Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kazakhstan's 20th Anniversary of Independence!

Dear Readers,

I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere this semester. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to update The Sholk Road Adventures with at least one post per week. So, in an attempt to get a jump start on my resolution and procrastinate studying for my last final exam, I am writing this post....

Alas, on December 16th, Kazakhstan will celebrate twenty years of independence. Congratulations! Kazakhstan is the preeminent political and economic country in Central Asia. The country has been blessed with relative stability and economic development. While there is always room for further reforms, particularly in the areas of corruption, economic diversification and determining succession in government, the country's leadership deserves credit for managing the transition from Soviet republic to sovereign state.

Of course, twenty years of independence merits a fabulous celebration in the new capital. Independence day is a national holiday and according to my friend who works in Astana, all government employees receive four days of vacation. There are many events throughout the city, including a concert, the opening of a new mosque and the inauguration of the Astana Arc de Triumphe. The new mosque, which I saw while it was still under construction in July, is located across the street from the Palace of Peace and Accord, just a few blocks from the Nur-Astana Mosque.

As I detailed in my previous blog post on Astana, the city is filled with new monuments, with each one more grandiose than the last. What better way to celebrate a 20th birthday than to construct another new national monument in Astana, called the "Arc of Triumph?" The Arc is somewhat ironic in that Kazakhstan did not have to fight for independence - no armies were mobilized and no blood was shed to gain nationhood (in fact at the time of independence, the country was overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining the Soviet Union). In fact, the last time Kazakh soldiers fought in a war was during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In comparison to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which was constructed to commemorate Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz, the Astana Arc celebrates statehood. Granted, there are Arcs in New York and Rome, but the Parisian Arc commemorating military victory is undoubtedly the most well-known. While I understand why Kazakhstan would construct a new monument to commemorate twenty years of independence, I am puzzled by the choice of an Arc. Perhaps a different monument would be more tasteful, and representative of Kazakhstan's multi-vectored foreign policy.

Aesthetically, the Astana Arc strangely combines elements of classical architecture with national Kazakh symbols. The Arc bears a striking resemblance to its Parisian predecessor with its Roman archway and ivory tint. Traditional Kazakh, arabesque-like motifs line the Arch's alcoves. A statue of a soldier in a victorious pose and a replica bronze cauldron of the one in Yasawi's mausoleum in Turkestan  are set in alcoves on the front of the Arc. The soldier, with his stance in a classic contraposto pose, modern military uniform and rifle flanked on his back, asserts Kazakhstan's hard power. His aggression is so ironic, given that Kazakh people are the most benevolent and gracious people you will ever meet. Over the cauldron, hang tablets with Kazakh text. The country's coat of arms are positioned in pairs on the top, overlooking the city. While I have yet to observe the Astana Arc de Triumph in person, based on other monuments I observed in Astana and Almaty, the new Arc appears to resemble the "national monument style" that is a bizarre hybrid of European classicism with steppe accents and pre-Soviet Kazakh symbology.

To all my Kazakh friends, congratulations on twenty years of independence!

No comments:

Post a Comment