
But we, and so be it, we will endure our term of imprisonment in the camps,
But, the hour will arrive, and, trust us –
We will see the Dzhungar’s head at our feet!
The nightmares of the labour camps will pass,
To suffer for our natiom is ur duty and a great cause,
I am writing this poem in the Zone,
And the world responds: RE-ZONA-NCE.
A GIRL FROM SHANYRAK
I have my own Aidana,
This name is a Tengri symbol,
“Ai – Dana” is a Wisdom of the Moon.
But another Aidana, from Yili,
Dedicated her poem to a prisoner,
In this poem – a burning Shanyrak,
In this poem – both a friend and a foe.
We, the Kazakhs, lost our Land,
Even the girl from Yili,
Realizes that is The End,
The heart is torn by the bullet.
To give away the Kazakhs’ Land to strangers,
This is like – selling one’s own Mother,
This is like – forcing one’s Father to become a tramp,
This is to accept the regime of bastard!
And destroy the heart of the sacred homeland,
And to doom the people to darkness,
And to make their children orphans,
Tearing the hearts of their mothers.
We, the Kazakhs, are peculiar nation,
We are ruled by the Tyran, Uglyone,
He sold everything there was to sell,
He took away everything there was to take away.
…And we fought in the Soviet system –
For INDEPENDENCE of the Kazakhs,
Spending our youth in prisons –
Going through circles of GULAGs!
Dedicated heroes and sages make HISTORY –
But the fruit of their efforts is stolen by rogues,
Yesterday and today the same men –
Soviet apparatchiks holding the power!
And again the return of the STALINIST system –
‘No person – no problem!’
And again, everyone silent –
In fear of imprisonment!
The deaths in strange circumstances:
ERIC, NAGASHBAI, MICHAIL, MUSTAFA, TEMIRTAS, NURBOLAT –
Murders of ZAMANBEK and ALTYNBEK,
Burned down ‘SHANYRAK’ –
And we are prisoners forever!
Journalists murdered for a single word of TRUTH –
ASKHAT, NURI and BATYRKHAN,
And randomly thrown into prison –
EVGENY, TOKHNIYAZ, ERMEK and RAMAZAN!
The personality Cult and cult in Personality –
And again, the dark era of STALINISM,
The bloody TYRAN’S hand on the wheel –
And KAZAKHSTAN is turned into NURLAG!
Translated by Alfia Nakipbekova Co-translated by Niall McDevitt © Alfia Nakipbekova Published by Campaign Kazakhstan firstname.lastname@example.org Design and Layout: Kavita Graphics (TU) Printed by Russel Press (TU) email@example.com ISBN: 1-870958-68-3 978 EAN: 9781870958684 RE-ZONA-NCE