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Home arrow History arrow Kazak Intermediaries and Russian Rule on the Steppe, 1731-1917


Education: Kazakness for the Empire

As the new “civilizing” institutions and administrative organs associated with the Provisional Statute gradually fell into place, non-Russian intermediaries like Altynsarin had new opportunities to advance their professional and political agendas. At first, he requested and received a transfer away from the Orenburg fortress school to become a clerk in the administration of Turgai district.58 Over the following decade, he proved useful as an investigator of natural disasters and suspicious deaths among the Kazak population of the district, while also briefly serving as a judge.59 Thus by the mid-1870s he was well established as an intelligent and trustworthy agent of the imperial administration. But the most famous role Altynsarin found, from the early 1870s on, was in developing educational programs for the new Russo-Kazak schools of Turgai province. Here, gradually rising to a supervisory position, Altynsarin further delineated what did, and did not, make a Kazak, while embedding all of his work within a model of imperial citizenship.

By allotting a subsidy of 8,000 rubles to each of the steppe provinces for education, the Provisional Statute facilitated greater intervention in Kazaks’ cultural life than had hitherto been possible.60 This represented a commitment, on paper, to a mission civilisatrice whose feasibility and desirability had been subject to doubt within recent memory, most notably by the former Orenburg governor Vasilii Perovskii. Cooperation from local administrators was absolutely necessary to putting such a civilizing mission into practice, as the relatively slow growth of Kazak schools in the neighboring Semipalatinsk and Akmolinsk provinces indicates. With Perovskii out of the picture, Turgai province boasted both the will and the means to educate. Even in this relatively propitious environment, though, multiple administrative instances contested the establishment of schools, and the process of setting them up dragged on for an unusually long time. Kryzhanovskii acted quickly to solicit recommendations from a committee headed by Turgai province’s new military governor, another former Steppe Commission man, Lieut.-Gen. Lev Fedorovich Bal- liuzek (1822-1879). Balliuzek argued for a gradual and adaptive approach, focused on centralized teacher training and mobile schools closer to the life- ways of the target Kazak population.61 This may have been an ideal approach, but Kryzhanovskii feared to lose the state subsidy and demanded that new, permanent school buildings be constructed, even before any judgments about their staffing or curriculum took place.62 In this fear he was correct; the initial allocation of 8,000 rubles for the province was reduced to 3,465 in 1872, forcing Kryzhanovskii to appeal to the Finance Ministry (with little success) and establish an additional tent tax on the Kazak population of the province.63 The civilizing project thus shambled forward, deeply desired by some but inconvenient in the eyes of others. Turgai province’s few state schools, years after the promulgation of the Provisional Statute, were shoddy and suffered from low attendance.64 In the absence of funding, teachers, and adaptation to local conditions, the goals that advocates of educating inorodtsy set themselves were unlikely to be met.

Using the Kazak language in the classroom became a key strategy to salvage these goals after 1870, when a new law on educating inorodtsy established a preference for vernacular education.65 Then-Minister of Education D. A. Tolstoi strongly supported this measure, as did Il'minskii, who, when asked for his opinion on the new Kazak schools in 1870, “insisted” on the Kazak language for Kazak schools and argued that the language and exposition of the subject matter there should be “understandable for the old and young and for any illiterate Kazak.”66 But not all administrators agreed that Tatar needed to be rapidly replaced as the lingua franca of the steppe. Balliuzek, so ready to adapt to the difficulties pasto- ralist lifeways presented for education, believed that Tatar’s greater distribution made it a valuable means of disseminating useful knowledge among the population.67 Though his opinion was in the minority, his conclusion and the logic by which he arrived at it are useful reminders of the multitude of meanings and methods associated with the Russianization of the steppe. Multiple languages, structures, and goals were part of Russia’s repertoire of imperial governance.68 Combining them in accordance with their personal convictions and understanding of the population they served (and environment in which they worked), officials of the tsarist state exerted an agency that was constrained more by rank and status than ethnicity.

Starting in the early 1870s, Altynsarin’s involvement in these issues reached a new stage. To adapt the schools to the steppe so fully as to staff them with Kazak teachers would have meant limited choices even relative to the chronically understaffed world of rural pedagogy. Meanwhile, Kazak-language teaching materials beyond Il'minskii’s 1861 textbook were practically absent. Il'minskii thought, however, that he knew a solution to both problems in the products of the now-defunct Orenburg school for Kazaks, and his mind fell especially to Altynsarin. Not knowing with certainty “if Altynsarin is still alive,” he recommended his old friend as curious, talented, and strongly interested in Russian letters. If the young Kazak had not lost these qualities, he wrote to the Ministry of Education, it might be useful to invite him to Kazan', provide him with special training as a teacher, work with him on compiling textbooks for the proposed schools, and release him to teach in one of the new institutions.69 Il'minskii correctly guessed Altynsarin’s attitudes. The young Kazak expressed a willingness to collaborate on such a project the following year.70 However, when Kryzhanovskii and Tolstoi actually called a conference to discuss the Cyrillicization of Kazak and production of textbooks in the local language, Altynsarin, who had been specially invited by Kryzhanovskii, was unable to attend.71 In his absence, the new texts were produced by the guardian (popechitel') of the Orenburg school district, Petr Alekseevich Lavrovskii, who, like Il'minskii before him (but much in the face of current administrative opinion), wrote them in Arabic script. Since these would not do, Lavrovskii, on Il'minskii’s advice, asked Altynsarin to take up the task; the latter succeeded in compiling a language textbook and reader in Kazak, Cyrillicized against his own convictions, but in accordance with MNP policy, in time for publication in 1879. On September 1 of the same year, with the enthusiastic recommendations of Il'minskii and his former superior, the district chief of Turgai district, Col. Ia. P. Iakovlev, he was named director of Kazak schools for Turgai province, a position he held until his death.72

Altynsarin’s textbooks quickly became staples in classrooms throughout the steppe. His Kirgizskaia khrestomatiia (Kazak reader) was widely enough used to gain a second edition years after its initial appearance in 1879.73 It combined, in conception and practice, a range of purposes dear to the heart of Altynsarin and, in different ways, to his closest interlocutors as well. Moral education (vospi- tanie, rather than the transfer of scholarly knowledge, obrazovanie), had long been at the core of Il'minskii’s educational programs for inorodtsy. Moreover, in the early 1880s, the vice-governor of Turgai province, Vladimir Fedorovich Il'in, blamed Kazaks’ “moral underdevelopment” (nravstvennoe nedorazvitie) for many of the practical failings of the Provisional Statute.74 Altynsarin, for his part, had hoped to morally improve his pupils from his first days teaching at the Orenburg fortification. The didactic tools he used toward this end were varied, and such variation, in turn, reveals the complex relationship in his mind between Kazakness and metropolitan culture. Altynsarin wrote some morally instructive stories for the volume himself, while adapting others from the fabulist I. F. Krylov and, especially, I. I. Paul'son, an innovative pedagogue who developed a reader for Russian primary schools in 1871.75 The lessons of these short stories were simple. “Tishqanning osiety” (A Mouse’s Advice), for example, promoted respect for one’s elders, while “Dadandiq” (Ignorance) lampooned charlatans in the religious and medical professions, and “Adep” (Politeness) highlighted the importance of a respectful demeanor and good etiquette regardless of social station.76 Fundamentally, these were arguments for basic morality, rather than providing worldly or practical knowledge. Similarly, Altynsarin exhorted his readers to strive for education as a matter of both personal interest and the common good: “The literate person knows life in all its beauty/The literate person can achieve his dreams,” whereas his generation “grew old in blind ignorance/[and] brought little good for our people.”77 While morality was thus an ambiguous category in Altynsarin’s work, he constructed it in such a way as to urge pupils to further study and service, which included—but was not limited to—teaching in lower- level steppe schools.78 Such service to the people would occur within a framework of expanding imperial governance, providing the steppe with trained and honest servitors and enabling Kazaks to make the best of their political integration to the empire.

At the same time, Altynsarin maintained his interest in cultivating a sense of Kazak distinctiveness. His reader had a strongly folkloristic component.

Its final three sections consisted of Kazak-language songs, proverbs, and riddles, many collected by Altynsarin himself.79 This process of selecting and transcribing oral literature, under the premise that such literature was in the Kazaks’ own language, created the appearance of greater lexical and grammatical regularity than had previously existed.80 Thus both word choices (dadandiq for ignorance, instead of nadandiq or sauats'izdiq) and pronunciation (patsa and keshkentai for “tsar” and “small,” rather than patsha and kishkentai) favored the part of the steppe where Altynsarin had spent most of his life.81 Moreover, while Altynsarin’s attitudes toward Tatar culture were far less negative than those of Grigor'ev or Il'minskii,82 he employed it as a foil against which to juxtapose Kazakness in the introduction to the Kazak Reader. Unlike the Tatars, he argued, “the Kazak people is uncorrupted, and its strivings are not restricted to a narrow framework [i.e., not restricted to religious questions alone]; it thinks freely.”83 Tatar became, in this formulation, the language of dry religious formalism, unsuited to the tasks Altynsarin hoped lay in his pupils’ future. Instead, he selected texts with the chief consideration that “the tales in the book were predominantly in the spirit of the Kazaks,” thus conflating useful knowledge and Kazakness even as he advanced the assumption that such an identity was extant and coherent.84 He further called other Kazaks to compile vernacular textbooks for a people he depicted as ignorant but unspoiled, and receptive to useful innovations properly presented.85 In a seeming paradox, for Altynsarin, it took educational materials written with the distinctiveness of Kazak language and culture in mind to shape his pupils into people equipped to bear the same privileges and duties as other groups within the empire. His sense of Kazakness was not at odds with a concept of imperial subjecthood based on moral and civil, rather than ethnic, criteria.

Accordingly, although Altynsarin devoted significant energy to vernacular- language education and to creating a Kazak language from the cloth of local dialects, he also felt strongly that educated Kazaks should have some ability in Russian. Just as his duties as school inspector were beginning, he fretted, in an unpublished manuscript, that Kazaks’ lack of facility in the language of the metropole left them vulnerable to abuse: “All tribes under the White Tsar’s authority can at least report to the authorities about their needs via their own confederates [edinomyshlenniki] either in oral or written form; while we [Kazaks], when need appears, seek out at first some man knowing Kazak and Russian, with whom we go to the authorities, not knowing whether or not this guide [vozhak] is suited to truthfully and effectively translate our words.”86 Studying the Russian language would eliminate the role such corrupt middlemen had on the steppe while simultaneously fostering subjecthood on equal terms with all other ethnic groups of the Russian Empire, alike in their subordination to the ruling dynasty. Moreover, such a course of study would both facilitate Kazakhs’ shlizhenie (coming together) with Russians and provide access to the technical and scientific information they currently required to develop themselves.87 Therefore, as necessary as it was to reach Kazaks in their local language, he continued to write to Il'minskii that the main goal in Kazak schools was “teaching Kazak children Russian language and orthography [pra- vopisanie] .”88 In this view, a bilingual system of education neatly blended local and imperial prerogatives.

Moreover, while Il'minskii and his ilk focused on vernacular education as a means of spiritual (read: Orthodox) rapprochement, Altynsarin’s moral- educational project was to be centered around Islam.89 His goals in this sphere were underlined by the compilation and publication, in 1884, of a Kazak-language Islamic catechism, Mйsilmanshiliqting rttqas'i (also published under the title Shariat ul-Islam).90 This slender volume consisted of four sections, in which were explained the confession of faith (shahada), the five actions obligatory for all Muslims, and other moral prohibitions and recommendations; it also included translations into Kazak and explanations of Arabic prayers for a variety of special occasions.91 Although many tsarist administrators were at best hesitant about Islam’s future within the empire, Altynsarin’s catechism was an important component of his attempt to arrive at a form of Kazakness that was compatible with imperial subjecthood. Altynsarin, explaining the need for his book in 1882, complained that although Kazaks had long been interested in learning the tenets of their religion, obstacles to this from the imperial administration had driven them into the waiting arms of Tatar and “Bukharan” mullahs, engendering ignorance and chauvinist attitudes toward non-Muslim ideas.92 This was not only contrary to the interests of the empire but anti-Islamic, since Muslim law “nowhere refuses the need to teach secular sciences, whichever people they emerged from.”93 This concern for rationality, propriety, and adaptability in religion also pervaded descriptions of gushur and zaket (two forms of obligatory almsgiving) composed in the early 1880s; the former in particular had, after the Russian advance through the steppe to Turkestan, outlived the purpose it had been ascribed in local practice^4 Islam was not primordial, in this presentation; it had previously adapted and evolved in light of changing conditions, and Russian rule was but one more change requiring adaptation, while potentially offering benefits to believers.

There were also, however, valences to Altynsarin’s catechism that were potentially less friendly to state aims.95 Altynsarin signaled his intent for the book to be used as broadly as possible by begging Il'minskii to permit its publication in Arabic script, broadening the base of literate users and not marking the text as dangerously alien.96 Yet the language of the text had to be Kazak, rather than Arabic, which had hitherto played a large role in steppe religious praxis. The implications of using Arabic were pernicious, since it was impossible for “simple people” [qara khal'iq] to learn Arabic, and “there is no book written in our Kazak language that is comprehensible for everyone to read, or understandable for simple people if one reads it aloud to others.”97 Hence the necessity of a book written in language that ordinary people could understand; ignorance of one’s own religion, he claimed in his introduction, threatened apostasy (ktipirlik) 9 But the specificity of the local language, paradoxically, also connected his readers to a global religious community, one to which many imperial Russian observers considered Kazaks to belong only weakly. Similar transnational gestures by other confessions within the empire, even other Muslims, bore the suspicious taint of irredentism.99 Portions of the Russian Empire’s Muslim community were also organizing vernacular-language Islamic education at roughly the same time, although there does not seem to have been any direct connection between them and Altynsarin. 1 00 Il'minskii and others saw an opportunity in what they perceived as weak Islamicization on the steppe, but Altynsarin sought to reform their beliefs beginning from the axiom that Islam was a vital part of Kazakness. To be a Kazak, for Altynsarin, was to be a good Muslim; to be a good Muslim was to focus on the content, rather than form, of prayers and rituals, and to remain open to secular knowledge as mediated through the educational institutions and common language of the metropole.101

Such secular knowledge became increasingly important, in Altynsarin’s mind, as acts of God and a steady increase in the presence of Slavic peasants in Turgai province put pressure on the pastoral nomadic lifeways that most of its Kazaks practiced. Pastoralism was, if anything, a more likely candidate to serve as the unifying basis of Kazak culture than Islam or language. But could it endure under such conditions? Altynsarin’s schools, and his other writings during the 1880s, represented one attempt to resolve this issue.

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