Yerlan Sydykov, chancellor of the Eurasian National University named after Lev Nikolayevich Gumilyov (Kazakhstan, Astana), may not be a name familiar to those outside Central Asia, but many in the cultural community across the world will likely have come across his work at some point. Last year, his book “Shakarim” was presented at the University of Cambridge by Sydykov himself, bringing his work closer to English audiences. In his homeland, the scientist is also engaged in the broad social activities. He is the vice-president of the Association of the Eurasian Universities, the president of the
Association of Asian Universities and the Deputy of Maslikhat in Astana, Kazakhstan. Open Central Asia met Sydykov at our offices in London to hear more about his life, beliefs and views of modern independent Kazakhstan as now having something to defend and a strong reason to live for.
Open Central Asia: Yerlan Battashevitch, what brings you so frequently to the UK as a visitor?
Yerlan Sydykov: For me, the United Kingdom, as well as other countries in Europe, Asia, America, the Commonwealth of Independent States has a primarily educational and scientific interest. This year the Eurasian National University named after Lev Gumilyov marked its twentieth year. Not long ago, the university was named “heavyweight among young universities” by the regional director of QS, Eastern and Central Asia Zoya Zaitseva (ENU – the only CIS university, which got into the top 50
of the young developing universities of the world). It took 38 th place on the results of QS World University Rankings. It’s a great start. We are young and have a lot to learn of course.
OCA: Last year in Cambridge your book”Shakarim” was presented. It was a great event to promote the Kazakh literary heritage in England. Why this book and why in Cambridge?
YS: The book “Shakarim: The Life of a Kazakh poet” was written in the language of Shakespeare and Byron and presented in the University of Cambridge in May 2015 The presentation of the book was preceded by a meeting with the vice-president of the University, Peter Nolan where the possibility of joint scientific co-operation were discussed, followed by the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation between our Universities. I presented the life story of one of the greatest Kazakh humanists, philosophers and poets, Shakarim Kudaiberdiev, to British audiences to allow a discussion on the book, “Shakarim”, and on Kazkhstan. The book, according to Dr. A. Tayzenhauzen: “… is more than a human life, it is a history of the whole nation.”My goal was to encourage my readers to find a friend in Shakarim, “being reborn again in a circle” because for himself once and for all, he realised “it all grows wiser that should grow wiser” through the life and art of great Kazakh poet. Before the presentation in English the book had been published in three languages - Russian, Kazakh and Turkish. Currently it’s being prepared for publication in Chinese.
OCA: Recently your new book, “Zhambyl” was published in Russian. Would
that book be interesting for an English-speaking reader?
YS: Certainly! And confirmation of this is that in autumn Zhambyl was presented in Belgrade in the Serbian language.This event was made possible during the official visit of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to Serbia. The book, “Zhambyl: Poet of the Great Heath”, was translated into the Serbian language by University of Belgrade professor, Olga Markovic. The work is dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory over fascism and the 170th
anniversary of the outstanding Kazakh akyn Zhambyl Zhabayev. These factors contribute undoubtedly to the strengthening of the cultural component of cooperation between Kazakhstan and those countries, where we, the intellectuals are promoting our own, Kazakh culture.
OCA: For more than 20 years, you have headed up the leading universities of Kazakhstan. Being under your jurisdiction, ENU n. a. LN Gumilyov is the initiator of many events in Kazakhstan. What is the university proposing for its part in preparations for “Astana EXPO-2017”?
YS: For the right to host the international exhibition “Astana EXPO-2017” in Astana, Kazakhstan was voted in by 103 countries taking part in the International Exhibitions Bureau. The international exhibition “Astana EXPO-2017” with the theme of “Energy of the Future” will help us to look at our country from a new perspective, taking into account the challenges humanity is currently facing. A successful solution of these problems depends on many factors, including the personal involvement of each of us. As you will know, impetus to solving the energy crisis was given after the energy crisis of 1973. Heat generation in the Republic of Kazakhstan, with its long and quite severe winters, requires very high fuel costs, which exceed by almost 2 times the cost of electricity. The University conducts such research into environmental studies of efficiency and the capacity of the landscape of Kazakhstan in view of climate change. We also consider environmental issues of green construction among other areas. A number of scientists are engaged in the problem of using the energy- efficient heat pump heating systems, which is also at an early stage of development in Kazakhstan.
The issue of “Energy of the Future” is very relevant: the traditional energy sources cause uncertainty and concern about their inability to replenish themselves as well as the serious impact that using them has on the planet and our health. Therefore we are researching the environmental efficiency and capacity of the landscape of Kazakhstan taking climate change into account: including the development of environmental monitoring systems of forest plantations in the areas of radioactive contamination to identify woody crops with a high efficiency of energy storage; hydrobiocenoses ecotoxicological studies; biological methods of evaluating the ecological state of watercourses in urban areas of Kazakhstan; and so on. We also propose to assist with the provision of tour guides speaking English, Chinese, Turkish. The “Astana EXPO-2017″ will be attended by more than 3 thousand of our students acting as volunteers. The university is also proposing to host seminars, workshops and round table discussions on tourism in the country. Hiking paths are being outlined like "Caravanning “Ekokoltso of Astana”, “Oasis of the Great Heath”, “Journey to the Ulytau by the Expanses of Saryarka”,”Silk Way – Bridge of Civilizations” and Auto-camping tourism: “Astana – Altai”. As far as higher education institutions are concerned, including ENU, then, for all of
us “Astana EXPO-2017”; will be a global dialogue discussion platform, which will create ideas and problem solve world energy solutions, energy saving, energy-efficiency and high-tech energy sources. In short, the geopolitical importance of “Astana EXPO-2017” is priceless.
OCA: At what level does the university co-operate internationally and with
which other distinguished universities do you have partnerships?
YS: International cooperation of ENU n.a. LN Gumilyov is implemented within the framework of contractual relations with foreign universities, scientific centres and research institutions in Europe, Asia, America, embassies, international research and educational foundations. The university has educational and scientific areas of interest in spheres, such as academic mobility, research, educational programs, professor exchange, etc. For our students the doors are opened to universities in the US, Korea, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, China and Hong Kong. Joint educational programs with a degree taking exist. Achievements in educational and scientific collaboration are measured by international rankings, where ENU is represented in the QS World University Ranking (345) and QS countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (33). Today, the university cooperates with such universities as the University of Cambridge, University of Coventry, University of Sussex, Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain), University of Valencia (France), Pusan University (Korea), Natural Sciences University (Czech Republic), Wuhan University (China) , University of Calgary (Canada), and many others.
Thanks to the joint research projects, as well as its program of “Guest Professor” the university annually invites professors of its partner universities, including those in the UK. Joint research with scientists from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Sussex and Northumbria are conducted. In 2015 it attracted 245 foreign experts to carry out scientific work and lectures.
OCA: Being a historian by training, what do you consider as some of the historical highlights that have been the turning points for Kazakhstan?
YS: This year marks 25 years of independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan. We declared our newfound sovereignty in 1991 but already we are justified in speaking about the presence of our country on the world stage. “We need to look into the past to understand the present and to see the contours of the future”, says our President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The status of independence
is not a newly made doctrine of modern times for Kazakhs. This tradition of independence was already given to us by the ancestors of the Turkic-speaking peoples throughout the times of Turkic Eurasia. History’s always been interested in all the world states. But it always places a special emphasis on the sense of national identity. And here the truth is that nations and peoples cannot be absolutely similar, and national identity is mediated by the state’s independence. It is the key to the
stability of an ethnic group, and the state in a complex, nonlinear peace-building practice.
Set aside a settled environmental view that the nomadic world was barbaric, ignorant and destructive and you will find a progressive role in the global historical process played by nomadic societies to which belonged traditional Kazakh society. The idea of independence has deep roots, and the independence of the state followed cultural independence, the independence of the spiritual embodied in tengrizm principles as we now call the ancient beliefs of Turkic-speaking ancestors. The fundamental civilisational paradigm of our independence is that the nomadic Turkic world organically fits into the global world-system of the ancient world and the Middle Ages, really connecting states and culture. In this context, each step of our people from the time we started to be aware of national identity can be considered as a historical turning point.
OCA: Finally, what message would you like to give to our readers in the UK?
YS: I first of all associate UK with world literature classics. As a child, I over read Alan Milne, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling. We all were young Robinsons of Daniel Defoe. We grew up on the works of the greatest dramaturge and poet William Shakespeare, perceived other worlds with HG Wells. And who among us did not wish to be Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, reading detective novels by Arthur
Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie? It is possible to talk endlessly about these truly national assets of the people of England. I wish multiplying glory, further spiritual and cultural development to all the readers. And of course I’m looking forward to the strengthening of our relations.