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Astana, Kazakhstan • 19 December, 2023 | 16:53
7 min read

Exploring the Enduring Legacies of Berdibek Sokpakbayev and Nurgisa Tlendiev

The UNESCO Calendar of Memorable Dates now features the 100th anniversaries of these two prominent figures

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Collage by QM

On November 9, the State Counsellor of Kazakhstan, Erlan Karin, shared via his Telegram channel that the 42nd UNESCO General Conference approved Kazakhstan's proposals to commemorate the 100th anniversary of writer Berdibek Sokpakbayev in 2024 and composer and educator Nurgisa Tlendiev in 2025 in the UNESCO Calendar of Memorable Dates. Additionally, a collaborative proposal with Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the first Turkic encyclopedic dictionary, "Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk," by Mahmud al-Kashgari in 1074, received endorsement.

QazMonitor presents an overview of the two pivotal figures in Kazakhstan's cultural and artistic history, shedding light on their notable contributions and celebrated works.

"My Name is Kozha": A Timeless Kazakh Tale

The Kazakh-language novella "My Name is Kozha," written by Berdibek Sokpakbayev in 1957, stands as a timeless piece of Kazakh literature. Originally titled "Ozim Turaly Povest’" (A Tale About Myself), the novella revolves around Kozha, a mischievous and playful schoolboy. Despite his penchant for teasing, cheekiness, and pranks, Kozha's inherently kind nature surfaces when one delves deeper into his character. Living with his mother and grandmother, he fondly cherishes the memory of his deceased father as a hero.

Given the main character's rebellious behavior, the author faced prolonged challenges in finding a publishing house willing to release the book. This hurdle was significantly influenced by the prevailing notion that literary protagonists, particularly in children's literature, should strictly embody positive traits. Berdibek Sokpakbaev effectively demonstrated that a book's hero should be allowed to make mistakes, confront challenges, and only through these experiences can they develop into a well-rounded personality.

In 1963, the novella was adapted into a film with Sokpakbayev co-authoring the screenplay with Nisson Zaleransky. The film's artistic direction was led by Efim Aron, a prominent film dramatist, and director known for the success of "Turksib" in the late 1920s. Directed by Abdulla Karsakbayev, the film portrays Kozha as a smart and curious boy navigating the complexities of rules at the age of 12. Surrounded by caring individuals, including the young homeroom teacher, the wise teacher Rakhmanov, and Kozha's beloved grandmother, the narrative reflects on comical situations and the consequences of mischief.

The novella was translated into Russian by the "Children's Literature" publishing house and later translated from Russian into 68 languages, reaching readers across the globe.

English Dubbing at Romford Film Festival

In a historic moment in 2019, a Central Asian film was entirely dubbed in English for the first time for screening at the Romford Film Festival in London. Teachers and students of international schools in Almaty were involved in the dubbing process, with the majority of them being British, which is why you could hear the British accent in the film.

Berdibek Sokpakbayev: A Literary Luminary

Berdibek Sokpakbayev, born in 1924 into a poor family in one of the villages of Narynkol district of Alma-Ata region, vividly depicted his childhood in the novella "Balalyq shaqqa sayakhat" ("Journey to Childhood," 1960). Despite facing many hardships, the writer grew up curious and optimistic, just like the protagonists in his works.

After completing school and military service, Sokpakbayev pursued studies at the Faculty of Philology of the Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University (1945–1948). Following this, he taught in his hometown for two years. Starting in 1950, he worked for the editorial teams of two Kazakh newspapers in Almaty. Sokpakbayev later graduated from the Higher Literary Courses in Moscow (1955-1957).

His literary journey began with the poetry collection "Bulaq" (Spring) in 1950, followed by the novella "Shesnadtsatiletniy chempion" (Sixteen-Year-Old Champion) in 1951.

Sokpakbayev's enduring legacy is epitomized by the novella "My Name is Kozha." Despite some local criticism, it was well-received and became one of the Kazakh classics. His autobiographical novel "Mertvye ne vozvrashchayutsya" ("The Dead Do Not Return”) earned nominations for the State Prize of the Kazakh SSR and the title of People's Writer of Kazakhstan.

Deeply involved in journalism, Sokpakbayev worked as an editor at the Kazakhfilm film studio. A member of the Union of Writers of Kazakhstan since 1952, Sokpakbayev was recognized as a classic of Kazakh children's literature even during his lifetime.

He was deeply concerned with complex issues of child upbringing, and his books are largely autobiographical. He expressed that childhood experiences are unforgettable and remain warm, like embers under ashes, ready to ignite when the ash layer is blown away.

Nurgissa Tlendiev: Maestro of Kazakh Music

Another important figure whose 100th anniversary will be included in the UNESCO Calendar of Memorable Dateis is Nurgisa Tlendiev - composer, musician, and orchestra leader whose legacy is forever in the history of Kazakh music. Born in 1927 in the village of Shilikemer, which was later renamed Nurgisa Tlendiev, his early exposure to music from his kui-playing father and harmonica-playing mother set the stage for a remarkable musical journey.

His life took a pivotal turn when he crossed paths with the distinguished musicologist and composer Akhmet Zhubanov. Zhubanov, in search of musicians for his newly formed dombra ensemble, discovered the talented young Nurgisa playing the dombra on a haystack. This encounter marked the beginning of Tlendiev's formal musical education, culminating in his enrollment at the Kazakh State Conservatory named after Kurmangazy and later at the Moscow Conservatory under the tutelage of the renowned conductor and music educator Nikolay Anosov.

Mentored by Zhubanov, Tlendiev's unique approach blended traditional Kazakh motifs with orchestral music. Beyond music, he served as the chief editor of the music department at "Kazakhfilm" studio, contributing iconic scores for films like "My Name is Kozha," "Alpamys Goes to School," and "Kyz-Zhibek."

As the leader of the Kurmangazy Academic Folk Instruments Orchestra, Tlendiev continued to push musical boundaries, fusing the soft melodies of Kazakh tradition with powerful orchestral execution.

Otyrar Sazy Kazakh Folklore Orchestra

In 1981, the then-First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Dinmukhamed Kunaev, invited Tlendiev to lead the Otyrar Sazy orchestra. The orchestra, distinct from Tlendiev's previous experiences, posed the challenge of finding musicians proficient in unique instruments like sazsyrnay and sybyzgy. Despite these hurdles, Nurgisa Atabayev accepted Kunaev's offer, formed the orchestra, and led it until his passing. The inaugural concert on October 2, 1982, at the Almaty Philharmonic was a tremendous success, earning a standing ovation. Subsequently, the orchestra toured Vietnam, North Korea, Turkey, and Germany.

At the 1994 World Festival of Musical Arts in North Korea, Otyrar Sazy orchestra claimed first place. On November 5, 1999, the orchestra was honored with the name Nurgisa Tlendiev, and in 2000, it received the title of Academic Orchestra.

Currently comprising 60 musicians, 'Otyrar Sazy' plays instruments such as dombra, kobyz, shertar, shankobyz, meskobyz, syrnai, saz syrnai, sybyzgy, asatayak, daulypaz, tuyaktas, and konyrau. This diverse array allows the orchestra to vividly showcase the richest examples of national folklore. The orchestra's mission, set by its first artistic director and chief conductor, Nurgisa Tlendiev, is rooted in folklore, legends, shezhire, kuis, and compositions by Kazakhstani composers in a folk style.

Noteworthy works include traditional kuis like 'Kenеs,' 'Sary Ozen,' 'Sal Kuren,' and compositions by folk composers such as 'Qosbasar,' 'Sarzhaіlau,' 'Syіqyldaq,' 'Qambar batyr,' 'Eske alu,' 'Ata tolghau,' 'Qosh keruen,' 'Qorqyt kui,' 'Farabi sazi,' and others. Dinzukhra Tlendieva, daughter of Nurgisa Tlendiev, along with Muslim Amze, currently lead the Otyrar Sazy orchestra, continuing Nurgisa's global legacy.


As we delve into the cultural tapestry woven by Berdibek Sokpakbayev and Nurgisa Tlendiev, it becomes evident that their legacies extend beyond literature and music. These luminaries have become symbols of national pride and artistic resilience, with monuments standing tall in their honor.

The 183 cm tall monument in Astana's Zhetysu Park, dedicated to the main character of "My Name is Kozha," not only pays homage to Kozha but also celebrates the significance of Kazakh children's literature and films.

Similarly, monuments and busts were built in various cities to honor Nurgisa Tlendiev, emphasizing the lasting impact of his contributions to Kazakh music. In 2010, a monument to Nurgisa Tlendiev was installed in Taraz, and a bronze bust in Taldykorgan commemorates his 85th anniversary. In 2011, a bronze monument was built in Almaty, bearing testament to the enduring legacy of Nurgissa Tlendiev.

Moreover, In 2015, the biographical film "Qustar Ani" depicted Tlendiev's life, with Yergenbai Abuev portraying the esteemed musician.

These monuments serve as reminders of the rich cultural heritage these figures have bequeathed to Kazakhstan, ensuring that their stories resonate with generations to come.

The UNESCO recognition of the 100th anniversaries of Berdibek Sokpakbayev and Nurgisa Tlendiev elevates their significance on the global stage. "My Name is Kozha" not only transcended local challenges and censorship but also served as a testament to the universal themes of childhood, resilience, and growth. Nurgisa Tlendiev's contributions to Kazakh music showcased through orchestral innovation and preservation of folklore, reinforce the cultural identity of Kazakhstan and highlight the nation's vibrant musical heritage.

The legacies of Berdibek Sokpakbayev and Nurgisa Tlendiev stand as beacons of artistic brilliance, fostering national pride and cultural continuity.

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