Ishenaly Arabaev

June 6th, 2014 Sections: Soviet Union, Who's Who

Ishnaly Arabaev

Some time ago I was invited to an event in one of Bishkek’s many Universities, the one named in honour of Ishenaly Arabaev.

It is one of the oldest and most prestigious Universities in the country – based on six sites located in the city center – the main one being adjacent to the main Ala Too Square.  There are about a thousand teaching staff, and caters for something 16,000 students – including 1800 foreign students – across almost sixty disciplines.

Although one source says that it can trace its origins back to 1915, I have been told that it was once basically the pedagogical institute – the Teacher Training Institute – having been established in 1949 as the Women’s Teacher Training College, being transformed into an Institute the following year and obtaining University status in 1994, but still concentrating on Education and known as the Kyrgyz State Pedagogical University.

Nowadays, however,  they have a variety of departments ranging from Educational, (including Continuing and Vocational education; the Humanities – including an institute for History, Sociology and Law ; Linguistics – including a specialized institute for Kyrgyz Language and Culture; Economics and Management; Innovative and Communication Technology, (ICT);  Oriental Studies and International Relations; the Sciences – especially Biology and Chemistry; and not forgetting Ecology and Tourism), and since 2005 has been known simply as the Arabaev Kyrgyz State University.

The name of Arabaev is well respected in the country as an educator, academic, linguist, philosopher, one of the founders of the modern Kyrgyz language … if not of the modern Kyrgyz state.

He was born in the village of Kyb Batyshev in the Kochkor District in 1870.

Between 1899 and 1903 he attended several short courses aimed at teaching children basic literacy, to read and write.  He must have been a good student because just four years later, in 1907, he was in Constantinople as a student, and traveled extensively through the Middle East, visiting cities such as Tehran, Baghdad and Mecca.

In 1910, he was teaching in elementary religious schools and, on his own initiative, began to organize a school for the local population based on European (secular) principles.

Then he left for three years to study in Madrassss in Orenburg and Ufa in Russia where he was engaged in research and published a wide range of articles, becoming an influential mullah in the Ufa madrassah.

It was whilst he was in Orenburg that he published “Alif-bee Jacky tutu okuu“,  a “Kyrgyz-Kazakh ABC” for use by schoolchildren, and also one of the first books in Kyrgyz ever to be published – a number of poems by various Kyrgyz poets including …. .  It’s interesting that this milestone in the history of Kyrgyz literature took place in Kazan – the capital of Tatarstan in Russia.

He also wrote primers for both Children and adults and a standard book on the Fundamentals of Spelling as well as school books on arithmetic, natural history, geography and a wide variety of articles on social and political themes.

He is credited with creating a written form of Kyrgyz – based on the Arabic system of writing – which was, for a short ime adopted as the offical form for Kyrgyz, before the present Cyrillic alphabet was adopted.  He was particularly active in the campaign to prevent transcription in the Latin alphabet.

On his return home to Kyrgyzstan he used the experience he had gathered to lead the development of education in the country.   Between 1913 and 1916 he was involved in a number of projects, most notably the establishment of the Kurmanov school in the village of Tort Kol in the Ton district of Issyk Kul which became a model for other schools around the country and other secular schools thoughout the country; in the Issyk Ata, in the South and in the Naryn district … which were secular schools based on contemporary European methods which was in stark contrast to those methods used in the religious schools of his day.

He was also active in campaigning for better access to educational opportunities for the Kyrgyz population.

This was to come to an abrupt stop with the Urkun events of 1916, when the local population rebelled against the Russian Imperial edict and, as a result of atrocities (probably on both sides) many people were killed.  A large number of Kyrgyz fled across the border to China, and Arabaev was one of them.

He returned to Kyrgyzstan following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and was active, holding a number of academic and managerial posts in the Soviet educational system, and taking an active role in politics.

Despite his elevated position, he and his family lived in a simple three roomed house – one room of which was occupied by students; children of relatives and friends who had moved to “the big city” in order to take advantage of the better educational facilities that he was championing.

Until, that is, he was arrested, (on 10th May, 1933), in one of Stalin’s Great Purges, as a result of his active role in the “nationalities question”, where he was an ally of Abdrahmanov and Syddykov in promoting the idea of a separate Mountain Territory for the Kyrgyz … and later the for the creation of a Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Autonomous Region within the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, (RSFSR), which has likened to the “first step in the implementation of the centuries old dream of the Kyrgyz people” – a separate and independent state.  All of which was an anathema to Joseph Stalin and those in power at the time.

Oddly enough, despite his Nationalist credentials, he apparently urged his fellow Kyrgyz to give up the nomadic way of life and to settle down.  This support for the controversial programme of collectivization was not to help him however … He died in prison in Tashkent, apparently committing suicide by poison, just under a month later – on 7th June, 1933.

In 1958, he was rehabilitated along with many other victims of the purges.

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