~ Abai Kunanbaev ~

Word Three

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Where lies the cause of the estrangement amongst the Kazakhs, of their hostility and ill will towards one another? Why are they insincere in their speech, so lazy, and possessed by a lust for power?

The wise of this world long ago observed: a sluggard is, as a rule, cowardly and weak-willed; a weak-willed man is cowardly and boastful; a braggart is cowardly, stupid and ignorant; an ignoramus has no inkling of honor, while a dishonorable person sponges on the sluggard — he is insatiable, unbridled and good-for-nothing; he bears no good will towards the people around him.

The source of these vices is our people's preoccupation with one thing alone: to own as much livestock as possible and thus gain honor and respect. Had they taken up arable farming or commerce, had they been interested in learning and art, this would never have come to pass.

Parents, having increased their own herds, will do their best to ensure that their children's herds grow ever fatter, so that the livestock can be left in the care of herdsmen and they can indulge in a life of idleness — gorge themselves on meat and koumiss, [1] enjoy beautiful women, and feast their eyes on fast horses.

Eventually, their winter pastures and grassland become too small and, using their influence or position, they will by hook or by crook buy up, wheedle or seize pastureland from a neighbor. That person, fleeced as he is, will in turn put pressure on another neighbor, or else will have to leave his native region. Now, can these people possibly wish one another well?

The more poor there are, the cheaper their labor. The more numerous the destitute, the more abundant the free winter pasturage. My neighbor is eager for my ruin, and I am eager for him to fall into penury. Little by little, our concealed animosity grows into an open and bitter enmity. We bear malice, we litigate, we split into cliques and bribe influential people for support, so as to gain an advantage over our opponents, and we scramble for the emoluments of rank.

A loser will not toil and sweat — he will seek affluence in other, devious ways; he will show no interest in either commerce or tilling the land — he will side now with one, now with another party, selling himself and existing in misery and disgrace. There is no end to pillage on the steppe. If there were unity amongst our people, they would never condone a thief who, making adroit use of the support of one group or another, continues his brazen robbery. Honest sons of the steppes are the victims of criminal charges based on false accusations, and are subjected to humiliating interrogations. Witnesses are produced ready to swear to what they have never seen or heard. And all this in order smear an honest person and bar him from high office. If the persecuted man, to save himself, turns for aid to these same rascals, he will sacrifice his honor; if he refuses to bow to them, he is certain to be unjustly charged; he will suffer hardships and privations, unable to find a place and occupation worthy of him.

Having gained power by deceit and trickery, the head of the volost [2] avoids honest and modest folk like the plague and seeks allies amongst people of his own kind, crafty and crooked, whom he is fearful of antagonizing.

A new saying has gained currency now: It's the person, not the matter, that counts. In other words, success depends not on the Tightness of the matter in question, but on the cleverness of the person involved.

The volost chiefs are elected for a three-year term. They spend their first year in office listening to all kinds of grievances and complaints: "Don't forget that we elected you!" Their second year is given over to fighting possible future rivals, and the third year to their campaign for re-election.

What then is left?

Watching my people sink deeper and deeper into discord, I have come to the conclusion that the volost chiefs should be elected from among men who have had at least some Russian education, however little. If there are none, or only persons whom people do not wish to nominate, then let the volost chiefs be appointed by the uyezd [3] authorities and the military governor. This would be beneficial in several ways. First of all, ambitious Kazakhs would have their children educated; secondly, the volost chiefs would no longer be dependent on the whims of local magnates, but take their orders from the higher authorities. To avoid the inevitable objections and denunciations, an appointee should not be subjected to any local control and verification.

We have had occasion to see the futility of electing biys [4] in each volost. Not everyone is capable of dispensing justice. In order to hold a council "on the top of Mount Kultobe", as we say, it is essential to know all the laws passed down from our forefathers: Kasym-khan's "Radiant Pathwa", Esim-khan's "Ancient Pathway" and Az Tauke-khan's "Seven Canons". But even these laws have become outdated with the passage of time and require amendment and infallible interpreters, of whom there are few, if any, amongst our people.

People who know Kazakh ways well say: "When two biys get together, there is sure to be four disputes". The lack of a supreme judge and the even number of biys hearing a case only complicates the adjudication of disputes. Why increase the numbers of biys? Would it not be better to elect three educated and intelligent men in each volost for an unlimited term of office, only replacing those whose behavior is unseemly?

Let legal disputes be settled by two arbiters, one chosen by each party, and an intermediary acceptable to both. Only if they failed to ascertain the truth and come to terms would the dispute be taken to one of the three permanent judges. Then lawsuits would not drag on so long.

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[Footnote 1: koumiss- mare's milk] Back to text

[Footnote 2: volost- small rural district] Back to text

[Footnote 3: uyezd- larger administrative district] Back to text

[Footnote 4: biy- local judge among the Kazakhs] Back to text