Category Archives: Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan: Seniors Need Your Help this Holiday Season

Making Connections in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan: Give a Meal to a Senior This Holiday Season
This is Part 4 of the Skyline Stories series “Making Connections in Kazakhstan.”
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December 7, 2009

Dear [Name],

Growing up in this neighborhood has imbued me with a rich sense of community and helping others.

This summer, I participated in a volunteer service trip sponsored by New York University. During the trip, we traveled to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, where we helped rebuild a community center, made arts and crafts with children and cleaned the homes of seniors.

One of these seniors was Yulia Mednikova, whose apartment we cleaned. The 75-year-old former biology researcher is now a widow, living in a dilapidated apartment building. Her poor eyesight and ailments make it difficult to leave her apartment.

Resident of Almaty, Kazakhstan

Yuliya Mednikova, a 75-year-old widow living in Almaty, displays a picture (probably from the 1970s) when she was a soil specialist at Kazakhstan's Institute for Farming.

Two months before we arrived, the community center had found her and cleaned her apartment for the first time in five years. In addition, they provide her with an aide who visits several times a month and delivers meals.

“Thank you for visiting me,” she told us as we left. “It is good to know that people halfway around the world care about me.”

These community centers provide invaluable services and enriching learning environments, serving hot meals for seniors, holding winter clothing drives and giving language lessons to children.

In 2010, these community centers are slated to provide services for more than 1,800 seniors, including 80 for the “Meals on Wheels” program. Already we students have raised several thousand dollars. Our goal is to raise $7,000, which would provide half of the seniors with with one meal per week for one year.

As the holiday season approaches, we are reminded about the power of miracles. Similarly, you can help give these Kazakhstanis a holiday miracle. Though we gladly accept any donation, we suggest that you give $30 – the cost of giving one meal to half of the seniors who need them.

Please send your check to me by December 21st. You may make it out to “NYU.” I will hand-deliver your check to New York University in January. [You will receive a separate thank you card from NYU.]

Thank you for your consideration and hope you have happy holidays!

Sincerely,

Stephen Baron

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Kazakhstan: Thousands of Ethnic Groups in Exile

Making Connections in Kazakhstan

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Zhibek Zholy, the main pedestrian mall in Kazakhstan’s largest city of Almaty, is bustling with activity on a sweltering August afternoon.

Zhibek Zholy

Korean telecommunications giant LG sponsored the entrance to Almaty's main shopping district of Zhibek Zholy.

Under the large neon sign for LG, the Korean telecommunications company, stalls sell clothing, food and drinks and cellphone plans. The Silk Way City Mall beckons shoppers, where several floors are packed with tourist wares made in China, only 322 km (200 mi) away.

Oil Paintings on Zhibek Zholy in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Oil Paintings on Zhibek Zholy in Almaty, Kazakhstan

One street vendor hawks allegedly authentic Soviet-era pins out of a briefcase, deftly replacing the set from his pocket after each sale. Homemade oil paintings line one block, portraying small yurts amid green valleys and snowcapped mountains.

On one corner is the 4A Coffee Shop, which beats Starbucks for its great coffee, western-style desserts (the carrot cake is delicious!) and sandwiches and low-key atmosphere. Owner Alan Draper moved here in 2005 after marrying a Kazakhstani woman, and opened the coffee shop in 2007. Despite challenges in importing coffee beans, the coffee quality is superb. The shop is popular for international travelers.

Alan Draper, 4A Coffee in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Alan Draper, an American from Texas who married a Kazakh woman, opened 4A Coffee Shop in February 2007. The Western-style cafe is a popular storefront on Zhibek Zholy, the main shopping district in Almaty.

What is most striking to me is the diversity of the shoppers: Central Asian Kazakhs with darker features, East Asians and whites with blond hair and green eyes — who could be of Russian, Polish or German ethnicity. But most people appear to be some mix. In a country of 16 million people, there are more than 120 ethnicities, and residents say intermarriage has become more common in the past 10 years.

The country has more than 2,000 religious groups, according to the Kazakhstan President’s Foreign Investors’ Council. More than half the country are largely-secular Muslims, and about 40 percent are Eastern-Orthodox Russians, and there is a small but long-standing Jewish community.

Russian settlers in Kazakhstan, 1911.

Russian settlers in Kazakhstan, 1911. / Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

But they did not wind up in the steppes of Central Asia by accident. Rather, most Kazakhstanis were sent here in exile by the Soviet government.

“In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution began a process of nation building,” said New York University Prof. in a lecture in April 2009. “The USSR government was terrified with the Muslim concentration, so they wanted to break them up. During World War II when Jews evacuated Europe, many came to Kazakhstan.”

Hundreds of thousands of Russians came in three different time periods: during industrialization in the 1920s, forced here during World War II, and during the Virgin Lands Campaign to farm the land in the 1950s, according to the BBC.

Korean soldiers in Far East Russia, c. 1930  / Koryo Saram

Korean soldiers in Far East Russia, c. 1930 / Koryo Saram

In the 1930s, Joseph Stalin forced nearly 200,000 Koreans from Far Eastern USSR to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to Koryo Saram, who co-directed the film “The Unreliable People” (2007) about the Korean exodus to the country.

Kazakhstan's President Nazarbayev

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev at an Almaty ministerial meeting of UNESCAP in 2007.

Despite the potential for ethnic tension, especially during the Georgia-Russia conflict in 2008, the country has remained “in a delicate ethnic balance,” Estriakh says.

Residents say the main reason is that unlike strict Muslim governments in nearby countries like Uzbekistan, the secular Kazakhstani government allows everyone to celebrate their religious holidays. There has also been government stability, with President Nursultan Nazarbayev in power since independence in 1991. •

Kazakhstan: Geography: From the Silk Road to Skiing

Making Connections in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan: Geography: From the Silk Road to Skiing
This is Part 2 of the Skyline Stories series “Making Connections in Kazakhstan.”
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ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Stepping off the Aerosvitt jet at the Almaty International Airport at dawn, I was struck by the natural beauty of the region — it looked like a painting, with the snowcapped Tian Shan Mountains and forests stretching along the horizon. Elsewhere in the country are forests, lakes, canyons and prehistoric glaciers, the Times reports.

Almaty International Airport, Kazakhstan

Stepping off the plane at Almaty International Airport, roughly at dawn. Air Astana is a Kazakhstani airline, Astana is the country's capital. The snowcapped mountains in the background are probably the Tian Shan mountain range.

Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth-largest nation by size, and Saudi Aramco World says it’s five times the size of France:

“It stretches about 3000 kilometers (1875 mi) from the Altai Mountains in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west, and about 2000 kilometers (1250 mi) from the southern Ural Mountains in the north to the Tien Shan Mountains in the south.”

Map of Kazakhstan

Map of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan was also an important part of the Silk Road that linked China to Europe, the New York Times says, and the country has “museum-quality ruins and architecture from the Middle Ages.”

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The history of civilization in Kazakhstan goes as far back as the Iron Age, writes the magazine Saudi Aramco World. The earliest finds of archeologists indicate settlements in the steppe in the Neolithic and Late Neolithic periods (8000-2000 BC).

A significant number of the ancient caravan routes that linked China with the countries of the Near East and Europe, collectively known today as the Silk Roads, crossed Central Asia at various times from the third century BC all the way to the 19th century of our era.

All along the Silk Roads, towns and cities developed in whose noisy and colorful markets the din of dozens of languages could be heard. Archeologists in Kazakhstan continue to discover today coins, statues, vases, textiles, decorations and other artifacts that originated in India, Byzantium, Persia and China.

The first Kazakh state emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries, on the ruins of the Mongol empire.

In the colonial era, the great natural wealth of raw materials in the Kazakh lands attracted the Russian Empire. Kazakhstan, in addition, represented a tremendous market for Russian manufactured goods, offered “empty” territories for expansion, and lay on the route to the wealth of Samarkand and Bukhara and further to the India of legend.
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Western visitors came in the 19th century, per the Times:
“William Moorcroft of the British East India Company, one of the first Westerners to visit the region in the 19th century, found the steppes exotic and lawless. His Russian rival, Mehkti Rafailov, had been escorted by a troop of Cossacks when he explored here.”

Now the visitors are businesspeople, who ski or explore the nature preserves on the outskirts of Almaty, the Times continues.

Kazakhstan: Tulpan, Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Amazing Film on the Country’s Nomadic Shepherds

Making Connections in Kazakhstan
Tulpan, Amazing Film on the Country’s Nomadic Shepherds
This is Part 1 of the Skyline Stories series “Making Connections in Kazakhstan.”
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Tulpan Film Poster

Saw the amazing Kazakhstani film “Tulpan” at Film Forum this week. (Update: Now on DVD.) Set in the windswept “Hunger Steppe” of southern Kazakhstan, the film follows Asa, a young man who returns home from military service with the Navy to his family of nomadic shepherds. He intends to court Tulpan, the area’s only woman who can be married.

The film, shot with mostly non-professional actors and natural effects — including a 10-minute sheep birthing scene, is part ethno-drama, part coming-of-age tale. It won the 2008 Cannes Film Festival’s Prix Un Certain Regard for “original and different” work.

In a post-screening interview with Film at Lincoln Center during the 2009 New York Film Festival, director Sergei Dvortsevoy said, “All audiences loved the film, but some officials said this was worse than Borat, very bad for Kazakhstan. They ask, ‘Why you want to present to the world Kazakhstan as a poor country?'”

Dvortsevoy continues on the filming process:

“I asked the family to live together one month before the shooting in the yurt, him working as a shepherd, her as a mother to look after children, prepare everything and cook. That’s why you see children so natural, it’s like family.

“The shepherd is an opera singer in real life from Almaty. Samal [Esljamova] (who plays Samal) is a professional theatrical actress, but she was 19 years old, so it was hard for her to cook, live on the step, look after children, because she was just a child herself.”

So…I knew that Kazakhstan will not be like Borat, and I don’t think Almaty will be like this, either. What will the trip be like?

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This is Part 1 of the Skyline Stories series “Making Connections in Kazakhstan.”