8 May 2013

Celebrating May, Men and Victory Days in Kazakhstan

The early days of May are full of special celebrations.  May day was, in Soviet times, a day of workers’ solidarity but today, in Kazakhstan is celebrated as a day of unity amongst nations.  The main square in front of the Pyramid Palace is closed to traffic and filled with yurts showcasing national produce and there are displays of traditional dancing and sports.

Just a few days later, on 7 May, everyone celebrates Fatherland Defender’s Day.  This day was originally instituted as, Red Army Day, a Soviet holiday commemorating the establishment of and the first mass draft into the Red Army in Petrograd and Moscow.  In Russia and many other  CIS countries it is celebrated in February. Since independence Kazakhstan has celebrated the day in May, commemorating the date when the decree forming the Kazakh armed forces was signed;  from this year it is a public holiday.

The day acts as a counterpart to International Women’s Day (8 March) and women make a particular effort to do something nice for the men in their lives - our children’s school held a party for all the male staff complete with games and competitions.  This year there was a military parade which was extensively televised, fireworks and many concerts at various venues across the city.  We visited Astana’s spectacular war memorial - Otan Korgaushylar to see families coming together – young and old, to pay their respects to the military.

Otan Korgaushylar
Otan Korgaushylar Monument
The monument is spectacular - a central pillar supports a woman holding a bowl to symbolise peace and prosperity.  She is bracketed by two bas reliefs, one on the right shows Kazakh warriors while the one on the left shows soviet soldiers.  We celebrate the Commonwealth 11 November remembrance day at this part of the memorial.  An eternal flame sits at the front of the complex.  While there we were very privileged to have the opportunity to meet with, and talk to, a 90 year old veteran who had fought at Stalingrad as a young man.  It was humbling to talk to this man who had done so much in his youth and seen so much change in the intervening years.

Astana's Eternal Flame
People pay respects at the Otan Korgaushylar monument

Bas relief showing Kazakh warriors
Two days later we celebrate Victory day, 9 May being the day when the German’s surrendered. At the end of World War II or the Great Patriotic War as it is known here.  There are parades in cities around the country, ceremonies at the war memorials and and veterans are honoured at lunches, concerts and visits to key venues.

This spate of holidays combined with lovely spring weather lends a very festive air to the city.  In the lead up to May the city billboards are covered with photographs of veterans of World War II – 291 are registered in Astana, banners go up and the fountains are switched on.  The day has a very different feel to Remembrance Day in the UK but serves the same purpose.
Banners around the city celebrate the day of great victory.
Victory Car Sticker
People show their appreciation in many ways - one car sported this sticker '
Added to Amanda Mulligan's monthly Expat Life Blog Link up - a great way to read interesting blogs about expat life from a multitude of different perspectives.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Another superb article - thank you for explaining so clearly.

  2. Interesting to hear that Kazakhstan has a similar approach to May as France- plenty of holidays! Funnily enough I linked up a post explaininig the French public holidays to #ExpatLifeLinky too.

    1. I guess it is that time of year! Even better with a late Easter. Looking forward to reading your post now!

  3. This made me wonder where there are eternal flames in the Netherlands. Apparently there are 3 that the public can visit:
    1. Amsterdam, Hollandsche Schouwburg - http://www.hollandscheschouwburg.nl/en/history - commemorating Dutch Jews killed in World War II. In 1941 during the occupation, this theatre was designated a Jewish theatre.
    2. The Hague, at the Peace Palace.
    So far, so good. Then on to a rather unexpected one:
    3. In Maastricht, on a statue commemorating the Dutch inventor of gas lighting, Jan Pieter Minckeleers.

    To add to this, there's a 'secret' flame kept burning in Wageningen, the place where the capitulation was signed in 1945. You'll never guess where they hide it in between the annual days of liberation and remembrance.... in the boiler room of the local gasworks! You can read more about it here: https://integratedexpat.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/dodenherdenking-remembrance-freedom/
    I'm also taking part in the #ExpatLifeLinky at http://lifewithadoublebuggy.blogspot.nl

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