Kaliolla Akthmetzhan, a member of Kazakhstan Artists Union, an ethnographer and weapons expert, a candidate of historical sciences
-Kaliolla Samatovich, preparation to the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate awakened the interest not only to history but also became a visible bridge of intergenerational continuity. In your opinion, what else is the significance of this date?
-Great examples of public defenders and glorious pages have always been the basis of patriotic education. The celebration of the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate also serves this noble aim. Kazakhstan’s people, especially youth are proud of their country, historical knowledge is expanded. It is gratifying that this important date became an inspiring stimulus for creativity. It is impossible not to rejoice to activation of the research. Numerous conferences and publications devoted to the anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate also bring benefit. Due to the variety of events which are held by educational institutions, new facts of our history are discovered. Feature films and documentaries are produced. The artists who draw paintings on historical themes also make their contribution. All these factors have a very strong impact on people’s feelings and thoughts. They raise a patriotic spirit. Perhaps the results of such influence are not evident, but they undoubtedly exist.
-I am excited to ask you about your unique specialization. In fact, you have touched history by examining many helmets which belonged to famous historical personalities and warriors, whose names are unknown. Could you tell about the Bolek-batyr’s helmet which is in the Museum of the First President?
-This artefact was given by Bolek-batyr’s descendants to the museum fund. I had the opportunity to carry out an expertise. The results showed that the helmet is not Kazakh, but Manchu and Tibetan type. It was created by Tibetan masters. This can be seen by Buddhist symbols. For instance, a symbol in the form of three circles is a sacred stone in Buddhist culture. The helmet is richly decorate. Aventail inside of which is protective metal plate decorated with golden embroidery in the form of dragons. Presumably, the helmet dates back to the XVII-XVIII centuries. In all probability it belonged to a man of high military rank — a noble warrior. The helmet is preserved in quite good condition except some part of aventail, the fabric of which has been decayed. Apparently, Bolek batyr obtained it as a war trophy during one of the fights. According to the rule batyr who won the battle had the right to leave arms and opponent’s helmet. The helmet is a material evidence of heroic deeds, courage and bravery of our batyrs, one of them was Bolek-batyr. It is a valuable heritage of our people anciently famous for its brave sons strong in mind and body.
-After reading these lines many people probably will go the Museum of the First President to see this truly priceless artifact. What other items of heroic defenders of the Great steppe you had a chance to investigate?
-Zhaugash-batyr’s descendants who live in Merke brought me the armor. The exhibit is in the museum of that town. I investigated dagger belonged to batyr Zhankozha Nurmukhamedov who lived in XIX century. He headed the battle of Kazakh people against the Kokand khanate. I also held and investigated dagger of Kaumen-batyr, a participant of Kazakh-Dzungar wars. I had to learn percussion shotgun and rifle, a belt with gun equipment of Amangeldy Imanov, the leader of 1916 rebellion in Turgay region. There was sultan Arystan Zhanturin’s armor, Sultan Baimukhammed’s gun, the butt of the rifle belonged to Chokan Ualikhanov in the field of my research interest... When you hold such objects, you feel an invisible connection with their owners. Naturally, there is a desire to become more closely acquainted with their biographies, then to share your knowledge with others. So I write my books and publications.
-It is known that you are engaged into research on history of Kazakh people’s weapons and war art about forty years. How did it start?
— A historical theme attracted me during study years in Arts Academy of the USSR in Leningrad. I wrote a course and diploma works on this issue. I wanted to become a painter of battle pieces. This desire determined search of historical materials on weaponry of our soldiers. But as it turned out there were no information about it. Over time my research in this area grew into serious study. I managed to find unknown facts, to make discoveries which became the subject of publications in the newspapers «Ana tili», «Kazak eli», «Kazak adebieti». In 1996 when I collected enough materials, my first book «Zharagan temir kigender» («Clad in steel armor») was published.
— By the way, this is the first book in Kazakhstan, which provides a comprehensive history of the military art and weapons of Kazakhs. Tell us more about it.
— In addition to a comprehensive history of the military art, it gives a general classification of weapons and defensive weapons of Kazakh warriors, a typology of different types of weapons and armor. It reflected the history of the use of military attributes — the military banner and horsetail, pennant, as well as a system of distinctive signs. For those who interested in this topic, it will be useful to know what was the structure of the military organization of the nomads, the ways of combat formations, the tactics and techniques of warfare and combat, the manufacturing techniques of Kazakh weapons and defensive weapons. The sources for the research were written testimonies of past centuries, folk songs of the Kazakhs and Turkic people, monuments of fine arts of the nomads and museum materials. The terms and names first introduced in the scientific turnover used in military and weaponry of Kazakhs, restored according to folklore materials. The reconstruction weapons collection of nomadic warriors from the V century BC to the XVIII century are given in the colored illustrations. Extensive illustrative material of the book gives an idea about the forms, styles, ways of wearing, using different kinds of weapons and armor, about the appearance of warriors and their war horses, the nomadic way of constructing fortifications...
-You study the weapon itself or arena of war is also interesting for you?
-I study the ways of using weapons by Kazakh warriors in the battle besides weapons. Martial art of Kazakh batyrs is also interesting for me. I have published some articles in scientific journals on this subject. Unfortunately, there are researchers in this field in Kazakhstan. I can mention doctor of historical sciences Aibolat Kushkumbayev who productively engaged in military history of Kazakhs, medieval nomads. Leonid Bobrov, a professor of Novosibirsk state university studies military history and military art of Central Asian nomads including Kazakhs. I did not include history of firearms of Kazakhs in the first monograph, because it is a new stage in the art of war. I collected the materials for some years, conducted research and wrote a book about this type of weapon. Now it is ready to be published.
-Kaliolla Samatovich, thanks to your ability there appeared such concept as «Institut batyrstva». How much is it significant in the history of military art of Kazakhs?
-A whole chapter is devoted to this concept in my first book, but this topic requires a deep study. Batyrstvo is a kind of quintessence of military affairs of the nomads. In modern sense batyr is the person who has committed a heroic deed in the war. Actually they were professional warriors. A particular social stratum in society like the samurai in Japan, knights in Europe...What sphere of activity you might take, if you want to achieve high skills you should be involved professionally only in it. Batyrs were the backbone of the militia and led the military forces. They defended the country from the enemy and maintained internal order. Most of monuments of nomads including Kazakh people are connected with batyrs — epics, petroglyphs, balbal.. It is impossible to understand military, moreover national history of Kazakh people without knowing history of Institut batyrstva. After all, the main features of military spirit of warriors became the basis of Kazakhs’ national spirit.
-Military uniform can tell you a lot as for researcher. What is the peculiarity of this «language»?
-Military uniform can tell about the origin, social and military situation of batyr, his belonging to a particular family line. Military outfit as uniforms came about in the early XVIII century. Before the Kazakhs had no military uniforms. A major role in the identification of the warrior played arms. By the way, the warriors of noble birth — the khans, sultans — had rich weapons from precious metals, decorated with precious stones. This is the topic of my book «Ethnography of the traditional weapons of the Kazakhs». It explored the history of Kazakh weapons, types of offensive weapons and defensive tools. For the first time the various functions of traditional weapons in ethnic culture are revealed. The book is richly illustrated. It includes pictures and scientific reconstruction of the sets of arms of ancient and medieval nomads of Kazakhstan, the Kazakh photos of samples of weapons and protective armor from museum collections. There are images of arms on the monuments of art of the nomads. I hope the book will be useful not only for scientists and experts in the field of art, cinema and theatre, but also for anyone interested in weapons and military art of the Kazakhs. I am glad to say that within the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh khanate, two books devoted to the helmets and armor of Kazakhs will be published in the National Academic Library.
-There is information that Museum of arts «Metropolitan» in the USA keeps the helmet of Zhanibek khan’s son. Is it sensational?
-I can judge about this helmet by the pictures from the Internet and media reports. An inscription in Arabic script is applied by the silver notch at the bottom of the helmet. According to the information on the museum «Metropolitan» website it is written on the helmet that it is ordered by «victorious Sultan Makhmud Dzhanibek Khan». As it is noticed by Russian scientist Leonid Bobrov, the inscription by the silver notch is read as follows: «...victorious Sultan Makhmud-idn-Zhanibek khan». That is the owner is Makhmud, a son of Zhanibek khan, a founder of the Kazakh Khanate. But I am still inclined to believe that this helmet belongs to the khan of Golden Horde, Zhanibek. Firstly, according to Leonid Bobrov such helmets were not common in XIV century in the Golden Horde, but I disagree with it. Such helmets with supraorbital cutouts were used in XIII and in XIV centuries. A famous Russian scientist Mikhail Gorelik relates such helmets to the Golden Horde period. Later the helmets have extended to other regions. Secondly, the epithet «victorious» was not awarded to each ruler. As far as I remember, Zhanibek Makhmud khan’s son was not a ruler, a khan, he was sultan and batyr. Some sources indicate his heroic battles and feats. But, nevertheless he never gained such fame to be called «victorious». Such title was awarded to the rulers who conquered lands, nations and vast territories such as Emir Timur, Genghis khan and others. Zhanibek was such a great ruler. During the reign of his father Uzbek-khan the Golden Horde reached the highest power and prosperity. The territory from Siberia to the Caucasus belonged to them. In my opinion, khan of the Golden Horde Zhanibek deserves the epithet «victorious». He is called Aziz Zhanibek —Noble in written resources in the East, Gracious, kind in Russian resources. Indeed, he was outstanding, wise ruler and noble man. In addition, the helmet that belonged to Zhanibek khan is not only subject of weapon with inscription of the name of Golden Horde’s khan. There is a blade with the name of Uzbek-khan, Zhanibek khan’s father in the Hermitage, who introduced Islam for the first time and made it official religion of the Golden Horde. Later his son Zhanibek continued Islamization process. The relations with Muslim countries — Iran, Egypt were established. As it is evidenced by written resources a lot of weapons were imported from Egypt as gifts. Based on above, we can conclude that such personalized helmet was probably made by Muslim masters, Arabian or Iranian on the order of Zhanibek khan. In any conclusion this helmet will remain as a valuable monument of our history. The name of Zhanibek khan is associated with many legends, which give evidence that he was a wise, judicious and fair ruler.
-Was it possible to judge on social and military status of a person by the uniform and weapon?
-Yes, of course. Firstly, different military ranks evidenced about the military and social status of the owner. They were fixed on military helmets. One of such ranks was a quill — «zhyga», attached to the head-ware. In military time a quill or some quills attached to the military helmet and owner’s status was determined by it. There is conformation of it in written and visual monuments of art. Another difference was the tabard attached to the helmet. The color of the tabard differed between each other during the battles. An essential attribute of the helmet were the badgers from horse tail or silk threads. They also performed a protective function, when the sword slid through it without damaging the helmet.
-Reading materials about you, we can understand that you are deeply immersed in historic layers that are unknown to many people. How is it possible to awaken a lively interest to those heroic times, which can teach a lot now?
-The interest increases when you are involved in it all the time. So the prominent historic events must be promoted more, in early childhood. I consider that the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh khanate will be the impetus for a deeper study of history. We need not only calendar holidays that are repeating year after year and become almost routine. We need such events that would stimulate the interest to the events and personalities, which should not be forgotten. -What are you involved in now and what priorities have you set as a researcher for yourself? -I draw pictures and conduct research works related to topic which we have discussed. One book on firearm history is in publishing house. Other two books on Kazakhs’ weapon must be published to the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate. The paintings will be on the exhibition of Artists Union in Astana, which will be opened these days. The weapon of Kazakh people, history of my people, my culture still remain as a priority for me. -Kaliolla Samatovich, do you have followers or disciples? -I have no followers or disciples in studying the history of Kazakh people’s weapon. But my books and articles awaken the interest to this topic. Many people began to refer to this issue and come to have a consultation. After the institute I have taught at Tansykbayev Art College in Almaty, that is why many young artists learned in my groups. I can mention Bakytnur Burdesbekov, Talgat Tleuzhanov, Amanat Nazarkulov, Alexander Osipov and other among them. They continued their study in the institutes, learned from other teachers, but there is my contribution to their educational and creative growth too. I am proud of their success and happy for them. They also gratefully remember me.
-Thank you for comprehensive answers, Kaliolla Samatovich. We will wait for your new books and the exhibition.