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.
Kazakhstan and Russia have moved to defuse a spat over Moscow’s use of the world’s largest spaceport, which is vital for Russia to maintain its standing as a space power.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov smoothed over accounts of a rift between the two close allies during talks in Moscow on January 25, with Idrisov describing reports that Kazakhstan was planning to tear up Russia’s lease of the strategic Baikonur cosmodrome as “absurd.”
The row erupted on December 10, when Kazakhstan’s National Space Agency director, Talgat Musabayev, said Astana was looking to renegotiate the deal. Moscow leases the site from Kazakhstan for $115 million per year. The current agreement runs until 2050.
Musabayev said President Nursultan Nazarbayev had ordered work on “drawing up a new, all-encompassing agreement on the Baikonur site, which could envisage a withdrawal from leasing relations.” “We are not saying that we will immediately halt the lease,” he added, but abandoning it “in stages” was possible.
His remarks provoked an outcry in Russia, which is dependent on Baikonur to launch all its manned space missions and most commercial satellites. Moscow is building its own spaceport in its Far East, but the first launch there is not due until 2015.
The row escalated after Kazakhstan revealed that it was allotting Russia only 12 Proton rocket launches from Baikonur in 2013, against the 17 Moscow desires. Russia’s Federal Space Agency says this will prevent it from fulfilling contractual obligations and cost it $500 million.
A caricature poking fun at Orthodox Christian priests and the powers that be has sparked an outcry in Kazakhstan, a country that markets itself as a bastion of religious tolerance.
The offending cartoon appeared in the Russian-language Megapolis broadsheet on January 14, illustrating an article called “Christmas Surprise” that recounted how Astana city officials hijacked the Russian Orthodox Christmas service at the Church of the Holy Assumption in the capital. (Orthodox Christmas is marked on January 7.)
“Bewildered” worshippers were forced to line up along a red carpet to welcome officials from the office of Astana Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov, while “church officials scurried about here and there and fussed around, waiting for the arrival of the important guests,” the article recounted.
After being given the red carpet treatment, the two bureaucrats were taken to the ambo, a special part of the church from which sermons are read (out of bounds to ordinary worshippers). From there, they read out a message from Tasmagambetov, a high-profile politician sometimes tipped as a future president.
“What was this? Some sort of political event, or still a church holiday?” one annoyed worshipper asked.
To illustrate such sentiments, Megapolis published the cartoon showing a porky priest telling a meek-looking Jesus wearing a crown of thorns: “Citizen, free up the ambo or I’ll call the riot police!”
Church officials were quick to take offense. “The article and the caricature have had negative repercussions in the Orthodox community,” Bishop Gennadiy of Kaskelen (near Almaty) told a news conference on January 23.
Marking a year this week since the start of a political crackdown, Kazakhstan has entered 2013 with a transformed political landscape, the opposition effectively decimated and independent media muzzled.
Under the strongman reign of 72-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been in power for over two decades, Kazakhstan has never willingly opened its arms to criticism. But critics say last year witnessed an unprecedented attack on dissenting voices, leaving the political scene bereft of any meaningful platform from which to hold the administration accountable.
The crackdown began on January 23, 2012, with the rounding up of opposition figures and journalists a month after fatal unrest in Zhanaozen, a western oil town.
The anti-dissent campaign culminated in December court rulings that shut down approximately 40 independent media outlets (including outspoken newspapers Respublika and Vzglyad) and Kazakhstan’s most vocal opposition party, Alga! (whose leader Vladimir Kozlov is serving a jail term on charges of fomenting the Zhanaozen violence and plotting to overthrow the state).
Alga! and the media outlets were declared extremist and accused of inciting the Zhanaozen violence, which spiraled out of a protracted oil strike that the government acknowledges was mismanaged.
Kazakhstan’s capital has the reputation of a conformist city of bureaucrats, loyal to the man who made it the seat of government and micromanaged its construction, President Nursultan Nazarbayev – but it seems that not everyone is banging the drum for the Leader of the Nation.
Some of the less fortunate inhabitants of the glitzy city took to the streets one freezing evening this week to complain about their lot and demand social justice, reports KTK TV.
“Who are the rulers?” footage broadcast from a dark Astana street showed a man with a megaphone yelling at a small crowd.
“Dozens” of people gathered on January 16, KTK reported – hardly the type of large, unruly street protest that has twice helped overthrow presidents in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, but still revolutionary stuff for this most conformist of capitals.
The main organizers were residents of a hostel on Astana's outskirts that is slated for demolition to make way for a power station. Some inhabitants have refused the compensation package offered by the authorities and say they will be left without affordable housing – a major bone of contention in Astana, where Zauresh Battalova, a former senator and now prominent campaigner, spearheads the For Decent Housing movement to fight for accommodation for the underprivileged and low paid.
The rally gathered protestors with wide-ranging demands, some urging timely payments of salaries and others calling on the local authorities to do a better job of clearing the snow that blankets Astana in winter.
Russian telecoms giant MTS has filed for bankruptcy in Tashkent amid its long-running dispute with the Uzbek government, which is currently embroiled in telecoms scandals on several fronts.
MTS’s Uzbekistan subsidiary O’zdunrobita has petitioned for bankruptcy due to its “inability” to carry out a November court ruling ordering it to pay fines and penalties of $600 million, MTS said in a January 16 statement.
The company’s troubles began last July, when Tashkent accused it of using equipment illegally, then brought tax evasion charges, and finally shut it down.
In September, a court ordered MTS’s assets in Uzbekistan seized. To the surprise of many, that ruling was overturned on appeal in November. But with the good news came a catch: The court that overturned the assets seizure ordered MTS to pay penalties of $600 million – the approximate value of the assets the court had just returned. Some $150 million has already been seized from its bank accounts in Uzbekistan, MTS says.
MTS has protested its innocence, condemning the affair as the kind of assets grab not uncommon in Uzbekistan’s murky business climate – a charge Tashkent denies.
Officials in northern Kazakhstan have taken President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s zero-tolerance policy toward anti-social behavior to heart, jailing a man for making a rude gesture at an official motorcade.
The unidentified 22-year-old resident of Pavlodar was thrown behind bars for giving the middle finger to the cortege of Kayrat Mami, speaker of the Senate (the upper house of parliament), Tengri News reported on January 14.
The man pleaded guilty on hooliganism charges and was given a five-day jail sentence for “insulting the human dignity of a public figure, thus allowing disrespect for those around and violating public order and the peace of individuals,” court spokeswoman Umut Zhumatayeva said.
The jailing is in line with a policy Nazarbayev announced last fall, when he used a parliamentary address to rail against graffiti, garbage and public drunkenness, surprising observers who thought Kazakhstan had more pressing problems to tackle. Nazarbayev also has a Singapore-style fixation with chewing gum and dirty cars in his model capital city, Astana.
The news of the harsh treatment meted out to the Pavlodar man sparked vituperative reactions on the Tengri News site, suggesting that many of Nazarbayev’s fellow citizens do not share his concerns. “Where the hell is democracy?” asked user West. “He was only expressing his opinion.”