Last week I hiked to the southwest notch on Goat Red, then on Sunday to the Khazak cemetery that we can see at the top of the draw out our kitchen window. We have hiked through it once before, but today, accidentally, it became my destination. I was running and walking up the dirt road that passes first a dump and then the lower Khazak cemetery. I thought I was going for the exercise and was unprepared for what I saw.
At the top of the draw I started to see headstones that were tipped over, exposing concrete reinforcing rods—though the conditions are harsh, this is not something that is likely to just happen by itself. I had the suspicion that some of these graves had been vandalized. As I looked further, it was not so easy to determine what was going on. Some of the holes in the grave sites looked like those that could be made by an animal. Some sites seemed to be collapsing under the weight of the foot or so of soil that is placed on top of a wooden coffin. But many show the signs of human trespassers. Large stones or concrete slabs have been set aside. Remains have become mixed with empty vodka bottles, an inappropriate end for Muslim Khazakhs who shun alcohol in life.
Up the hill and into the rock fall, there were many small wooden coffins—some appropriately shaped, some were more likely just old wooden crates that contained the remains of small children or babies. These were buried with less care, placed between two large stones with rocks piled on top. Many had broken and were empty.
There could be several explanations for what I found, but the most disturbing would be if the vandalism were related to the fact that some Mongolians express a dislike for Khazakhs. When I asked why, I got pretty unconvincing answers, as though it was just common knowledge that didn't need to be given much thought. "They think evil thoughts," two people explained to me. "They will act nice to you, but they are always thinking evil thoughts." Although Khazakhs who were born in Mongolia consider themselves to be Mongolian, many Mongolians do not feel the same way about them.