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Koryo-Saram: A Glimpse at the Past and Present of Koreans in Kazakhstan

Koryo-Saram: A Glimpse at the Past and Present of Koreans in Kazakhstan - e-history.kz
This year marks the 81st anniversary since the Soviet authorities embarked on an enforced resettlement of ethnic Koreans from the Far East to other regions throughout the USSR.

These events did not prevent the newly relocated people from blending in with locals. Koreans from the Russian Far East were the first in the USSR to experience a forced expulsion from their places of permanent residence. This was followed by the deportation of dozens of people, including Germans, Kurds, Crimean Tatars, Poles and Chechens. Along with other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan saw the relocation of an overwhelming number of Koreans to its soil.

This period paved the way to a new history of the Korean community in our country. The resettlers were deployed in all areas, and despite the bitterness of resentment inflicted on the whole people, they actively joined the relocation process in a new place and began different lifestyle and household. The local population, following the Stalinist oppression and having experienced a mass famine, treated newcomers with hospitality and friendliness, sharing with them bread and shelter. The first years in a new soil were significant as Koreans, like other internally displaced people, were practically deprived of the opportunity to preserve their language and culture: in 1938, all Korean educational institutions were shut down, while the publication of books was discontinued in native language.

Korean settlers in Kazakhstan were mainly grouped into independent collective farms or pre-populated in existing farms. Archival materials suggest that the processes of accommodation, economic organization and adaptation of Korean immigrants in a new natural and ethnic environment were difficult. This was due to the extreme natural and climatic conditions of continental Kazakhstan, that were radically different from the habitual environment of the coastal regions where they came from. In turn, this substantially hindered the process of acclimatization among newcomers. Also, the deportation forced the settlers to leave virtually all movable and immovable property in the places of eviction, including dwellings, outbuildings, agricultural equipment, furniture, utensils, and cattle. During World War II, along with other people, thousands of Koreans were drafted into the labor army, too. The majority of Koreans worked in the industrial sphere. Korean farmers collected harvests of rice, and handed over to the needs of the front food, clothing and cash. Throughout eight decades, they have undergone various transformations of the Soviet society and modern Kazakhstan.

Koreans had considerable experience in rice cultivation in the Far East, thus, were tasked to apply the culture in the new landscape. In the first years after the resettlement to Kazakhstan, Korean rice-makers largely preserved traditional techniques and labor skills. The poor technical equipment of the resettlement collective farms of the 1930s and 1940s caused the absence of mechanized operations in rice growing. There have been significant changes in the rice growing culture among Koreans. At the same time, the practical importance of specific labor traditions was universally known, and the role of national labor traditions was absolutized. For instance, the long-term friendship of two notable rice growers - Ybrai Zhakhayev and Kim Man Sam was highly appreciated in Kyzylorda region. In 1941, they first met at the regional meeting of advanced agriculture in Kyzylorda, and starting from 1947 were linked to a labor competition. Over the next few years they worked hand in hand, enriching the practice of rice drawing with new agrotechnical techniques, and growing a record crop on their plantations, and generously advanced their experience to a multinational group of followers.

After the war, the majority of the Soviet Koreans were deployed to work in the northern part of Korea controlled by the Soviet Union: they were tasked with providing ideological and technical assistance. Many of them took up on high positions in the party apparatus, the government, the army, the institutions of culture and education. With the death of Stalin, the wind of change finally reached the Soviet Union. The Stalinist regime, distorted the fate of not only Soviet Koreans, but also other peoples of the USSR, was replaced by a more liberal one. During these years, they managed to prove themselves in all spheres of the local economy, science and art. They made a great contribution to the development of agriculture in Kazakhstan and Central Asian countries. This can be claimed at least by the fact that 67 Koreans were awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor. Entire production teams of Koreans - such collective farms as "Avangard", "Gigant" (Shieli district, Kyzylorda), "Pakhta-Aral", and "Leninskiy Put'" - became known for their productivity and achievements within the Soviet Union. Many Koreans, thanks to organizational skills and professionalism, managed to occupy high management positions by becoming skilled professionals at largest enterprises, ministries and other official bodies. 

However, as early as the beginning of the 1980s, negative phenomena started showing its signs. Whilst the profiency of Korean language, and maintenance of cultural traditions was strong amongst the older generations of Koreans, the younger generation increasingly lost their ethnic and cultural identity increasingly by neglecting the native language and customs. During this period, the Koreans, like other peoples of the Soviet Union, began to associate a new stage of cultural revival with the policy of perestroika, and democratization and glasnost proclaimed by the end of the 1980s.

With the advent of independence and the formation the Association of Koreans in the country, a new program was developed that was aimed at promoting and reviving ethinc national culture and language. Korean schools were formed at universities and schools, scientific and technical communities were launched, books on Kazakh Koreans were published, and dozens of Korean amateur art groups started operating in the regions. Following the new institution in the form of the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, twenty one members of the board were represented by the Korean diaspora. In addition, the republic annually hosts festivals of culture and art of Koreans of Kazakhstan, and exhibitions of works by Korean artists and scientists.

Over the eight decades, Kazakhstani Koreans have accumulated a considerable potential. This could be explained by the fact that there is no such branch of economy where this people did not excelled at. The merits of the Korean ethnic community were repeatedly evaluated and noted by the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan. They have contributed to economy, science, education, culture, art and sports: sixty seven people were awarded the title of Hero of Labor, one hudred fifty six people - the title of Honored Workers of industry, agriculture, architecture, trade, education, fourty four people hold academic titles. Reforms in the country have paved the way for Koreans to actively manifest themselves in entrepreneurship. So far, they have founded dozens of joint-stock companies and corporations. 

The fact is that Koreans are by nature quite hardworking, focused on personal success, but at the same time very loyal to the place in which they live, and conscientiously treat their duties. In whichever field they work, they achieve success and advance through the ranks. Koreans, by and large, are non-conflicting and therefore comfortable and pleasant in communicating with people. They have advanced in private business, not only in the small and medium, but also in the large business.

Koreans have attached great importance to the education and upbringing of children. This is embedded in Confucianism. They prioritize and ensure that their children study at prestigious universities throughout the world. Therefore, you would see no Koreans, figuratively speaking, shoemakers and locksmiths. After deportation from the Far East, the vast majority of Koreans were forced to work on the collective farms of Kazakhstan and neighboring Uzbekistan. They had neither passports nor the right to leave the settlement. However, as soon as the prohibitions were lifted, Koreans moved faster to other cities than other ethnic groups. For various reasons, but first of all - then to give the children a good education. Therefore, Koreans are able to adapt well and quickly in new conditions. This is indicated by the fact that in a very short period they switched to a different language code.

Unlike some ethnic minorities, some of whom chose a migration strategy from Kazakhstan and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the Koreans chose to stay, but, living in their original place, they were forced to re-adapt - now to the conditions of the ethnicized post-Soviet states of Central Asia. Until nowadays, the Koreans have not caused any conflicts, including on ethnic grounds. They are very often set as an example of how enterprising, reliable and able to find a common language with everyone. However, not only this is the Kazakhs' special attitude towards the Koreans, and not even that they are very similar in appearance, but rather in common moral values ​​and interests. As the members of the Korean diaspora themselves say, they consider the Kazakhs to be their brothers, and that they sincerely love Kazakhstan.

Koreans are also considered one of the most musical and singing nations of the world. The life of the people has always been full of dances and theatrical performances. Dance movements performed to the accompaniment of folk musical instruments, as a rule, were supported by the story line and developed into a dramatic action.
During the medieval Korean dynasties of Koryo and Joseon, the Korean dance developed through the support of the royal court, various academies and even the official ministry under the government. Despite folk origins, a number of dances gained permanent high status, including hermitage, ghost dance, fan dance, monk dance, jester dance, and others. It is considered, for example, that the dance with fans has its roots in the shamanism of the shamans, in which they used the leaves of trees, later this dance became an element of high art. Another layer of Korea's dance culture is folk peasant dance, which has survived to the present day and is now performed by folklore groups.

Because of cultural repression during the Japanese colonial administration, sometimes called cultural genocide, most dance academies were closed, and many types of dancing disappeared or were changed. However, some of the founders of the modern Korean dance school brought folk elements to modern dance, in addition, they kept Korean dance traditions, contributing to the modern revival of Korean folk dance. Now in many Korean universities, folk dance is taught as an academic subject, and this practice spread to some foreign universities in the early 19th century. The best dancers were recognized as national treasures, they are instructed to lead dance classes and pass on their experience to the younger generations. Wherever representatives of the Korean nationality reside, no matter what life experiences and trials fall on their shoulders, they always try to preserve and develop traditional art in different genres: vocals, dances, playing musical instruments and, of course, theatrical performance. The traditionally trembling attitude towards art, which is vital for the harmonious existence of the nation, has led to the fact that in Kazakhstan, in Almaty, the State Republican Korean Theater of Musical Comedy has been functioning for about eighty years. It is the first national Korean theater in the world, which operates outside the Korean peninsula. It is also the only Korean theater in the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States with the status of the state.

The beginning of the history of this unique collective is dated September 9, 1932, when a mobile Korean theater was created in the city of Vladivostok by the decision of the Far Eastern Regional Executive Committee on the basis of Korean club drama circles in the city of Vladivostok. It was officially named the Far Eastern Korean Theater, the first and at that time the only Korean theater in the world. In official documents it was said that his most important task is staging performances based on original Korean plays. During the first five years, under the direction of the first director, Kim Thei, performances were staged on the stage of the theater: "The Torch of Dyan Fen Dong" about the Korean liberation struggle against Japanese militarism; "Mezh" dedicated to the times of collectivization, and "Slaves" about an armed uprising in Korea. The repertoire included performances based on folk legends: "The Tale of the Girl Chun Hyang", and "The Tale of the Girl Sim Chen"

But the tragic period of repression, which fell to the lot of the Korean people, interrupted the creative upsurge of the theater. The Far Eastern Koreans were the first and most numerous of the peoples of the Soviet Union, who experienced the horrors of deportation. Persecuted peoples found in Kazakhstan not only a place where it was possible to survive a dashing time, but also found a second homeland for themselves and their descendants. They not only survived, survived as ethnos, but also took a worthy place in the community of multinational Kazakhstan. A striking example of this is, in particular, the history of the Korean theater, whose collective also found its second home in Kazakhstan and heroically opened a new page in his creative biography.

In September 1937, after deportation, one part of the Far Eastern Regional Theater troupe was in Kyzylorda, the other in Tashkent. In Kyzylorda, the actors of the theater organized a "traveling theater company to serve the Korean population". Artists spoke to the collective farmers during the sowing campaign and harvesting campaign, as well as before the schoolchildren during the holidays. During the first years of his stay in Kazakhstan, the plays "Happy People" were staged on the stage of the theater about the life of the Korean collective farms, "The death of the squadron" by Alexander Korneychuk and "Enemies" of Maxim Gorky.

Touching upon the political aspect of the role of the Korean diaspora in international relations between Kazakhstan and Korea, a short historical digression should be made. Immediately after the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Koreans were drawn into the policy of the Stalinist regime on the Korean Peninsula. In 1946, an order was issued from Moscow to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to register all Koreans: Communists, candidates for party members, Komsomol members with education, and who speak Korean or Chinese. In general, Kazakhstan made a list of thousand people.

Modern Koreans do remember their ancestry and appreciate the fact that Kazakhstan's authorities are in good relationship with Korea. Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Korea were established on January 28, 1992. Since then, thousands of Kazakh Koreans had the opportunity to visit their historical homeland, on the other hand, thousands of South Koreans visited our country. During all the time since 1992, the relationship between Kazakhstan and South Korea was dynamic and multidimensional.

The Korean community has always been brought up during the Kazakh-South Korean summits and intergovernmental meetings. At the same time, South Korean officialshave repeatedly expressed gratitude to President Nazarbayev for maintaining peace and accordance in Kazakhstan. In one of his speeches President Nazarbayev said that he had recently met with the Prime Minister of South Korea, during which the former thanked me for the support of the Koreans. Nazarbayev noted that he highly appreciates the talents, diligence and accuracy of our fellow citizens of Korean origin. Ethnic Koreans play a significant role in the diplomatic relations between Korea and Kazakhstan; Kazakhstani Koreans are regarded as being a bridge that strengthens the bilaterial friendship and trust and as contributors to the expansion of business ties. 

Many South Korean businessmen started operating in Kazakhstan due to the initial support of the Korean minority. The Association of Koreans of Kazakhstan, a public organization consolidating the Korean diaspora, occupies an important place in the bilaterial realtions between the two countries. It has done a lot to preserve and develop ethnic culture. Without exaggeration, one can say that no cultural event - be it a concert, festival, an exhibition from South Korea in Kazakhstan - is not hosted without the participation of ethnic Koreans in it. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in once mentioned that Koryo-Saram have made significant efforts to strengthen friendship between Kazakhstan and Korea. Koreans are highly valued in Kazakhstan and are even referred to as the "fourth zhuz". ''I believe that this is the result of the deportation of the first generation to Kazakhstan and the tolerance of the local people. Their past is a pride of both Kazakhstan and Korea; the peoples hand in hand overcame the difficulties of those years. The Republic of Korea will never forget your warm hospitality'' said Korean President. 

Last year, in honor of the 80th anniversary of the Koreans' stay in Kazakhstan, a new "Encyclopedia of Koreans of Kazakhstan" was published, which the result of the fruitful and tireless work of a big team. The Encyclopedia sheds light on half thousand Koreans of all spheres of science, culture, education, and economy in Kazakhstan. The Encyclopedia collected a wealth of material about history, about the hard fate of the Koreans, including the words of direct participants, through years of rigorous tests of gratitude to the Kazakh land and the Kazakh people.

Thus, we can draw a brief conclusion that Koreans in Kazakhstan strive to subordinate all their talent and diligence to serving the country, which promotes the modernization of identity. Koreans have their share in making Kazakhstan popular in the international arena and formating of a high image. They have over 80 years of experience of living in this soil and will, undoubtedly, keep contributing to the prosperity of our civic nation of Kazakhstanis.