Vodka named after Allah was always sure to create a storm of controversy in mainly Muslim Kazakhstan – as it did last year, when bottles bearing Allah’s name went on sale in the eastern city of Semey.
Those bottles were produced in Aktobe on the other side of Kazakhstan, where it seems the country’s security services have recently uncovered a plot to blow up the offending factory.
On February 19 three young men – including a minor – were jailed by a court in the western city of Aktobe for plotting to plant explosives at a factory producing vodka with a label mentioning Allah, KTK TV reports.
Media reports did not name the plant at the center of the plot, but back in April last year a factory owned by Kazakhstan’s GEOM company (which makes liquor under the popular Wimpex brand) got into hot water for making vodka with a label showing an Arabic inscription reading “Allah’s strength is enough for everybody.”
The court found the three young men guilty of plotting to blow up the factory and sentenced 17-year-old Salamat Akhet to three years in prison and Nursultan Tenizbayev and Arslan Zhakabayev, both 18, to five years.
Akhet’s mother claimed her son was the victim of a stitch-up by the security services, which have been cracking down heavily on suspected extremists – particularly in western Kazakhstan – since a spate of terrorist attacks began in 2011.
Uzbekistan's customs declaration: All kinds of pitfalls for the unwary traveler.
Uzbekistan’s new currency restrictions have generated some bafflement inside the country, as EurasiaNet.org has already reported – but confusion over the Byzantine regulations regulating the sale and movement of dollars and other currencies, including the Uzbek som, is nothing new.
That bewilderment helps fuel a booming business at Uzbekistan’s main land border with Kazakhstan, where intermediaries are on hand to help the perplexed traveler navigate the obligatory customs forms – for a small consideration, naturally.
The intermediaries, all from Uzbekistan, accost travellers on both sides of the Chernyayevka border post near Tashkent and are also present in the Uzbek customs section, where officials presumably turn a blind eye in exchange for a share in the profits.
The form fillers offer assistance in navigating the Byzantine bureaucracy for a fee of 100 tenge (about 65 cents) or 2,000 sums ($1 at the official rate or around 80 cents at the black market rate).
On a recent Saturday afternoon they were doing a roaring trade. But why would anyone pay someone to fill in a form he could just complete himself, I asked one matronly Uzbek woman who approached me offering her services.
“Different reasons,” she said. “Some don’t have a pen, others have forgotten their glasses, a few can’t write.” She and her giggling colleagues were performing a “public service,” she joked with a flash of gold teeth.
A new school has opened in Almaty to prepare perfect brides for discerning Kazakh husbands-to-be.
Bride School is teaching women all the skills they need to keep their men happy, reports Tengri News. Diligent students can go on to enter a competition for Kazakhstan’s best bride.
The skills deemed necessary to be the perfect kelin – Kazakh for bride – range from cooking to applying makeup to parading like a model.
“At the lessons the students will be able to learn to cook, parade, grasp the basics of makeup; there will be classes in family psychology – in how to understand your husband, for example,” Bella Satmyrza, the woman who runs the school, said. “We want to create our ideal of a real kelin – a modern girl who looks after herself, looks good, is educated and well-read, but at the same times pays attention to national traditions, habits, culture and cooking.”
The culinary classes will naturally involve cooking beshbarmak (“five fingers”), Kazakhstan’s signature dish of flat noodles with mounds of meat heaped on top. The cut of choice is horsemeat, currently the subject of controversy in Europe but beloved in Kazakhstan.
Satmyrza is bringing in experts to advise the girls on how to please their husbands, from a choreographer who worked on the recent Kazakh dance film Forbidden Dances to “experienced mothers” offering training in how to raise children.
The outspoken Respublika newspaper has lost an appeal against a publishing ban.
On February 8, a judge in Almaty upheld a December ruling that Respublika and all print editions and websites associated with it would be closed down, the newspaper reported in an article posted on a Facebook page where it continues placing material.
The closure aimed to “introduce censorship, which in Kazakhstan is banned under the Constitution and the law on the media,” Tatyana Trubacheva, the newspaper’s former editor, argued in court.
She was speaking the day after being fined by an Almaty court for publishing another newspaper, Ripablik, which staff from the newspaper have been putting out with a circulation of just 99 copies to circumvent registration requirements.
The court found Trubacheva guilty of infringing the publishing ban, though she argued that Ripablik was a new outlet that did not exist when the original ban was imposed on December 25. Respublika has long played a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities, changing its name to get around legal bans.
Trubacheva is listed as the Ripablik newspaper’s “reader in chief,” a tactic to prevent her from being accused of being the editor. That led to a surreal exchange with the judge during her trial, shown in a video posted on YouTube by the Koz Ashu (Open the Eye) video project.
Kazakhstan’s border guards have had a troubled few months: first, a bizarre mass slaughter at a remote outpost (blamed on a rogue conscript), then the death of the border commander in a plane crash. Now, the Border Service has been hit by fresh controversy after two officers committed suicide in the space of a week.
The latest to kill himself was Captain Murat Kadralinov, deputy commander of the Shonzhy border outpost, 250 kilometers east of Almaty near the border with China, Tengri News reported. Kadralinov committed suicide on February 4 due to a “family dispute,” the report quoted the Border Service press service as saying.
A local newspaper in northern Kazakhstan, Kostanayskiye Novosti, reported that the 28-year-old captain was from the northern Kostanay area and said he was living with his pregnant wife and two children at the Shonzhy border post in southeastern Kazakhstan.
Kadralinov’s suicide came five days after a more senior officer, the head of the Border Academy, shot himself in the head in his office. The National Security Committee, the domestic intelligence agency which is in charge of the Border Service, said it was investigating the death of Major-General Talgat Yesetov on January 31 in what appeared to be suicide.
Horse-mad Kazakhstan will soon be bathing in mare’s milk if a group of researchers at an Almaty university get their way.
Students at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University have invented a new soap containing one of Kazakhstan’s favorite tipples: fermented mare’s milk. The drink, called kumis in Kazakh, is one of the ingredients in a new line of natural soaps developed at the university, reports Tengri News.
“Right now a lot of cosmetics cause allergic reactions,” researcher Lyudmila Ignatova told the agency. “That’s because they contain various chemical components. We tried to find natural components that would benefit the skin of the hands, face and body.”
The students aren’t the first in the world to cotton on to the commercial value of kumis cosmetics: One online Canadian company is flogging its soap made from a “secret ingredient [discovered] on Mongolia's wild steppes” – you guessed it, mare’s milk – for over $10 a bar. The Kazakh version is a bargain by comparison, retailing for $2-5 a bar – and the researchers hope to drive prices down by buying ingredients wholesale.
Kazakhstan suffered its second fatal plane crash in just over a month on January 29, when a domestic passenger flight arriving in Almaty crashed in bad weather, killing all 21 people aboard.
The SCAT Airlines Bombardier Challenger CRJ-200 crashed at around 1:00 p.m. as it was landing at Almaty airport in heavy fog, hitting the ground five kilometers outside Kazakhstan’s financial capital, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The statement contained a preliminary list of the dead: five crew members and 16 passengers who were on the flight from the northern town of Kokshetau.
The prosecutor’s office said it had already opened a criminal case into the crash, the second in the space of just over a month: On December 25, a military aircraft crashed near Shymkent, killing all 27 people on board. The dead included the acting head of Kazakhstan’s Border Service, Turganbek Stambekov, and other senior border officials.
An investigation blamed technical failure combined with pilot error for that crash, which, like today’s disaster, occurred in bad weather. Kazakhstan’s airports are frequently closed due to adverse weather conditions, but – despite heavy fog blanketing the city on January 29 – Almaty airport was open for business.