Voices from Kazakhstan

Today we have the opportunity to know some aspects and information regarding one of the largest countries in the world: Kazakhstan.
We have Adel with us, with whom we will try to make a picture of the geopolitical situation in her country.

Good evening Adel, today we speak a little about your country: Kazakhstan.
This is the first of a serie of interviews that we will do with youngs from all over the world. Are you ready?

Good morning, it’s a pleasure for me to be a part of this project and I am looking forward to answering your questions.

In 1997 the capital of Kazakhstan was moved from Almaty to Astana.
Then in March 2019 the name of the capital city changed from Astana to Nur-Sultan.
Could you explain the reason of these changes?

The first change can be explained by several reasons. First of all, Almaty is located in a seismic zone and therefore prone to earthquakes. Besides that, Astana (now Nur-Sultan) lies in the centre of Kazakhstan while Almaty is situated in the south, not far from borders. In case of political conflicts or wars such location can endanger safety in the capital. Another aim was to bring the northern and the southern parts of the country to balance. At that time the south was overpopulated and faced the highest unemployment rate. Most of the population there was indigenous and lived in the countryside. On the contrary, the number of the Russians in the north exceeded the number of the Kazakhs. The northern regions also excelled in the industrial and economic development. By moving the capital further north and making Akmola (after that it was renamed Astana) the political and economic centre of Kazakhstan, the government aimed to surpass separatism, promote migration to the north and ensure the territorial integrity.

Now let’s talk about changing the name of our capital. As you know, Nursultan Nazarbayev was our one and only President for almost 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He stood at the forefront of the history of Kazakhstan as an independent country and he can take credit for the level that our country has reached. However, we have seen Kazakhstan only under his rule and we have no other president to compare him with.  By renaming the capital Nur-Sultan our current president recognized his predecessor’s contribution, even though not every citizen has approved this decision.

The relationship between Kazakhistan and China in these last years are increasing a lot. In 2013 Xi Jinping declared openly for the first time the OBOR’s Project. He did it in Nursultan.
In your opinion, could this situation help your country to develop, economically and socially speaking?

Many critics argue that through OBOR China menaces national sovereignty and economic independence of  member countries. A good example is the situation with the Coca Codo Sinclair Dam in Ecuador. The loan given by China was too big to pay off and Ecuador ended up providing China with 80% of all produced oil in the country. Another interesting example is the construction of the port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka. Again, it was impossible to pay off the debt and Sri Lankan government had to agree on a 99-year lease of the port by China.

As far as Kazakhstan is concerned, the country is abundant in natural recourses and free land and what’s more, borders on China. Taking into account the situations I have mentioned, we can suppose what economic interests China has in regard to Kazakhstan. Even though my country might benefit from this project by having inflow of investments, I am personally rather skeptical about it. It is also worth mentioning that many Kazakhstani people have an incredulous attitude towards Kazakh-Chinese relations since they believe that China is strengthening its presence in our country. So if it goes too far, it can escalate discontent in the country.

Do you know Khorgos?
It is the biggest dry port of the world, one of the most important infrastructure for the One Road One Belt Initiative. This is located between China and Kazakhstan, because your country is considered a pivot of the euroasian region. Do you think that it could increase the appeal of Nur-Sultan?

I personally have never heard about it. But after doing some research, I learned that Khorgos is a visa-free special economic zone for trade and many people go on so called “shop tours” to Kazakhstan. This initiative might increase the appeal of Nur-Sultan and Kazakhstan in general to neighbor countries, but I don’t think it will make our country a centre of international tourism or trade. EXPO 2017 that took place in Astana had the same aim and failed to make Kazakhstan more popular with the tourists or foreign investors.

The chinese region of Xinjiang contains at least 1.2 millions of kazakh in its territory.
Could the violence and the repression against the muslim uyghurs be also a problem for your country in the next future?
In fact Kazakhistan has about 70% of muslims.
What do you think about the geopolitical context along the east border?

All the people in Kazakhstan heard about the voilence and repression against muslims in China and it applies not only to the uyghurs, but ethnic kazakh people as well. This issue is sometimes addressed by independent media. They reveal stories of the people who lived in the camps that allegedly offer voluntary education and training. If everything these people say about the voilence and brainwashing is true, with no doubt it is a gross human rights violation. Unfortunately, we see no respond from the Kazakh government. I think at some point this situation might escalate into a popular discontent and our government will lose its credibility.

Kazakhistan is the country with the highest number of terroristic attack in Central Asia. In 2016 a big attack happened in Aktobe, with 6 victims.
Are the religious fanatics a reality in the country?
And how is working the government about the security of the people?

In 1990s like any other Post-Soviet country Kazakhstan faced social instability, crisis and the collapse of communist ideology. In these circumstances people were prone to reconsider their religious views and resort to religion. Many unconventional religious movements started spreading as well as sects. My relatives told me stories from that time about people who became sectarians. That was why the government introduced a number of laws to regulate the activity of religious groups. The situation is definitely more under control right now. I don’t think extremist movements are widespread in Kazakhstan, even though media sometimes publish news about counter-terrorism in Kazakhstan and prevented terroristic attacks. We indeed had several attacks in the past years, but you can’t compare them to the ones in Europe. I think the Kazakh government can take credit for that.

Nurly Zhol is designed to turn Kazakhstan into a key Eurasian transport and logistics hub through the modernization of roads, railways and ports, among others projects. More than $40 billion of projects are to be implemented within the Nurly Zhol framework by 2020. The main goal is to reach the top30 economic group of the world before 2050.
Do you think that it could be realistic? And which is the popular opinion about the economic situation right now?

The government has already introduced a new draft of Nurly Zhol in which they extended the deadline to 2025. And even with a prolonged time frame the project seems impossible to carry out: my friend travels across the Kazakhstan quite often and she says that roads are far from being in a good condition. As for railways, we still have the majority of trains left from the time of the Soviet Union. The project looks promising, but it will definitely require much more time.

Speaking about the economic situation in Kazakhstan in general, I would say that most of the population are not quite satisfied with it. Even though our country has the strongest economy in Central Asia, the major complaint is that our export mainly consists of commodities and raw materials. Our economy particularly suffers from the slumps in oil prices as, for example, after the spread of coronavirus. In Soviet times many enterprises and plants were built in Kazakhstan, but most of them are abandoned now. That’s why many Kazakhstani people think that we should focus more on industrial development and producing value-added products.

How are the relationships with your geographical neightbours (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan)?

Since the time countries in Central Asia gained independence the relations between them were sometimes strained. Nevertheless, all the countries have done a lot in the past several years to promote regional integration and settle political and territorial disputes. The countries used to mostly cooperate at bilateral level, but in March 2018 the first in nearly a decade Central Asian summit was held in Astana. A year after Tashkent hosted the second summit which was first attended by all five presidents. I would say the situation in the region is better than it has ever been. Kazakhstan already cooperates with Kyrgyzstan through the EAEU and with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan through the SDO. I think in the near future we will see new ways of integration within the region.

In February 2020 Aisultan Nazarbayev – the nephew of the former president Nursultan Nazarbayev – revealed a scoop regarding a round of corruption between the local government and Russia, particularly with the Gazprom Company. What do you think about this case?

To be honest, no one in Kazakhstan was surprised by these statements. Corruption is and has always been one of the major problems in both countries, especially at the state level. We cannot be sure that everything said by Aisultan is true simply due to the lack of evidence.  But he probably has grounds to expose his family.

Which is your opinion on the new president – Kassym-Jomart Tokayev?
What are the main challenges he will face?

I think his main challenge was to make the whole country believe that the presidential transition really happened and we will see Kazakhstan with a new governance. However, Nursultan Nazarbayev still has a huge power and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev himself admits that he always listens to ex-president’s opinion.  Moreover, Mr. Tokayev didn’t appear all of a sudden: he had been Chairman of the Senate of Kazakhstan and served as Prime Minister before, so he tightly linked to Nursultan Nazarbayev.  It’s no surprise that after a year of his presidency Kazakhstan has not seen any drastic changes. Our country faces a lot of challenges: how to make our economy more effective, strengthen democracy, create prosperity etc. But since the current president mostly continues his predecessor’s policy, nothing will change.


Thank you for your time and your availability Adel.
It was a pleasure for us.

Thank you for your interesting questions and good luck with your project.

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