Nowruz - also known as Navruz or Novruz - is a holiday celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, and in all Central Asian countries, marking the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar.
The feast is celebrated one week earlier, this year on March 14, by descendants of the Adai clan, who populate large swathes of the oil-rich western regions of Kazakhstan.
Peter Leonard is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Parliament in Kazakhstan has slapped a veto on the contentious land law that caused a surge of protests and one of the broadest shows of public discontent since independence.
The vote in parliament essentially formalizes a moratorium on the law imposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on May 2.
Senate’s hasty two-reading approval of the veto on June 23 seemed to take even some lawmakers by surprise.
“The (veto) law enters into force and now what does your ministry suggest should be next on the agenda, what are we to work on next?” Senate deputy Byrganym Aitimova asked plaintively of the deputy agriculture minister. “Since 1990, we have made six changes to the land code. In the land commission created on the orders of the president, of which you are a member, we are hearing absolutely contradictory proposals. What position does your department take and what direction should we be working in as concerns the proposed draft bill (on land reform).”
Deputy agriculture minister Yerlan Nysanbayev had to admit that no consensus had emerged and that he himself had no position on the issue.
The Senator’s haplessness provides a helpful insight into how the parliamentary system works in Kazakhstan, where deputies serve the function not of holding the government to its responsibilities, but of simply applying the legitimating veneer of a rubber stamp.
Amendments to the land law approved by the same Senate in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years. The law also set the terms for a series of land auctions that would have been open only to citizens of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan has deployed sport in multiple ways over recent years to promote its image on the international stage, so a doping scandal affecting some of most famous athletes is hitting hard.
On June 21, evidence reportedly emerged that much-loved weightlifter Ilya Ilin appears to violated anti-doping rules during the 2008 Olympic Games, when he won a gold medal. That was on top of apparent proof that Ilin had failed doping tests from the 2012 Games in London. Last week, doping tests revealed that another three Kazakhstani weightlifters — Svetlana Podobedova, Maia Maneza, Zulfiya Chinshanlo — had also fallen foul of doping rules in 2012.
Top officials and the public in Kazakhstan have concertedly rallied to Ilin’s side.
Senate chairman Kassym Jomart-Tokayev registed his support on Twitter.
“Regardless of the decision taken on the athlete Ilya Ilin, he has earned our support as a leading sportsman and patriot of Kazakhstan,” he wrote.
Former member of parliament, Murat Abenov, said he was doubtful of the reliability of the new tests.
“Ilya grew up before our eyes, I have known him since he was a little boy. He is a very talented man and athlete. He has progressed toward his goals with determination,” told to state newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.
Prime Minister Karim Masimov suggesting avoiding similar scandals in future by investing in a domestic, high-tech laboratory.
Kazakhstan has announced that it intends to buy new military transport aircraft in response to the militant attack in the western city of Aktobe last week.
Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov announced the planned aircraft purchase as part of a series of measures including improving security in airports and train stations and creating an interagency working group on countering extremism and terrorism.
"The prime minister has ordered the Ministry of Defence together with the State Security Committee, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Finance to submit a proposal within a week on the acquisition of heavy-lift military transport aircraft," according to a statement on the government website. The statement didn't provide any more details.
This is a relatively unusual move for Kazakhstan, to announce a military procurement program so clearly in response to a single event, and it underscores the level of concern that Astana is clearly feeling about its ability to deal with these sorts of situations. The Aktobe attacks on June 5 (whose targets included a National Guard base) clearly caught the authorities wrongfooted, and the security services' response has been found wanting.
Security services in a region of Kazakhstan hit recently by a spate of deadly shootouts have claimed that they dismantled 14 radical groups operating locally over the past year.
State news agency Kazinform on June 15 cited Nurlan Kydyrbayev, head of the National Security Committee in Aktobe region, as saying that 36 people plotting violent acts in Kazakhstan and abroad were arrested since 2015.
“When it comes to people that do not accept preventative measures and that harbor violent intentions against society, we are forced to adopt robust measures,” Kydyrbayev said.
It was not immediately clear why this information has been made public now, rather than before the events in Aktobe on June 5.
Kydyrbayev, who was speaking at a meeting of security officials on antiterrorism measures, said that there were an estimated 1,565 people that he termed Salafists living in the Aktobe region. Of that overall number, around 90 are potential jihadists, Kydyrbayev said.
Salafism is held up by its followers as an adherence to the pure, original and untainted form of Islam. While ostensibly rejecting the established doctrinal schools, they arguably relate most closely to the Hanbali system that prevails in Saudi Arabia, as opposed to the more moderate Hanafi recognized by most Muslims in Central Asia.
Various theories circulate about how this particular current came to gain prominence in countries like Kazakhstan.
One particularly contentious account reproduced by political analysis website Exclusive.kz suggested that Salafism was initially brought into the country by the security services.
In a sign that Kazakhstan is intent of placing the recent shootouts in Aktobe at the feet of foreign parties, Interior Minister Kalmuhanbet Kasymov said on June 14 that investigators believe instructions for the attack were issued from Syria.
The international trail is just one out of multiple, sometimes outlandish, strands coming together to form the official account of the day of terror that claimed the lives of five civilians and three servicemen.
Authorities announced the conclusion on June 12 of what they dubbed an anti-terrorist operation after detaining the last suspected attacker.
Nurgali Bilisbekov, the deputy head of the National Security Committee, or KNB, explained in a post-operation briefing that the armed group appeared intent on capturing government buildings.
“According to preliminary data, after seizing the firearms, the terrorists intended to attack penitentiaries and administrative buildings,” Bilisbekov said.
Bilisbekov said only timely reaction from special forces troops prevented the plan from being fulfilled.
Kasymov offered the most detailed official version of events to date in his remarks to the press.
“The total number [of people involved in the attack], as it has been accurately established, is 45 people. But when they declared jihad and left their flats, 19 of them backed out. We have identified them all now and are interrogating them,” he said.
A court in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, has sentenced a key figure in a corruption case involving the upcoming EXPO-2017 fair to 14 years in jail.
The court on June 9 convicted Talgat Ermegiyaev, former head of fair organizer Astana EXPO-2017 company, after finding him guilty of embezzling 10.2 billion tenge ($30 million).
The conviction casts an unfortunate shadow over an event that was intended to showcase Kazakhstan as an innovative and modern economic powerhouse.
As part of his punishment, Ermegiyaev will also be stripped of six cars, shareholdings in companies that he owned and funds in three separate bank accounts.
Another 22 people were also on trial over the corruption probe. Twelve had fully admitted their guilt and assisted the investigation.
Among those who turned state witness were 61-year old Kazhymurat Usenov, former head of the construction department at Astana EXPO-2017.
This was not Usenov’s first brush with notoriety. In 2013, his son, Maksat, while drunk plowed his car into six people waiting at a bus stop, killing one of them. Maksat Usenov got off with just a fine, 45 days of house arrest and the loss of his driving license in a verdict that sparked widespread outrage. All the same, he was subsequently seen driving a car and again got into an accident in 2014. The scandal forced his father’s resignation.
Ermegiyaev is insistent he is innocent and claims he has been made a scapegoat.
Security forces in Kazakhstan on June 10 mopped up most of the remnants of the armed gang that sowed terror in western city of Aktobe over the weekend.
The Antiterrorism Center said in a statement that the gunman were located overnight in an apartment on Nekrasov Street in Aktobe. Troops with the National Security Committee and Interior Ministry surrounded the building and evacuated residents to safety.
Authorities said the gunmen refused to lay down their weapons and instead fired on security forces. Four of the gunmen were killed when the apartment was stormed.
Another man, identified by officials as an accomplice to the gunmen, was killed at another location when he opened fire on a patrol car.
A correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakhstan service Azattyq reported seeing multiple armed personnel carriers and fire engines, as well as dozens of security forces, at the scene. The correspondent reported hearing at least two blasts.
Several journalists were forced to delete video footage and photos of the special operation, Azattyq reported.
Earlier in the week, the head of the National Security Committee said that six gunmen were on the run, which means at least one person still remains at large.
This brings the total death toll among the alleged perpetrators of the attacks on June 5 to at least 18. Seven people — four civilians and three servicemen — were killed on that day.
With the critical phase of operations nearing conclusion, attention would be expected to turn now to determining the motives of the group.
Kazakhstani naval vessel "Oral" conducts exercises on the Caspian Sea in early June 2016. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan is teaming up with German, Turkish, and Spanish firms to boost its Caspian naval forces, the Ministry of Defense has announced.
The MoD signed a memorandum of intent with the German firm Abeking & Rasmussen for the delivery of corvettes for Kazakhstan's navy. The two sides also discussed establishing a ship-building facility in Kazakhstan. "We are ready to cooperate with the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan and support the establishment of shipbuilding. Our aim - to create in Kazakhstan a modern shipbuilding enterprise, so it can compete at the global level and contribute to quality production," said Thomas Haake, sales director of Abeking & Rasmussen, according to an MoD press release.
In addition, the MoD also signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkish shipbuilder Dearsan to provide corvettes, and with the Spanish company SEAS to jointly produce naval mines in Kazakhstan. It's not clear what the relationship between all of these deals is, in particular the apparent similarity between the German and Turkish deals; none of the companies or the MoD responded to requests for clarification.
In his first public statement since the bloodshed in Aktobe, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev depicted his country as being a target for outside-led, violent revolutionaries.
The rhetoric underscored the frenzied paranoia gripping the leadership in Astana as policymakers struggle to devise solutions to an increasingly radicalized mood in the country.
Nazarbayev was ostensibly referring in his June 8 address to the string of shootouts over the weekend, but the remarks suggested he also sees antigovernment protests as part of the broad destabilizing efforts hatched by mysterious foreign parties.
He was explicit about his suspicions that Aktobe was organized by outside forces.
“According to information in our possession, the terrorist acts were organized by adherent of radical pseudo-religious currents — they received instructions from overseas,” Nazarbayev said in a televised speech, which included a belated expression of condolence for the families of people killed in Aktobe.
From there, it was a short leap to the recent anti-land reform protests. Nazarbayev did not identify the rallies specifically, but the implication was clear.