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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.

 

Kazakhstan Issues New Guidelines to Journos

3 Jun

Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry has issued a new set of guidelines for reporters asking them to ensure that they can be easily identified as members of the press when covering events in the country.

‘Journalists who cover mass actions must have their IDs, badges and the possible identification of the press badges: armbands, hats, vests with the words “press”, “media” to refer to their status,’ Almas Saudabaev, director of the Interior Ministry’s State Language and Information department told reporters.

The move follows a Keystone Cops-style incident in the capital Astana when more than 50 journalists were detained by the police at a non-existent protest rally on 21 May.

Lord Venal’s sweatshop in Taldykorgan has been working overtime to produce a range of hi-vis vests and masks for discerning journalists that conform to the new recommendations.

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While the vest will clearly help you stand out from the crowd and is fully waterproof, the mask is said to protect from the effects of tear gas and pepper spray. For a limited time only the vest and mask combo are available for a sensational $29.99.

In future, the police will be in their usual uniforms, often supplemented by riot gear, and the plain-clothes officers of the security services can be spotted in dark suits, black leather jackets and sunglasses.

To help the authorities, maybe anyone thinking of protesting about anything should don the following outfit:

 

 

Astana Cycling Team Snatches Victory in Italy

30 May

The cash for the grand Astana sports project may be drying up, but the cycling team is not out yet as it pedalled to victory in the Giro d’Italia for the third time on 29 May.

Team Astana’s Vincente Nibali put in a plucky performance over the last few days, helped in no small part by long-term race leader Steven Kruijswijk’s crash at the start of the descent of the Coll dell’Agnello in stage 19 of the 21-stage race.

Nibali won the Giro for Astana in 2013, adding to Alberto Contador’s victory in 2008, but with the cash for the project drying up, as falls in the oil price have hit Kazakhstan’s coffers, Nibali could be on his way to join a new start-up cycling outfit in Bahrain.

Nibali rides next in the Tour de France in July, but is insistent that he will play second fiddle to Astana team leader Fabio Aru. Nibali is also targeting the Rio Olympics.

If the two-times Giro winner does pack his bags for the Gulf, then the cash-strapped Astana team will perhaps look to signing cycling wunderkind Peter Sagan on a miserly $4.5 million per year contract.

 

Is Kazakhstan Mulling a Sisi Bid?

26 Feb

Egypt’s President Sisi has arrived in Astana for a two-day visit and speculation is rife that Kazakhstan may be pondering a bid for the leader who offered to sell himself for the good of Egypt on 24 February.

“If it were possible for me to be sold, I would sell myself,” President Sisi said in a speech on state television.

Immediately, a spoof page appeared on Ebay and bids quickly reached $100,000. The page was subsequently taken down.

“It’s not so unusual that leaders from one country go on to advise other countries – look at Tony Blair and Mikheil Saakashvili,” kazaxia’s politics expert Gary Kefali said today. “But with bidding having already reached $100,000, I think that in the current economic climate, this secondhand leader would be overpriced.”

Kazaxia went down to Carrefour supermarket in Almaty to get the public’s views on this move.

“I think that he [President Sisi] has done a great job in Egypt to ensure stability and unity,” said Nurik, a pensioner doing his weekly shop in the cut-price hypermarket. “$100,001 would be a fair price to bring his expertise to bear on our continued stability here and maybe get these carrots cleaned up.”

President Sisi is thought to be the first Egyptian leader to visit  Astana since Tutankhamun visited in 1325 BC.

 

 

Kazakhstan: Kairat Face Troublesome Trip to Scotland in Europa League Draw

24 Jun

Almaty’s FC Kairat could face a gruelling 11,000 km roundtrip to Scotland after the draw was made for the Europa League qualifiers on 22 June.

If Kairat can overcome Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade over two legs, then a trip to the land of whisky and deep-fried Mars bars might be on the cards if St Johnstone can beat Armenia’s Aleshkert FC.

Kairat will be following in the footsteps of Shakhter Karagandy who made the trip to Scotland in 2013 to play Glasgow’s Celtic, only to lose 3-0. The result meant the miners lost 3-2 on aggregate. The defeat was blamed on UEFA’s ban on pre-match sheep sacrificing. Shakhter had slaughtered a shaggy black ram ahead of the first leg in Astana.

Almaty taxi driver and Kairat supporter, Samat, was confused when asked by kazaxia about the potential trip to Scotland. “Where’s that then?” he asked. “I’ve heard of England and Holland but what’s this Scotland?”

Many in Kazakhstan confuse what they refer to as the ‘lands’ – England, Holland, Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Poland, Iceland, Switzerland, Swaziland, Thailand and Greenland.

Kokpar Scandal Rocks World Nomad Games

12 Sep

The first edition of the World Nomad Games, currently being held in Kyrgyzstan, have been rocked by scandal as Kazakhstan refused to send a team to compete in kokpar, the fast and furious horseback sport akin to polo but played with a headless goat carcass.

Its absence will be felt at these games as last September Kazakhstan became the first ever Asian champions of the sport when it defeated fierce rivals Kyrgyzstan 4-2 in the final held in Kazakhstan’s snazzy capital Astana.

kazaxia took to twitter to determine why Kazakhstan hadn’t sent a team to the games in Kyrgyzstan. One observer, Edil Baisalov, noted that the Kazakhs “insist on a different set of rules” which they claim were “adopted at the Asian championship in Astana last year”.

The other countries disagreed with this version of events, Baisalov added.

Kokpar,  better known as ‘buzkashi’ in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, is not a sport traditionally hidebound by rules.  In the past kokpar games were a free-for-all that could last for hours.

Now, seeking to appeal to a wider audience and the television market, there have been suggestions that the sport be regulated with two 45-minute halves and restrictions on team sizes.

The version played in Afghanistan has been suggested as an international model with rules developed by the Afghan Olympic Federation. These rules suggest that:

For championship Buzkashi in Kabul, teams are limited to ten riders each. Five players take the field during the first 45 minutes of play; the other five compete during the second period. A field master presides over the match and has the authority to prolong the game and grant permission for a change of riders or horses. The halftime break lasts for 15 minutes.

The World Nomad Games, being held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, by the shores of Lake Issyk Kul, brings together competitors from countries with a nomadic tradition for a six-day festival of traditional sports. The games culminate on 14 September.

Besides kokpar, the sports include horse races, wrestling on horse back, contact sports based on wrestling, eagle hunting, and the more cerebral ordo, and toguz korgool, a board game related to mankala.  For more information on these sports, check out here.

Kazakhstan: The Axe-Man Cometh

7 Aug

President Nazarbayev returned to Kazakhstan from his July holidays as a man on a mission to trim back the excesses of his government’s bloated bureaucracy.

It must have been an uncomfortable experience for the government bigwigs assembled in Akorda, the president’s Astana HQ, as the axe fell repeatedly with ministries and agencies being culled and merged left, right and centre. After the dust had settled, Kazakhstan was left with 12 ministries from its former tally of 17.

Kazaxia has had a look at some of the main changes: the biggest shock was the merging of the Family Affairs and Nepotism ministries, bringing the bodies for providing jobs for clan and family members and other assorted hangers-on under one umbrella. This is set to cause some friction in the months ahead as former ministers scrabble to place their kith and kin in cushy numbers. It should be a bloody battle with the trough having been significantly downsized.

The Ministry of Privatisations was merged with the Nationalisation Ministry in a move that will effectively paralyse attempts by Astana to either buy or sell its ailing industrial base. The Corruption Agency was brought under the auspices of the Ministry for Investment to streamline procedures for investors.

The energy sector also saw major changes. The Agency for Renewable Energy was subsumed by the Ministry for Fossil Fuels to create a powerful lobby group for the extractive industries. Eco fanatics will be further enraged by the decision to place the Environmental Protection Agency under the wing of the Ministry for Urban Development. This should pave the way for controversial projects such as the Kok-Zhailau ski resort to proceed unhindered.

Russia to Quit Eurasian Economic Union?

30 May

After Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan inked the Eurasian Economic Union treaty in Astana yesterday, observers have started to question whether the treaty is valid by raising concerns over territorial issues.

Lord Venal told kazaxia that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in March, widely condemned by the international community, could result in complications for the fledgling economic union.

And then there were two?

“Kazakhstan has insisted that Armenia will be allowed to join this exclusive club only if it does so within its internationally-recognised borders thus excluding the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Lord Venal told kazaxia.

“This decision could have serious implications for Russia as it has illegally-occupied sovereign Ukrainian land. This could mean Crimea being excluded from the Union or even Russia having to leave the bloc,” he continued.

This would leave Belarus and Kazakhstan as the leading lights of Eurasian integration. The possible inclusion of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan would be unlikely to make up for the loss of Russia’s economic clout.

Abkhazia, a largely unrecognised breakaway region of Georgia, has also been mooted as a potential member. Doctor Gött, of the Gött Institute of Serious Thinking (GIST) thought it highly improbable that Abkhazia would be able to join the union.

“It’s not even a real country, is it?” he told kazaxia. “The actual details of the [Eurasian Economic Union] treaty have not been made public but I’m sure there’s no provision for including pretend countries”.

Doctor Gött suggested that if Russia were to be kicked out and these other countries (even pretend ones) were allowed in then KABAK (marrow or courgette) could be a suitable acronym for the grouping.

Kazakhstan: Sparks Expected to Fly at Astana Mediafest

23 Apr

This year’s edition of the Eurasian Media Forum, to be held in Astana April 24-25, has attracted an eclectic range of guest speakers including America’s Newt Gingrich, Egypt’s  Mohamed El Baradei, Israel’s Ehud Barak, Russia’s Vladimir Pozner and Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Cemiliev.

With topics to be debated including ‘The Middle East Tinderbox’ , the ‘Ukraine Crisis: What do Ukrainian  People Expect and Fear?’ and ‘Eurasian Integration’, kazaxia is expecting some sparks to fly at this year’s forum.

Mustafa Cemiliev, an outspoken critic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, was recently barred from visiting Russia for five years. Vladimir Pozner is known as a spokesperson for the Soviet Union during the First Cold War.

The media forum is the brainchild of Dariga Nazarbayeva, eldest daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayeva recently hit the headlines for making disparaging remarks about disabled people in Kazakhstan, labelling them as ‘freaks’. The forum brings together a range of figures from across the globe and is now in its eighth incarnation.

Kazakhstan: Project Verny Unmasked

10 Mar

Project Verny, the sinister operation that may see Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states being annexed by the Russian Federation, is gaining momentum after secret meetings in Moscow last week.

Russian nationalist troublemaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky started the Project Verny ball rolling on February 23 when he called for called for the establishment of Russia’s “Central Asian Federal Region,” with “Verny” – the Russian Tsarist-colonial era name of Almaty, as its capital.

Following Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, a part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, the initiative has picked up speed with incumbent Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev summoned to the Kremlin on March 5 to discuss the project with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

It is believed that President Nazarbayev will be allowed to stay on as a figurehead president, with Zhirinovsky, who was born and raised in Alma-ata, the Soviet-colonial era name of Almaty, pulling the strings. This role is a reward for Zhirinovsky’s decades-long service as a faithful lackey to the Kremlin.

Karaganda in central Kazakhstan could be used as the transit point for Russia’s bully boys. Local self defence units and whip-toting Cossack thugs can be flown into the city via a recently-initiated Aeroflot flight from Moscow. Karaganda has a sizeable Russian-speaking population and is just three-hours journey for Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

The catalyst for flying in local self-defence forces could come from a bizarre incident involving a pensioner and a lift in Astana. Olga Matvienko, a 74 year-old from Astana, told kazaxia that she was left befuddled after riding in a Kazakh-speaking lift recently.

The lift’s automated voice read out numbers such as “bir,” “tort” and “besh”, leaving the life-long resident of Kazakhstan, who has no knowledge of the Kazakh language, stranded as she tried to find the third floor.

“This voice kept on saying “tort” [cake in Russian] and I was very confused,” Matvienko told kazaxia. “I implore Vladimir Ilyich to protect my rights as a Russian-speaker in Tselinograd.”

[Editor’s note: the pensioner seems to have muddled up her Vladimirs; she probably means Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] here rather than Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin]. Also, no-one appears to have informed her that Tselinograd – the Soviet-colonial era name – is now known as Astana].

Could this strange case be the casus belli that Vladimir Vladimirovich and Vladimir Wolfovich [Zhirinovsky] have been waiting for to grab  land in what they see as their Central Asian backyard?