A well-known historian, professor, the Deputy director of the Institute of State History of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan B. Ayagan took part in the excavation works in the town of Syganak and shared his impressions and thoughts with Qazaqstan Tarihy portal.
During the 30 years of independence, the historical science of Kazakhstan has come a long way. A lot of work has been done over the years: new plans for the studies have been developed, new textbooks for the universities and schools have been published as well. The previously unspoken themes of famine, the Stalinist repressions, the hidden pages of the Great Patriotic War have acquired their objective characteristics. The copies of documents have been found in foreign funds under the state programs “People in the flow of history”, “Archive-2025” are returned to Kazakhstan and stored in private storage.
Achievements of archeological science are also significant. An example of this is the excavations carried out by the domestic scientists in Beret Fortress, in the town of Sarayshyk. According to the meeting of the interdepartmental working group, the horizons of national history are significantly expanding and new search tools are being developed there.
But today, we will talk about the state of archeological science in our country. A science of archeology was founded in the XIX century. Then, the scientists like A.N. Bernshtam, A. Margulan, K. Akyshev, К. М. Baipakov continued to investigate and explore it. The subsequent groups of domestic scientists also played an important role in the development of archeological science.
During my student years, Anarali Abuov and I went to the excavations to Otyrar and Aktobe cities, as part of the Comprehensive Archaeological Expedition of South Kazakhstan (CAESK). I still have pictures and diaries of the events of that time. Later, an interest in the history of Syganak, Sauran, Otyrar and Turkestan became our constant love. We have gotten the respect for national history to our teachers who worked together at that time – K. A. Akyshev, K. М. Baipakov, I. I. Kopylov (Talkhiz), A.N. Maryashev (Tamgaly Tas) and other great archeologists. We were in constant contact with Yerbolat Smagulov, who dedicated his life to the study of medieval cities.
In addition, the protection of historical and cultural heritage is the most important task of the state. Moreover, recently we had the opportunity to publish our history objectively. Now, despite the difficult circumstances of the pandemic, the 750th anniversary of the Great Ulys – Altyn Orda, the 1150th anniversary of the great thinker of the East, Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, are being celebrated by the Decree of the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev. In any case, respect for our history is a sign of high culture and humanism.
But after seeing the excavations near the town of Syganak, it was impossible to remain silent.
Let me remind you that the city of Sygnak (Syganak, Sunak-Ata) was mentioned very early, in Arabic and Persian sources. In Sygnak, Berke, one of the founders of the Great Ulus-Golden Horde, converted to Islam as a disciple of Seif-ad Din Beharzi before the reign of the Uzbek khan. Probably, this is why it was at this time that the armies of the Great Nation began to convert to Islam.
The king of Armenia, Getum had passed through this city in the middle of the 13th century. The medieval chroniclers Mahmud Kuhistani and Fazlullah Ruzbihan described the city in detail as very comfortable and rich. They paid special attention to Syganak, as the city flourished under the direct ancestor of the Kazakh khans, Orys khan (Akniyaz). Barak defended the city from the Timurid`s attack.
In 1446, Abulkhair Sheibanid entered here with his army from the city of Karatau, and Muhammad Shakhbakht fought with the Kazakh sultans until the spring of 1510. As the capital of the White Horde and the Kazakh Khanate, Orys-khan (Akniyaz), Barak-khan, Kazakh khans Kerey and Zhanibek fought for Syganak and settled the city.
An academician, V.V. Barthold describing the diplomas of Syganak, also explained how A.Yu.Yakubovskiy, B.D. Grekov and the prominent Tatar historian M. Safargaliyev often call Syganak as a very large political and economic center of the White Horde. Near the tomb, there is a cemetery of Akorda and Sheybanid rulers; The mausoleum of Abulkhair Khan was painted by the French orientalist Joseph Castagnier in the early twentieth century. We studied the topic of Syganak and its role in the history of medieval Kazakhstan in the preparation of the course of lectures on the history of the Great Ulus – Golden Horde, exploring the history of the Sheibanids (Shibanids). There is a number of studies that have been published on this topic. I think that there are burial places of the first Kazakh khans, heroes and dancers in Syganak and around the city. For example, the whereabouts of Zhanibek Khan and his relatives are still unclear, and in the last years of their lives they were closely connected with the battles at Syganak and Sauran.
But what are modern archaeologists doing today at the Yassawi International Kazakh-Turkish University and the International Institute for Central Asian Studies in Samarkand (Uzbekistan)?
From October 17 to 20 this year, we have visited the town of Syganak with local historians and journalists. Due to the celebration of the anniversary of the Great Ulus – the Golden Horde, interest in the town has grown significantly. There has been a lot of talk lately about the work of archaeologists: there are pros and cons. But the recent excavations near Syganak are even more surprising.
For example, the excavated mausoleums No. 1, 2, 3 were left without conservation (Head – Dm. Voyakin). Unfortunately, the excavations were hasty, in my opinion, in the gross violation of the rules. For example, the funeral itself (cemetery) was left open and not protected at all. Anyone can enter it. The materials are in front of your eyes, and any passer-by can take with them even a few old bricks or something more valuable. It is also a monument of the Middle Ages and similar cemeteries of Turkestan in the XIV-XVI centuries. It is known that this period was the period of the abolition of the White Horde and the establishment of the Kazakh Khanate. By its design, this monument may belong to one of the aristocracy of the Sheybanids or Urusids. But in some way, any monument or artifact with traces of human activity has a special value.
A fate of human bones buried in this cemetery is also unknown. According to some sources, they were taken to Kyzylorda regional museum. However, as far as we know, this museum, like other museums, has not only the opportunity to preserve and study such artifacts, but also the rights. Probably only a laboratory at Nazarbayev University can study a human genome. Thus, the fate of the bones of this medieval man remains unknown. Who knows, maybe it's the remains of Shah-Budakh, the eldest son of Abulkhair, who died in 1454, or Shah-Haidar, who died in 1470-1472 when the Syganak district was under the control of the Sheybanids? Or are these the bones of Timurids or Kazakh sultans? According to Dmitry Voyakin, it is unclear why the bones found during the excavations were taken to Uzbekistan. How did these materials cross the border? And what did the authorized body for the protection and use of historical and cultural heritage?
The medieval graves of 4 buried people – a man, two women and a small child – are scattered and not protected by anything. Everything is scattered, there is no fence around, the tomb is completely open. The locals say they buried the bones themselves. Take a picture and present today.
Excavations in the citadel of the town of Syganak – Shahristan did not leave a good impression. The excavations were carried out by archaeologists from Turkestan. Professor Saiden Zholdasbayev, whom we respect, is ill and has been replaced by young specialists led by Mels Baktybayev.
The objects of material culture excavated in the very center of the town are protected by the insignificant tents, that are unlikely to survive the fall of 2020. The excavated structures can be severely damaged by wind, snow and rain.
But the most surprising, if not the most criminal, was the movement of heavy tractors on the territory of the town, that destroyed all the historical monuments – houses, mosques, residences, roads, everything that fell under their wheels. It is known that these tractors were used to transport soil, sand and clay from the excavations. I repeat, the tractors were driving over the village of Syganak, not below! You can only call it a violation, nothing else! For the information, the excavated soil is usually taken out of the city on the stretchers or carts.
Along with the participants, we photographed the traces of equipment, scattered the materials and sent them to the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan. A leadership of the Ministry responded promptly to my request.
It is also unknown where the artifacts found in the excavations are stored exactly. These historical monuments are invaluable for the history. Looking at such insults, you think that they should not open these complexes at all! A very important question: what is the purpose of these expensive excavations at the expense of the budget? For example, in developed countries, it is customary to cover and preserve such lands after the excavations. Previously, the detailed reports are made, heard by the authorities and the found materials are submitted in accordance with the list of all parameters. The excavations were to be carried out in accordance with the plan!
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the disappearance of some artifacts that have started to fill private collections. A sharp increase in the number of people applying for a license to conduct archeological excavations in recent years is not for nothing. Some experts have repeatedly said that they have been using the metal detectors in order to dig the barrows and settlements. People call them “Black diggers”. Why is such a complex work given to countless LLPs that do not have professionally trained the specialists in this field, such as geneticists, architects, mediators, who can read texts and perform a scientific analysis?
For example, a valuable monument was excavated and destroyed too. What happens next? Did these diggers discover something new in science? Have genetic analysis been performed on the bones found? Has a comparative analysis of the found artifacts been carried out? What are the results of the excavations? Thus, the system of search, identification, accounting, research and control of the state of the object of historical and cultural heritage is violated there. I understand Mukhtar Khoja from the Doctor of Science, the Professor Shauldir, who is concerned about the many violations that occur during the excavations and restoration of monuments.
Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Syganak. Throughout Kazakhstan, many monuments of material culture, mounds, cemeteries are brutally excavated, looted and left without conservation. In summer, “Black archaeologists” from neighboring countries come to their homes, dig passionately and take the found treasures with them. And this situation worries not only historians, but also many citizens of Kazakhstan.
According to the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On protection and use of the objects of historical and cultural heritage”, these objects are under the protection of local executive bodies of regions, cities of republican status (Articles 4 and 5) and have the status of historical and cultural monuments, and they are included in the list (register). Each of these monuments must have a valid passport.
Article 10 of this Law regulates the competence of the authorized body. Then a legitimate question arises for the Department of Culture of Kyzyl-Orda region: how can these violations be under control? Why are the provisions of Articles 10 and 13 of this Law violated?
Article 12 of the Law regulates the licensing of activities for the scientific restoration and archeological work. It clearly states who can obtain these licenses. So, do these “Specialists” who conduct the excavations in such a rude and illegal manner meet the requirements? Then, the question arises here. In our opinion, the Institute of Archeology named after A. Margulan, that should be the center and chief expert of this work, should be given the special rights.
The next proposal concerns the protection and use of historical and cultural heritage sites, as well as the study and monitoring of the condition of the sites. It is no secret that in recent years, due to the rapid construction of new roads, industrial enterprises, settlements, archaeologists or “Organizations with such names” have begun to apply for the authoritative conclusions. I believe that this work should be carried out with the participation of government agencies in order to prevent the violations of the law. It is necessary to entrust local authorities with constant control and monitoring of compliance with the law.
In general, it is necessary to adopt new rules and laws on the archeological excavations and preservation of monuments as soon as possible. Most importantly, from January 1, 2021, it is necessary to conduct an inventory of excavated objects and obtain the state passports and identification numbers for each object. This is a job that the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan cannot do, it is necessary to involve the Ministry of Justice and customs authorities to rectify the situation.
We inspected and photographed the monuments of Syganak district with the participation of dignitaries from 15 to 20 October.
However, on October 26, when a commission of employees of the Ministry of Culture and Sports arrived in the capital along with representatives of government agencies, a group of excavators from the long-suspended Syganak settlement rushed to the town and “Finished” the open space in the cemetery. They might contain the Chinese cement materials. There are also the pictures of their “Works”.
He buried the traces of the tractor's caterpillars with a shovel. Whom do they deceive? Us? Themselves? The state? A topic of conversation is very important, and we will continue it. On November 2, they began burying the bones. Then, the question arises: “Where are the scientific results?”
P.S. I am well acquainted with archaeologists and historians and respect them for their devotion to science. These are academicians Zeinolla Samashev, Zhaken Taimagambetov, professors Abdesh Toleubayev, Mukhtar Khozha, Amantai Isin and others. Therefore, I do not understand the attitude of the experts I am writing about the results of their work to the cultural monuments of our country.
A town of Syganak is the first capital of the White Horde and the Kazakh Khanate, the main city of the Middle Ages and, it requires a special status and protection!
Let us remind you that on November 2, 2020, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Kemeluly Tokayev signed the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Amendments and Supplements to Some Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Culture”, that significantly strengthened the responsibility for the preservation of historical and cultural heritage.