Nurtas Ondassynov – a Statesman and Lexicographer

One of the outstanding Kazakh politicians ever, Nurtas Ondassynov (1904-1989), was a man of many talents. As a Prime Minister of the Soviet Kazakhstan, the position he held from 1938 to 1951,  he supervised among other things the construction of a railway Mointy-Shu, which connected South Kazakhstan and Central Asia with northern regions of Kazakhstan. By the way, in order to secure its completion he made a phone call to formidable spy-master Lavrenti Beria (1899-1953), then the First Deputy Prime Minister of the USSR. After several days, in a phone conversation the spy-master assured the Kazakh: “Consider it done”.

As a head of the Kazakh Government, Mr. Ondassynov also supervised the construction of the Arys-Turkestan Canal, which was instrumental to the irrigation of South Kazakhstan. After his retirement in 1962, due to a conflict with the Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev (1894-1971), he began his Oriental studies. Eventually, Mr. Ondassynov compiled the following books: “Arabic-Kazakh Dictionary”, “Persian-Kazakh Dictionary”, “Kazakh Names of the Arab Origin”, and “Oriental Proverbs and Sayings”.

As a politician, he had a unique opportunity to interact with high-ranking Soviet officials. This photo was taken at the Kremlin in 1939. Mr. Ondassynov sits in the first row, third from the left. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin himself (1879-1953) sits at the centre of the first row. Incidentally, when the Kazakh for the first time met Mr. Stalin in person (it happened during a governmental session in Moscow at the end of the thirties), the former was so bewildered that he was not able to speak in the middle of his speech. A Kazakh journalist Gulssym Orazalykyzy (1952- ) is a biographer of Mr. Ondassynov. She also assisted him as a stenographer and editor. He bequeathed his archive to her. So, in her book NURTAS ONDASSYNOV. Biographical Facts. Thoughts. Articles and Memoirs, 2012 (in Kazakh, “НҰРТАС ОҢДАСЫНОВ. Өмірбаяндық деректер. Ой-толғаныстар. Мақалалар мен естеліктер”), Ms. Orazalykyzy included an article by a Kazakh economist Garay Sagymbai, who cites Mr. Ondassynov’s recollections of the first meeting with Mr. Stalin. On pages 151-152 of the book Mr. Sagymbai quotes Mr. Ondassynov’s narration: “Not long after I had become the head of government, the Central Government discussed the cattle industry of Kazakhstan. Having meticulously prepared my speech, my questions and solicitations I left for Moscow. A government session was led by Vyacheslav Molotov – the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR. As I started delivering my speech at the rostrum, Joseph Stalin with his bristled moustache entered the hall. I didn’t know that the world-famous leader, whom I hadn’t met in person, to be present at the session. Therefore, I was bewildered, speechless. Comrade Molotov noticed it and declared a break. He placed me in front of Comrade Stalin, saying: “The new head of the Kazakh Government knows well the cattle industry”. Comrade Stalin said: “I have come to listen to a speech. Vyacheslav, afterwards you will speak yourself” and he went away” (in Kazakh, “Үкімет басшысы болған соң, көп ұзамай Орталық Үкімет Қазақстанда мал шаруашылығын өркендету шаралары туралы мәселе қарайтын болды. Айтатын сөзімді, қоятын сұрауларым мен өтініштерімді мұқият әзірлеп, Мәскеуге жүріп кеттім. Үкімет мәжілісін КСРО Халық Комиссарлар Кеңесінің төрағасы В.М. Молотов басқарып отырды. Мінберге көтеріліп, сөзімді жаңа бастай бергенімде, мұрты тікірейіп И.В. Сталин кіріп келді. Атағы жер жарған, бұрын көрмеген көсемді осы жиынға келеді деп ойламаған мен қысылып, біраз уақыт тоқтап қалсам керек. Оны байқаған Молотов үзіліс жариялап, мені Сталинге қарама-қарсы отырғызып, «Қазақстан Үкіметінің жаңа басшысы, мал шаруашылығын жақсы біледі» деп таныстырды. Сәлемдесіп болғаннан кейін, Сталин: “Тыңдайын деп келіп едім, Вячеслав артынан өзің айтарсың”, – деп шығып кетті”).

Another photo from the Kremlin. The year is 1958. Mr. Ondassynov sits between legendary military commanders of the Soviet Union. Left, Marshal of the Soviet Union, a two-time Hero of the Soviet Union, former defence minister of the USSR Semyon Timoshenko (1895-1970). Right, Marshal of the Soviet Union, a three-time Hero of the Soviet Union, former commander of the Moscow military district Semyon Budenny (1883-1973). This is another proof of Mr. Ondassynov’s authority in the corridors of power in Moscow.

He was a happy husband and father. His Russian wife, Valentina Vassilyevna, gave birth to their sons – Iskander and Gennady, who successfully pursued scientific careers. Upon his retirement in 1962, he left Kazakhstan to settle down with his family in Moscow. Although Mr. Ondassynov missed his homeland so much, excellent libraries and scholarly institutions of the Soviet capital provided him with convenient environment for his Oriental studies.

He was a paragon of integrity, I should say. Mr. Ondassynov’s only wealth was his private library. No cars, no jewels, no fancy trips. But, in the twilight of his life the Kazakh had some regrets. On page 313 of the book, Ms. Orazalykyzy recollects how he told her about his grievances: “One of my biggest regrets – my children don’t speak Kazakh. For this, I am guilty before my people. Forgive me” (“Соның ішіндегі үлкен өкінішім – балаларымның қазақша білмеуі. Ол үшін халқымның алдында кінәлімін, кешірім сұраймын”).

Although being a provincial leader, Mr. Ondassynov managed to interact with foreign dignitaries. When US Vice President Henry A. Wallace (1888-1965) made his visit to the USSR in 1944, the Kazakh accompanied him briefly. On page 36 of the book he shares his memories of the event: “During the Great Patriotic War, Vice President of the USA came to the USSR through the Far East. He made a stop in Almaty. While I accompanied him on his way from an airport to a hotel, he commented on maize which grew in the city: “This is a cultivated plant of Victory!” The words are still on my memory. They are of great meaning. True, during the war mass maize plantation saved the Soviet people from the famine” (“АҚШ-тың вице-президенті Ұлы Отан соғысы жылдары Қиыр шығыс арқылы КСРО-ға келді. Жолшыбай Алматыға тоқтады. Мен оны аэропорттан қонақханаға алып келе жатқанымда, ол қалада өсіп тұрған жүгеріні көргенде: “Е, бұл жеңіс дақылы!” — дегені әлі менің есімде. Бұл сөзде үлкен мағына бар. Рас, соғыс жылдарында жүгеріні жаппай еккендіктен Совет халқын аштықтан аман алып қалдық”).

The Kazakh also made contribution to gender policy. The Kazakh State Female Pedagogical Institute was the only female institution of higher education in the USSR. It was established on the initiative of Mr. Ondassynov, who clearly saw the importance of educated women to the well-being of a nation.

There were rather humorous moments in his life, too. A professor of philology Kadyr Zhussyp recollects his meeting with the retired Mr. Ondassynov. On page 255 of the book he cites the politician: “After he finished his meal, Nurtas noticed that we must bless the food:

– I bless the food. “Allahu Akbar” means “Long live Allah”. But, as a Communist Party member, I say “Party Akbar”. So, he blessed the food: “Long live the Party!” – Now, blessing the food is made in this way, – he said, smiling”. (“Тамақтанып болғаннан кейін, Нұрекең ас қайыру рәсімін жасау керектігін ескертті де:
– Мен ас қайырайын, «Аллауаһпар» деген- «Алла жасасын!» деген сөз, ал мен партия қайраткері болғандықтан, «Партия акбар» деймін,-деп, «Партия акбар» деп ас қайырды да, бұл «Партия жасасын !» деген сөз.- Қазіргі ас қайыру кейде осылай болады,-деп, езу тартты”).

Above all, he was a patriot of the Kazakh people.  On page 312 of the book, Ms. Orazalykyzy recollects how Mr. Ondassynov was proud of the folk wisdom of his people: “Now, you pay attention to this Kazakh proverb: “I sacrifice my wealth for my soul, I sacrifice my soul for my honor”. Only the Kazakhs have such proverb. These several words are worth of many philosophical volumes. The rebellious youth in December of 1986 was driven by their honor. Remember, the Kazakhs have never taken to the streets: “I am hungry!” And they will never revolt out of famine. You just don’t insult the Kazakhs’ honor! After that, no one will stop them. The December Event is another proof of it” (“Енді өзің мына сөзді қарашы, «Малым жанымның, жаным арымның садағасы» деп қай ұлт айта алған. Осы бес қана сөзден тұратын сөйлемнің мән-мағынасын, философиясын ашу үшін бес томдық кітап жазуға болады. Сексен алтыншы желтоқсанда алаңға балаларды ар-намысы алып шыққан. Есіңде болсын, қазақ ешқашан «қарным ашты» деп көшеге шыққан емес, шықпайды да. Қазақтың намысына тимеу керек, тидің екен, ол – қара бура, тоқтата алмайсың. Желтоқсан оқиғасы соның бір дәлелі”).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply