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.
After being named and shamed earlier this year as the worst offender for unpaid parking tickets in London, Kazakhstan's diplomats have finally buckled and agreed to settle up almost $60,000 for 627 parking violations.
But that’s only a fraction of the Kazakhs’ debt to the city. In January authorities identified Astana’s representatives as owing $300,000 generated from 1,715 tickets. One Kazakhstani diplomat was singled out as the most prolific offender: The BMW 318i driver clocked more than $85,000 in unpaid fines with 471 tickets.
London’s Westminster Council, which is chasing more than $1,500,000 in unpaid tickets from diplomats, has had huge problems trying to get the cash from the embassy community, where 'diplomatic immunity' is often cited as a defense for violating parking regulations.
"No one likes getting a parking ticket but most motorists play fair and either pay the fine or follow the appeals process. It's time these diplomats started to respect the rules of the road in the UK, and stopped thinking they can do what they like at the expense of our taxpayers,” said Westminster's parking supremo Lee Rowley.
It looks like cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov's long career may have come to an abrupt end. Kazakhstan’s star 37-year-old Tour de France competitor crashed out of the race on July 10 in spectacular fashion, while having one last try at cycling's most coveted prize. With him, Kazakhstan’s dreams of a win were firmly dashed, for this year.
Vinokourov spoke of his disappointment in a statement on the Team Astana's website: "I never expected such a dramatic end on the Tour de France. This is a terrible disappointment to me, I am so sad tonight. But I want to reassure me by telling me that it could have been much worse. The injury will stop me for quite a long time, and I will follow the Tour on television to support the entire Astana team. I know my friends of the team won’t forget me and they will do everything to win at least one stage."
The Team Astana leader was at the head of the pack when he was driven into a ravine during a steep mountain descent. He ended up with a fractured right thighbone after he was forced off course by another rider's crash as they were rounding a slippery corner.
Astana's Republican Velodrome: Could this become Sting's hornet nest? (Photo: Paul Bartlett)
Last year, Sting found himself embroiled in a media controversy for reportedly accepting over $1 million from “dictator’s [other] daughter” Gulnara Karimova to perform at a $1,000-plus-per-head event in Tashkent. Though he later repudiated the regime of “medieval, tyrannical” Islam Karimov, the former Police front man is now heading back to Central Asia for what’s certain to be another lavish affair.
This time, the destination is Astana, where Sting will perform July 4 to celebrate the anniversary of Kazakhstan’s nouveau capital. Astana goes into party mode around this time of year with three days of public holidays culminating in the July 6 anniversary of the city becoming the seat of government in 1998. And by a remarkable coincidence, July 6 also happens to be President Nursultan Nazarbayev's birthday.
Nazarbayev loves to throw a big birthday/anniversary party with headliner concerts. Artists who have performed for the Leader of the Nation in the past include Placido Domingo, Julio Iglesias, and Whitney Houston, who gave an unforgettably awful performance in 2008. Sting will perform in Astana's Republican Velodrome, a futuristic building shaped like a pro-cyclist's helmet.
The concert is part of Sting's ongoing Symphonicity world tour, which has been on the road since 2009. Sting will be performing a selection of his old favorites, rehashed with a symphony.
English-language learners in Kazakhstan now have a novel way to increase their word power. The British Council, the UK’s international cultural relations body, has teamed up with Kcell, Kazakhstan's largest mobile network operator, to provide subscribers with English vocabulary lessons by SMS text message.
For five cents a day, learners receive a new word in their inboxes. The word arrives with Kazakh and Russian translations and a sample phrase. At the end of the week users -- who can choose among three difficulty levels -- get a progress test.
The new scheme feeds into Astana's “Trinity of Languages” program, which envisages all school graduates able to communicate equally well in Kazakh, Russian and English. Kazakhstan is keen to promote itself as open to international investment and sees a multilingual workforce as essential to those credentials.
The authorities in Astana are facing an uphill struggle to promote the uptake of Kazakh, the country’s official language, however. Maybe they could take a leaf out of the British Council's book and use similar innovative methods to popularize Kazakh among the legions of cellphone-savvy adolescents.
Grigoriy Marchenko, chief of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, has emerged as a surprise contender for the hot seat at the International Monetary Fund. The previous head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, stepped down this week amid allegations he attacked a hotel maid in New York.
The CIS Heads of Government Council put Marchenko's candidacy forward at their summit in Minsk on May 19 as the preferred candidate on behalf of the post-Soviet Union bloc. He received further endorsement from Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Karim Masimov at the EBRD's annual gathering in Astana on May 20.
Marchenko, 52, is a career banker who has done time inside both state and private banks. At the helm of the Kazakhstan's central bank since January 2009, and from 1999 to 2004, CIS bank chiefs see him as a safe pair of hands. Since resuming that position, he has carefully steered the Kazakh economy through the global financial crisis and overseen a series of controversial bank bailouts.
Given the basket-case economies of the other CIS member states, Marchenko looks like a rational choice. Though by tradition the IMF's top job is reserved for a European -- with the World Bank top slot reserved for Americans -- there have been some calls to break this European stranglehold. A candidate from Kazakhstan, which straddles both Europe and Asia, could provide a suitable compromise.
Up-and-coming movie directors will be in the spotlight this week as Almaty hosts its ninth-annual international film festival, Shaken’s Stars.
The event highlights the work of young filmmakers from Kazakhstan, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Austria, England and a host of other countries. Some 55 films will be competing in three categories--Young Cinema, made by directors under 35, Student Cinema, and Debuts.
The festival has become a regular spring event for Almaty's film buffs. Named after Shaken Aimanov, a leading light in Soviet-era Kazakh cinema, whose name also graces the 'Kazakhfilm' studios in Almaty, the event runs May 11-15 at the Silk Way City multiplex.
This year there will be a special focus on new cinema from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Eight films produced in the country in the past year will be featured in a separate showcase running alongside the main program.
Graced with images of a steelworker, an athlete, OSCE banners and the Astana skyline at night, the Foreign Ministry's book echoes the cover of the American academic's 2002 tome. But inside, where Brill Olcott painted an unflattering view of Kazakhstan and its leaders, the Foreign Ministry has collected articles praising the country's progress since it gained independence in 1991.
A trawl of Almaty bookshops failed to come up with a copy of the book. It's either been very popular or is being reserved as a special Foreign Ministry freebie for distinguished visitors. According to the ministry website, the articles in the book focus on Kazakhstan’s achievements in areas such as nation building and developing a market economy and have been authored by ministers, heads of major international organizations, presidents of companies and -- servile, we assume -- foreign journalists.
Demolition work has begun on central Tashkent's Bank Land, a failed, futuristic business center that has stood empty since its completion in 2005. With its brown marble façade and gold columns, the building was one of the most ridiculed architectural achievements – though it had ample competition – in Uzbekistan’s capital.
Work started on the building in 2002. But by the time it was completed, Uzbekistan’s business climate had turned moribund: In the aftermath of the Andijan massacre in May 2005, foreign investment in the country dried up and the owners of Bank Land were left with a costly, and empty, white elephant.
As the years passed and still no tenants moved in, Bank Land lost its shine and became just another post-Soviet eyesore. Recently, workers set up fences decorated with forest scenes around the building and the demolition began.
Bank Land must have been an expensive folly. Local journalists’ attempts to track down who actually owned the building drew blanks, however. Business directories list the center, but the web pages contain no information.
When the gaudy building first appeared, its name written in English, jokes started doing the rounds that Bank Land would house a theme park dedicated to the banking industry. At the time, ATMs were a rare sight in Tashkent and even banks seemed to belong to the future. Bank Land would be the place where people could see ATMs and modern banking in action.
Visitors to Kazakhstan know the country’s roads are not the world’s safest. Speeding, widespread drunk driving, and just plan bad street sense cause carnage on the best of days. But in the west of this vast country, there’s another hazard to be on the lookout for – stray camels.
On April 3, the 23-year-old driver of a speeding Opel Vectra managed to kill himself and one camel when he collided with a herd of these galumphing ships of the desert. His three passengers absconded from the scene and were later apprehended when they turned up at a hospital seeking treatment.
The accident occurred in Aktobe Region in Western Kazakhstan, where camels are still prized as a mark of wealth – one camel can be worth upward of $3,000. Camel meat is popular, as is shubat, fermented camel milk. With one ungulate dead and six injured, it was an expensive and tragic night out for all concerned.