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Karipbek Kuyukov and the Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Kazakhstan artist Karipbek Kuyukov spoke at the Scottish Parliament and unveiled three new art works that deal with the impact of nuclear weapons on the 12th September 2019. Bill Kidd introduced him and reminded us that 456 nuclear tests were exploded by the Soviet Union in Kazakhstan. Karipbek was born with no arms as a consequence. He paints with his mouth and feet. His address follows.

“I was born in the village of Yegyndybulak, 100km away from the test site Semipalatinsk where nuclear tests were conducted for over forty years. Me and my family and all who lived in the village experienced the explosion waves from the nuclear tests. I know families where the children were born with diseases and children died and everything I am doing today is on behalf of the victims of nuclear tests. I am often asked whether I believe we will reach the complete ban on nuclear weapons and my answer is I do believe because we are already half way in reaching this goal. Kazakhstan has a very hard history with nuclear weapons but it is not only us but Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl and Fukushima. I am glad to say that the first anti-nuclear movement in the Soviet Union was created in Kazakhstan in 1989 was led by Olzhas Sueimenov. This movement, “Nevada Semipalatinsk” was the first one that told the whole world what was happening at this test site.

From the first day of the establishment of this movement I took an active part. This year represents the fiftieth anniversary of this movement. Looking back at this time fifty years ago we did not have phones or the internet but we had the spirit of connection. I remember standing in front of the test site on a protest action and our main goal was closing the site. We had other people from other countries joining us on this action, from America and together with them we went on demonstrations in front of the test sites in America. This movement told the world about the Semipalatinsk test site and in the 1990’s for Kazakhstan it was a very tough time as we were making our steps towards our independence and it was a very hard decision for our president, President Nazarbayev, but he signed the decree which closed the test site. I think the reason why we reached this victory is that we were united. It is not only Kazakhs that suffered from this test site but over 10 nationalities and ethnicities live in Kazakhstan and we were all united.

In the year 1990 I visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki it was the forty-fifth anniversary of the bombing and I listened to people tell their stories. Now we know that it is not only in Japan but in Kazakhstan that people have suffered. Today we know that the effects of nuclear weapons are disastrous, people have cancer and other diseases and I remember meeting with the members of the Shoshone tribe from the area of the Nevada site and they suffered just like we did.

I was invited to be honorary ambassador to the ATOM Project and I think that it is my duty to tell the world about the harm nuclear weapons can cause. Yet I know our victory is very far away and it is going to take a long time to reach our goal of a ban on nuclear weapons but I believe if we work together we can reach this goal. I think possessing nuclear weapons is a huge sensation for leaders of different countries as we can see from the example of North Korea that ordinary people are suffering. Just last December I talked at the UN and called on the leaders of the countries who have not yet joined the global ban treaty to do it. I thank you all for being here and I think that future generations will be thankful to us for not being silent.”

When the paintings were unveiled, Karipbek explained that one is of the planting of a seed in the ashes of Hiroshima. This is a painting of hope. A second painting is called ‘After the Last Explosion’ and shows only one child left, this is a warning. The final painting depicts the history of Kazakhstan and the impact of nuclear tests on its history.

Karipbek said

“My dream is that I am the last victim of a nuclear weapon test. If it is necessary to fight for my cause till the end of my life that is what I will do”

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