In Kazakhstan, it is jokingly said, “It is difficult to be a woman,” because women are torn among their house chores, career, children, husband and fashion. Often they successfully combine all of the above, some even with a loaded four-kilogramme AK-47 and military ammunition.
The heroines of our story are two soldiers of the Kazakh Financial Department, Army Sergeant Aigerim Karakuchukova and Private Lunara Baimukhametova, who in one day ably combine wearing aprons and military uniforms and winning beauty contests. They are among the approximately 8,500 women serving in the Kazakh Army, 750 of whom are officers, according to 2013 data from the Ministry of Defence.
For both Karakuchukova and Baimukhametova, the attraction to army uniforms started as youngsters.
“In childhood, I played with dolls like all girls and fantasised to be a princess,” said Karakuchukova in an exclusive interview with EdgeKz. “Later in my school years, I was really passionate about military uniforms. I remember when I was a child I knew a female police officer; in my view, she was very strong and incredibly attractive every time she came to our school.”
Baimukhametova has similar memories.
“I dreamed of becoming a doctor, a teacher or a lawyer, but most of all I wanted to become a police officer,” she said. “My uncle Anlamas Tuleevich, currently a reserve colonel of the Kazakh Ministry of Internal Affairs, worked in the police back then and used to tell me interesting stories about his job. I liked his uniform; he always looked sharp and was kind. He was my ideal role model.”
Years later, both decided to join the army under different circumstances. Karakuchukova has travelled for years with her husband who also serves in the military and was surrounded by military wives, while Baimukhametova wanted to pursue her childhood dream to become a military woman and serve her country.
“I passed the medical examinations; I was ready mentally and physically and on September 13, 2013 [I joined the Army],” she recalled.
Despite the unorthodox option for women to join the military, relatives and friends admired their choice, especially after Batyr Arular 2015, the nationwide beauty contest held in April by the Kazakh Ministry of Defence, where both finished in the top 12.
“Many didn’t expect me to be in the military, but then they liked to see me in the uniform. Many of my classmates who moved to Russia, Germany or Japan also didn’t expect to see me in the army uniform. They saw me on the site of our Defence Ministry [during the contest] and they were really interested and inquired about what it was like to wear a military uniform,” said Karakuchukova.
Perhaps among the first questions that pop into people’s minds when they see women in the army is “how do they manage to do it? What are the difficulties and why?”
“We are underestimated by men, but we women have to pass the combat and physical training on equal with the men and I am very proud that I serve in the Kazakh Army,” said Karakuchukova, who holds the 20 Years of Kazakh Armed Forces anniversary medal.
“Of course, it is not easy to serve in the military, especially for a woman,” added Baimukhametova, who has numerous merits from the Army including a personal diploma from Minister of Defence Imangali Tasmaganbetov. “We also have house chores, children, husbands … The advantages would be the stable salary and free medical care. Speaking of disadvantages, I could say it is hard physically. It is also cold during winter field outreaches and extreme heat in the summer, but I knew that it would be hard.”
Both were quick to add that the army lifestyle instils qualities in people such as being punctual and having discipline and integrity. Although neither has been to a hostile zone, and frankly, hopefully they won’t have to, they in one voice declared without hesitation they would carry out their duty for their country.
“I really like the citation ‘A woman reigns but doesn’t rule’ – this is the ideal of a woman to me,” said Karakuchukova. “At home I am a mother first of all, a loving wife and a caring housewife. At home, we have the same order as in the service. We each have our own duties and each must carry them out. Maybe this is why it is not that hard for me to serve in the army and run house errands at the same time.”
Baimukhametova added she maintains a similar balance.
“As for me, I am also a wife and a mother at home. Whether I like it or not, I need to get everything done. During the weekends, I pre-cook food so during the weekdays I can cook something delicious fast. If I don’t have the time to do something, I ask my elder son and my husband, of course, helps with everything. My problem is my six working days and the kindergarten is open only five days a week,” she said.
Karakuchukova stressed the importance of their job to their counterparts.
“Our main mission is to keep our land at peace and stand ground protecting our motherland,” she said. “We must be examples of honour, responsibility and patriotism for our generations. I would also like to add a few words of gratitude to our President and the Minister of Defence for creating the favourable conditions for the military personnel to carry out their service at this time.”
Addressing her colleagues, Baimukhametova wished for them to have “endurance, patience and most importantly, peace in our great country. Our motherland believes in us, she understands us, and we serve her faithfully, although at times it is tough. I would also like to add that all dreams come true if we truly believe in them.”