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Mustafa Shokai: The Forerunner of Kazakh Independence

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In April 2022 the National Academic Library of Kazakhstan hosted the International Scientific and Practical Conference ‘The Legacy of Mustafa Shokai in domestic and foreign studies’, writes Igor Prokhorov.

Keynote speaker was Dmitry Zhuravlev, highly esteemed director of the Institute of Regional Problems of the Russian Federation, in which he noted that the life and works of Mustafa Shokai were an invaluable contribution to understanding the heritage not only of the Kazakh people, but of the entire Eurasian space and the Turkic world as a whole.

The meeting was attended by the statesman and public figure Myrzatai Zholdasbekov, Vice–rector of the Eurasian University named after Gumilev, academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan Dikhan Kamzabekuly, Sabit Shildebai – Director of the Central Archive of Kazakhstan, Doctor of Historical Sciences Burkitbai Ayagan and other domestic scientists, as well as representatives of the scientific world from France, Bashkortostan (Russia), Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan.

The initiators of the conference were the Ministry of Culture of Kazakhstan and the International Turkic Academy.

Within the framework of the conference, an exhibition was organised, where scientific publications, books and articles dedicated to Mustafa Shokai, as well as an exhibition of copies of his manuscripts and letters from the funds of the National Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan were presented.

The meeting was moderated by the President of the International Turkic Academy, and Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor Darkhan Kydyrali. He told about the life of Mustafa Shokai in the light of new historical documents uncovered by archivists.

Quite possibly there is no person in the Turkic world today who would not know Mustafa Shokai, the ideologist of Free Turkestan, a fighter for the interests of the Kazakh people.

Before the Bolshevik coup, Mustafa Shokai worked as the secretary of the Muslim faction of the State Duma. He then headed the Turkestan autonomy. After the defeat of the Turkestan autonomy by the Bolsheviks, Mustafa Shokai emigrated to Paris via Istanbul in 1921.

At first he lived in France, then he ended up in Germany. While in exile, he published the magazines ‘New Turkestan,’ and ‘Young Turkestan,’ in which he criticised the policies of the Soviet government.

According to archivists and historians, whilst in exile Mustafa Shokai wrote articles about the need to unite the Turkic people, their political, economic and cultural life.

Shokai And Wife

He never divided people according to racial or national characteristics, nor was he ever carried away by nationalist ideas (he was married to Maria Gorina), as Soviet historic revision presented it.

And certainly, as true history records, he never collaborated with the Nazis – he died on December 27, 1941 in a Berlin hospital under mysterious circumstances, perhaps he was poisoned…

Employees of the National Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan found letters from Mustafa Shokai, indicating the development of his political views during emigration.

After gaining independence, his legacy began to be studied in Kazakhstan, his works and documents were published. The National Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan,

in particular, stores Shokai’s letters to his literary collaborator Abduluakap Oktay and his correspondence with other people who helped to publish magazines.

“An important discovery of archivists, which is still little known, is that Mustafa Shokai never collaborated with the Nazis in a concentration camp,” said Gulzhauhar Kokebayeva, Doctor of Historical Sciences, professor at the Institute of History and Ethnology named after Ch. Ch. Valikhanov.

As she noted, documents about meetings and cooperation of Mustafa Shokai with the leader of the Kazakh national liberation movement “Alash” Alikhan Bokeikhanov have been preserved in the archives.

According to her, having been forced into exile in France, and then in Germany, Mustafa Shokai was against the policy of Nazism, he declared his unwillingness to cooperate with the Nazis. Mustafa Shokai’s death came after these events. In Soviet times, when the name of Mustafa Shokai was banned, he was the first to be appreciated by the Kazakhs of Turkey. They were the first to search for the place of his burial.

In turn, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Head of the Department of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan Kakhramon Rajabov told about the increased public interest in the history of the armed struggle against the Soviet regime in Turkestan in 1918.

The patriotic ideas of anti-colonialism and independence put forward by the leader of the Turkestan Autonomy Mustafa Shokai at that time caused a broad national liberation movement that encompassed representatives of all social strata, all peoples of the region. Many of them gave their lives in the name of freedom of Turkestan.

Most of the ministers of the autonomous government of Turkestan, headed by Mustafa Shokai, had a higher legal education, which indicates their high competence. Members of the Provisional Government made a special appeal to the population in 1918.

In it, the entire population of Turkestan, regardless of race, nationality, religious affiliation, gender, age and political preferences, was called for unity and solidarity. Unfortunately, the activity of the first democratic people’s Government did not last long.

The Bolsheviks saw him as a danger and sought to eliminate him as soon as possible.

Mustafa Shokai is a prominent figure of the Kazakh national liberation movement, said Alexander Kadyrbayev, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The decisions on self-determination of Turkestan in 1917 did not contradict Lenin’s decrees and were in line with the national liberation movement of those years when all the peoples of the former Russian Empire began to declare autonomy.

Dmitry Zhuravlev, Director of the Institute of Regional Problems of the Russian Federation, expressed an interesting idea. In his opinion, the value of the heritage of historical figures should be measured not only by political, but also by cultural components.

First of all, the transformation of the culture of individual groups and national formations into the culture of a single people is largely the merit of Mustafa Shokai.

He has done a lot for this both as a scientist and as a professional politician. Today we can talk about the states located on the territory of Central Asia, created on a solid cultural foundation, which was laid by Mustafa Shokai,” D. Zhuravlev noted.

Thus, it can be considered that the creation of Turkestan autonomy was the first attempt at independent nation–building in Central Asia, and its leader Mustafa Shokai is a great fighter for the freedom of the people.

By Igor Prokhorov, originally published Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, April 10th 2022.

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