Sitting in a modest, domed brick mausoleum, a bust of the partisan Nurmagambet Kokembayev smiles Buddah-like as he gazes out upon the snow-laden steppe of central Kazakhstan. It betrays nothing of the turbulent historical period he lived in, an epoch that is still a sensitive spot for the Central Asian nation’s leaders.
Some 50 kilometers away, in the mining town of Arkalyk, a larger monument to the same marksman, who is known more commonly as Keiki Batyr, stands next to a statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. Keiki Batyr is cast cradling his beloved rifle, but it was the Bolsheviks who got the last shot.
Keiki Batyr was a homespun steppe rebel who styled himself as a defender of Kazakh land, an enemy to colonialists of both the red and white type. He is believed to have been killed in 1922 or 1923, most likely by the Bolsheviks after they wrested control of Central Asia.
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Chris Rickleton is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.