The days of Kazakhstan's national sport kokpar being a wild free-for-all with a headless goat may be numbered since plans have surfaced to replace the bloody carcass at the center of the game with a plastic dummy.
The move comes at the instigation of Kazakhstan-based animal-rights group KARE-Zabota (Kazakhstan Animal Rescue and Education), acting on complaints from animal-lovers who object to the killing of goats for the sport, a local take on buzkashi.
KARE-Zabota says it received a letter from Kazakhstan's Agency for Sports and Physical Training Affairs agreeing to introduce dummy goats.
Already, the Agency has carried out tests on models from Pakistan and a locally produced imitation goat from Taras, but, lacking flexibility, these were deemed unfit for play. Hopes are now being pinned on an artificial carcass from Shymkent, with testing scheduled for later this year.
Kokpar is a macho sport where two teams of horsemen grapple over a decapitated goat, which they try to deposit in the opponent's goal. The fierce struggle is a test of strength for both riders and horses. It’s unclear how this affront to tradition will be received.
But all sports move on. Football (the game known as soccer in the US) was originally a tussle between villagers in 12th-century England over a pig's bladder before it developed into the relatively tame sport we know today. Could kokpar – which is rumored to have already given the world polo – evolve into a worldwide phenomenon by adopting fake, bloodless goats?
Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev's leadership, Astana is pumping millions of dollars into flagship educational projects bearing his name. The goal is to equip the Kazakhstani economy and political system with capable managers. But critics are concerned that the Nazarbayev approach may create a two-track school system that leaves the bulk of students with limited opportunities.
Conform to "the traditions of national independence ideology," Tashkent has reportedly told students, or get out.
Concerned about the lax behavior they see as rampant in Uzbekistan’s universities and colleges, authorities have introduced a new set of moral regulations that, among other things, restrict criticism of teachers and govern what students write about their school online, reports the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
Failure to adhere to the new 23-page moral code could lead to expulsion.
Unsurprisingly, students are unhappy with the “prison-style” rules targeting “gaudy dress” and calling on them to combat "foreign religious and extremist influences." On campus, “rock concerts alien to the national mentality” are also taboo.
The code may aim to stifle mockery, as well. Recently several YouTube videos have emerged, appearing to show the impudent children of Uzbekistan’s small but highly privileged elite harassing their instructors. In one video, boys dance and wave dollar bills at their bemused teacher. In a parody of the rampant corruption in the education system, the laughing students attempt to place the money in the teacher's pockets and on his desk.
In Astana-speak, the upcoming parliamentary election in Kazakhstan is meant to usher in a new era of multi-party democracy. Other parties will be allowed to join Nur Otan in the Majlis, or lower house of parliament. But looking around the streets of Almaty, the country’s commercial capital, you wouldn't know that any other parties were running at all.
Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that it's another presidential vote that's approaching on January 15. President Nursultan Nazarbayev (who won a snap poll earlier this year with 95.5 percent of the vote) seems to be his Nur Otan party’s only face.
All over the city Nazarbayev beams down, right arm raised aloft. The posters carry the simple message “Alga, Kazakhstan!” (“Forward, Kazakhstan!”) and urge the voters to support Nur Otan.
The choice of "Alga" as a slogan is ironic, as it also happens to be the name of a political party that is forbidden from contesting these elections. The unregistered party was formed out of the ashes of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and has been fighting to get on the voting slip for years.
Alga! is rumored to be bankrolled by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive banker holed up in London. Ablyazov is none too popular in Kazakhstan at the moment: Presidential advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev pointed the finger at the exiled banker for being behind this week’s unrest in the oil-rich west.
Yes, in Kazakh politics, everything revolves around the man at the top.
Workers put the final touches on Almaty's new metro system just in time for Kazakhstan's 20th anniversary party.
Almaty commuters’ 23-year wait ended this week as their city’s metro finally slid open its doors, just in time for Kazakhstan’s 20th independence anniversary.
Construction began back in 1988, when Almaty was known as Alma-Ata and was capital of Soviet Kazakhstan. At that time the city’s population hit the one million mark, which gave it the right under Soviet regulations to its own underground network. Hard times after Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991 halted work. Now the country is awash with cash from its vast natural resources and construction began again in recent years.
The gleaming stations, lavishly adorned with marble, granite and ornate statuary, are worthy of comparison with Moscow's magnificent 1930s terminals. At the moment only one line with seven stops follows Almaty's Soviet-era center, but plans are underway for a second line.
When I rode the metro home on Friday there were long lines at the three windows to buy tokens and pre-paid cards. The yellow plastic jetons look to have come straight out of Soviet central planning.
Will the metro wean the good people of Almaty off their car addiction or just divert passengers from other forms of public transportation? Kazakhstan's commercial capital has undergone a rapid transformation since Soviet times and its new business districts are far from the reach of the metro, so we may have to wait, again, until a new line is completed to see any noticeable effect on the city's notorious traffic congestion.
The Leader of the Nation is in place for Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary celebrations.
Kazakhstan's 20th independence anniversary is set to trigger celebrations across the country next month. Of course, organizers have not forgotten to stroke President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s burgeoning personality cult, for where would the country be today without Nazarbayev’s decades of leadership?
Last week Almaty officials unveiled another new monument to “The Leader of the Nation,” this time in the appropriately named First President's Park. The shrine features a statue of Nazarbayev sitting on a slab of granite. Behind him stretch two eagle wings decorated with famous landmarks in Almaty and Astana. The wings symbolize the country's two biggest cities as the driving force behind the independent state.
At the unveiling on November 11, Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov praised his boss: “Heads of state have recognized the President of Kazakhstan as the prominent politician on a global scale, who has made an enormous contribution to nuclear disarmament, establishment of the Asian security system, [and] development of integration,” Gazeta.kz dutifully quoted him as saying.
This latest tribute follows one erected in Astana in 2009, the Kazakh Eli complex, which also prominently features the president.
The rush to erect monuments to the Leader has also spread beyond Kazakhstan's borders—Turkish officials placed a statue of Nazarbayev in central Ankara in 2010 for his services to the Turkic-speaking world.
Over the last few years, Astana has tried to diversify Kazakhstan’s economy away from the extractive industries. Fearful of over-relying on a sole export, officials have promoted tourism, textiles, construction materials and food processing. It’s not just about oil and gas anymore, at least on paper.
So it’s fortunate that the fertile meadows around the banks of the River Ural (Zhayyk in Kazakh) in West Kazakhstan Region provide ideal growing conditions for another commodity valued abroad, a recent television report noted.
Licorice production has a long tradition in the region, stretching back to the days when Scythian nomads used to sell the processed root as medicine to the ancient Greeks. As the ancients knew, licorice is not only about the flavor: It is widely recognized to treat a range of ailments from the common cold to lung disease.
In Uralsk, the Licorice Kazakhstan Company began to revive this antique industry in 2006, opening its own facility to produce licorice root extract early this year. All the company's production is currently exported to Russia and China, where it is used to flavor candy, tobacco and perfume. The plant hopes to ramp up to 800 metric tons of the sticky black extract per year.
With such a wide range of uses, then, could Kazakhstan be set for another black gold rush?
A giant bird is causing a sensation in its former stomping ground -- Kazakhstan. Working with fossilized pieces of jawbone, a team of scientists, led by Darren Naish at the University of Southampton, has constructed a picture of this oversized fowl, Samrukia nessovi, which lived some 80 million years ago.
Scientists named the Cretaceous creature after the samryk, a mythical phoenix-like bird that features prominently in Kazakh legends, and Lev Nessov, the Soviet palaeontologist who discovered the fossilized remains on one of his forays into the Kyzylkum desert in the 1970s.
The remains somehow found their way to a museum in Belgium where a scientist spotted the unusual pieces on display. In August 2010 Naish and his colleague Gareth Dyke were enlisted to help identify what the bird may have looked like.
The scientists are undecided if the samrukia could fly, but from the size of the jaw, which measures just over 30 centimetres, they have speculated that it may have been a condor-like creature with a massive 4-meter wingspan. If it were flightless, then it may have been 2-3 meters tall and weighed about 50 kilos.
Flags are flying in downtown Almaty to welcome delegates to the upcoming Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States summit. But hang on a minute. You thought there were six Turkic-speaking states? Why, then, are only four flags on display?
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey, who jointly set up this “Turkic Council,” are taking part. Where are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan?
President Nursultan Nazarbayev will host the October 21 summit in Kazakhstan's commercial capital. Kyrgyzstan's Roza Otunbayeva and Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev have RSVP’d their plans to attend, along with representatives from Turkey—Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pulled out on October 19 after violence at home.
The Council was set up in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan, in 2009, with the aim of enhancing links in areas such as trade, energy, education, agriculture and tourism.
In 2010, following the Heads of the Turkic Speaking States summit (yes, another grouping), Ashgabat embraced the Turkic Council enthusiastically, but it has since melted away and is not taking part this week. Tashkent has struck its usual go-away-and-leave-us-alone pose.
So, with delegations from perpetual spoilers Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan out of the picture, could we witness something meaningful come out of the summit? Or will it be just another photo op?
Move over, CO2. Activists in Kazakhstan are joining a global initiative to promote alternatives to the fossil-fuel emissions their country helps pump into the atmosphere. On September 24, events focusing on clean energy and climate change will be held all over Kazakhstan as part of the global Moving Planet rally.
Kazakhstan has prospered over the last decade by exploiting its extensive oil and gas reserves. SUVs long ago replaced horses as the chief means of getting around this vast country.
But many Kazakhstanis are planning to switch to two wheels for the day. The online cyclist community Baiga.kz is organizing races in 25 cities, expecting 10,000 participants to compete in prize categories such as most stylish biker, craziest stunt, and youngest and oldest cyclists.
In Almaty, the Velo Almaty campaign will hold two events focusing on the next generation of bikers: cycling competitions for kids aged 3-7 in the city's central stadium and a painting contest for 3-17-year-olds on the theme of biking as a clean form of transport.
There's also a focus on removing garbage from towns and cities. A group called On the Trail of Cleanliness is gathering volunteers to help spruce up Kazakhstan's garbage-strewn towns and cities by resurrecting the Soviet-era subbotnik, a volunteer cleanup of public spaces.