As the anniversary of last December’s killing of 15 protestors in Zhanaozen approaches, a lobbying war is heating up in Washington that looks set to focus new attention on the Kazakhstan violence.
A group of Kazakhstani activists, with the support of a New York-based human rights watchdog, has been pushing for sanctions on officials they deem responsible for the shootings, from President Nursultan Nazarbayev on down. That’s upset one associate of the Nazarbayev administration, who has sent the rights group a letter threatening legal action.
The letter to the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) was penned by lawyers for Alexander Mirtchev, a businessman who chairs the Krull Corp. Krull describes itself as a “global strategic solutions provider” and is linked to Kazakhstan’s administration through Mirtchev’s position as an independent director of the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Mirtchev also sits on various think tanks in the US and UK that critics say are lobbying organizations.
Mirtchev’s lawyers take issue over allegations made by Kazakhstani civil society activists in an open letter HRF helped publish last month that Mirtchev is a “fixer” who was among people who “enriched themselves while serving a ruthless tyrant that ordered oil workers killed” in Zhanaozen, and “peddled the lie that Kazakhstan is the story of a ‘young democracy’… rather than a totalitarian police state.”
Forty-two percent of Kyrgyzstanis consider the United States the biggest threat to their country, says a new study by a Bishkek polling agency.
Afghanistan is the only country feared by a greater part of the population: 54 percent.
Why the negative feeling about the US? In part it’s probably because of the Manas air base outside Bishkek, which is regularly pilloried in the local press -- often unfairly, though it has engaged in shady business deals with two deposed autocrats. Negative Russian press also leaves an impression on the population.
By contrast, Russia comes across very well in Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps because of a deep dependence on Russia for jobs and aid, 90 percent of the population thinks “Russia plays a very positive role in the region,” says the new study, conducted in late summer by M-Vector.
M-Vector’s publicly available findings also draw some interesting comparisons between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, two former Soviet republics that have taken wildly different paths since independence. Kazakhstanis tend to agree on the part played by Russia: 74 percent applaud its role in the region.
With a whiff of the Soviet, a Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense press release reports that the country's armed forces are looking at ways of using "ideology and propaganda" to improve the "patriotism and discipline" of service members -- and they're doing it with the help of the Nur Otan party that dominates politics in Kazakhstan.
A recent two-day meeting in Astana, participants "considered activities of the military authorities to improve the ideological work and strengthening military discipline and military-patriotic education." Said Nurlan Dzhulamanov, deputy chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: "Educational and ideological work conducted by military authorities ... is integral to maintaining high combat readiness and cohesion of units."
The list of participants in the meeting was headed by the "Nur Otan" party that holds complete control over Kazakhstan's politics, but a scan through the MoD's press release archives shows that this isn't the first time the party has been involved in the affairs of the armed forces. Over the past year or so the party helped organize a sort of military camp for children and held a meeting for female servicemembers. And the minister of defense and one top deputy are former high-level Nur Otan party officers.
Funded by The Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the third international Talented Youth Festival featured exhibits from artists from Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia and Kyrgyzstan in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The event, which opened Nov. 10 in the foundation’s new Almaty building, included an exhibition of Kazakhstan landscape photos by Kazakh photographers, paintings by international and local artists, and a sculpture of stone and wood by a Kyrgyz artist.
The foundation, created by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was established in late 2000 to showcase the country’s cultural talent, build international relations, and strengthen Kazakh society.
Fugitive Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov has been dealt a serious blow in a massive fraud case brought against him in London’s High Court by Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank: Ablyazov has been debarred from fighting BTA’s accusations that he pilfered $6 billion, reports The Lawyer.
Barring a successful appeal, the November 6 ruling sounds the death knell for Ablyazov’s hopes of clearing his name. His reputation also took a hit from the judge’s condemnation of Ablyazov’s attitude to the court: “It is difficult to imagine a party to commercial litigation who has acted with more cynicism, opportunism and deviousness towards court orders than Mr. Ablyazov.”
Ablyazov left Kazakhstan for London in 2009 after Kazakh authorities forcibly nationalized BTA Bank, which he headed and owned through an undeclared stake.
BTA sued Ablyazov for embezzlement in London. The oligarch went on the run after the High Court in February handed him a 22-month prison sentence for contempt of court for concealing assets. His whereabouts are unknown.
If Ablyazov loses his planned appeal, BTA can move to seize his assets, which – according to the British press – include a $29-million nine-bedroom mansion on The Bishop’s Avenue, a London street so exclusive it is dubbed Billionaires’ Row.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan has embraced bling with open arms -- the capital Astana, with its dazzling silver-and-gold skyline, could even be described as bling personified at the state level.
For a country that enjoys flaunting its petrodollars, an ordinary elite-status golden credit card isn’t enough. Luckily for the oil-rich oligarch who wants to stand apart from the crowd, there’s now a gold card with a difference on offer in Kazakhstan: This one is made from the real thing, crafted out of solid gold and encrusted with 26 diamonds -- just to drive the point home that this card will fall only into the hands of the very, very rich.
Not for nothing is Visa billing its Infinite companion card as “the world’s first jewel-encrusted solid gold” card -- though who knew that people needed this glittery status symbol, being offered through Russia’s Sberbank branches in Kazakhstan, before now?
Lucky customers invited to own a gold card might wish to use it to snap up a few choice bits of bling at upmarket US department store Saks Fifth Avenue, which opened its doors in Almaty on September 30 amid much hype -- another sign that Kazakhstan has embraced luxury consumer consumption with alacrity.
The solid-gold card won’t be available to just anyone: Only the bank’s “top 100 customers” will be invited to own what one Visa executive calls a “coveted piece of luxury” and “the ultimate status symbol.”
A Cobra 4x4 armored vehicle, of the type that will be built in Kazakhstan.
Turkish defense manufacturer Otokar has announced it will start producing its Cobra armored vehicles in Kazakhstan. The deal seems to follow precisely the model that Kazakhstan has been imposing on its foreign military contractor vendors: Kazakhstan will buy their stuff if they set up a local joint venture, manufacture in Kazakhstan, and arrange for Kazakhstan's engineers to eventually be able to produce the product themselves. From Hurriyet:
Under the deal, Otokar will launch a joint venture with NK Kazakhstan Engineering to produce Otokar’s 4x4 Cobra armored vehicles. The number of vehicles and the size of the contract have not yet been announced...
The agreement is a follow-up deal on an earlier contract Otokar won last May to sell scores of vehicles to the Kazakh army....
NK Kazakhstan Engineering has been tasked with building the production facility for the Cobra vehicles, while Otokar will transfer production know-how and deliver all parts and components for production, officials said.
The deal was signed October 12 during a visit by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Turkey, and represents the first Turkish armored vehicle to be produced outside that country. The company says that it has already sold 25,000 Cobras to 30 countries around the world, among them Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Since July, Astana and Beijing have engaged in an emotional rivalry over Olympic gold medalist Zulfiya Chinshanlo. During the London games, Chinese media were adamant that the weightlifter was about to return to the People’s Republic, claiming that Chinshanlo was born Zhao Changling in a remote mountainous area of Hunan Province and had been loaned to Kazakhstan in 2008 for a five-year period.
But Chinshanlo told Kazakh press after earning Kazakhstan a gold that she was committed to the Central Asian republic. Moreover, Chinshanlo’s biography on the official Web page for the 2012 Olympic Games lists her birthplace as Almaty. (Others report she was born in Kyrgyzstan.)
Now Chinese media have quoted her saying she’s returning to China.
China Radio International's English website reported on October 24 that the champion weightlifter was spotted in Hunan applying for papers to return to China.
She had a different story to tell Kazakh media, however, claiming on October 26 she was merely paying a visit to her former coach in Yongzhou, Hunan, where a Caravan.kz article says she took up weightlifting as an 11-year-old.
Kazakhstan's credentials as a haven for religious freedom and tolerance are in the spotlight again, this time following a raid on a Protestant church where authorities reportedly found communion drinks spiked with an unidentified hallucinogen earlier this month. The bizarre find comes just a few weeks before religious groups in the country are to undergo mandatory re-registration.
Forum 18, the Oslo-based religious freedom watchdog, reports that police raided Astana’s Grace Church on October 3. Back in July 2011, a local woman accused the church of harming the health of her daughter, congregation member Lazzat Almenova, and filed a complaint with the police. It’s unclear why authorities waited until now to make the swoop.
According to an October 10 report by Tengrinews, the raiding officers had found traces of hallucinogenic substances in a “red drink” served during services at the Grace Church. The psychoactive ingredients are said to induce a state of euphoria and relaxation.
The cops collected samples of the drink for analysis and took blood from 11 members of the congregation to test for any illicit substances. One parishioner said the volunteer donors included a mystery couple who had only been attending services for a month – seeming to suggest they’d been planted there to discredit the church.
“Extremist” literature also turned up during the search, with copies of a book called “Worthy Answers,” written by two Kazakh Protestant converts, Galymzhan Tanatgan and Zhomart Temir, confiscated along with computers, DVDs and some gold.
A US-based watchdog is concerned about Kazakhstan's qualifications to sit on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), ahead of a General Assembly vote November 12 that will decide which countries represent the international community on the commission for three years.
In an October 18 report, Freedom House singled out Kazakhstan -- which has energetically pursued its membership bid -- as one of seven states that the watchdog “does not recommend” for membership on the UNHRC, whose rules say that members should “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Kazakhstan is in the company of Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia; Gabon, Pakistan, the UAE, and Venezuela. Freedom House says all are unsuitable candidates in view of their dubious human rights records. Astana insists that upholding human rights and political freedoms are a priority, and denies any systematic violations.
Freedom House -- which rates Kazakhstan Not Free in its annual Freedom in the World report -- singled the Central Asian state out over political, media, and religious freedoms.