Tag Archives: President Nazarbayev

Kazakhstan: Not Like the Other “Stans”?

11 Feb

Following the worldwide media frenzy that resulted from President Nazarbayev’s impromptu remark about changing Kazakhstan’s name to Kazak Yeli/Qazaq Eli, kazaxia has decided to investigate claims that Kazakhstan is essentially different to the other “stans”  and should drop the “stan”  (Editor’s note: What’s wrong with Kazaxia as a new name for the country? ).

Just how different is Kazakhstan to its Central Asian neighbours? Let’s look at some key areas:

Politics – in the political sphere Kazakhstan shares some common ground with Uzbekistan in that it has only had one president since becoming independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. However, it is different to Turkmenistan, which is on its second incumbent, Tajikistan, which is also on number two and Kyrgyzstan, now on number four.

Leader popularity – there is a clear difference here as Kazakhstan is  only one of two “stans” where the president scored more than 95% of the popular vote in the last presidential election. President Nazarbayev was re-elected with a whopping 95.55% of the vote in 2011. Turkmenistan’s President Berdymukhamedov topped that with 97% in 2012 In contrast,  Uzbekistan’s President Karimov got 90.76% in 2007,,  Tajikistan’s President Rahmon received only 86.9% of the vote in 2013 and Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev trails in last place with a mere 63.2% in 2011.

Dealing with unsanctioned public protestkazaxia has spotted some differences in dealing with participants in unsanctioned public protests between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In the most recent cases, four bloggers have been arrested in Kazakhstan – at the time of writing three have been imprisoned, a fourth, Dina Baidildayeva, is on trial on February 12 and could face some time inside. So that makes 75%. In Uzbekistan eight protesters were arrested for holding an illegal rally outside the Ukranian embassy – three were given 15-day jail terms. So that makes 37.5%.

President Nazarbayev, speaking at a meeting with cultural figures, where he was asked about changing the country’s name, in Atyrau on February 6, cited  Mongolia (which, of course,  has no “stan” ) as an example of a country that “foreigners show interest” in. Mongolia is unusual in Central Asian countries in that is an island of freedom in a sea of not-free countries, according to this infographic from Freedom House. 

So, we can conclude that Kazakhstan sure is different form its neighbours, but whether matters will be helped by a name change is up for debate.


Kazakhstan: It’s a Clan Thing

20 May

Kazakhstan is positioning itself as wannabe modern democratic state, but in reality life in the country is still underpinned by the zhuz or clan system. This system dates back to the 16th or 17th century and ethnic Kazakhs belong to one of of three clan groupings – the Uly (Senior) Zhuz, the Orta (Middle) Zhuz and the Kishi (Junior) Zhuz.

The clans are further sub-divided into a number of tribes and this provides a network for members of the same tribe to help each other get ahead in life The clans also play an important role in politics, with a number of cabinet ministers hailing from the same clan grouping as President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Uly Zhuz.

The Uly Zhuz traditionally inhabited the areas around Almaty in the south-east of Kazakhstan, while the Orta Zhuz is located in the north and centre of the country. The Kishi Zhuz inhabits the oil-rich west of Kazakhstan.

Check out this informative graphic for an overview of the clan and tribal system in Kazakhstan. For more on the influence of clans in the political arena, Kazaxia recommends these academic works by Edward Schatz – Modern Clan Politics: The Power of “Blood” in Kazakhstan and Beyond and Sally Cummings  Kazakhstan: Power and the Elite.


Kazakhstan: In Praise of the First President

1 Dec

Lord Venal has seen fit to put pen to paper as Kazakhstan prepares to celebrate the Day of the First President on 1 December, the country’s newest public holiday.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev bestrides Kazakhstan like a colossus – his image beams down from billboards on nearly every street corner. The Park of the First President is a fixture of all major towns and cities. Every evening he tops the TV news agenda meeting with dignitaries, opening factories and winning EXPO 2017 bids.

The First President awaits visitors

The First President awaits visitors

Wildly loved by his adoring public – he won 96.5 % of the vote in the last election, The Leader of the Nation, as he is also known, has worked ceaselessly over the last twenty-two years as he has steered the good ship Kazakhstan through turbulent waters to leave the country becalmed in a sea of economic prosperity and political stagnation.

He is one of the world’s longest serving presidents – only a few presidents have kept the throne warmer for longer than the glorious leader – Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson and arch-rival Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan spring to mind.


The Nazarbayev University in his fairytale capital city, Astana, proudly carries his name as do a network of Nazarbayev Intellectual schools, which have mushroomed across Kazakhstan in recent years. The day cannot be far off when Nazarbayev kindergartens, fertility clinics and dating agencies will grace the provincial capitals.

I, along with my former cell mate, Jonathan Aitken, the famed hagiographer, who is in Astana to sing the praises of the First President yet again, would like to wish the Leader many happy returns on this the anniversary of the distant day back in 1991 when he won his first election along with the hearts of the Kazakh nation. Long may he reign – Kazakhstan’s very own Superkhan!

Kazakhstan: The Leader’s Fame Knows No Bounds

10 Oct

The cult of personality that has been developing around Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev shows no sign of abating as a Kazakh artist unveils a huge canvas with the president at its centre and a town in Turkey names a street after the long-serving leader.

Kazakh artist Amanat Nazarkul’s masterwork “Astana — The City of Youth and Knowledge” depicts President Nazarbayev surrounded by adoring crowds with white doves flying overhead as he opens a new university facility in the his purpose-built capital city.

Nazurkul took nine months to complete the canvas which contains imagery that harks back to the glory days of socialist realism. He believes his labour of love, which measures 32 square meters, could well be the largest painting in the country — even the former Soviet Union — and is looking for experts to verify this.

AFP reported that the monumental work was commissioned by Maksut Narikbayev, a former politician and now president of the Kazakh Humanities and Law University.

The Turkish town of Kırşehir has jumped on the Nazarbayev bandwagon by naming a street after the man who has been running Kazakhstan since Soviet times. Kırşehir is more commonly associated with the Mevlevi school of Sufism and the mystical side of Islam but it’s now seen fit to call one of its streets after Kazakhstan’s former communist party head.

The governor of Kırşehir province, Ozdemir Kachadzhyk, called it a great honour to name a street after Nazarbayev and praised him with the following:

During his leadership the country has made great achievements, and has become a symbol of prosperity, peace and stability for many nations and states, including Turkey

In recent years President Nazarbayev has been featured in a film, a play, had a statue erected to him in an Almaty park, had a university and a network of schools opened using his name and appeared as the hero of a children’s fairy tale, leading many observers to believe a personality cult may be forming.

Kazakhstan: Praise Heaped on Leader’s Hagiographer

5 Jun

Tory jailbird turned hagiographic biographer, Jonathan Aitken, has received a glowing review for his latest masterpiece Kazakhstan Surprises and Stereotypes from UK academic Andrew Massey.

Massey, a Professor of Politics at the University of Exeter, was full of praise for the old lag’s lavish take on Kazakhstan’s twenty years of independence.

It’s surprising that an academic who specialises in politics seems to have taken Aitken’s line without question on last year’s presidential election which saw the Leader of the Nation romp home against very tame opposition

Indeed, when in 2010-2011 the old Soviet era bureaucrats engineered a referendum to extend the President’s term of office by ten years, Nazerbayev [as received] himself simply called an early Presidential election instead and declared anyone could run against him. There were three other candidates and the incumbent won with over 95% of the vote.

“Anyone could run against him” ??? Maybe Massey’s remit doesn’t spread as far as Kazakh politics. Whatever next – that Kazakhstan has a multi-party democracy? Pull the other one!

Massey also marvelled at Aitken’s unprecedented access to the movers and shakers of Kazakhstan

He visited a large range of institutions and interviewed people at all levels, including opposition leaders, when he could contact them.

Does the “when he could contact them” refer to when the opposition leaders were not sitting behind bars for exercising their right to free assembly?

Maybe the University of Exeter is angling for a piece of the Nazarbayev University action, and such gullibility on the part of its academics will surely help that process along.

Massey’s geography  also leaves a lot to be desired

The last twenty years have seen the birth of a new nation, throwing off the fetters of colonialism and seeking to chart a confident path squeezed between the Russian North, the Chinese East, the barbarous totalitarian regimes to the South and a resurgent Islamic west.

I’m sure Kyrgyzstan will not be pleased to be described as a ” barbarous totalitarian regime”,  and the resurgent Islamic west remains a mystery – could he mean Turkmenistan?

Kazakhstan: President Set to Annoint Successor

1 Apr

According to the Astana rumour-mill, Kazakhstan’s long-serving president Nursultan Nazarbayev is set to announce his plans for a ‘khandover’ of power – he is set to pass the baton to a young boy named Sultan, rumoured to be the leader’s son.

But there’s a catch – the change will not happen until at least 2046 when Sultan turns 40. President Nazarbayev, who is exempt from term limits, will be turning 115 when he steps down.

A spokesman close to the president confirmed this wait “According to the constitution, which can, of course, be amended on a whim at short notice, Sultanchick will have to wait until he reaches the age of 40 to take over from the incumbent. But he is happy to wait, as are the people of Kazakhstan, who are willing to wait indefinitely for the right man to take over”.

The President's spokesperson

“This move to appoint a new leader shows that Kazakhstan is firmly on the path to democracy. Sultan is our Khan!” the spokesman added.

Sultan was seen in public for the first time on 4 March at a hockey match in Astana with President Nazarbayev leaning across to chat with the young lad.  The appearance sparked heated debate in the local press about the kid’s identity.

Exiled opposition leader Mukhtar Aliyev, speaking from his secret hideout in the south of France, welcomed the news. “This shows that change is coming at last to Kazakhstan. Hopefully there’ll be a free and fair election in 2046,” he told kazaxia. His Algazat party is already preparing for the election.

Fugitive opposition leader Mukhtar Aliyev pictured at his secret hideaway

Experts on Kazakhstan agreed the scenario was workable. “This move will help to ensure a smooth succession in the corridors of power in Astana. It’s worked in North Korea, Azerbaijan and Syria so I don’t see why it can’t work in Kazakhstan”,  British politician and Akorda aficionado Lord Venal told kazaxia.

Kazakhstan: Heading for the Hills

2 Jun

Yum yum ... horses grazing at Ush Konyr

It’s that time of the year in Kazakhstan when people in years gone by would have made off for the high pastures with their horses, cows and sheep in the annual migration to the rich upland grazing land known as the zhaylau. The summer months would be spent fattening up the animals – and the humans – on the riches in the mountains in preparation for the long, cold winter.

Wild flowers in Ush Konyr

Soviet-era collectivisation put paid to this nomadic existence and few people in modern-day Kazakhstan still follow the wandering traditions, but come the weekend and many city-dwellers still feel the call of the wild and take off to the mountains in their 4x4s for a spot of communing with nature and to get their supper by picking wild mushrooms.

Mushroom mania

Last weekend Kazaxia joined the exodus and visited Ush Konyr, which is easily reached from Almaty – head for President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s home village of Shamalgan and then follow the track that winds steeply up to the 3,000 metre pastures. In no time at all you’re in the rolling grasslands where President Nazarbayev spent his early years. He had such fond memories of this carefree existence that he penned a song about it. See it performed here by Kazakh band MuzArt.

More wild flowers in Ush Konyr

The smog and noise of Almaty feel light years away as you breathe in the clean air and concentrate on foraging for edible mushrooms and admiring the rich covering of wild flowers. You’ll see packs of horses grazing as you hike around and the occasional paraglider taking flight, but not a great deal else will intrude to spoil your peace and quiet.