What a difference a letter makes

May 1st, 2014 Sections: Soviet Union, Who's Who

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote a short story tells of how a relatively unknown and insignificant scientist leading a humdrum and ordinary life during the Cold War is persuaded by a couple of strangers to change his name  … not in any major way, just by a single letter … and, they promise, his life will take a turn for the better.

Why should he? he ponders, … but then again, Why not? What does he have to lose?  He takes the necessary administrative steps to effect the change – submitting an application to the authorities and then placing an advert in the pres to inform all and sundry.

The advert is picked up by the intelligence services of the other side. What’s This?, they ask. Why would he do this?  So they start to pay more attention to him and his research … and their attention is in turn picked up by the intelligence services of his own country … who then also decide to investigate further.

One thing leads to another, and like the Hawthorne Effect, (which, incidentally, recent research suggests didn’t really exist – it’s all a psychological myth), all of the attention brings about changes to his circumstances. He gets promoted and his research is fast tracked … in the end, potential conflict is averted.

In the final denouement it is revealed that the two strangers were observers from a superior intelligence … who, bored with their “watching brief” over the affairs of humanity decide to undertake a wager. One said that they could effect an “alpha” level change in history with an “omega” change of detail … the other had disagreed.  The wager was on.

As it happens, the former won the wager … but now they had a problem.  Their interference in the affairs of mankind would not go unnoticed and so they had to find a way to reverse what they had done.


I was reminded of this story when looking through some notes to answer a question someone had posed about streets named after famous people  … famous in Kyrgyzstan, that is.

I came across two streets (Orozkakov and Orozbekov) that, at first, glance seemed to be named after one man … I assumed that I had simply made a mistake copying down the name.  The difference between the two was only a single letter.

It was then that I noticed the dates given for each in the notes were different … for Orozbakov they were 1867 to 1930 and for Orozbekov 1889 to 1938.  So I went had a closer look.



Stamp depicting Orozbakov

Stamp depicting Orozbakov

Sagymbai Orozbakov was a famous Manaschi, and possibly the last of the traditional manaschi – travelling from place to place performing to small audiences all over the country . His bust is one of the famous Manaschi surrounding the Manas monument in front of the Philharmonia building.

He was born in 1867 in a peasant family that lived on the Southern shore of Lake Issk Kul.  His father was a famous musician, a trumpeteer in the employ of Ormon Khan, (a manap and leader of the Kyrgyz tribes in the Chui valley who played an important part in political and miltary developments in Norther Kyrgyzstan in the second half of the nineteenth century – trying to unite the Kyrgyz under a single leadership).

Sagymbai’s poetic tendencies were evident from an early age and he was in constant demand to perform at festivals and feasts.   began reciting the Manas epic at the age of 15, apprenticed to a Chon Manaschi … however, it is likely that he was already well acquainted with the epic, as his elder brother, Alisher, was also talented and respected manaschi.

Like many manaschi, he attributed his inspiration and vocation to a prophetic dream. In his case, he said, Semetei, the son of Manas, appeared to him and and called him to be a performer. Contemporaries considered that his recitals of the Semetie cycle of verses was particularly masterful and was said to feel a special affinity for Semetei, whom he regarded as his “protector”.

As a result of the upheavals of 1916, he emigrated across the border to China along with many other Kyrgyz of the Issyk Kul region, only to return after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

In 1922, when he was already 55, he began a recording of the Manas epic, an “epic” undertaking in itself, taking some four years before illness caused him to stop.  Although he only managed to record all of the first section of the trilogy – that dedicated to the story of the hero himself,  Manas, he never completed the second and third parts dedicated to Semetei and Seitek. Despite that, his version is the most complete of the different versions of the epic.

Although he is as a teller of the national epic, Manas, his repertoire was more much extensive and as well as performing the epic, Orozbakov also composed his own verses and was renowned as an expert on Kyrgyz folk songs and folklore.

In 1992, Kalinin Street, (originally named after the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR), was renamed in his honour.



Abdykadyr Orozbekov

Abdykadyr Orozbekov

Abdykadyr Orozbekovwas one of those active in the establishment, organization and consolidation of Soviet power in what is now Kyrgyzstan.

He was born in 1889 in the village of Ohna, in what was then the Magelanskogo district of the Ferghana region, but is now the Kadamzhinsky rayon of the Batken oblast.

He became involved in revolutionary politics and participated in the Turkestan national-liberation movement and was active in the 1916 revolt against the conscription decree and afterwards a warrant was issued for his arrest by the governor.

In 1918 he joined the Communist Party and served as the chairman of the local Revcom – Revolutionary Committee – and took an active role in the fighting against the Basmachi, rising from the rank of a private soldier to the commander of a detachment

In 1924 he was appointed as the head of the Osh oblast Revcom … and in 1927 as chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, effectively President of the Kyrgyz SSR.

In 1936 and 37, becoming concerned about what he saw as infringements against the principles of democracy (accusing Moscow of adopting a colonialist approach) and the incompetence of the authorities, he began to speak out at various meetings.

He was no stranger to controversy … some ten years earlier, in 1925,  the impassioned speeches and letters signed by him and twenty none other leaders such as Sydykov, were bound to evoke a strong reaction and they prepared themselves for party censure and even arrest.  The expected reaction didn’t take long to come … within days Sydykov was expelled from the party …  Orozbekov faced a grilling at the Obkom – the oblast revolutionary committee.

However, this time in 1937 he was arrested on anti Soviet charges as part of the Great Repression … and died of in May 1938.

As with so many of Stalin’s victims, he was rehabilitated in 1956.

The street that today bears his name was originally called Meshanshchgaya (Petty-bourgoise) and in 1924 was renamed Kyrgyz Street, finally being renamed in his honour in 1974.

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