Turdakun Usubalievich Usubaliev

November 6th, 2014 Sections: Soviet Union, Who's Who
Tsubaliev addressing the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Kurghiz SSR - 1981 - Photo Credit: foto.kg

Turdakun Usubaliev addressing the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Kurghiz SSR – 1981       Photo Credit: foto.kg

It is said that when the Founding Fathers of the United States were considering the position of Head of State, they deliberated long and hard over what to call him, (or her). Given their experience of rebellion against the British crown they wanted to avoid anything that hinted at monarchy … indeed, they wanted to keep him well and truly in his place. They decided on the term “president” – that is, someone who presides over proceedings and affairs but without any real power or position. (If only they could see how things would develop.)

The Soviets seemed to have a better solution – their “leaders” were given the title First Secretary.

Turdakun Usubalievich Usubaliev was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic – one of the constituent republics of the USSR – and, as such, the equivalent of the President of the Republic …  from 9th May, 1961 until 2nd November 1985.  That’s an impressive record of almost a quarter of a century – one that most politicians can only dream of achieving.

 He was born 95 years ago, on 6th November, 1919, in Kochkor, (which is on the main road from Bishkek to Naryn).  His parents were peasant farmers, but as a young man, (in 1938), he started working as a teacher in the local school, eventually graduating from the Kyrgyz Pedagogical Institute, (in 1941), and becoming the school’s Headteacher.

In 1941, he also joined the Communist Party, (the CPSU – Communist Party of the Soviet Union) … and after a period of time as a local party worker, he progressed through ranks until, in 1955, he was appointed editor of the newspaper Sovetik Kyrgyzstan.  The next year he became a departmental head for the Central Committee of the Party and then in 1958 served as Secretary of the Frunze City Committee.  Then in 1961 came the ultimate promotion.

He was serve in this capacity whilst the leadership in Moscow was to change – from Khrushchev, followed by Brezhnev, then Chernenko and Andropov … and. briefly, Gorbachev. 

Over such a long period, it is understandable that he is granted much credit for the development of the country and he was adept at attracting investment for the industrialization of the republic, with 150 large industrial complexes being constructed: many agro-processing plants, Hydro electric power stations, the textile plant, the development of the semiconduct0r industry, in the mining industry, for the production of construction materials such as cement, glass and slate … and so forth.  This was to gain him recognition throughout the whole of the Soviet Union.  Over 300,000 hectares of land were brought under a manged system of itrrigation, another 142.000 of land was reclaimed and brought into agricultural production.

He was also largely responsible for the development of Frunze, laying out a new city plan, overseeing the construction of many new buildings – including the marble clad prestigious projects such as the White House, Historical Museum, both the Kyrgyz and Russian Drama Theaters, the Museum of Fine Arts, the National Library and the Philharmonia … not to mention the many Zhiloi dom (residential buildings) – providing over half a million new apartments – and the expansion into the Micro-districts.  It wasn’t just construction, however, as he also promoted the management of  the park land – the “green spaces” for which Bishkek became became famous and is still a major and highly valued feature of the city, (… so much so that encroachments into the parkland can lead to scandal and protests).

He was (is) particularly proud of his achievements in raising the standard of living for the ordinary citizen – the improved accommodation and general improvement in the economic well being experienced during the period.  He also expanded the number of administrative positions and brought people of other ethnicities into a multicultural, mutli-ethnic community.

During his period of office he was also active at the national level – as a member of the Central Committee, a delegate to the Supreme Soviet.  He was known for his loyalty to the Moscow leadership … and this may well have contributed to his success in obtaining the support of that leadership for his projects in this small corner of the massive Union.

There were, however, problems as well – all was not “hunky dory”.  As a loyal supporter of Moscow’s policy of Russification and Internationalization, he was sometimes accused of subservience to Moscow …  to the dominance of the Kyrgyz by other nationalities and communities … to the destruction (or, at least, the minimization and marginalization) of the Kyrgyz language and national culture – both of which have benefited from a revival and resurgence since independence.

His critics included a number of prominent personalities, … even Chinghiz Aitmatov who who said that Usubaliev’s policies were “depriving Central Asians peoples of their historic memories”.

The elevation of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, with his policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, (Openess and Restructuring), were to increase pressure on members of the “old school” and Usunbaliev fell as one of the inevitable casualties.  There were allegations of corruption and mismanagement, but no formal charges were ever laid, and no case went to court.  However. he was basically forced to resign and retire from public life.

Like many politicians who achieve high office, he was basically a workaholic – often working twelve to fourteen hours a day … and that didn’t change even though he had left office.  He turned his attention to writing and biography refers to him as “a popular politician and a prolific writer”, and more specifically, refers to his penning ten books and over a hundred articles.  These included his memoirs, articles on the use and management of water resources (with the somewhat prophetic title Water is more expensive than Gold) and  We need to know the past in order not to make mistakes in the future.  It is said that, at this time, the National Library became his “second home”.

After a while, apparently “in the wilderness”, he re-emerged into public life being elected to a seat in the Parliament, and served as Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Credentials, Ethics, Relations with Public Associations and the Media.  He has also adopted the role of “elder statesman”.

Although a Communist Party apparatchik, some of his later statements show that he understands that the world has changed since the collapse of the Union in 1991 … that Kyrgyzstan is different and exists in a new environment …  While acknowledging the achievements made during the Soviet period he acknowledges that, not only the country needs to adapt in order to the meet the demands and challenges of the new situation, but that the people also need to do so as well.   Consider, for example, this quote from an interview he gave five years ago to commemorate his 90th birthday:

Now the Kyrgyz economy is based on market relations. But many people have not yet realized that market relations in the economy require honesty, integrity, and not commodity speculation, not cheating customers.

Gifted natural intelligence and profound life experience great Kyrgyz elders bequeathed to us: “Yntymak – consent and unity of the people – the cornerstone of its prosperity and happiness.”  Come on, dear compatriots, invariably follow the legacy of our ancestors, and we will reach our great goal – to make Kyrgyzstan a prosperous democratic country.

In his long and distinguished career, he was awarded the Order of Lenin, (three times), the Order of the October Revolution, the Order of the Red Banner, and various other medals in the Soviet period, but also the Order of Friendship by the Russian Federation, the title Hero of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Order of Manas.


Oh, yes …  and a small museum dedicated to his life and times has just opened in his home village, Tendik, in the Kochkor region.

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