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Soviet World War II Hero's Granddaughter Attacked In Almaty

  • RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The elderly granddaughter of a Soviet World War II hero, General Ivan Panfilov, has been beaten by unknown attackers in her home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The attack on Aigul Baiqadamova, 67, underscored heightened sensitivities over ties with Russia following Moscow's interference in another former Soviet republic, Ukraine.

The Almaty city police department said on April 3 that Baiqadamova was attacked in the evening of April 2 near her apartment building.

The assault came a month before Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts a military parade in Moscow's Red Square in May 9 celebrations of the 70th anniverary of Nazi Germany's defeat -- a source of intense pride for many across the former Soviet Union, which lost about 27 million people in the war.

Russia's takeover of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and its support for separatists who have seized territory in eastern Ukraine, sparking a war that has killed more than 6,000 people, has raised concerns in Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics about Moscow's intentions in the region.

Baiqadamova, who is also a daughter of prominent Kazakh composer Bakhytzhan Baiqadamov, said her assailants took no personal belongings, suggesting robbery was not the motive.

Instead, she said on Facebook that she believes the attack was linked to views she has expressed about World War II in public and on the Internet.

Baiqadamova recently took part in online discussions defending the orange-and-black striped St. George ribbon -- a symbol that dates back to the Russian imperial era and has been associated with commemorations of victory over Nazi Germany, but is now worn in Russia to express support for Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.

On the Internet and in conferences, Baiqadamova has promoted the importance of the World War II victory as a symbol of unity between former Soviet republics.

Soviet War Hero

Her grandfather, General Panfilov, was killed near Moscow in November 1941. He personally formed the Red Army's 316th Infantry Division in Almaty in 1941, which consisted of recruits and volunteers from Central Asia.

Panfilov's division played a key role in defending the Soviet capital from German troops that autumn.

In Almaty, which was Kazakhstan's capital between 1929 and 1997, the central park is named after 28 heroes of Panfilov's division.

Last year, President Nursultan Nazarbaev ordered officials to build a memorial to Panfilov in the current Kazakh capital, Astana, in time for the 70th anniversary of victory over the Nazis.

Kazakhstan is a partner of Russia in security and trade groupings and Nazarbaev, who has been in power since the Soviet era, is expected to attend the May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

Many Western leaders will stay away, reflecting their distaste for Putin following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and what they say is Moscow's direct military support for the rebels in Ukraine.

Differing Sovet Memories

The events in Ukraine over the past year have revived memories of the bloody 20th-century divisions many hoped could be put aside with the collapse of communism in 1989 and the demise of the Soviet Union two years later.

Russia has evoked the specter of Nazi Germany to justify its actions in Ukraine, portraying the ouster of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as a U.S.-backed coup by fascists and likening the pro-Western government now in power in Kyiv to Nazis.

While Moscow positions the Soviet Union as Europe's wartime liberator, many in Eastern Europe think of the Red Army as an occupying force whose westward sweep began decades of oppressive dominance by Moscow and economic hardship under communism.

The issue is treated in different ways by leaders of other former Soviet republics, as well.

On March 24, Ukrainian Culture Minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko said that "as all European nations" do, Ukraine will mark May 8 as the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives during World War II.

Kyrylenko added, though, that May 9 will continue to be marked as Victory Day.

In Uzbekistan, authorities in a city outside the capital demolished a 10-meter-high World War II memorial last month.

Officials said it was done to make way for a redevelopment plan, but it was starkly out of tune with Russia's celebration plans.

Uzbekistan has marked May 9 not as Victory Day but as the Day of Remembrance since the mid-1990s, and President Islam Karimov has said Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's wartime government needlessly sacrificed the lives of thousands of Uzbeks.

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