Monuments of Bishkek: Kurmanjan Datka/Erkindik/F. Dzerzhinsky/V. Lenin monuments
This article from the magazine of the Laboratoria Ci “Monuments of Bishkek” (May, 2018). In this issue we refer to urban objects, this time to its monuments and memorials. They interest us because they serve as symbolic objects, documenting the dominant idea of the discourse or vice versa losing this dominant idea over time in view of the changing political and socio-economic context. Thus, we turn our attention to the processes and narratives in which these objects appeared, transformed and continue to exist.
Today, the square at the intersection of Pushkin Street and Erkindik Boulevard is known as a place for holding charity fairs, craft fairs, the festival of street theaters, various celebrations. “Musical Erkindik,” jazz concerts, open-airs are held here. Several years ago there were attempts to revive the so-called “Broadway” on this site: exhibitions were held in the open air, master classes by painters.
The space is organized in such a way that it attracts residents and tourists to spend their free time here: benches are installed, flower beds are laid out, fast food court is established, bicycle and roller-skates rental is available, in the evenings one can sing karaoke or take pictures with tame animals for a fee. To the left there is an art gallery, to the right – Ala-Too cinema, in the middle – the “zero kilometer,” in the front and in the back – the Oak Park and Erkindik Boulevard.
This festive atmosphere attracts many holiday-makers in the evening. However, the Kurmanjan Datka sculptural composition, towering at the intersection of two avenues at the base of the square, only attracts attention and interest of tourists, guests of the capital, architecture students. Prior to the establishment of the Alai Tsarina monument, four monuments have replaced each other on this pedestal since the Soviet times to the present day, each in their own time bringing people the ideological accents of the incumbent authorities: Lenin (1948-1984), F. Dzerzhinsky (1987-1999), Erkindik – the Statue of Liberty (1999-2004), and now Kurmanjan Datka (2004-present). Together with the change of the monuments on the pedestal, as well as with changes in the urban planning, in the political and socio-economic sphere, with gaining independence of the state, the area (the street and the boulevard) changed both physically and symbolically.
The space itself as a city square, a place of public activities, was formed with the appearance of a majestic monument to Vladimir Lenin on it in November 1947. It was established in honor of the 30th anniversary of the October Revolution, but the official opening with a rally took place on the day of the 24th anniversary of Lenin’s death (January 22, 1948). “[…] The coverlet is slowly released, and before the gaze of thousands of people appears a majestic monument symbolizing eternity. One word is carved on the granite slab: Lenin” (“On the eve of Lenin’s days,” 1948). The monument was made as a cubic base and a pedestal in the form of a column out of reinforced concrete, faced with granite, at the top of which stood a bronze figure of Lenin, 13 meters high. The authors of the monument were the sculptor N. Neroda and the architect V. Veryuzhsky.
In the publication of the Sovetskaya Kirghizia newspaper, the place where the monument was erected was mentioned as “the square by the summer theater.” At the time it did not yet have special significance, which it gained when certain events were held here in the future. The installation of the monument required the replanning of the entire adjacent site at the entrance to the Oak Park. Dzerzhinsky Street (nowadays, Erkindik Boulevard) was subsequently connected to a site outside Kirov Street (nowadays, Abdumomunov Street). The idea was that the monument completed the architectural ensemble of the “Railway Train Station – Oak Park” section of the street. This made it possible to see the monument over a very long distance from all angles: from the station and Lenin Street (nowadays, Zhibek-Zholu), considering that the city at that time was half-empty, there were few trees, and the tallest building was two or three floors high (“On the eve of Lenin’s days,” 1948). The scale, the size of the monument demonstrated the might (especially given that at the time most of the monuments in the city were in the form of busts), the strength of the authority, acting in this case as a means of campaigning and spreading communist ideology. The empty space in front of the monument became a place of large-scale celebrations, festive parades, at this place future pioneers took oaths. The square thusly received the name of the leader of the revolution.
According to the recollections of a guide and a Bishkek resident Elizaveta Chalova, everyone who came to the city went down the street from the station to this place where Red Tea House was also located: “In the teahouse you could listen to the radio (it’s like wifi at coffee places now), read newspapers for free. Opposite it stood the “Gaz-voda” [soda water] pavilion with the sculptural design of Olga Manuylova. This space was the favorite place of the townspeople, where everyone went out to show themselves, the ladies dressed up in their best dresses, saleswomen in white kokoshniks rolled around carts with ice cream. Everything was strewn with sand, there were pyramidal flower beds with huge flowers. A newsreel was shown right on the street near Ala-Too cinema. There were also stands on which the leading newspapers of the Soviet Union were posted, people could read them. And in the evenings students of central universities, foreigners, dandies gathered at this “hangout spot,” letters shone with neon, townspeople walked, made dates. Guys and girls were dressed beyond our dreams – in jeans. Here you could meet people from different walks of life, look at ladies in silk, staple dresses in the height of fashion. And this “Broad” stretched from Ala-Too cinema and on to the place where now Russia cinema is” (E. Chalova, interview, April 2018).
Over time, with the general expansion of the city, Lenin’s square spreads to the west, and in the city’s development plan in 1979 it is transferred to its current location – the square between Kievskaya, Pushkin, Razzakov and Panfilov streets and named Ala-Too (Oruzbaeva, 1984), on which a larger (17 tons), majestic monument to Lenin is erected. The smaller monument is demolished and a vase is installed in its place, which means that a new sculpture should appear there soon. According to a local historian Vladimir Petrov, it was an unofficial tradition: “One of these vases can now be seen from the eastern side of the railway station platform. On the western side there is still Ilyich [Lenin], and on the east in Stalin’s place there is a vase” (V. Petrov, interview, April 2018). At the time, the space begins to secure a format of leisurely activities and entertainment, the “hangout spot” connects Panfilov Park, Oak Park, Dzerzhinsky Boulevard; the space is filled with cultural objects: the building of the Union of writers, Ala-Too cinema, the historical and zoological museums (nowadays, Assembly of the peoples of Kyrgyzstan), a summer stage, a dance floor and the “Wine and beer by the glass” pavilion (V. Petrov, interview, April, 2018).
The F. Dzerzhinsky monument
On September 8, 1987, a monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the All-Russian Special Commission (KGB), was erected at an empty space (Petrov, 2008, p. 68). The author of the sculpture is T. Sadykov, stonemason is O. Solonsky, the six-meter monument is carved from granite. The opening was timed to coincide with Dzerzhinsky’s 110th anniversary and the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution (“To the Unbreakable Knight of the Revolution,” 1987). Originally, the monument was going to be installed near the KGB building, which at that time was under construction and where a special place was assigned to the monument (Petrov, 2008, p. 69).
At the site in front of the monument, meetings of soldiers-veterans were held, young soldiers took oath, and other solemn events took place. According to Elizaveta Chalova, the monument to Dzerzhinsky stood here parallel to the station, because Felix Edmundovich for a time served as chairman of Cheka (All-Russian Special Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage) and the People’s Commissar for Communication Lines, and he made great efforts to unite Siberia, Asia and Moscow with railroads. Accordingly, the street from the station to the city was also named after him (E. Chalova, interview, April, 2018).
The Erkindik monument
In 1999, after the country’s gaining of independence, change in ideology, strengthening of the new rhetoric of power, the monument to Dzerzhinsky was dismantled and moved to Tynystanov street, to the western side of the National Library opposite the Ministry of Internal Affairs building. In his place on the day of celebrating the 8th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, Erkindik monument (Statue of Liberty) is erected along with the subsequent renaming of the avenue. The celebration and opening of the Freedom Monument took place against the backdrop of the Batken events, armed clashes in the south of Kyrgyzstan between Islamist militants and the country’s military forces. “This monument, which we are unveiling today,” President Askar Akaev said at the inauguration ceremony on August 31, “symbolizes the freedom of our people and is dedicated to all those who fought and gave their lives for our independence … […] The Freedom Monument is a symbol of our long-cherished dream of becoming an independent country. From now on, this place will become sacred for the citizens of free Kyrgyzstan “(Vecherniy Bishkek, Slovo Kyrgyzstana, September, 1999).
The Statue of Liberty, about five meters high, was installed on an 11-meter pedestal made of polished granite. The authors are the sculptor T. Sadykov, the architect E. Pisarskoy. The statue represents a figure of a winged woman on a ball, above her head she is holding a tunduk – the top of a yurt structure, the symbol of hearth; the shape of tunduk is also included in the composition of the national flag. “This image creates a certain associative flow related to the ideas of freedom, motherhood. Erkindik echoes the image of the winged ancient Greek goddess of victory. A female figure in flight touches the ball (the embodiment of the planet) and at the same time in a way relies on it. Its appearance and costume are endowed with ethnic Kyrgyz features, the sculptural composition also includes the details necessary to express the political and cultural meaning of the current transition period in the life of the people” (Alyshbaeva, Budaichiev, Pratkova, 2001, pp. 90-91).
Monument to Kurmanjan Datka
In 2003, the Erkindik monument was removed, a larger copy of it was installed on the Ala-Too Square instead of the demounted monument to Lenin. Instead of the Liberty Monument they placed the monument to Kurmanjan Datka (sculptor V. Shestopal, architect A. Muksinov), made of bronze and white stone. The sculpture on the pedestal is surrounded by an arch, the Alai Tsarina has a scroll in one hand and a kamcha [a whip] in the other.” And I will not be mistaken if I say that there is a profound symbolism in that the unveiling of the monument to our mother-datka coincides with the day when we celebrate the biggest national holiday – Independence Day,” the then President Askar Akaev said in a solemn speech at the opening of the monument (Slovo Kyrgyzstana, 2004). Erected on the 13th anniversary of the celebration of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, over time the monument lost its original symbolic component, remaining a historical object and a landmark for tourists as a monument to the first female ruler in the history of the country. Today, at the base of the monument various entertainment events take place, including dance flash mobs and yoga classes. Thus, in the last 70 years, along with the change of sculptural compositions on the pedestal, the street/square, its significance and relations with the inhabitants of the city were changing.
- Zh. Alishbaeva , B. D. Budaichiev, L. A. Prytkova (2001). Monumental art of Bishkek. Moscow: Galart.
- G. Petrov (2008). Frunze the Soviet. Bishkek.
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- Oruzbaeva. Encyclopedia “Frunze.” Data from: http://www.foto.kg/galereya/3761-frunze-ploschad-imeni-vi-lenina.html