(1) Secret Life and Death

Autor of text: 

Chokan Valikhanov: Kazakh scientist and Historian, Ethnographer, Folklorist, and Educator, Officer of General Staff of the Russian Army and Intelligence Agent.

Nikolay Veselovsky, an expert orientalist, compared the life of Valikhanov with a ‘flashed meteor’. It was such bright and brief. However, I would dare to compare his life with another, much more mysterious object, using the memorial-astronomical terminology. I would compare it with a comet. A celestial body, that comes from somewhere in space, illuminates the night sky with its obscure light, exciting the observers and ordinary people, and then it disappears again from the view of its biographers. 

Indescribable Biography

Despite his short life, which seems to be fully studied, there are significant gaps in the biography of Valikhanov, as well as the meaningful hints, which allow creating an alternative biography of this remarkable man. Five volumes of his works, collected much later after the end of his life, only add more fog and lengthen the whimsical shadows, accompanying his life.

Numerous surveys of his biographers (and not many Kazakhs were honored by  such increased attention from outside Kazakhstan as Valikhanov!) discovered his personality in a way, demanded by this or that epoch and ideology. From the ‘last Kazakh prince’ to the uncompromising fighter for the freedom of the working people - that is the transformation of the image of Valikhanov in the literature. The fact, that he always was different from how others wanted him to see and what he was spurred in his biography to, is the truth for every independent and not biased researcher.

I want to focus only on some uncertain points of his biography in these notes, not claiming the authentic ‘discovery’ of the Chokan Valikhanov life in any way. The biography serves as my guide during my trips along his routes. 

Dash between two questions

Although, the subject of this material mainly focuses on the mature years of Valikhanov, it is necessary to look briefly at the very first moments of his life. Chokan, in fact, was not Chokan at all, but his name was Muhammad-Hanafiya (Chokan is a nickname, given by his mother).

It is generally recognized that he was born in 1835, in November, in Kushmurun fortress in the family of Chingiz, the grandson of Ablai Khan. Sometimes there is even the specific date mentioned. However, any specifics is out of the question. The information about the actual age of our hero is based on two official lists of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Wherein, Valikhanov was 25 years old in September 1860, according to one of those, and he was 24 according to another, composed in October of the same year. The latter number, however, is written in pencil, and it is marked by a pencil at the page margin that "he was 18 years old in 1853, in November." Who made this pencil remark and what was the reason is not clear.

Therefore, Chokan Valikhanov could be born either in 1835 or in 1836. In fact, it is not contrary to the age calculation system, accepted by Kazakhs and based on the 12-year animal cycle, which does not fit into the Julian-Gregorian dates, accepted in the West. Some more precise dates, similar to Orthodox baptismal records in the register did not exist at the time.

However, such confusion exists not only in determining the date of birth, but also in defining the exact date of his death. Although, the official version is the death in April of 1865, though the year of 1866 appears in one of the essays by Potanin, considered as the closest friend of Valikhanov. We will find more details about Valikhanov’s death later. After some time..

Son - for his Father and Grandmother...

...the Kazakh ‘prince’, admitted to the Asian School of the Omsk Linear School in 1831 was older than overgrown Lomonossov. However, the sultan managed to cope with the task during the three years of study: he learnt the Russian language well. This gave him some additional possibilities.

A year later, in 1835, the first child of graduate of the Asian School, Chingiz Valikhanov, appeared in this world and the boy was named Muhammad-Hanafiya. The new-born baby will become the first Kazakh, whose erudition was recognized by the arrogant Europe. At the same time, Chokan Valikhanov not only continued his father’s way towards the knowledge with confidence, but he also surpassed him very soon, taking his rightful place in the history of global science.

It should be added that the main driving force, that led the twenty-years-old Chingiz Valikhanov to the desk, was his mother (the grandmother of Chokan) - the legendary ‘Khansha’ Aiganym, a woman which was not rightfully recognized by the historians yet.  It is known about her contribution to the development of the beloved grandson. Perhaps, Chokan loved grandmother Aiganym more than all other relatives. While the most bright memories of his childhood were associated with the Sarymbet Manor, built by the Russian government for the Khansha. 

Steppe Wars

... Relations between the aristocrats in the Steppe were rarely ‘cloudless’. Despite the fact, that they considered themselves as the descendants of Genghis-khan and they were the relatives to each other in some degree. However, when the family is too big, there is always a problem of sharing the inheritance or legacy.

A striking example is the relationship between the descendants of Ablai Khan. When a new contender for the Khan's authority appeared in the Steppe - Kenesary, not all the family members liked the idea of having him as their ruler. One of the most ardent and consistent opponents of this was the widow of Wali, the last Khan of the Middle Horde - Aiganym, who did not supported the pretensions of Kenesary, and sent her son, Chingiz, to fight against the rebel sultan (for which he was even awarded by Gold medal with Alexander’s ribbon in 1834).

Therefore, it did not cause much surprise when the Manor of ‘Khansha Aiganym’, built by the Russian military builders, was attacked by the squad under the command of the dashing ‘Sultana Bopay’ (the sister of Kenesary) as a result of all this. The Manor in Sarymbet was totally burned and looted. However, it was restored. This is evidenced by a drawing of Chokan Valikhanov as of 1853.

Most likely, it was made when Chokan, a young graduate of the Omsk Cadet Corps, arrived to Sarymbet with mournful mission- burials of his beloved grandmother Aiganym. As it can be seen, there was no traces of ruins, left by the militant Bopay (by the way, she was the aunt of Chokan).

However, Chokan did not stayed in grief for a long time. Because he already was in the service at that time. While his irrepressible nature led him to completely different places and areas.

Photo: Author's archive

(To be continued)

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