ALZHIR Museum and ex-concentration camp near Nur-Sultan

Nazerke Makhanova | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The ALZHIR Museum is a former concentration camp during the time of Stalin, where entire families, women, and children of the people prosecuted by the law, were imprisoned.  It is one of the harshest concentration camps across Kazakhstan that had ever existed in its history. This place is located just 38 km away from the capital city of Kazakhstan. It is the ALZHIR Museum and ex-concentration camp near Nur-Sultan city. 

A bit of history

During the reign of Stalin, people whose words or actions encouraged other people to think differently were often punished. To have your own opinion, opposing the one promoted by the government, you would be labelled as the "nation's enemy" without proof of guilt. They were free-thinking people, well-known public and political figures who mainly worked for the good of their motherland. Prisoners were brought from everywhere: Georgia, Armenia, Moscow, Leningrad, Belarus, Crimea, the countries of Central Asia... Family members of people recognized as that kind of "enemies" were sent to concentration camps for a period of 5 to 10 years.** **

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The ALZHIR Museum was officially opened in 1997. During the time of repression, it was formally called the “26th GULAG Point”, and the prisoners briefly called it ALZHIR. This was an acronym of the name in Russian “Akmolinsky Lager Zhen Izmennikov Rodiny”, which in literal translation means "the Akmola camp for wives of the motherland's traitors". January 6, 1938, is when the first batch of women and children arrived in the camp. It was only in the early 50s that the camp was abolished, but former prisoners were not allowed to return to their native lands until 1958. Upon release from the camps, the surviving prisoners were given documents with a list of cities into which they were forbidden to enter, including their home. In 1953, the concentration camp ALZHIR located on the land of the present Republic of Kazakhstan was closed for good.

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Open air exhibits 

There is an identical copy of the carriage on which the prisoners were brought placed outside of the museum building. Turning to the right, you will see an exhibit resembling a black hat. This is the representation of the mourning colours worn by the women prisoners. On both sides of the cap, you will see the statues of a man and a woman sitting in front of each other. The figure of a man who lowered his hands is called "Powerlessness and Despair", and the statue of the woman bears the name of "Fight and Hope". Also, you will see the “Tear”, a stela dedicated to the victims of all 11 concentration camps in Kazakhstan. There is a wall on the street with the names of all 7.000 women who have served their sentences in the ALZHIR Concentration Camp. Next, you will see a building similar to a bunker; this is a museum where the things of women prisoners are collected, as well as the copies of chambers and barracks in which they were kept.

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Inside the museum

At the entrance to the museum, you will see paintings that tell about the hard times of the local people during the time of massive political repression. The museum has two floors, on the ground floor, you will see objects belonging to former captives: household items, tools, clothes, letters and other personal things. Also, the museum has a zone for showing a documentary movie about life in a concentration camp and the price for a ticket costs about $ 1.50.  

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On the second floor, you will see huts resembling those times in which prisoners were kept. In addition to the barracks, you will see chambers in which women worked. The mannequins, dressed as prisoners at the time, provide more insight into the conditions and how the captives survived. The museum is designed so that visitors can truly experience the spirit of that time. The most famous and saddest installation here is called “Removing Children”. It shows how soldiers used to take away children from their mothers' hands when they reached the age of three. Pay attention to another figure in the hut, holding her baby tightly to the chest, illustrating the feelings of understanding that such a fate awaits her too. After being taken away, the children from the camp were sent to orphanages.

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The museum is a 45-minute drive from Nur-Sultan city. There is a bus number 300 that leaves from Nur-Sultan to the Akmol village, where the ALZHIR Museum is located. You can take the bus right in front of the Asia Park Shopping Mall. Buses depart every hour from 7 am to 8 pm. Without an organized excursion, a ticket will cost $ 1.50; with guidance in English, a ticket will cost only $ 2.50. The museum is closed on Mondays, and on other workdays, you can send an application to visit it with a guided tour on institution's official website. Please note that applications are not accepted on weekends. In order to take photos, make sure to get permission from the museum administration. The same bus number will also take you back to the city. 

Kurt - a local delicacy that helped prisoners

There is a poem that was written by one of the prisoners under the name “Kurt is a gemstone” (Kurt is a dried cottage cheese ball). Locals of the village where the ALZHIR Camp was located threw stones at prisoners over the fence. Those who saw it thought that locals were only making fun of the captives, not suspecting that these were not stones, but a delicacy of Kazakh cuisine. So, the locals actually secretly showed their concern and saved the captives from hunger for many years.

© istockphoto / lvenks

When it comes to concentration camps, most people would think of European concentration camps in World War II. However, the world is a casket that holds more secrets than we might imagine. All victims who fell due to injustice deserve to be remembered. Another story to be remembered of concentration camps is in Kazakhstan. Local and foreign visitors over the years increasingly visit the ALZHIR Museum and ex-concentration camp, helping to remember the infamous story that happened near Nur-Sultan.

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