Villagers in a valley in eastern Kazakhstan knew what to blame when they kept being hit by misfortune: the restless spirits of one of their illustrious ancestors, unearthed from his elaborate grave a decade ago by archeologists.
Now, to the chagrin of historians from Kazakhstan and Russia who have spent 10 years studying the body for clues about the ancient Scythians who inhabited the steppes of Eurasia, the body has been returned to the grave to appease those spirits, KTK TV reports.
The villagers had lobbied heavily to have the body returned from Almaty, where it was being studied, and buried because “since the burial mound was dug up, utter misfortune has befallen the region: hurricanes keep raging over and over, cattle is dying in the villages, and children are being born sick. All this, the villagers said, was because historians disturbed the spirits of the ancestors.”
The Scythian nobleman, originally buried decked out in gold as a mark of respect for his rank, was returned to his original grave near the settlement of Shilikty at a ceremonial burial, and the villagers now plan to erect a memorial in his honor. The hapless historians have managed to secure agreement that they can reenter the grave for more studies if the need arises.
Kazakhstan is a treasure trove of amazing archeological finds. The jewel in the crown is the Golden Man, found in the Issyk burial mound just outside Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, in 1969. Believed to have been a young Scythian prince who lived in the 4th or 5th century BC, he was interred wearing some 4,000 gold ornaments.
A consortium consisting of a trio of oligarchs and the Kazakh government has moved one step closer to taking control of a London-listed natural resources giant with major operations in Kazakhstan.
The consortium bidding to win control of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) submitted a slightly revised offer to take the company back into private hands on June 24, after its initial proposal last month fell flat when minority shareholders said it undervalued the company.
However, the new offer valued the embattled company at even less: The terms were similar to last month’s proposal but the value was slightly down due to changes in dollar-sterling exchange rates and falling share prices.
The new offer proposes paying shareholders $2.65 in cash plus 0.23 of a share in London-listed copper miner Kazakhmys in exchange for each ENRC share. Kazakhmys, ENRC’s largest stakeholder with 26 percent of the company, issued a statement on June 24 saying it was accepting the offer despite believing it “may undervalue ENRC and its assets.”
Kazakhmys said it did not believe it could secure better terms, and that it would raise $887 million from the sale that could be targeted to its core business. If approved by shareholders, the deal would remove the firm from ENRC.
The endangered saiga antelope has had a rough few years in Kazakhstan, hunted mercilessly by poachers for its horns and wracked by a deadly sickness that has seen thousands of these endangered long-nosed antelopes perish on the steppe.
Yet amid all the doom and gloom there is a glimmer of hope: Kazakhstan’s saiga population has more than doubled over the last five years, according to figures released by the Ministry for Environmental Protection.
The country’s saiga population now stands at 137,000 against just 61,000 five years ago, the ministry said. The news comes less than two years after officials reported that efforts to conserve this creature – listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List – were bearing fruit as numbers passed the symbolic 100,000 mark in Kazakhstan.
The population has since grown by over a third, but today’s figures are still a far cry from Kazakhstan’s million-strong population of the 1970s. Since then the saiga – an unusual-looking creature with a distinctive long, humped nose that allows it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters – has been hunted mercilessly by poachers for its horn, which is prized in Chinese medicine.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization held its annual military exercises last week in Kazakhstan, and from what we can tell from the official statements about the exercise, it represented a continuation of the trend toward a lessening of the organization's military importance.
The scenario of the exercise, which was held in Shymkent, was a pretty typical one, reports China Radio International:
The drill stimulates a situation where terrorists enter Kazakhstan by helicopters and automobiles, hijack hostages in a bordering village and attempt to conduct terrorist activities.
The mission is for counter forces from SCO member countries to crack down on the terrorist group and rescue hostages through both ground and aerial operations.
MiG-29 fighters forced a plane which had illegally infiltrated Kazakhstan's air space to land. Then, they showed witnesses at attempt to seize a reinforced checkpoint. And then, airborne forces neutralized a group of terrorists. In addition, the special forces demonstrated the storming of a house in which criminals held hostages. On the order to release the hostages, the terrorists responded with fire.
Armed forces and armored personnel carriers went to the site of battle. Aviation supported the ground attack. At the same time wounded security forces were evacuated. The special forces used flash-bang grenades. They freed the hostages and captured the hostages as they tried to escape.
Nurtay Abykayev, the chairman of Kazakhstan's security council, said "Of course the scenario is possible. A terrorist is a terrorist. He can be armed with any weapon, so we need to work comprehensively."
Water was the hot topic as the leaders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan met in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on June 14.
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, struck a conciliatory note over access to Central Asian water resources, a subject which Uzbek leader Islam Karimov last year warned could lead to war.
“A great deal depends for our future on how [Central Asian states] cooperate and trust each other and together resolve our questions without hindering other states,” Nazarbayev said in remarks quoted by state news agency Kazinform.
“Our approaches on many aspects, including the water problem in the region, coincide,” he said of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. “And we want to send a friendly message to our neighbors that we ourselves have to resolve these questions. There are no unresolvable problems and questions.”
Speaking of the plans of neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to build hydropower projects on Central Asian rivers upstream, which Karimov strongly opposes, Nazarbayev said disputes could be resolved “only on the basis of negotiations and the strengthening of mutual trust, without confrontation.”
Karimov has long been a vociferous opponent of plans by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to complete long-stalled hydropower dam projects -- Rogun on the Vakhsh River (the headwaters of the Amu-Darya) in Tajikistan and Kambarata on the Naryn River (which becomes the Syr-Darya) in Kyrgyzstan.
Nearly a third of high school graduates in Kazakhstan flunked their final exams this year, figures released by the government show. A total of 29 percent of the 95,487 students who took the important exam (which determines whether or not they will get into university) failed to make the grade.
This is a marked improvement on last year, when 37 percent of graduates didn’t pass, but it still shows that a remarkably high number of students are going through school without learning much. Those who fail can re-take the exam, but not until next summer.
Every year the school-leaving exam (known as ENT) generates controversy, with critics arguing that the multiple-choice format fails to test critical-thinking skills. Astana rejoins that it introduced the standardized test to replace school-led exams and standardize the final qualification.
The figures show that over twice as many students sat the exam in Kazakh as in Russian this year: 66,689 against 28,798, meaning that 70 percent of students are receiving their education in the Kazakh language. Parents can opt to send their children to schools teaching in Russian or Kazakh (and a few other languages such as Uzbek), but Kazakh and Russian language classes are compulsory for all students.
Cheating remains rife: This year invigilators across Kazakhstan confiscated 28,000 banned objects such as cellphones from exam halls and identified six people impersonating others to sit the test on their behalf.
Officers from the domestic intelligence service are deployed in schools at exam time in testament to how seriously education officials take cheating, but to some that’s no deterrent.
Americans are still forbidden from adopting Kazakh children, an official in Astana has said. The ban will continue until Kazakhstan receives a satisfactory explanation from US authorities about the circumstances in which two orphans from the Central Asian state were found in a home for troubled kids last year.
The two children were found on a ranch housing children with “deviant behavior” in July 2012, Raisa Sher, chairwoman of the government’s Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights, told Tengri News on June 12.
She did not name the children’s home, but last July there were children from Kazakhstan among those staying at the Ranch for Kids Project in Montana when a group of Russian officials turned up with a film crew in tow to demand access to Russian orphans and created an outcry when they were refused.
The ranch describes itself as “a respite care home for adopted children who are experiencing difficulties in their families.” Russian children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, a member of the delegation that visited last summer, described it as “a trash can for unwanted children.”
Sher said that Astana had not received “information” from the American authorities despite requesting clarification over the incident, and therefore “we are not renewing the adoption procedure with the United States of America until we receive a response from that country under the Hague Convention on the fulfilment of international obligations.”
The wife of fugitive Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov has been deported from Italy to Kazakhstan, where she is facing a criminal investigation as Astana steps up its four-year campaign against the businessman.
Alma Shalabayeva was arrested on the outskirts of Rome overnight May 28-29 along with her six-year-old daughter, Alua Ablyazova, Kazakhstan’s prosecutor’s office confirmed on June 3. Spokesman Nurdaulet Suindikov said Shalabayeva was arrested in possession of a forged passport “with clear signs of fictitiousness, supposedly issued by the Central African Republic in the name of Ayan Alma.”
He said Shalabayeva, currently residing with relatives in Almaty, is under investigation in Kazakhstan for forgery offenses and has signed an agreement not to leave the city.
Ablyazov has accused the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of “kidnapping” his wife and daughter. In a Facebook posting on June 3, he questioned the speed of the deportation and said his wife had told him she was flown out of Italy on a “luxurious” chartered aircraft accompanied by consular staff from Kazakhstan.
Her Italian lawyer, Riccardo Olivo, also questioned the rapid unfolding of events. “It is incredible how quickly this took place,” he told Reuters on June 1. “They handed her over as a hostage to a dictator and this is very grave.”
Archeologists in Kazakhstan have discovered the ancient grave of a young woman who has acquired the nickname “Princess of the Scythians.”
The elaborate tomb was found in Urdzhar district in eastern Kazakhstan during road repairs, Tengri News reports, quoting expedition leader Timur Smagulov. A team of lecturers and students was called in to investigate, and the group unearthed a stone sarcophagus containing the body of a young girl.
The “Princess of the Scythians” was clearly a prominent figure, judging by the treasures buried with her, most notably a gold headdress decorated with figures of animals and topped with arrowheads. It is similar to the one worn by Kazakhstan’s most famous archeological find, the Golden Man – a Scythian warrior prince interred wearing some 4,000 gold ornaments.
This type of headdress was part of the ceremonial clothing that the leaders of the Scythians – who inhabited the Eurasian steppe in ancient times – used to parade in, Smagulov said. “It is quite possible that the buried woman was the daughter of a king of the Saka Tigrakhuda tribe.”
The grave – which also contained ceramics and the bones of a sacrificed sheep – is believed to date from the 4th or 3rd century BC, the same period as the Golden Man’s burial site.
Amazing archeological finds are nothing new for Kazakhstan. Back in 2010 archeologists discovered the tomb of a gold-clad ancient Scythian warrior, nicknamed “The Sun Lord,” whose torso was entirely covered with gold.
The U.S. State Department released its annual "Country Reports on Terrorism," which purports to summarize and analyze the "terrorist" threats around the world. Here is the report's summary of Central Asia in 2012:
Despite the absence of major terrorist incidents on their territory, governments in the five Central Asian states were concerned about the possibility of a growing threat connected to changes in the international force presence in Afghanistan in 2014. While some sought to reduce their countries’ vulnerability to the perceived terrorist threat, the effectiveness of their efforts was in some cases undercut by failure to distinguish clearly between terrorism on one hand and political opposition, or non-traditional religious practices, on the other.
On the occasion of last year's report, Myles Smith wrote on EurasiaNet that "For the most part, the report simply lists what authorities describe as terrorist attacks and as anti-terrorist operations, but uses qualifying terms – 'reportedly'; 'potentially' – that make it clear State is as in the dark on the nature of the events as the rest of us." A year later, there's really nothing to add to that analysis. But it's worth noting that, if the U.S. is spending increasing amounts of money, and making counter-terror assistance an increasingly large part of U.S. activity in the area, it might behoove Washington to be a little clearer about what exactly it is that this money and diplomatic effort are being directed at.
Looking at the individual country listings is instructive. Here is Tajikistan's summary: