It’s a high-stakes time of the year in Kazakhstan as graduating high school students head into the make-or-break final exam that will determine their future prospects. Some are leaving nothing to chance, local media report.
Invigilators in Karaganda were surprised to see one girl sitting the test with an enormous beehive hairdo – only 60 years out of date. Exploring her fluffy 'do, they discovered that she hadn’t suddenly developed a taste for 1950s fashion. No, she’d deliberately cultivated her beehive to conceal a cellphone to cheat in the exam.
The girl was allowed to sit the test after the telephone was painstakingly untangled from her hair, presumably in recognition of the amusement value her prank had caused.
The lengths she went in order to cheat seem miniscule in comparison to the efforts of a student in Ridder in northern Kazakhstan: This high school senior went to the trouble of typing out a crib sheet that stretched to an astonishing 11 meters and contained 25,000 answers, reports local website YK-news.kz.
Despite security checks, the enterprising student managed to smuggle it into the exam hall folded into sections. But there his luck ended: It was confiscated by officers from the domestic intelligence service, the KNB, who were conducting checks.
Every year the ENT national standardized exam brings new controversies: over the exam’s multi-choice format, which critics say fails to test critical-thinking skills; and over cheating, with irrepressible students trying new tricks each spring.
Security in Afghanistan topped the agenda as Vladimir Putin, inaugurated as Russian president a month ago, visited Tashkent on June 4, holding late-night talks with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov.
According to a Kremlin transcript, Karimov used the visit to expound on Uzbekistan’s “serious concern” about the dangers of security threats from Afghanistan spilling over its borders after the drawdown of NATO troops, scheduled for completion by 2014. He warned against “complacency” that everything will go to plan.
Karimov, whose country shares a southern border with Afghanistan, said Russia “has never been indifferent to the problems of Central Asia,” and he was counting on “Russia’s interest in resolving the serious, quite acute problems that will arise in the Central Asian region” with the NATO withdrawal.
Putin characterized cooperation with Uzbekistan as “extremely important” in light of the drawdown, which he described as linked to “security inside the Russian Federation itself.”
Putin and Karimov met the same day NATO announced it had secured agreements with Uzbekistan and two Central Asian neighbors -- Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – to use a key transport route to return equipment from Afghanistan to Europe. NATO already had a deal with Russia to use the Northern Distribution Network for reverse transit out of Afghanistan.
So goes the PR blurb for a new social networking site designed for Internet-unfriendly Uzbekistan, but, say critics, it might as well read “our clone of Facebook.”
YouFace.uz has an interface strikingly similar to its famous counterpart: from the blue background and logo touting free-of-charge access (YouFace: “It will always be free”; Facebook: “It’s free and always will be”) to the almost identical user layout.
In an ironic twist, the launch comes 18 months after the NBC show 30 Rock spoofed social networking platforms with a fictional site called – you guessed it – YouFace.
The real, Uzbek YouFace has so far attracted 332 users, and on May 31 they were avidly debating (in Russian and Uzbek) whether the Facebook clone would take off.
“A shining example of how a lemon can be turned into lemonade,” commented one.
“You shouldn’t steal from someone else,” snapped another.
Ayyub Abdulloh, 22, says the site is his brainchild, set up with four sponsors – but financial issues are “private.”
In an online YouFace chat with EurasiaNet.org, he defended it against plagiarism charges: “It is not similar [to] Facebook, but just looks like that.” He pointed out that cars have similarities which create “comfort for drivers,” and in the same vein “websites must be comfortable too.”
Twelve border guards have been found dead at a frontier post in southeastern Kazakhstan, local media report.
A top Border Service official confirmed on May 31 that an investigation was under way after the “charred remains of 13 people” had been discovered in a burnt-out border post the previous day.
The bodies of 12 border guards and one national park ranger have so far been found at the Argkankergen post on the Chinese frontier and the search continues for others, Turganbek Stambekov, first deputy director of the Border Service (which comes under the jurisdiction of Kazakhstan’s domestic intelligence service, the KNB), said. He did not specify if the fire was the cause of death.
Fuelling media suspicions of foul play, Stambekov said the border post is usually staffed by 15 guards in the summer, but gave no indication of the whereabouts of the missing three.
Speculating about what might be behind this unusual incident, local reports suggested an attack on the border detachment (though the possible motive is unclear) or hazing -- it is common in post-Soviet military units for senior soldiers to ritually harass and bully their juniors.
Initial reports that the frontier guards’ weapons were missing were not true, a Border Service source told the Kazinform state news agency. The source said the weapons had been found and sent for tests to see if they had been fired.
Five police officers have received prison sentences for shooting protestors in Zhanaozen during unrest last December in which at least 16 protestors died, media in Kazakhstan are reporting.
The officers, who denied the charges they abused their office, were sentenced on May 28 to between five and seven years for the December 16 shootings.
State prosecutors alleged that the officers fired on protestors when they could have used non-lethal force. Prosecutors showed the court video of police shooting fleeing demonstrators in the back.
Kabdygali Utegaliyev, former deputy police chief of Mangystau Region, received seven years, the longest sentence. Three other officers (Yerlan Bakytkaliuly, deputy police chief of Zhanaozen; Rinat Zholdybayev, senior operations officer; and Bekzhan Bagdabayev, head of the department for combating extremism) were sentenced to six years. Nurlan Yesbergenov, a senior interrogator, got five years.
The sentencing brings the number of police officers who have received jail terms over the deaths to six: The former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center received a five-year sentence over the death of a detainee in police custody.
Over 500 rare Central Asian antelopes have been found dead from unknown causes in northern Kazakhstan.
The news will disappoint conservationists trying to boost numbers of the endangered saiga, a distinctive creature with a long, humped nose that permits it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during cold spells.
A total of 543 saiga corpses have been found in Kostanay Region in the far north of the country, Kazakhstan Today quoted the Emergencies Ministry as saying. The majority were does (508); 31 calves were also found dead. The cause of death is being investigated.
As well as roaming the steppes of Kazakhstan, the saiga also lives in remote areas of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Russia. It is classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.
Kazakhstan is home to the largest numbers of saigas in the world, but a population that numbered over a million in the 1970s has been decimated.
The World Wildlife Fund identifies loss of habitat and poaching as the major threats: The horn of the male saiga is particularly prized in Chinese medicine for use as a painkiller and antibiotic, creating a thriving and illegal trade.
Nevertheless, conservation efforts appear to be paying off in Kazakhstan: Last year officials estimated that the country’s saiga population had reached 100,000, up from 85,000 the year before.
The trial of 12 people on charges related to December’s violence in and around Zhanaozen has ended with 11 found guilty of involvement and one acquitted. Four will serve time in prison.
All 11 are from the town of Shetpe, where one person was shot dead during the violence. At least 16 people died when a six-month-old industrial dispute spun out of control during celebrations for Kazakhstan’s Independence Day in nearby Zhanaozen on December 16.
Six of the 11 were sentenced to two years in prison but were immediately amnestied and released; four received prison sentences of between four and seven years; another was given a suspended sentence.
The release of over half of the defendants may go some way toward calming tensions in the west, where both protestors and police officers are on trial over last year’s turmoil. Nevertheless, activists in Kazakhstan were unhappy with the verdicts and immediately took to Facebook and Twitter to condemn the imprisonments.
Last week one police officer became the first person convicted on related charges: Zhenisbek Temirov, former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center, received a five-year prison sentence over the death of detainee Bazarbay Kenzhebayev following a beating in police custody.
Five more police officers are on trial for shooting protestors. Yet almost ten times as many protestors as police have faced charges: In addition to the 12 from Shetpe, 37 from Zhanaozen are on trial.
One police officer has become the first person sentenced for a role in fatal unrest in western Kazakhstan last December. But the trials of five other officers are sparking almost as much controversy as the proceedings against the protesting oil workers they are accused of firing on.
Zhenisbek Temirov, former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center, received a five-year prison sentence on May 17 over the death of detainee Bazarbay Kenzhebayev following a beating in police custody.
Handing down the conviction days before sentences are passed on the 49 protestors standing trial was a symbolic nod to tensions in the energy-rich town.
But critics say Temirov is just a scapegoat. Those who inflicted the vicious beating on Kenzhebayev have never been found, the critics say, and Temirov was appointed to head the remand center just the day before the violence.
The officer may have “become a scapegoat for all those who tortured, raped and abused the people of Zhanaozen during those tragic days,” wrote activist Galym Ageleuov, who has been observing the trials, on Facebook.
A quiet residential street in Almaty got an up-close look at death and destruction on May 15: It was adorned with a collection of shocking photos of last December’s unrest in the western energy hub of Zhanaozen.
Activists organized the exhibition to mark a year since energy workers in Zhanaozen went on strike. The workers’ protest festered for seven months before culminating in a fatal clash with armed police in December.
The exhibition featured photographs of the early days of the strike through to pictures of the trials of 49 demonstrators, now drawing to a close in western Kazakhstan. One poignant picture showed a group of hunger strikers protesting over their dismissal, sitting under a propaganda poster directed at the towns’ workers, which reads: “Thank you for your labor.”
The scenes of December’s violence included pictures of two young men lying on Zhanaozen’s central square bleeding after being shot by police. Others showed burning buildings and a charred poster of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The show – which drew around 50 people – was not meant to take place outdoors, but the organizers (photographer Asylkhan Abdirayymuly and the Janaozen.net website) found themselves pushed out on to the street after their efforts to secure an indoor venue were thwarted.
When exhibition centers in Almaty declined to host the show, they hired a private house to display the photos, organizer Inga Imanbay told EurasiaNet.org. But on the morning of the exhibition the owners declined to let them in and returned their money.