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Kazakhstan marks 150th anniversary of scholar Akhmet Baitursynov who founded Kazakh alphabet, first national newspaper

Nursultan, Kazakhstan

This year, Kazakhastan is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of scholar Akhmet Baitursynov, a teacher who was the founder of the first Kazakh alphabet and established the first national newspaper.

Born in 1872, Baitursynov whose birth anniversary is included in the UNESCO list of anniversaries for 2022-2023 is called Ult Ustazy –Teacher of the Nation.

Belongs to a small village in the Kostanai region, Baitursynov began his teaching career during 1895-1909 in the Russian-Kazakh schools in Aktobe, Kostanai, Karkaralinsk districts, and became a headmaster of the Karkaralinsk city school, according to The Astana Times.

Baitursynov who was recognized as the Ult Ustazy (Teacher of the Nation) has done significant work than any other linguist to develop Kazakh literacy in the 20th century.
Throughout his career, developing mass literacy was his major goal.

Baitursynov’s achievement include: the transformation of the Arabic alphabet, which was used for years, to adapt it to the spelling and phonetic peculiarities of the Kazakh language.

The main reasons to reform the Arabic script were the mismatch of sounds in the Kazakh and Arabic languages and the absence of a universally approved alphabet. Because of this, there were difficulties in distinguishing sounds and reading, and that was an obstacle for mass literacy, as per The Astana Times.

This difficulties made Baitursynov decide to reform the Arabic alphabet in accordance with the phonetic laws of the Kazakh language to raise literacy to the national level.

Notably, Baitursynov’s alphabet came into use in 1912. Later, in 1926, Baitursynov also discussed the advantages of transitioning to the Latin alphabet.

Baitursynov’s greatest desire to educate Kazakh people led him to establish the first weekly nationwide socio-political and literary newspaper Qazaq, was published in Kazakh language using the Arabic alphabet from 1913 to 1918.

He could fulfill his wish with the help of his closest friends and colleagues Alikhan Bokeikhan and Mirzhakyp Dulatuly.

The newspaper called on Kazakh people to master art and science and raised the problem of the development of the Kazakh language. It had more than 3,000 subscribers and was read in the Kazakh steppes, China and Russia.

The Kazakh translation of Krylov’s fables was published in St. Petersburg in 1909 under the title “Forty Fables.” The animal stories in fables represented themes of unity, education, spirituality, morality, culture, hard work, and subtle criticism of colonial policy, The Astana Times reported.

In order to contribute more in the people’s welfare, Baitursynov’s own civic dreams and thoughts were published as a separate book under the name “Masa” (Mosquito) in 1911.

The ideological foundation of “Masa” was to invite the public to study art and receive a proper education, to develop culture and a work ethic. Baitursynov skillfully used poetry as a way to awaken people, to influence their minds, hearts and feelings.

Apart from education and literature, Baitursynov actively participated in the formation of the Kazakh national state idea.

His political activity began in 1905. He was one of the authors of the Karkaraly petition, which raised questions regarding local administration, changes in the system of public education, and the adoption of new laws.

The October Revolution in 1917, which resulted in the overthrow of the provisional government and the establishment of the power of Soviets led Baitursynov, Bokeikhan and Dulatuly to establish the Autonomy of Kazakh areas and to name it Alash.

The first political group and movement – the Alash party and the Alashorda government was created.

The territory and borders of Kazakhstan were documented and legally confirmed for the first time during this period of Alash governance as well.

Baitursynov, along with many members of the Kazakh intelligentsia, fell victim to Stalinist repression. In 1929 Baitursynov was arrested again with charges of counter-revolutionary activity and preparation of an armed uprising in the Kazakh steppe.

In 1934, at the request of the International Red Cross, Baitursynov was released and returned to Almaty to reunite with his family.

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