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.
Almost 24 hours after the vote, and after a widespread public outcry in Bishkek, parliament has published the text of the controversial resolution it passed last night. It turns out, though MP Irgal Kadyralieva is still insisting to the press that she wishes to protect the Kyrgyz "gene pool,” the final resolution does not limit travel for women based on their age.
In the confusion -- fueled by multiple press appearances where Kadyralieva insisted women under age 22 or 23 must be forbidden from traveling abroad without a parent's consent -- early on June 13 activists in Bishkek lashed out at the resolution.
“This legal act is absurd,” Vechernii Bishkek quoted Aikanysh Jeenbaeva, co-founder of the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ as saying. “It's not going to protect anyone. It will only increase corruption. Now girls will have to pay bribes at the border.”
“Deputies acted ignorantly by passing the resolution,” human rights Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun was quoted as saying. “Don't they know that they're violating the Constitution, civil rights, and freedom of movement?”
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.”
A small, Kyrgyzstan-based airline is helping Tehran “move suspected illicit cargo” to support Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown in Syria, the US Treasury Department says.
Treasury has sanctioned Kyrgyz Trans Avia (KTA) for leasing and selling aircraft to Iran’s Mahan Air. Washington blacklisted Mahan Air in October 2011 “for providing financial, material and technological support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and has transported personnel, weapons and goods on behalf of Lebanese Hizballah,” a May 31 Treasury statement says.
KTA was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to Mahan Air, by leasing aircraft to Mahan Air. KTA has been publicly identified as an umbrella company purposely established for importing aircraft to Iran. In this regard, between 2009 and 2010, KTA acted as an intermediary for Mahan Air's acquisition of eight aircraft, all of which are now identified by Treasury as blocked property operated by Mahan Air. Some of the aircraft supplied by KTA to Mahan Air are used, interchangeably, to move suspected illicit cargo to the Syrian regime and provide civilian passenger flights to Europe and Asia.
The designation prohibits US citizens, permanent residents, and American companies from dealing with KTA or its director, 58-year-old Lidia Kim, who Treasury designated “for acting for or on behalf of KTA by serving as the director of the company. Kim has received funds from a Mahan Air front company for equipment provided to the airline.” KTC is listed as headquartered at Erkindik 35 in Bishkek.
In the same announcement, Treasury sanctioned Ukraine’s Ukrainian-Mediterranean Airlines (Um Air) for similar activity.
Four former-Soviet immigrants appear to be at the center of what federal prosecutors in the United States are calling a $6 billion money laundering operation conducted entirely on the internet, according to an indictment made public by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
On May 28, the court announced the arrest of Arthur Belanchuk Budovsky, 39, Vladimir Kats, 41, Mark Marmilev, 33, and Maxim Chukharev, 27, along with a fifth suspect, Azzedine El Amine 46, on May 24 in New York, Spain, and Costa Rica, in connection with a digital money transfer site known as Liberty Reserve. The site, whose domain www.libertyreserve.com has also been seized by authorities, was used to conduct some 55 million transactions to transfer proceeds obtained largely from criminal activity such as “credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking,” the indictment alleges.
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.”
Protests outside the Kumtor gold mine in northern Kyrgyzstan have ended and the mine has resumed operations. But related unrest shifted south over the weekend.
Outside Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan’s third-largest city, demonstrators are blocking the country’s only north-south highway, creating a traffic jam several kilometers long, local media report. Since Friday, protestors also have occupied parts of the main government building in the city.
They are demanding the release of three nationalist lawmakers serving short jail terms for stoking unrest last October amid calls to nationalize the profitable mine, which, in a good year, produces 12 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.
Jalal-Abad is the stronghold of Kamchybek Tashiev. In that October incident, he led supporters over the fence surrounding parliament, vowing to “replace this government.” A Bishkek court this March found Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov – all lawmakers with the Ata-Jurt party, which draws its support largely from the south – guilty of trying to overthrow the government. The sentences were seen as light, but deprived the three of their parliamentary seats. Tashiev, who announced a hunger strike today, is due to be released this autumn.
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.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have declared a state of emergency and curfew after police clashed with protestors who have forced the country’s largest enterprise, the Kumtor gold mine, to shut down.
Since Tuesday, hundreds of protestors have blocked the road to the high-altitude mine (or thousands, depending on the source). They are demanding Kumtor pay for new schools, hospitals and roads in the region, and calling on the government to tear up the existing operating agreement. On May 30, protestors seized an electrical substation and cut power to the mine.
Officials said 92 people had been arrested and 55 wounded, including security forces, in the May 31 clashes around Barskoon on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. Police used stun grenades and rubber bullets, according to Kloop.kg. Some local news sites reported that protestors took the head of the district hostage, later exchanging him for detained protestors.
In an open letter to the prime minister, Kumtor outlined how it has fulfilled many of the protestors’ demands through the tens of millions of dollars it pays into a development fund for Issyk-Kul province and other contributions.
The road to the Kumtor mine, which sits at 4,000 meters in the Tien Shan mountains.
For the last three days, several hundred protestors have again blocked the road to Kyrgyzstan’s largest and most lucrative enterprise: the Kumtor gold mine. Late on May 30, demonstrators seized an electricity substation and cut the power supply to the mine, the company announced on Twitter.
The protestors – mostly angry young men, judging from photos – have demanded environmental safeguards and more investment into local infrastructure. Specifically, they want hospitals, schools and gymnasia. Some also wish to tear up the government’s 2009 operating agreement with the company operating the mine.
“It’s like first slaughtering a cow and then asking her for milk,” one Bishkek analyst said of the demands.
Kumtor – which produces about half of Kyrgyzstan’s exports and, in a good year, 12 percent of GDP – is a frequent target. Environmental concerns have plagued the operation since it began in the mid-1990s, heightened by a sodium cyanide spill into a river in 1998. But few believe environmental concerns alone are behind the regular unrest.
In a country with widespread unemployment and few opportunities, young men like those blocking the road this week are easily whipped into a fury. Many observers believe they are paid. And the timing of this particular roadblock, which began on May 28, is curious.