As country rebranding goes it’s quite radical: President Nursultan Nazarbayev has suggested changing the name of Kazakhstan and calling it Kazak Yeli (Kazakh Country) instead.
Offering a clue to his thinking, Nazarbayev singled out the ‘stan’ part of the name – and held up neighboring Mongolia as an example of a country without the Persian suffix, which means “land of.”
“The name of our country has the ending ‘stan,’ as do the other states of Central Asia,” he said in remarks quoted by his press service on February 6.
“At the same time, foreigners show interest in Mongolia, whose population is just two million people, and its name lacks the suffix ‘stan.’ Perhaps with time the question of changing the name of our country to Kazak Yeli should be examined, but first this should definitely be discussed with the people.”
The people were quick to react, taking to Twitter to vent—some firmly for and others as staunchly against.
“I support Kazak Yeli!” tweeted one user named Ruslan Zhangazy, in Kazakh. “And you?”
“Perhaps now the Twitterati will think how to stand up for the name of our country together,” remarked another, Nikita Shabayev, in Russian.
Nazarbayev was speaking at a meeting with intellectuals during a trip to the western oil town of Atyrau on February 6. The nature of the venue suggests that these may have been off-the-cuff remarks rather than a firm policy statement, but the proposal does suggest that a country name change is on the president’s mind.
Kazakhstan has resolved one problem concerning the Baikonur Cosmodrome, but a fresh challenge for authorities is looming. A compromise between Astana and Moscow should allow for a resumption of normal space cooperation, but public opposition to Russian rocket launches is mounting due to environmental concerns.
Gay and bisexual men in Kyrgyzstan are routinely subject to violence, sexual abuse, and extortion by police, a report by global watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) published on January 29 found.
“Gay and bisexual men are easy targets for abuse due to deep social conservatism," HRW said. “Pervasive homophobia in society and widespread police corruption contribute to these abuses.”
Many of the 40 men interviewed for the study “reported ill-treatment in police detention, including being punched, kicked, or beaten with gun butts or other objects,” HRW said.
Some “reported sexual violence by police officers, including rape, group rape, attempts to insert a stick, hammer, or electric shock device inside the victim’s anus, unwanted touching during a search, or being forced to undress in front of police.” On occasion the abuse “rose to the level of torture.”
HRW released disturbing video of men recalling their ill-treatment at the hands of police in Kyrgyzstan, which decriminalized consensual sex between men in 1998. “They detained me, drove me to their office, undressed me, abused me in many ways, hit me, tormented me with a beer bottle, a coffee can, metal hangers, and they kicked me,” one interviewee, Mikhail Kudryashov, recalled. “I still have a lot of scars and marks from the beating.”
Kudryashov – who was fired from his job, disowned by his relatives, and threatened with excommunication by his church after information about his sexual orientation became widely known – took his case all the way to the Supreme Court to try and prove he was tortured, but failed to gain legal redress.
Good news for the endangered saiga antelope in Kazakhstan: Numbers have almost doubled over the past two years to hit 187,000, the environment minister reports.
That means that numbers of this unusual-looking antelope, with its distinctive long, humped nose that allows it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters, have risen by over a third since last June, when the Ministry for Environmental Protection estimated the tally at 137,000, and almost doubled since 2011, when numbers rose above the symbolic 100,000 mark.
The latest figures indicate that the population of the saiga, which is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, is starting to recover, although numbers still stand at less than a fifth of Kazakhstan’s million-strong population of the 1970s. The government has set a target to bring the population up to half a million by 2025.
A man in northern Kazakhstan who was the victim of police torture has won a seven-year legal battle for damages, after a court upheld a ruling that he is entitled to financial compensation for his injuries.
The ruling was handed down by an appeals court in Kostanay on January 23, local newspaper Nasha Gazeta reported. Police must now pay some $13,000 in compensation to 44-year-old Aleksandr Gerasimov for injuries they inflicted by beating him up and suffocating him with a plastic bag in police detention to extract a confession in 2007. Gerasimov was arrested after going to a police precinct looking for his stepson, who had been rounded up during a murder investigation.
The court upheld a lower court ruling issued in November which came after Gerasimov, supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, won his case at the UN Committee Against Torture in 2012, the first ever brought from Central Asia. [Editor’s note: The Open Society Justice Initiative and EurasiaNet.org are separate entities operating under the auspices of the Open Society Foundations.]
“This ruling is an important step in redressing unjust actions from which victims of the most terrible violations of human rights such as torture continue to suffer,” Roza Akylbekova, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said in remarks quoted by Nasha Gazeta.
Kazakhstan’s parliament was the scene of heated debates about bride kidnapping on January 23. One outraged lawmaker urged the death penalty for the crime; another vehemently defended the abduction and forced marriage of young women as a national tradition.
“For kidnapping a person for one hour, for a minute, for a whole life – there should be [execution by] shooting,” MP Kamal Burkhanov told parliament as it discussed a new draft of the Criminal Code.
“The main thing here is the infringement of basic human rights -- the kidnapping of a person and their detention,” Burkhanov said in remarks quoted by Tengri News. “It doesn’t matter to what end – for exploitation, for violence, for marriage, for something else. A basic human right has been infringed, and for this the toughest punishment should be introduced.”
Another male parliamentarian, Kairbek Suleymenov, pointedly disagreed, defending the practice as “our national tradition.” (National traditions are a mantra for Suleymenov, who last year urged “mechanisms” against gay marriage – which does not exist in Kazakhstan – as “alien to Kazakhstani psychology” and “traditions.”)
Suleymenov said he was not “justifying” bride kidnapping but claimed, without citing a source, that 90 percent of kidnapped women wish to be abducted.
Kazakhstan’s famous alpine skating rink outside Almaty turned into a love-fest for President Nursultan Nazarbayev this weekend, as skaters were bombarded with pearls of wisdom from his recent state-of-the-nation address.
Hundreds of students from Almaty universities were bussed up to the Medeu complex on January 18 amid an attempt to break the world record for mass alpine skating, with at least 500 people gathering on the ice in the presence of an official from Guinness World Records, the body which will assess the record-breaking bid.
But the event was soon hijacked to remind the young people whom they have to thank for all their fun – Nazarbayev, who goes by the title of Leader of the Nation. The giant screen that usually plays pop videos as skaters circle the ice was given over to excerpts from his state-of-the-nation address, which was delivered on January 17 and contained the usual dry statements about improving the economy and boosting social well-being.
Critics have long claimed that 73-year-old Nazarbayev – who, in power for over two decades, is one of the world’s longest serving rulers – is the subject of a thriving cult of personality in Kazakhstan, where he brooks no opposition to his autocratic rule but also enjoys genuine public popularity for bringing stability and relative economic prosperity.
Kazakhstan’s parliament is to discuss the possibility of introducing legal sanctions against “lesbianism,” a member of the lower house revealed on January 14 in remarks that will alarm Kazakhstan’s low-profile lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Parliamentarians are to raise the question of “bringing to book” for “lesbianism and other aspects of the sexual and gender sphere,” deputy Nurlan Abdirov told a session of the lower house’s legal affairs committee in vaguely worded remarks quoted by Tengri News. Deputies plan to hold “special themed sessions and round tables” on the topic, he said, without offering further details.
So far no bill has been drawn up and the type of discussions Abdirov is proposing would not carry legal force. Nevertheless, the remarks are alarming for the embattled LGBT community, which was shaken by a spate of homophobic outbursts in parliament last year.
MP Kairbek Suleymenov was the first to speak out, demanding “mechanisms” to counteract gay marriage as “alien” to national traditions, in response to a symbolic lesbian wedding held last April in Karaganda. But no legal mechanism for gay marriage exists or is planned in Kazakhstan.
Fugitive Kazakhstani oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov should be extradited to Russia or Ukraine to face charges of fraud and embezzlement, a French court ruled on January 9, effectively rejecting his argument that long-standing corruption charges are politically motivated.
The ruling deals a major blow to the flamboyant former banker. The court dismissed arguments from Ablyazov’s lawyers that sending him to Russia or Ukraine (both close allies of Kazakhstan) would endanger him and expose him to onward extradition to Kazakhstan, where they believe he would not face a fair trial.
The court ruled that Russia should be given priority for extradition over Ukraine, ITAR-TASS news agency reported. (Kazakhstan has also lodged an extradition bid for Ablyazov but has no extradition treaty with France.) Ablyazov’s lawyer immediately said he would appeal the ruling.
In the last five years Ablyazov has turned from successful billionaire businessman to fugitive, pursued across Europe by private detectives and arrested in a dramatic raid on a luxury mansion on the French Riviera last July.
The corruption charges against Ablyazov center on his management of BTA Bank, which he headed and – as he told EurasiaNet.org in a 2009 interview – owned through an undeclared stake. He fled Kazakhstan when the government forcibly nationalized the bank at the height of the global financial crisis. He denies wrongdoing.
Sex and drugs are not often publicly discussed in Uzbekistan, where the state casts itself as a guardian of traditional values. But even in such a tightly controlled environment, one can occasionally come across an oasis of free expression.