Kazakh journalist Guljan Yergaliyeva has chosen an attention-grabbing way to promote the new media outlet she launched today, called Guljan – by stripping on YouTube.
“It’s necessary to act,” Yergaliyeva tells the camera as she removes her jacket to reveal a spotted bra. She then turns her back and walks away from the camera while taking off all her clothes – with the exception of a teetering pair of shiny stilettos.
“We’ll overcome all barriers and look truth in the eye,” Yergaliyeva says, before walking away from the camera naked with a cheery wave.
This is a controversial way to launch a website, but then Yergaliyeva – who resigned as editor of the Svoboda Slova newspaper earlier this year – is no stranger to controversy: She’s known for her hard-hitting reporting, frequently critical of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration. In 2006 she was briefly imprisoned for taking part in an unsanctioned rally protesting the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev.
Zhovtis is spending the leave with his family in a rented apartment in the eastern city of Oskemen (Ust-Kamenogorsk in Russian), where the prison in which he’s serving a four-year sentence for causing the accidental death of a pedestrian in a traffic accident is located.
His imprisonment in September 2009 caused a furor among international human rights activists. They support Zhovtis’ allegations that he received exceptionally harsh treatment as a reprisal for his campaigning. The authorities firmly deny the charge.
Since his imprisonment Zhovtis has complained of being subjected to unfair treatment that violate the terms of what is effectively an open prison. He says his movements have been subjected to greater restrictions than those of other prisoners, and he was denied the right he theoretically enjoys to work in his own field: Instead of allowing Zhovtis, a lawyer, to work in the Oskemen branch of the International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, prison authorities employed him as a storekeeper.
Zhovtis hasn’t let his legal training go to waste in prison, though – he’s been providing legal advice and fighting cases for fellow prisoners.
A grandiose project is rising in a sleepy corner of Central Asia, where southeastern Kazakhstan meets northwestern China. Officials in Astana hope the multi-billion dollar initiative can transform a patch of desert into an engine of growth.
A total of 442 saigas – a distinctive creature with a long, humped nose that allows it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters – have been found dead, West Kazakhstan Region Governor Baktykozha Izmukhambetov told a cabinet meeting on May 31.
He said the deaths of 360 does and 82 calves may have been caused by an outbreak of pasteurellosis, a disease that attacks the lungs and which killed nearly 12,000 saigas in an epidemic last year. Scientists are also investigating whether “some sort of poisoning from the flora, which is to say from the grass, is taking place,” the governor added.
The saiga, which roams in remote areas of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Russia, is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.
The World Wildlife Fund identifies loss of habitat and poaching as threats to its existence: The horn of the male saiga is prized in Chinese medicine for use as a painkiller and antibiotic, creating a thriving and illegal trade.
Fresh revelations have emerged about the war of attrition between Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev.
According to The New York Times, since falling out spectacularly in 2007, the two sides have unleashed “an extraordinary lobbying and public relations war” in Washington that was once described by an unnamed State Department official as a “blood feud to the death.”
The report details how the two camps hired “dueling lobbyists” that recruited members of Congress to their rival causes. Aliyev hooked up with RJI Government Strategies to promote himself as a wronged democrat (though that idea is seen in Kazakhstan by the administration and the opposition alike as risible), while the Kazakh Embassy riposted with three lobbying deals worth $3.7 million, the report explained. Lobbyists for Astana – which says these PR agreements are not linked to Aliyev’s attacks – include APCO Worldwide and Policy Impact Communications.
Academic institutions also got involved in the mudslinging. “Kazakhstan paid institutes affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies more than $350,000 in the three years [studied] to subsidize research, resulting in largely favorable reports on the nation,” The New York Times found.
A car has blown up in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, near a facility run by the security services, Interfax news agency reported. The agency said a BMW had exploded at 3:30 a.m. on May 24 outside a remand center belonging to the National Security Committee (KNB).
The Interior Ministry confirmed the blast – the second outside KNB offices in a week – and said in a statement quoted by the Kazakhstan Today news agency that two men “of European appearance” had died, the driver and a passenger.
While some media outlets concluded it had been a suicide bombing, officials moved quickly to rule out any link with terrorism, though they acknowledged that an explosive device had detonated in the car.
“The aforementioned circumstances attest to the absence of signs of a terrorist act,” the Interior Ministry statement said, while KNB spokesman Kenzhebulat Beknazarov described the explosion in remarks quoted by CA-news as “a usual incident that could have taken place in any district.”
The men in the car “have no involvement in any religious or extremist organizations,” Interior Minister Kalmukhambet Kasymov said in comments carried by state news agency Kazinform.
Nearly a year after Central Asia witnessed a bout of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, a new study conducted in cosmopolitan Kazakhstan – which is fond of touting its positive record on relations between its 130 ethnic groups – shows that, while people are generally positive, public opinion’s a bit out of sync with the official line that the country is a bastion of ethnic harmony.
The poll, conducted nationwide from May 10-14 by Almaty’s Institute of Political Solutions (IPS) think-tank and published on May 18, shows that while over half (56 percent) rate relations between ethnic groups in their region as “friendly,” 11 percent see “hidden tension,” and just under 2 percent say relations are tense and “conflicts often arise.” A tiny 0.7 percent saw “open enmity”; 20 percent said there were “no relations, interests do not intersect,” and 10 percent couldn’t answer.
Just over a third (37 percent) ruled out taking part in a conflict “if it concerns the interests of your ethnic group,” while 40 percent said it depended on the circumstances, 11 percent would definitely take part, and 13 percent couldn’t answer.
Tensions were highest in central and western Kazakhstan, the IPS’s Madina Nurgaliyeva told a press conference, suggesting that high numbers of foreign laborers (often resented by local workers for earning higher salaries) may contribute to nationalist moods in the oil-rich west. The reason for the spike in tensions in central Kazakhstan needs further study, she added.
The central mosque in Aktobe. An official said today's suicide bombing had nothing to do with Islam. But analysts say western Kazakhstan could become a breeding ground for radicalism.
A suicide bomber has detonated a bomb at the security service HQ in Kazakhstan’s western oil city of Aktobe, Kazakhstan Today news agency reports. The suicide attacker reportedly entered the National Security Committee (KNB) and set off a bomb early on May 17, injuring two people, a KNB employee and a watchman, Prosecutor-General’s Office spokesman Zhandos Umiraliyev clarified.
He moved to quash initial media speculation that an Islamic radical had attacked the security service – instead, he said, it was a criminal kingpin who blew himself up in what must be the first known mafia suicide attack in Central Asia, and possibly beyond.
Umiraliyev identified the bomber as Rakhimzhan Makatov, who was “suspected of committing a number of crimes within an organized crime group.” His motive? Makatov blew himself up “with the aim of avoiding responsibility” for his alleged crimes, Umiraliyev added.
An Aktobe resident told EurasiaNet.org that the KNB building had been cordoned off since the morning and there was a heavy police presence in the city, though most residents are going about their business as usual.
Not to be outdone by the banana war in the Caucasus reported recently by our sister blog, Kebabistan, over in Central Asia Kazakhstan is also going bananas over this tropical fruit: A farmer in the south of the country has cultivated a decent harvest in an agricultural area better known for its cotton and tobacco fields.
Avazkhan Khandaliyev managed to reap over 2,000 bananas by tending them in a greenhouse, Kazakhstan Today reports. They’re smaller than the average banana, measuring in at just 10-12 centimeters, but they’re also reported to be tastier and sweeter than run-of-the-mill imports.
Could this be what Leader of the Nation Nursultan Nazarbayev had in mind when he launched into a tirade against the world trade system recently, accusing rich countries of seeking to keep poor countries as “banana” republics?
“Poor countries are enjoined to remain countries dependent on raw materials or ‘banana’ countries, while developed countries develop further,” Nazarbayev ranted, accusing the rich world of hypocrisy and protectionism.
Of course, he probably didn’t mean to hint that Kazakhstan is some sort of banana republic – but the banana harvest might just add grist to the mill for critics.
London-based Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov has suffered a setback in his British court battle with BTA Bank, the financial institution he once owned in Kazakhstan before he was ousted as chairman and the bank was forcibly nationalized in 2009. The latest High Court ruling allowing BTA to pursue its fraud case against Ablyazov will be welcomed by the bank, and perhaps also behind the scenes by President Nursultan Nazarbayev: Ablyazov, now his implacable foe, has fired off a stream of damaging allegations against the president and his son-in-law Timur Kulibayev since moving to London in 2009.
The High Court ruled on May 10 against Ablyazov’s bid to stay BTA’s $4 billion fraud case against him, clearing the way for the bank to continue proceedings.
Ablyazov had attempted to stay the proceedings on the grounds that “the actions have been brought to assist the President of Kazakhstan in his scheme to eliminate Mr. Ablyazov as a political opponent,” the judgment said. The judge dismissed the bid, ruling that the allegation was untested and BTA has a legitimate interest in pursuing the case.
The judge found the “tsunami of evidence” for a political motivation offered by Ablyazov – who denies any wrongdoing – to be circumstantial, based on Ablyazov’s contentions about “the widespread power and influence of the President in a totalitarian state” and “the alleged (but as yet unchallenged) history of the President's antagonism towards Mr. Ablyazov.”