New evidence annuls Kazakhstan's claim to be the place where horses were first domesticated. Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have uncovered evidence that pushes back the date of horse-taming by some 3,500 years.
A 2009 dig in Kazakhstan unearthed proof that horses had been tamed in the area some 5,500 years ago. The discoveries suggested that the horses were ridden and milked by the people living in the area at that time, around 1,000 years earlier than humans previously were believed to have used horses.
But now, DNA and carbon dating tests have revealed finds at Al-Maqar in Saudi Arabia to be 9,000-years old. Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, says these discoveries prove Saudi Arabia is the true birthplace of horse husbandry.
The once-nomadic, horse-loving Kazakhs might be outraged that the Saudi's have usurped their position. A cradle of Kazakh national identity, horse-related sports and food products are widespread in Kazakhstan. Kokpar, a furious version of polo played with a headless goat carcass, is popular in rural areas. Kumys -- fermented mares' milk -- remains a favorite springtime tipple and no Kazakh feast is complete without thick slices of kazy (horsemeat sausage) liberally adorning the table.
More trouble in western Kazakhstan, which is beginning to acquire a reputation as a hotbed of Islamic militancy: Police in the oil city of Atyrau have shot dead a suspect they feared was plotting to commit “violent acts,” the Kazinform state news agency reports.
The suspect was mowed down in a gun battle on August 29 as law enforcers rounded up a group of 20 people they suspected of plotting “violent acts both on the territory of Atyrau Region and in neighboring regions of Kazakhstan,” Kazinform reported, citing “operational information.” The other members of the group were detained, reportedly in possession of weapons and explosives.
The incident comes on the heels of a bloody shootout in another energy-rich western region, Aktobe, last month. That episode left nine suspects and four law-enforcement officers dead. Officials offered the baffling account that the suspects were organized criminals sheltering behind the guise of religion.
In late July another cop was killed in Aktobe by gunfire from inside a house in which a man then blew himself up.
Until now, officials have appeared intent on denying that Kazakhstan faces any terror threat: The country’s first-ever suicide bomb in May in downtown Aktobe was blamed on the mafia rather than militants, and a later blast in Astana remains shrouded in mystery.
Staff Sgt. Beth Lake, US Third Army Public Affairs
US and Kazakh soldiers at the 2009 Steppe Eagle Exercise
The annual military exercises between Kazakhstan, the US and UK began this week near Almaty, and this year the roster of participating nations has grown a bit, with Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania and Tajikistan participating as well. From the Kazakhstan government release:
For three weeks, personnel representing six armies will practice interaction, combat compatibility, cooperation and interoperability during international peacekeeping operations....
The exercises will culminate in what is called the “active phase,” during which peacekeepers will conduct a live peacekeeping operation in compliance with all international regulations.
This exercise is aimed at developing Kazakhstan's nascent peacekeeping units, but there will likely be a bit of a cloud over the proceedings this year since Kazakhstan decided to back out of a deployment to Afghanistan. Since that's the sort of thing the US and UK have been training Kazakhstan's military for, presumably there is some grumbling in the Pentagon and Whitehall about what exactly is the point of this any more.
Nevertheless, Kazakhstan continues to have high hopes for the units, KazBat and KazBrig. Mukan Dyuissekeyev, the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Kazakhstan's armed forces, says next year KazBat will be ready:
Another police officer has been shot dead in western Kazakhstan, the Kazakhstan Today news agency reports, bringing to five the death toll among the security forces in the country's restive, energy-rich region this month.
The latest officer to die was felled by gunfire from inside a house in the oil city of Aktobe -- which was the scene of a suicide bombing in May that authorities blamed on the mafia -- while he was pursing a gang suspected of a July 10 murder, the agency said.
A gunman opened fire, killing the officer, and also set off an explosion, Kazakhstan Today said. Police then found the corpse of a man inside the house, along with one injured man, whose identity is being established. A woman who said she was the owner of the house was detained. The date of the incident was not specified.
Two more members of the security forces were killed during a subsequent operation to hunt down those murderers, making the latest officer the fifth to die within a month. Nine suspects were also shot dead during that manhunt.
Twitter is buzzing this week with the melodies of Kazakh as Kazakhstan’s Twitterati launched a campaign to encourage the use of the language on the social network.
The #kzday campaign got off to a lively start on July 27. The date wasn’t chosen by chance. It was a Wednesday, an auspicious day for Kazakhs on which they like to embark on new enterprises, and organizers say #kzday will take place every Wednesday.
This campaign was proposed by @anatili, a user aiming to assist with learning Kazakh, and @battalov, who identifies himself as Arlan Battalov, a commercial real estate specialist.
There are already plenty of users tweeting in Kazakh, but this campaign is aimed at promoting more dialogue in Kazakh on Twitter, where discussions of Kazakh affairs often take place in Russian.
The lively first debate featured diverging views on whether it was permissible to make mistakes in Kazakh grammar in the interests of communication.
@battalov took a relaxed view. “I learned Kazakh in the street and in the village – there might be mistakes,” he tweeted.
Fortunately, the grammar fascists were outnumbered by those favoring communication, or the debate might not have lasted long.
The discussion was joined by @MuratAbenov, a member of the lower house of parliament, who stands out as unusual among his parliamentary colleagues for his willingness to embrace new media to engage with his electorate.
“GREAT IDEA!” he tweeted – in Russian – when the idea was mooted.
After news emerged last week that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had included Kazakhstan on a list of countries "that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members," the Kazakhstan government has publicly objected and the U.S. embassy in Astana has stepped back from the claim.
A spokesman for the Kazakhstan foreign ministry said the U.S. list "contradicts the existing spirit of strategic partnership" between the two countries":
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov said in Astana on July 21 that "we are puzzled and deeply concerned about the decision of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to add Kazakhstan to the list of the countries that have demonstrated the trend for the development and creation of terrorist organizations or the protection of such organizations or their representatives on their territory."
He said "the situation fundamentally contradicts the existing spirit of strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the United States, and therefore we expect our U.S. partners to take immediate action to correct it."
And the U.S. embassy in Astana issued a statement Friday explaining that "[t]he U.S. Government does not consider that Kazakhstan in any way supports terrorism."
So does that mean the DHS is revising its policy? I asked them, and spokesman Ross Feinstein responded with this statement:
An Indian version of the Molniya-class corvette, which Russia has sold to a mystery post-Soviet customer
Russia has announced it's selling three new warships to an unnamed "former Soviet republic," but is keeping mum about the precise identity of the buyer. The ships are Molniya missile corvettes, built by United Shipbuiding Corporation and the state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, and it seems like the most likely buyer would be Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan's military purchases are very opaque, so it's hard to tell with any specificity what their plans are. But Ashgabat has expressed interest in buying this class of ship in the past, and in May a Russian defense contractor said that Turkmenistan was acquiring two Molniya-class ships and "planning to build two more." (Turkmenistan also was planning to buy a simulator made by the contractor, Kronshtadt.)
Kazakhstan also has been planning to buy three corvettes, but I asked a defense source there about the report and he said it was "very unlikely" that the ships were for Kazakhstan and that Kazakhstan was focused on building its own naval vessels. Kazakhstan also isn't as shy about publicizing its defense purchases. Same with Azerbaijan, which also has expressed interest in building up its navy. Azerbaijan in the past has also sought to hide its identity when buying weapons from abroad, as it did when it contracted with Israel's Elbit to upgrade its tanks. But that may have been a special case, perhaps because it's shy about publicizing cozy relations with Israel. In general Azerbaijan is not at all shy about touting its latest military purchases.
Kazakhstan is rife with rumors about Nursultan Nazarbayev’s health, following a report that the president is in a German hospital.
Nazarbayev's number-one foe, his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, immediately jumped into the fray, publishing news on his blog that the 71-year-old president had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Aliyev – who fell out with his former father-in-law in 2007 and jumps at any opportunity to pour vitriol on him – didn't explain why, if he's so well-informed, he only published this news after reports of Nazarbayev’s hospitalization surfaced on July 19 in the German tabloid Bild, rather than before.
A Bloomberg report on July 20 quoted Bild as reporting that Nazarbayev had undergone prostate surgery and would be heading back to Astana that day.
Back in Kazakhstan, officials and the media are tight-lipped over the state of the president’s health. Nazarbayev’s office, which said on July 11 that he was taking a short vacation, issued no public statement and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are included in a U.S. immigration service's special watch list of countries whose people should come in for extra scrutiny to make sure they're not terrorists. The list (pdf), of "specially designated countries (SDCs) that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members" is a fairly crude one, the logic of which seems to be, "if a country has a lot of Muslims, it's a terrorist threat." But even by that standard, the list is curious. It doesn't include other post-Soviet Muslim republics like Kyrgyzstan or Azerbaijan, for example, or countries like China or Russia which have significant numbers of Muslims (which have been known to engage in violent anti-state activities). The U.S. Azeris Network, a pro-Azerbaijan lobbying group, called attention to the list and complained, in the spirit of pan-Turkic solidarity:
It is absolutely incomprehensible how countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan could have made it to the DHS ICE SDC list. There are simply no known cases of these countries or their nationals or residents, to “promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members”. Neither current, nor past lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. State Department, has ever included any terrorist organizations from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan.
This being an Azeri group, they ask why Armenia is not included on the list, citing "a long string of terrorists and terrorist organizations promoted, produced and protected by and in Armenia." (They don't name those alleged terror groups.)
The report (which isn’t available on Bild’s site) said President Nursultan Nazarbayev was in the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf for unspecified treatment. Nazarbayev is meant to be on a short vacation, according to his office.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry referred EurasiaNet.org’s queries about his whereabouts to the president’s office, which could not immediately be reached for comment. Sources in Germany didn’t confirm the Bild report – the Federal Foreign Office told AFP it had no knowledge of Nazarbayev being in Hamburg, while Reuters quoted the hospital itself refusing to confirm or deny the news and a spokeswoman at the Kazakh embassy in Berlin saying she couldn’t confirm it either. “He's on vacation and he could be anywhere in the world," Reuters quoted the spokeswoman as saying.
Nazarbayev, who’s been at Kazakhstan’s helm for two decades, turned 71 earlier this month. He appears to be in a robust physical and mental condition, but any sign that his health is failing would cause concern among foreign investors, and among members of the Kazakh elite who’ve fared so well under his rule. Even as the succession issue looms ever larger as he ages, Nazarbayev has given no sign that he’s grooming anyone to take over, potentially paving the way for a vicious succession battle.