Gifts for the Discerning Central Asianista

21 Dec

It’s that time of year again and whether you celebrate the Winter Solstice, Christmas, the New Year or whatever, kazaxia is here to give you some last minute advice on what gifts to get the Central Asianista in your life.

             Want                    Need                   Wear                        Read

Want

Have you ever wanted to observe a Central Asian election up close?

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Kazakhstan prepares for the rush of voters

For only $5,999 Venal Tours offer an all-inclusive package to  witness one of these seminal events in person.

The package includes:

  • Unfettered access to polling stations
  • Your own ballot papers to stuff in the box
  • Free mini bus trip for ‘carousel voting’
  • Rose-tinted spectacles
  • All you can eat and drink Vodka and Plov Buffet

Need

Here’s  something you definitely need, an essential item that no Central Asianista kitchen should be without: The 10th Anniversary Turkmenbashi Kitchen Utensils Holder.

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Is it really ten years ago on this December day that the former head honcho of Turkmenistan, Saparmarat Niyazov, departed this mortal coil? Celebrate the memory of the late dictator with this useful kitchen utensil holder  – one carful previous owner – bids begin as $499.99. (Please note: utensils not included)

Wear

The eternal question of what the dedicated Central Asianista should wear around the home has finally been solved with this comfy chapan, a snip at only £2592.35 ($3,290 approx)

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Read

kazaxia is always on the lookout for new books on the region and this one, with a catchy title, caught our eye recently – it can be yours for only $25.00:

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Kazakhstan: Charity Appeal: Help Mukhtar

16 Dec

As Kazakhstan celebrates its 25th anniversary of escaping from under the Soviet yoke, spare a thought for a Kazakh who is on his uppers in France.

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A worthy plea to help a poor man in need

At risk of trying the goodwill of readers – even at this festive season – Lord Venal brings before you a desperate appeal for another of Kazakhstan’s finest men who has fallen on hard times:

Sad news has just reached me from Paris of the tragic plight of someone I was close to many years ago. His name is Mukhtar, and we would enjoy a quiet glass or two (occasionally a few more) in some of Almaty’s finest nightclubs, accompanied by invariably charming young women. Mukhtar even put a small investment into one of the first funds I established in an attempt to boost the economy of the British Virgin Islands, to which I have always felt an obligation.

Alas, those halcyon days are far off, and the news from Paris that Mukhtar has not a penny to rub together after release from jail brought a tear or two to my eye. A modest man, he is not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve. He did not complain when imprisoned solely through a misunderstanding back in 2013. Nor has he charged Kazakhstan for looking after money from BTA bank for all these years.

Indeed, Mukhtar’s modesty is legendary: when leaving London in February 2012 he forsook the luxury of a private jet, choosing instead to travel as a simple man, anonymously, on a regular coach from London’s Victoria Coach Station. No one would have cast a second glance at him as he travelled. An example to us all.

Mukhtar is intelligent, witty and – apart from a misguided wish to remove from office Kazakhstan’s Great Helmsmen – a model of selfless service to his country. Do dig deep for a man brought up in poverty who once touched riches but is now once again cast into poverty.

Yacht appeal update: Lord Venal would like to thank ever so generous readers who contributed towards a fund to buy a replacement yacht for another promising young man fallen on hard times. Sadly the funds were insufficient for a new yacht, but they were enough to buy him an Uz-Daewoo Tico. Nurali Aliyev told Lord Venal joyfully that if he falls on hard times again, he can always turn his new vehicle into a tuk-tuk to earn a few pennies to keep body and soul together.

Castro Provokes Central Asian Personality Cult Crisis

11 Dec

In its first move, the Association of Traditional Rulers has condemned the
late Cuban leader Fidel Castro for “failing to take seriously his
responsibilities as leader, in death as in life”.

The newly-formed Association unites Central Asia’s presidents – Gurbanguly
Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Emomali
Rahmon of Tajikistan and Almazbek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, together with
candidate member Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan.

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Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev immortalised in an Almaty park

The Association pointed with regret to remarks at Fidel Castro’s funeral by
his brother and current leader Raul Castro that no monuments, institutions
or streets would be named after the late leader. Nor would statues and busts
be erected in his honour.

“The leader of the revolution strongly opposed any manifestation of cult of
personality,” said Raul Castro.

“The Association upholds the clear duty of all responsible leaders to accept
the burdens of office that history has thrust upon them,” a brief statement
from the Association declared. “Fidel Castro – in his dying wish – has
betrayed that trust.”

The Association insisted that a presidential personality “was not the
property of one lone individual, but belongs to the entire nation,
encapsulating, defining and leading that nation’s very essence, for all
eternity”. It termed any rejection of that lofty responsibility as
“selfishness”.

Central Asia’s leaders have graciously taken on themselves the burden of
having streets, towns or universities named after them, the Association
pointed out, and allowing statues of themselves or their ancestors to
inspire their populations in visible locations. They have also acceded to
popular requests to have portraits of themselves in schools, offices and
other locations.

The Association does however credit the late Cuban leader with adhering to
at least one of the standards of traditional rulers. “Fidel Castro did not
absolve himself of the responsibility to ensure that his close relatives –
and his mistresses – also selflessly took on the burdens of senior
government positions.”

Uzbekistan’s Brave New World?

5 Dec

Lord Venal is just back from his latest election monitoring mission in Uzbekistan. He was part of the unofficial Non-Aligned Observation Missions International (Naomi) group which visited the country as it prepared to anoint Shavkat Mirziyoyev as Islam Karimov’s rightful heir.

He’s kindly contributed this piece to kazaxia.

Ah, Uzbekistan! What a show it put on as the reins of power passed to Shavkat Mirziyoyev. I was part of a group of assorted Lords and bigwigs that were flown in to legitimise the transfer of power. As usual, the Uzbeks pulled out all the stops to make our stay a comfortable and memorable experience.

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A polling station in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

We were kitted out with regulation observer rose-tinted spectacles and whizzed by train to Samarkand to pay our respects to two tyrants. The more recently deceased one was doing a roaring trade compared with the earlier model, Amir Timur aka Tamerlane, who in comparison was receiving a modest trickle of visitors.

The local flower sellers were doing good business – a possible opportunity for Britain’s gardeners to exploit in these post-Brexit times. Indeed, there could be many opportunities in Uzbekistan for Britain’s exporters as the new president looks like a character we can do business with.

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Mr Miriziyoyev has good contacts with figures from the world of alt-business in Tashkent – this enthusiastic alt-businessman even shared a photo of himself on social media,  squeezed into a tee-shirt proudly displaying the president’s image.

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The election saw a campaign to eradicate the ancient local tradition of “one man, all the family’s votes” with the novel concept of “one person, one vote.” Unfortunately, I was feeling a bit under the weather on polling day, after having over-indulged in plov and local  beverages the night before, so I am unable to confirm the success of this initiative as the polling station had closed by the time I got there.

As to the result, once again, in the year of the monkey, the pundits got it wrong  – our very own Gary Kefali had predicted a win for Khatamjon Ketmonov. Instead, Uzbekistan will venture into its brave new world with Mr Mirziyoyev at the helm. Maybe next time Theresa May’s in town, she could pop in for a cup of tea and discuss some mutually-beneficial trade deals with the new boss.

 

 

 

 

Is a Trump-style Upset on the Cards in Uzbekistan?

2 Dec

2016 has been a year of surprises in the political sphere, and could we be about to see another shock as Uzbekistan goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a successor to its late president Islam Karimov?

As the year comes to a close, kazaxia’s politics guru, Gary Kefali, has been in Tashkent to gauge the mood and he’s found some astounding evidence that another upset could be on the cards.

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Repairing the presidency in Uzbekistan via a four horse race

While all the experts are predicting a walkover for former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is acting president, Kefali’s  straw poll of people he’s bumped into indicates a victory for dark horse candidate, Khatamjon Ketmonov, despite all other signs pointing to red-hot favourite Mirziyoyev.

It would be no surprise if this happened – the year of the monkey has already delivered many shocks – its first surprise was in March when Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was returned to power with 98% of the popular vote – he’d been widely tipped to get 97%. Then in June, the UK voted to leave the EU, a move that the pollsters and pundits missed.

Fast forward to the USA in November and the cheeky monkey had another trick up its sleeve as Donald Trump lost out to Hilary Clinton in terms of votes cast but still won the presidency, an upset hastened by America’s arcane electoral college system. Again, the pollsters and pundits called it wrong giving Trump little chance of victory.

Lord Venal, who is in Tashkent as an unofficial election observer, has been gauging the mood in the nightclubs of Tashkent – Lord Venal’s impeccable source for keeping his finger on the pulse (literally at times) – is showing an increasing likelihood of a Trump-style upset in Uzbekistan’s 4 December presidential poll.

Lord Venal has heard repeated whingeing about an out-of-touch, self-serving political elite, intent on amassing ever-greater wealth at the expense of the hard-working masses. They have seen their standard of living fall relentlessly as the rich get richer. The elite simply don’t understand the ordinary guy – and even show contempt for him, is the constant refrain. The elite is backed by the Mainstream Media (known here too as the MSM), which relentlessly backs its own.

Calls are growing to “drain the swamp” in Tashkent’s government district. Proposals are increasing heard to build a wall on the border with Kyrgyzstan to keep illegal migrants out. Some have even gone as far as to call to lock up some of the leading candidates.

Lord Venal points out that few correctly predicted that Brexit would triumph in Britain, let alone that Donald Trump could prevail in the US over a tried and tested candidate with years of political and government experience. But if the word in the Tashkent nightclubs can be believed, a similar upset in Uzbekistan is not out of the question.

(Lord Venal adopts a policy of strict neutrality in all elections he monitors. Any hospitality offered by governments plays no role in any assessment he issues. A careful reading of his conclusions on earlier elections will show no influence from visits to restaurants, casinos and nightclubs, or gifts of carpets, caviar or jewellery designed by presidential daughters.)

 

Panto Season Opens Early in Central Asia

23 Nov

Along with extreme snowy weather, the pantomime season has arrived early this year in Central Asia.

That veteran performer from Uzbekistan, GooGoosha, will recreate one of her most famous roles on the Tashkent stage – Sleeping Beauty. The audience will no doubt revel in shouting “Oh yes she is!” and “Oh no she isn’t!” as it ponders whether she is dead or merely sleeping.

There will be plenty of opportunities for shouts of “Behind you!” with a host of suspects lining up to surprise the slumbering princess – such as the ugly sisters (played by Security Service head Rustam Innoyatov and his sidekick, presidential hopeful Shavkat Mirziyoyev) and the real life figures of her estranged mother and  her younger sister, Lola.

Across the border in Kazakhstan, there are plans for a revival of ‘Carry on Cleo‘, with the infamous line “Infamy, infamy. They’ve all got it in for me!” The past year has seen trouble on all sides for Astana with land protests metamorphosing into a coup plot led by a beer baron, and religious militants on the rampage in Aktobe, so it seems apt that this comedy classic will get a fresh lease of life.

 

Free Skating in Almaty, Rok

18 Nov

OK, so we take it all back – there is some good value to be had In Kazakhstan after all. Halyk Arena opened its doors this week, offering free ice skating to Almatinians until the end of the year.

Back in 2011 this very blog berated Kazakhstan for being a rip-off, but now we’ve been forced to reassess that opinion as free skating arrives in its commercial capital, Almaty.

Skating fans should head for the 3,000 capacity Halyk Arena, one of the main venues for next January’s Winter Student Games, or Universiade (The Olympics for university students) in Almaty, to take advantage of a freebie spin on the ice.

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Sunkar, the games’ mascot, gets ready to take to the ice at the Halyk Arena 

 

The newly-built facility was launched this week and is Kazakhstan’s first sports facility to have struck a naming rights deal. The nation’s biggest bank, Halyk Bank, has paid an undisclosed fee for the right to have its name attached to the stadium for three years.

One of the aims of holding the games is to promote winter sports among the population, so it was good to see loads of kids joining Sunkar, the mascot of the Almaty games, on the ice at the arena opened its doors earlier this week.

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Sunkar and his young friends on the ice

The free skating offer is on Friday evenings (20.00-22.00), and all day on Saturday and Sunday and runs until 31 December. Skates can be hired, for a fee, at the rink.

The Universiade starts on 28 January and runs until 8 February. Halyk Arena will host the Men’s Ice Hockey tournament.