National Geographic : 1954 Nov
I was unaware of the troubles that beset the Sinkiang Kazakhs until late in 1951. While studying at Harvard that fall, I read a news item about the appearance in Kashmir of Kazakhs who were reported to have fled the new Communist rule in western China. I recognized in the account two opportuni ties: first, to visit and study these little-known Moslem people as subject matter for my doc toral dissertation in social relations; second, to hear the survivors' own story of their fabu lous migration. Just four months after the last of the refu gees arrived in Srinagar, capital of Kashmir, I was sitting on a bright Khotan rug in the quarters of Qali Beg, exchanging gestures of friendliness (few words yet) with that Ka zakh chieftain.* Months of Bitter Decision Now, in the summer camp above Srinagar, Sultan Sherif was talking as a downpour pelted the felt tent. "Almost in the beginning-it was early in the Year of the Tiger-our leaders Janim Khan and Osman Batir called us to a great council at Barkol in the eastern Tien Shan," he said, scooping up a gob of butter which he solicitously plopped into my newly filled bowl of hot tea. "The Communists were holding the reins of government in tight check. Our chiefs and leading men had to choose which way to turn." During the fall and winter of 1949-50 the Kazakhs had dealt with the Communists, ask ing guarantees of religious freedom, preserva tion of tribal customs, and liberty to travel at will within Sinkiang. But the new regime let it be known that it would set the terms of Kazakh "cooperation." Many of the Kazakhs made long journeys to reach the Barkol council. Then a winter storm killed much livestock; the sheep, which were lambing, could not be moved to shelter. It was the kind of time of which the Kazakhs say, "Ice is our bed and snow our blanket." By March of 1950 the panorama at the rallying place must have been cause for pride and even reassurance. Kazakhs by the thou sands populated the broad valley, still white with snow. Tents were strewn for miles across the landscape, the sons' placed around those of the fathers. Within sight of Sultan Sherif's tent door were assembled at least 15,000 people, 60,000 fat-tailed sheep, 12,000 horses, 7,000 head of cattle, and more than 1,000 camels. On March 28 in that Year of the Tiger a 622 A Kazakh Twangs a Plaintive Tune ... Strumming a guitarlike dombra, he sings high yodel ing-type songs not unlike cowboy ballads. congress of 1,000 Kazakh leaders and family heads cast their vote to leave "the golden cradle of their birth" and make for the south ern passes that led toward India. A week later the council set up an autono mous Kazakh government, naming Janim Khan governor and Osman Batir commander in chief of the fighting men. Neither leader * See "The Idyllic Vale of Kashmir," by Volkmar Wentzel, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1948.