A review of the Archive of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Архив Президента Республики Казахстан / Қазақстан Республикасы Президентінің Мұрағаты) (Almaty, Kazakhstan).
The Archive of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan is a well-organized and accessible institution, with a wealth of important sources on Kazakhstan in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. Formerly the republic’s Communist Party archive, it has continued to expand after independence to include the papers of more recent political figures and institutions. It is located in central Almaty, just around the corner from KIMEP University and within walking distance of the National Library, the Central State Archive, the Central State Museum, and the Academy of Sciences.
I spent several months in the President’s Archive during the 2013-2014 academic year, conducting research for a dissertation on “cultural revolution” and citizenship formation in early Soviet Kazakhstan. Since my own research focuses on the 1920s and 1930s, I am most familiar with the (extensive) holdings from these years. But the archive’s collections are valuable for a wide variety of subjects, from the deportations of communities under Stalin to the work of organizing a new state in the 1990s. A list of the archive’s general collections, or fondy, (with numbers, titles, and dates) can be found on their website here, and a more detailed published guide (putevoditel’) is available from their library bookshop.
The archive is located at 87-Б Dostyk Avenue, on the corner of Dostyk and Satpaev, not far from the Abai metro station and a number of bus routes. The reading room is open Monday through Thursday from 9:30 to 5:00, with a break for lunch from 12:00 to 1:00. It is closed Friday through Sunday, on national holidays, and for the occasional meeting or event. Researchers are required to leave during lunch breaks, but there are plenty of pleasant ways to spend this time, as the archive is next to two parks (Republic Square and Abai Square) with a number of cafes and shops nearby. For those on a budget, the Kaganat cafeteria just down the street serves full meals for low prices. The archive itself has a small cafe as well. It is also near the Abai/Dostyk pedestrian underpass, where you can buy coffee, street food, passport-sized photos, pens and notebooks, flowers, souvenirs, printing and copying, shoe repairs, SIM card top-ups, and basically anything you could ever need. Almaty is a multilingual city, where most people speak Russian, many people speak Kazakh, and quite a few people speak English. In the archive itself, most of the documents are in Russian or Kazakh, and researchers familiar with either language should be able to work there without serious linguistic barriers.
On arrival, you can request formal permission to view archival materials by presenting your passport and a letter of introduction from your institution. These documents are usually inspected by a staff member at the front desk, who will then direct you to the appropriate office for a review of your papers and a short consultation about your research, followed (hopefully) by approval to access the materials requested. Since you will likely be asked to provide a passport-sized photo for your archive ID card, it may save time to bring one with you right away.
This process should go smoothly if you come prepared with a correctly formatted letter: it should be written on official letterhead, indicating your name, position, research subject and time period, signed by your academic advisor or another institutional representative. On the advice of a previous researcher, I also brought a more detailed plan of work listing schedule, research goals, and specific fondy of interest. In all of these documents, you want to make sure that the description of your research project clearly encompasses all the materials you hope to access. If a file seems to be outside the topical or chronological bounds of your study, your request to view it may be denied.
Once you have been approved to work in the reading room, you may be sent to the reference division for advice on files relevant to your research. The archivists here can guide you to thematically organized card catalogs that offer more information than other finding aids. If you come for a longer visit, you might be asked to spend time familiarizing yourself with these card catalogs and the collection inventories (opisi) before requesting specific files (dela), but they do try to accommodate tighter schedules when possible. If you are short on time, or if you wish to work with a very specific set of documents, you may be able to speed up the process by preparing a list of relevant fondy, opisi, and dela in advance (based on the website above or a published putevoditel’). You can then ask to fill out a request for these materials right away, and if these requests are submitted before late afternoon, they are usually available for reading the next day.
Researchers are allowed to request up to five opisi and twenty dela at a time, by filling out a written request form with the fond, opis’, and delo numbers and a short version of the dela titles. Inventories and files are usually given out within a day of request, or two days if the request is submitted too late in the afternoon. When I was there, they were in the process of digitizing some of these materials, and several opisi were available to search on a digital database on reading room computers. There may be more digitized search options now.
Some files are restricted, including files that contain personal information on private individuals and files that were produced in recent years. According to the archive’s website, access to the latter may be possible if the researcher acquires written permission from the file’s institution of origin. When recording relevant delo numbers from the older opisi, it is worth checking with the reading room attendant that you are following correct procedure. I once caused unnecessary stress by copying delo numbers from the wrong column onto my request form, leading the archivists to believe that I was attempting to access restricted documents.
On your first visit to the reading room, you will be asked to read a copy of the rules and sign a form indicating this, and then you sign in and out of a visitor log each day. While the reading room now permits researchers to take notes on laptops as well as on paper (a welcome change from earlier procedures), they do not allow more than a handful of photographs or photocopies. According to the reading room guidelines, researchers are allowed to photocopy no more than fifty pages total per year (or per research trip). These copies must be formally requested by making a list of citations and bookmarking the pages in each relevant file, which are then approved individually by the director. Approved photographs can be taken with a digital camera, under the supervision of the reading room attendant, and I believe that photocopying is also an option. There is no cost for this, but it is wise to ask how long the process is likely to take, since it can depend on the schedules of the people involved.
The reading room itself is comfortably laid out, with a wall of windows on one side for plenty of natural light (although the sunshine can make it difficult to read microfilm), and a small exhibit of books to browse. A view of the archive’s flower garden outside makes life a little more cheerful when you are feeling bogged down in documents. Though the room is relatively small, it is usually quiet and not too crowded. I was often the only researcher there during the winter months. As with most archives, you leave your bag in a locker, and bring in only what you need for taking notes. Phones and books must be left in the locker as well, but you may be able to bring a dictionary if needed.
The archive’s overall atmosphere is professional and friendly. The community is small enough that you often have a chance to talk with archivists, students, and other researchers, which was an incredibly valuable benefit of working there. They also actively publish documentary collections and reference books, many of which are available for purchase from their library. Visiting this library sooner rather than later can help you find out which sources are already available in published form, in order to prioritize your time accordingly. Even if you do not need to use the archive’s holdings, the displays and exhibits in the front room are worth stopping by to see, if you find yourself in the area.
Department of History
Image: Photo by Aleksey Slidenko.
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