Have a Cushty Nauryz!

19 Mar

19 March 2021

There are not many words that are shared by the English and Kazakh languages, but posters appearing in Almaty, Kazakhstan in the run up to Nauryz, the spring equinox celebration, alerted kazaxia to the Kazakh word күшті (kushty) a word that is also used in English.

In Kazakh күшті means strong but it is also used in a colloquial sense to mean great – the same as in English – as in this phrase ‘Наурыз күшті болсын’ a play on words on the phrase ‘Наурыз құтты болсын!’ – Happy Nauryz!

‘Cushty’ is thought to have come into English via Romany or Urdu. It has been traced back to Persian, which in turn influenced both Romany and Urdu. It’s used in Cockney, the dialect of true Londoners, to mean great. Fans of the 1980’s British comedy Only Fools and Horses will recall Del Boy being fond of using cushty.

Nauryz, celebrated on 22 March in Kazakhstan, the holiday marks the the day when day and night are equal, and for many it’s the start of the new year. The holiday has ancient roots and is celebrated by peoples with Persian roots and in many other parts of the world such as Turkey, Pakistan, Central Asia, the Caucasus and north-western China.

In Kazakhstan it’s usually celebrated with family gatherings and street parties but this year large public events are cancelled because of the pandemic.


Central Asian Melonmania

3 Sep

3 September 2020

The melon season is in full swing in Central Asia. With some claim that 1 August is the start of the season, other diehards maintain that these titans of the fruit world should not be eaten before 1 September. Now we’re in September, it’s open season for melon munchers everywhere.

Uzbekistan’s President Mirziyoyev inspects this year’s unprecedented melon harvest

Turkmenistan opts for somewhere in the middle, choosing the second Sunday in August as its celebration of all things melon with a Melon Day holiday.

Turkmenistan’s President Mukhamedov twisting his people’s melons

Over in Tajikistan, the vexed question of who should run in next month’s presidential election was decided by a traditional melon carry off. The contest, between the father and son team of President Emomali Rahmon and the upstart pretender to his throne, Rustam Emomali, was won by the father, who will now run for his fifth term on 11 October.

Tajikistan’s President Rahmon triumphs once again

Qazaqstan: Return of eating out raises serviette-snatching concerns

14 May

14 May 2020

With Qazaqstan set to reopen small cafes and terraces from 18 May, a global shortage of extra-long litter pickers could scupper efforts to to eat out in a secure environment.

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Under strict social distancing guidelines, waiting staff should use 2-metre long garbage grabbers to serve food and clear tables, but the requisite poles remain in short supply.

Lord Venal, a frequent visitor to Qazaqstan’s hostelries, explained the serviette dilemma to kazaxia: “Anyone who has ever eaten out in Qazaqstan will know that waiting staff are trained to remove paper napkins [serviettes] at every opportunity. They hover around the table and snatch ones that are barely used.”

New social distancing rules mean that the over-zealous waiters and waitresses will no longer be able to lean in and grab the slightly soiled serviettes by hand. Instead, they will need telescopic rubbish pickers.

A search on Amazon produced no results for pickers of an adequate length, so it may be some time before it will feel safe to eat out.

“What bothers me is how they will maintain the 2-metre rule without the proper tools as I can’t see napkin-snatching habits changing anytime soon,” said Venal, expressing the concerns of many diners in Qazaqstan.

A beginners guide to Eurasian mask etiquette and social distancing

12 May

12 May 2020

If, like many, you have been wondering about the rules of mask wearing and social distancing in Eurasia, then kazaxia has gathered together some recent pictures to have a look at the region’s presidents and their response to this thorny question.

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Art Special: Ornamentum Online – Bringing the exhibition to you

20 Mar

20 March 2020

Almaty’s art galleries have closed their doors as the city shuts down in its bid to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. So, kazaxia has decided to bring the exhibition to you – here’s a chance to see some of the works that were on display at the Ornamentum group show of contemporary art from Central Asia in the city’s Aspan Gallery recently.

Artworks include Uzbekistan artist Dilyara Kaipova’s spin on traditional weaving and graphic works by Kyrgyzstan’s Murat Raiymkulov, Kazakhstan’s Bakhyt Bubikanova and Almaty-based art duo Yelena Vorobyeva and Viktor Vorobyev.

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Uzbekistan book review: The Vanishing Generation by Bagila Bukharbayeva

13 Mar

13 March 2020

The Vanishing Generation is a harrowing yet compelling eye-witness account of the state’s fractious relationship with Islam in Uzbekistan in the 1990s and 2000s. Bagila Bukharbayeva, who was AP correspondent in the region, gives an intensely personal take on what happened as the state went to war with the influential preachers of the early 90s and their followers.

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Bukharbayeva saw childhood friends and neighbours caught up in the dragnet as Islam Karimov’s regime sought to root out what it regarded as radical Islam in Uzbekistan following incursions by Uzbek extremists from Afghanistan and a series of bombings in the capital Tashkent in 1999.

In the last years of the of the Soviet Union and after its break-up in 1991, Uzbekistan saw an awakening of interest in Islam with scholars going to study in madrassahs in the Arab world. Prior to Russian colonization in the late 1800s, the Khanates of what is now Uzbekistan, were at the heart of the Islamic world, with many venerated shrines and religious buildings found in their territory.

After these scholars returned to Uzbekistan, many took to preaching their views of the religion, challenging the status quo of the tightly controlled form of Islam allowed by the state. Spooked by this existential threat, the state came down hard on these preachers and their growing base of followers.

The book takes us to the notorious Zhaslyk prison camp, looks at the rise of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and enters into the heart of 2005’s Andijon massacre, where hundreds were killed as months of protests were violently put down. This important work tells these forgotten stories of disappearances, torture and brutality with the author’s own testimonies and also from the point of view of the people caught up in Karimov’s dragnets.

Since Karimov’s death in 2016, Uzbekistan has been opening up to the world under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Zhaslyk was finally closed in 2019, some long-term inmates have been released and there have been tentative steps on the long road to reconciliation. On 11 March, Tashkent approved the registration of the NGO Huquqi Tayanch (Legal Support) at the fourth attempt.

Huquqi Tayanach is headed by Azam Farmonov, a former Zhaslyk inmate who was imprisoned for 11 years in the camp on spurious charges. While this is a welcome move in the right direction, it must be remembered that while all these abuses were going on President Mirziyoyev was Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister and many members of his cabinet were also in government in those days. Will they ever be held to account for their part in these miscarriages of justice?

Qazaqstan: Hunt is on for Head of State Hoaxer (#hoshoaxer)

11 Mar

11 March 2020

The hunt is on in for an elderly gentleman who has been masquerading as Qazaqstan’s head of state at various events around the world in recent months.

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Vlad and Yelbasy (aka #hoshoaxer) take in the last instalment of “The Way of the Leader,” a multi-part epic about Qazaqstan’s first president, following an argument over whose turn it was to buy the popcorn

The most recent sighting of the septagenarian trickster, who goes by the name of Yelbasy, was in Moscow  earlier today, when he popped in to see President Putin for a friendly chat about succession versus prolongation.

Yelbasy is said to working out of a library in Qazaqstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, from where he plans his forays into top-table meet-ups.

According to an unofficial spokesperson for the actual head of state, President Qassym-Jomart Tokayev, Yelbasy was sent along to the meet Putin as President Tokayev was otherwise engaged attending the opening of a horsemeat processing facility in Kyzylorda.

Uzbekistan: The Golden Road to Democracy

22 Dec

Lord Venal has been in Tashkent to observe the unprecedented democratic changes taking place in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan goes to the polls today in its most vibrant and competitive election ever. Since the arch reformer Shavkat Mirziyoyev took the reins in 2016, this central Asian powerhouse has seen unprecedented reforms that have unleashed the full potential of this sleeping giant.


Voters flock to the polls in Uzbekistan

I have been fortunate to witness up close the dawning of democracy in this once dark state. Uzbekistan now has a true multi-party democracy with cheerleaders from around the globe urging it on to ever greater reform.


Lord Venal gets into the spirit of  things for the elections in Uzbekistan

I will be telling my good friend BoJo to look east as we finally exit the evil shackles of the European Union. It is the rising powers of Asia, such as Uzbekistan, who will be the partners of the future for the United Kingdom of England and Wales, not tired old Europe.


Uzbek plov to UK in post-Brexit trade deal?

Uzbekistan Turns to Gérard Depardieu to Attract Tourists

12 Nov

Looking to attract a different kind of tourist, Uzbekistan has appointed French actor Gérard Depardieu as its tourism ambassador to France, although it’s not exactly clear what kind of tourist the country hopes to attract with this move.

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Googoosha and Gerard in happier times

The veteran actor has had a colourful past. In November 2012, he was arrested in France for driving while intoxicated after he fell from his scooter. He subsequently fled France and became a citizen of Russia at Vladimir Putin’s invitation. More recently he has been accused of sexual assault and rape by a 22-year-old actress and dancer in France.

The formerly pickled thespian – Depardieu says he has stopped drinking alcohol, is no stranger to Central Asia – his long association goes back to 2012 when he recorded a duet with Gulnara Karimova, Googoosha to her friends.

At the time Googoosha, eldest daughter of Uzbekistan’s first president Islam Karimov,  was at the height of her powers. This was shortly before her spectacular fall from grace when she was jailed on corruption charges. Karimova is currently languishing in prison in Uzbekistan and was last heard of in August 2019.

Non-News from Nowheresville Round-up

23 Jul

As the temperature hits the mid-30s in Almaty and remains super-scorchio across the region as a whole, the non-news generator has been working overtime in Central Asia and beyond.


Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov – not waving goodbye just yet?

On Sunday, 21 July, rumours of the untimely demise of Turkmenistan’s beloved leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, started doing the rounds on social media – Turkmen officials have denied that he’s popped his clogsdenied that he’s popped his clogs, but at the time of writing he still hadn’t been seen in public since before the rumours began…

Atambayev'den Kırgızca açıklaması

They’re coming to take me away, ha, ha….

Not to be outdone, rumours have been swirling around Kyrgyzstan that former president Almazbek Atambayev is about to be arrested after falling out with Sooronbai Jeenbekov, his protégé and now incumbent  president  – something else that has yet to come to pass.

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The UK in dire straits – please give generously…

Meanwhile, over in Britian, this piece of unbelievable news is actually true – Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister, elected by 66% of the Tory party’s 160,000 members – a fine day for democracy.

In a move that may well stun London’s political establishment, Britain’s newly-minted prime minister could make his first foreign trip to – Qazaqstan. While observers in Britain may be baffled by this move, this came as no surprise to leading circles in Nur-Sultan.

“A novice prime minister like Boris has to play a delicate role of projecting continuity with the previous regime and at the same time espousing change,” our source in Akorda told kazaxia. “So naturally he would want to seek out the world-renowned expert on this, Qasym-Jomart Toqaev.” Ironically, both have similar nicknames in their respective local media, BoJo and QoJo, the source added.


All aboard – timely tips from Qazaqstan on how to deal with demos

BoJo is likely to take advice on how to turn a coronation by a tiny circle into a broad popular mandate: a speedy general election, the deployment of seasoned international commentators to back the transition and, no doubt, the deployment of fleets of Boris buses to handle those pesky opponents.

“I hear that the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Qazaqstan, who was quick to praise the endorsement of QoJo, has arranged for many of his friends in Nur-Sultan’s elite to be ready to observe a similar public endorsement of BoJo by Britain’s grateful electorate,” the Akorda source added.

“Boris is, like QoJo, an inspired choice, and all should back him,” seasoned election observer Lord Venal told kazaxia. “I was lucky enough to meet him only once and regrettably, as the music in the nightclub was rather loud, I didn’t have the chance to talk to him. But he seemed a convivial cove. I hope to meet him again on his forthcoming visit.”