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Kazakhstan: Popular Young Journalist Dies

  • Bruce Pannier

A well-known Kazakh journalist, Armial Tasymbekov, died this week in Almaty at the age of 46. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier looks at Tasymbekov's life, much of which was dedicated to researching some of the most tragic periods in Kazakh history, including the Stalin era.

Prague, 20 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Well-known Kazakh journalist Armial Tasymbekov passed away on Sunday at his home in Almaty. State doctors ascribed the death to alcohol overdose.

Many Kazakhs will remember the 46-year-old Tasymbekov as a quiet man fascinated by recent Kazakh history and determined to add to public knowledge of some of its least understood and tragic episodes.

Tasymbekov authored several works on repression in Kazakhstan during the 1930s when Stalin unleashed the great purges throughout the Soviet Union. One of his works on the women's labor camp in Aktyubinsk, ALZhIR (Aktyubinskii Lager Zhon Izmenikov Rodiny), was made into a documentary film shortly after Kazakhstan became an independent country in 1991.

At the time of his death, Tasymbekov was researching material for another book on the fate of Central Asians who were captured by Nazis during World War II. He also was researching another project -- the riots in Almaty (then Alma-Ata) in 1986. As part of the project he searched through Soviet archives in Moscow for the names of those who authorized a violent police reaction to student demonstrators in December 1986. The students were protesting because First Party Secretary of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic and ethnic Kazakh Dinmuhammed Kunayev had been replaced by ethnic Russian Gennady Kolbin. Many of today's leaders in Kazakhstan were Communist Party officials at that time.

Tasymbekov's life took an unexpected turn in late April this year, some weeks after he returned from Moscow. He was accused of organizing a graffiti campaign in Astana and Almaty where slogans against President Nursultan Nazarbaev began appearing on walls throughout the cities. Tasymbekov was investigated and questioned by Kazakhstan's National Security Committee. In early May, he was sent to a psychiatric clinic for one week to receive treatment.

Upon Tasymbekov's release, his doctor, Dmitri Dekhterov, said he had fully recovered but declined to give RFE/RL any details about the ailment or treatment.

"We never tell anyone the diagnosis. Our institute is a closed institute and we do not tell bad news. The only case when we can reveal a diagnosis is when the Interior Ministry asks. This is the official process. He (Tasymbekov) had a temporary psychological disorder. Today he was released and he is psychologically healthy."

Tasymbekov's brother Ashim told RFE/RL by phone that while Armial was in the clinic his apartment was searched. He also said that his brother had suspicions he was being followed.

"All his books in his apartment were thrown around and the front door was kicked in. All the stuff in his house was scattered about. Somebody was following him all the time."

Ashim Tasymbekov told RFE/RL yesterday that he does not believe his brother died of an alcohol overdose but of a heart attack.

"He died of a heart attack. I was at his side until his last breath and am sure it was heart attack. And the reports saying that he was poisoned by overdrinking are lies, lies, lies."

But authorities seem satisfied that the cause of death was over-drinking and no one has raised any concerns that there was anything more to Tasymbekov's death than that.

Tasymbekov held teaching degrees from the pedagogical institute in his native Jarkent region and from the pedagogical institute in Almaty.