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A WALK INTO THE CRAZY MESEUM

Text by Dana Sadykova

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took me a while to decide what to write in this article. What would my readers enjoy? Maybe a short piece about our museum, how it was set up?

“In the beginning was the Word...” it says. And the Word - or rather, the word -  issued from the lips of the museum’s Director in the early ’90s (excuse my lack of precision: I can’t get any closer than that) at a time when  -  well, he wasn’t the Director at that time. He was a geologist, Dima Kalmykov, who had worked to help contain the Chernobyl disaster as a platoon commander in a medium tank. Not surprisingly, environmental issues interested him. He was unhappy that so much interesting and important ecological information, the findings of countless ecological surveys, were condemned to uselessness, unread, on the shelves of scientists and environmental protection officers; and even the very people they were meant for weren’t reading them. Do you realise that ordinary people living next door to the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing area have never seen the area’s boundaries marked on a map? Or, worse, which areas have been assessed as radioactively polluted? These people tend herds, year-in and year-out, in these places. The surveys have been done, the maps have been made; the only thing is that nobody seems to understand that they might be of interest, or even important, to ordinary people.
And the Word - sorry, the word - was... ’shelf’. An ordinary word really, a household word. Dima said: “We need a shelf accessible to all”. But how would we persuade ordinary people that it was worth their while to reach up to it? How do we get the attention of both children and ecologists - and everyone in between? We spent many years finding answers to these questions, launching the organisation and working out the basic concepts behind the museum; as well as getting finance for construction, getting land, and locating and transporting exhibits to the museum from all over Kazakhstan.
During the Soviet period Kazakhstan was the quintessential artillery range, bombing range, testing area, call it what you will. Our region alone - Karaganda, a major industrial area - has its own military ranges. It can also boast mercury-enriched rivers whose banks are well-endowed with sulphur, a nuclear testing facility - well, in fact only part of a nuclear testing facility - and a generous sprinkling of debris from rockets launched from Baykonur.
And if you visit our Ecological Museum you’ll have an opportunity to find out about all this for yourself. You can
touch a piece of a rocket’s fuel tank (we got hold of this after a Proton rocket went wrong), which is not small. Most of it is accommodated in a hole which took us a year to dig - by hand, it must be said - in the middle of a government-owned hall in the heart of Karaganda. We spent another year thinking out and constructing the assembly which would allow us to raise the thing up at a push of a small, black button.
All the exhibits are interesting but safe. There are things we brought from the nuclear testing area: from a tank hatch to some soldier’s boots. There are displays from Daryal-U, or Balkhash-9 (those of you with an interest in things military may already know that this is one member of a large family of similar radar stations, of which another member, Gabal radar station in Azerbaijan, recently rose to international public prominence when last year Putin suggested it to Bush as a possible alternative site for the American anti-missile system which the Americans want to locate in the Czech Republic and Poland, but which Putin would prefer to be somewhere else). Our Balkhash radar station, by the way, was dismantled and sold, and we were only able to get hold of a few crumbs and fragments of the former monster. When our colleague and aerospace specialist Kostya first saw it, he exclaimed: “So this is where they kept the Soviet jeans...” The literal translation doesn’t really work in English, unfortunately. Let’s just say it was his way of expressing his admiration for the station’s high level of equipment. The place was stuffed with the highest-tech apparatus, from floor to ceiling. Hundreds of square kilometers of the foremost achievements of soviet military and engineering thinking!
But the Ecological Museum is not just terrifying fragments from the cold war era. It’s sounds from inside a mine, it’s the spaceship of the future, it’s a display of minerals. Here we discuss important issues like natural resources and industry, alternative energy resources, problems confronting humanity on a global scale. We also gather information on ecology for study and research.
Oh, and children can build their own nuclear reactor. Interested? Pay us a visit and we’ll show you round.

Discovery Kazakhstan
Travel guide#1/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

 

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