Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Zhanaozen Violence Is Symptomatic of Larger Issue of Labor Unrest

The outbreak of violence between striking oil workers and police in the Caspian town of Zhanaozen reflects a larger issue of labor unrest and wealth disparity. Zhanaozen is neither a new Arab Spring nor is it the beginning of a widespread pro-democracy uprising in Kazakhstan. Labor unrest represents the most significant domestic hurdle to political stability.

The timeline of Zhanaozen events I compiled for Central Asia Newswire last week reveals how the December 16th  violence was an unfortunate explosion to a labor dispute in the works for several months. Violent clashes between striking workers and police broke out in Zhanaozen a few months earlier. On October 27, 2011, RFE/RL reported a striking worker was shot by a rubber-bullet from Zhanaozen police forces.

Labor unrest in the oil-rich Western Kazakhstan is a recurring narrative, particularly over the past ten years.

In August 2005, oil workers for Aktobemunaigaz protested against the new corporate structure after he Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) acquired a 60% stake in the company.

In 2010, KazMunaiGaz employees went on strike to protest potential pay cuts, demand new executive management and request a new chairman of the trade union.

In May 2011, workers at Karazhanbasmunai, another Kazakh-Chinese joint venture, went on strike to demand better wages and official recognition of their trade union. According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), one striking Karazhanbasmunai employee cited the success of strikes in Zhanaozen, where the wages for Ozenmunaigaz employees increased after massive protests. One Karazhanbasmunai protester was claimed to receive half the compensation of his counterpart at Ozenmunaigaz.

The IWPR article details additional labor strikes against Ersai Caspian Contractor and Aktobemunaigaz. Employee compensation, working conditions, labor-management relations and the legality of trade unions are recurring issues in workers’ strikes against oil companies in Western Kazakhstan.

For a newly independent state developing its economy and government like Kazakhstan, labor issues in the extractive industries sector are to be expected – it is a phase of history. Many countries have faced similar issues. In 1892, workers at the Carnegie Steel Company in Homestead, Pennsylvania staged a lockout and strike against the company’s leadership. The workers demanded improved wages and official recognition of their union. Eventually, the strike resulted in a violent standoff between the workers and the Pinkertons, a private fighting force. As Kazakhstan’s economy develops, the Nazarbayev regime must work with oil companies to mitigate labor issues in the extractive industries sector, particularly in Western Kazakhstan. For all economic sectors, employees’ rights, benefits and wages should be the top priority to policymakers in Kazakhstan.

To give credit where credit is due, the Kazakhstan government has taken considerable actions to accept accountability in the aftermath of Zhanaozen. The government has invited the United Nations to participate in an investigation into the Zhanaozen events. After receiving criticism that the regime is cracking down on Internet access, they permitted bloggers to tour Zhanaozen (granted, the government organized the trip and selected the bloggers). Additionally, President Nazarbayev reshuffled the executive management of Samruk-Kazyna, firing son-in-law Timur Kulibayev as head of the $78 billion sovereign wealth fund. According to Tengriz News, Kulibayev’s petition to resign cited the events in Zhanaozen as a primary reason for his departure. First Deputy Prime Minister Umirzak Shukeyev will replace Kulibayev as head of Samruk-Kazyna. In The Oil and the Glory, Steve Levine makes an excellent point that this is not the first time President Nazarbayev has fired Timur Kulibayev. Rather, Kulibayev’s career is a series of fires and re-hires from positions in finance, energy and infrastructure firms. Still, the timing of the Zhanaozen events following the Arab Spring and in the middle of the Moscow riots, Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary of independence and before a parliamentary election, render the ousting of Kulibayev particularly notable.

When compared to Al-Assad’s repression of protesters in Syria or Karimov’s ousting of NGOs following the Andijan violence in 2005, President Nazarbayev has taken significant steps to maximize transparency and accountability. Moving forward, the Nazarbayev regime must ensure free and transparent parliamentary elections in January that produce multi-party representation in the Mazhilis and a thorough investigation with the UN into the Zhanaozen events.

The December 16th clashes in Zhanaozen are an extreme situation of a labor dispute. As illustrated by the 1892 Homestead strikes, the Zhanaozen events are tragic, but they are not unprecedented in the context of world history. The Nazarbayev regime must follow through on its commitment to transparency and accountability during the investigation into the events. Above all, the regime must make workers’ rights, entitlements and salaries in all sectors of the economy, a domestic policy priority.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What to Make of Zhanozen....

The Twittersphere has been busier than ever raging on about the events in Zhanaozen! On December 16, violent clashes occurred between oil workers and police forces during celebrations in honor of Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary of independence. While there are various versions of the Zhenaozen events and few people know with certainty what occurred, what is clear is that the riots themselves and the reaction of the government and civil society groups indicates the political fault lines that will materialize during the eventual transition of the presidency.

According to official reports by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington, D.C., a group of “hooligans” attacked a peaceful celebration in the center of Zhenaozen, attacking police forces, destroying a yurt and setting on fire a police bus and beating up innocent civilians. Then, according to an official statement by the Ambassador, “in response to the demands of the police to stop their illegal actions, the group of hooligans attacked police officers seeking to seize their weapons. Yet, the police officers did not allow that to happen.” This is not an entirely inaccurate account of the events. To the credit of the Embassy of Kazakhstan, they are regularly updating their timeline of events and issuing statements by the Ambassador. Ambassador Idrissov is even hosting a press conference today in Washington, D.C. to answer questions on Zhenaozen from reporters. 

According to Human Rights Watch, on the morning of December 16th, between 100 to 150 strikers gathered peacefully on Zhanaozen’s central square, where celebrations were scheduled to occur (and where they have been on strike for several months). Around noon, a group of young men stormed the stage and unleashed the chaos that has since been reported by the Kazakh government and international media sources. Police forces responded with force. Some reports claim that the police used tear gas and fired directly at unarmed civilians. The government shut down the internet and mobile towers, prohibiting individuals from tweeting, texting, emailing or Youtube-ing details of the events to the outside world (even though all of the above eventually occurred). As of December 21st, official figures report that there were fifteen casualties, 110 wounded and forty-six buildings burned. Other sources indicate that there were upwards of seventy casualties and 700 to 800 wounded.

Zhanaozen was not a random occurrence. For over six months, approximately 1,000 employees of Ozenmunaigaz have been on strike, demanding higher salaries and improved working conditions. Astana viewed the dispute as a conflict between the company and its employees. Unfortunately, failure to resolve the dispute culminated in the events on December 16th.

Zhanaozen is now under a state of emergency until January 5th, ten days before the parliamentary elections. The deadline for the nomination of candidates was December 5th and the deadline for submission of party lists was December 15th. The official campaign period began on December 16th and ends on midnight, January 13th. Thus, for most of the campaign period, Zhanoazen is under a state of emergency. It will be particularly interesting to see the results of the elections in Magistrau province. A sweeping Nur-Otan victory will provoke suspicion and potentially protests, as few will judge the results as credible. While I do not know the candidates and party representatives from Magistrau, in light of recent events and Western Kazakhstan’s reputation as a more religious and politically conservative region, Nur-Otan will likely not perform will in this region. It is worth following the campaign period in this region and how government authorities, Ozenmunaigaz officials, workers and civil society organizations behave during the pre-election periods and how the votes reflect the desires of the people.

So, what to make of all of this?

First, while we do not yet know for sure, the group of 20 to 30 young men who stormed the stage were probably not acting on behalf of the 1,000 oil workers on strike. They were young, adrenaline-driven men who reached a boiling point and attacked. They appeared to have organized within themselves. Having lost family members and living under a state of emergency, most civilians are stressed by the events and did not want a violent clash to occur on a national holiday. It is not fair to associate the group of young men who attacked the stage with the entire labor movement. If the clashes at Zhenaozen were reflective of the entire body of oil workers, then we would have seen more civilians take up arms. At the same time, the wealth inequality between the politically well-connected titans of extractive industry and the Kazakh middle and lower classes is massive and growing. Wages for government employees and all workers need to appreciate to keep up with inflation.

Second, given that the men stormed the stage, thereby provoking violence, it is only natural for the police to respond in self-defense with force. By definition, the police are responsible for maintaining public order and enforcing the law. However, what appears to have occurred at Zhenaozen is a disproportionate and over-aggressive use of force by the police against innocent civilians. Videos of the riots on Youtube show the police shooting at innocent civilians running in the opposite direction. Currently, 10,000 troops are stationed in the city. As of December 19, over 700 people have been arrested by Kazakhstan police forces, with more arrests likely to continue in the coming days.  

Third, the government of Kazakhstan must take responsibility for the events at Zhenaozen by acting with transparency in the international diplomatic arena, and ensuring a free and fair election, and electoral processes, in January. The government’s crackdown on Internet and mobile telephone use is directly out of the authoritarian toolbox. Prohibiting the entry of foreign reporters in Zhenaozen and confiscating the laptops and phones of those who enter further discredit the regime. At the same time, the government claims to maintain transparency by sending out press releases. In order to demonstrate the regime’s true commitment to establishing a multiparty democracy where citizens can freely and peacefully organize, the regime must carry out free, transparent and credible elections. A sweeping Nur-Otan victory will only provoke more resistance from disgruntled Kazakhs. Manufacturing the election results will also discredit the regime’s commitment to political pluralism and transparency. Nazarbayev must prove now that he is ready to oversee the devolution of power and allocate increased legislative autonomy to the Mazhilis and Senate while enabling the Kazakh polity to elect their representatives.

Finally, I disagree with claims equating the events in Zhanaozen with the Arab Spring, but argue that there is a nascent, but burgeoning, movement in Kazakhstan pushing for political liberalization. First, the riots in Egypt and Tunisia were sparked by elections. This was an Independence Day event used pro-reform civil society organizations to make a statement. When I posted this on twitter, @KazakhSpring replied: “It's not small when it spreads to several cities. And it is not small to the families of the 15-50 dead #zhanoezen.” Clearly, there are some people in Kazakhstan who are disgruntled with the status quo and seek to use grassroots mobilization techniques to implement political change. Granted, smaller riots occurred in Almaty and Atyrau. When I wrote to my friends in Astana and Almaty inquiring about the events at Zhenaozen, most of them lacked details and only knew there were some riots and the Internet was cut off.

At the same time, do not underestimate the Zhanaozen events as an isolated incident. The English-language, anonymous website KazakhSpring.org, calls for “freedom and democracy rising in Kazakhstan.” The group “KazakhSpring” appears to be mimicking the social media tactics used in the Arab Spring and Green Revolution in Iran a year and a half earlier. As of December 21, @KazakhSpring had fourteen followers on Twitter, which is not a reliable indicator since most Kazakhs do not use Twitter. Similarly, the group created a Facebook page on December 17. As of December 21st, they have three followers. I also searched “Жанаозен” on Bkontakte.ru and found multiple users with an image of a black ribbon and the city name vertically aligned (see image below). This image appears to be more of a memorial in commemoration for love ones who died in the riots. But I caution, invoking an expression of one of my Georgetown professors, “watch this space.”

All in all, while it is extremely early to make a conclusion about the Zhenaozen events, I argue that the riots are symptomatic of divisions within the polity that stem from wealth inequality. These political fault lines will be fully exposed when Nazarbayev transitions power to a new President. For now, I send my condolences to the families of loved ones who died in Zhenaozen and hope for the best for all of Kazakhstan’s people.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kazakhstan's 20th Anniversary of Independence!

Dear Readers,

I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere this semester. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to update The Sholk Road Adventures with at least one post per week. So, in an attempt to get a jump start on my resolution and procrastinate studying for my last final exam, I am writing this post....

Alas, on December 16th, Kazakhstan will celebrate twenty years of independence. Congratulations! Kazakhstan is the preeminent political and economic country in Central Asia. The country has been blessed with relative stability and economic development. While there is always room for further reforms, particularly in the areas of corruption, economic diversification and determining succession in government, the country's leadership deserves credit for managing the transition from Soviet republic to sovereign state.

Of course, twenty years of independence merits a fabulous celebration in the new capital. Independence day is a national holiday and according to my friend who works in Astana, all government employees receive four days of vacation. There are many events throughout the city, including a concert, the opening of a new mosque and the inauguration of the Astana Arc de Triumphe. The new mosque, which I saw while it was still under construction in July, is located across the street from the Palace of Peace and Accord, just a few blocks from the Nur-Astana Mosque.

As I detailed in my previous blog post on Astana, the city is filled with new monuments, with each one more grandiose than the last. What better way to celebrate a 20th birthday than to construct another new national monument in Astana, called the "Arc of Triumph?" The Arc is somewhat ironic in that Kazakhstan did not have to fight for independence - no armies were mobilized and no blood was shed to gain nationhood (in fact at the time of independence, the country was overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining the Soviet Union). In fact, the last time Kazakh soldiers fought in a war was during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In comparison to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which was constructed to commemorate Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz, the Astana Arc celebrates statehood. Granted, there are Arcs in New York and Rome, but the Parisian Arc commemorating military victory is undoubtedly the most well-known. While I understand why Kazakhstan would construct a new monument to commemorate twenty years of independence, I am puzzled by the choice of an Arc. Perhaps a different monument would be more tasteful, and representative of Kazakhstan's multi-vectored foreign policy.

Aesthetically, the Astana Arc strangely combines elements of classical architecture with national Kazakh symbols. The Arc bears a striking resemblance to its Parisian predecessor with its Roman archway and ivory tint. Traditional Kazakh, arabesque-like motifs line the Arch's alcoves. A statue of a soldier in a victorious pose and a replica bronze cauldron of the one in Yasawi's mausoleum in Turkestan  are set in alcoves on the front of the Arc. The soldier, with his stance in a classic contraposto pose, modern military uniform and rifle flanked on his back, asserts Kazakhstan's hard power. His aggression is so ironic, given that Kazakh people are the most benevolent and gracious people you will ever meet. Over the cauldron, hang tablets with Kazakh text. The country's coat of arms are positioned in pairs on the top, overlooking the city. While I have yet to observe the Astana Arc de Triumph in person, based on other monuments I observed in Astana and Almaty, the new Arc appears to resemble the "national monument style" that is a bizarre hybrid of European classicism with steppe accents and pre-Soviet Kazakh symbology.

To all my Kazakh friends, congratulations on twenty years of independence!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Article on Central Asian Newswire

It is already October 4! Where did September go!? As I am currently in the heat of midterms, I unfortunately lack the time to detail all of the exciting political events in Central Asia. For the rest of this month, the Kyrgyz presidential elections will dominate the region's news. Here is an article I wrote for Central Asian Newswire, "Securing the borders for Kyrgyzstan's Presidential Elections." Enjoy-- thank you!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Central Asia at the UN

Alas, it is that time of the year when world leaders flock to New York City to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) annual high level meeting. The September event is one of the only opportunities for heads of states, from America to Zimbabwe, to gather in the same space, at the same time to engage in an inclusive dialogue and debate on the status of the international order and future issues to be addressed.

Granted, the annual spectacle also showcases the diversity in sanity, perspective and personal charisma of the world's leaders, from Ahmadinejad to Qaddafi and Chavez. Foreign Policy Magazine has a fantastic photo essay "When They Were Kings," highlighting some memorable UN General Assembly speeches. The FP feature excludes some great historical moments, such as when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the delegate desk at the 902nd UNGA in 1960, protesting the speech by the delegate from the Philippines.

Charismatic, comedic leaders aside, the UNGA meeting crystallizes the numerous challenges and diversity of interests in the international community. Leaders know that what they say at the UNGA bears considerable weight. They have the ear of literally the entire international community. The importance of this cannot be underestimated.

The speeches by Central Asian leaders illustrate cross-cutting themes of concerns for regional security and infrastructure and economic development. President Nazarbayev discussed the need for increased cyber-security. Domestically, Kazakhstan aggressively combats cyber-threats and has banned many blogs including Blogger, WordPress and LiveJournal.  In fact, I did not have access to The Sholk Road Adventures site the entire time I was in Kazakhstan. Prior to my departure, I set up Blogger so that I could email in my blog posts. The government is concerned about the role of blogs as a source of extremist information that promulgates radical and potentially destabilizing information. These worries are not entirely unjustified, especially following the "Arab Spring." Members of the April 6th movement in Egypt collaborated with organizers of the nonviolent Serbian youth movement, as documented in a PBS Frontline documentary.  The Kazakh government is implementing additional cyber-security measures. A new government regulation introduced in June requiring websites to have servers in Kazakhstan prompted Google to withdraw their operations in the country. Now, Google searches in Kazakhstan are routed through Google.ru. Kazakhstan is not the only state concerned about the internet as a source of instability. Uzbekistan recently launched a state-controlled social networking site to supplant Facebook.

Central Asia received other special attention at the UN. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with President Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan to discuss regional issues and continued support for the UN Regional Centre for Preventative Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA). Security is the most important issue facing Central Asia. For more details and analysis, please read an article I co-authored in Central Asian Newswire on Central Asia in the Age of Global Terrorism.

In his speech to the UNGA, the Turkmen President highlighted the importance of investing in infrastructure and energy development. I recently wrote an article for Central Asian Newswire on the need to increase regional infrastructure networks and was pleased to see the President address this issue at the UNGA.

I hope that the rhetoric at the UN materializes in efficient and effective policies and is not forgotten in the coffers of history as yet another ignored call to action.  But in light of the debate on Palestinian statehood and the focus on the Middle East, I am not holding my breath hoping for Central Asia.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Transportation Networks in Central Asia

Greetings Comrades! My sincere apologies for the lack of posts the past two weeks. I have been busy with the beginning of fall semester.

I really enjoy all of my classes, two of which are on Central Asia. The first, "Central Asian Security Issues" is taught by Daniel K. Burghart, who has a wealth of on-the-ground experience in the region. For the first week, we read the first 120 pages of Daniel Hopkirk's "The Great Game," which was a real thrill. Hopkirk brilliantly captures the mystery of the steppe people and the challenges faced by European explorers during the 19th century. My second Central Asian class is a history course taught by Erik R. Scott, a post-doctoral candidate specializing in the Caucuses and Central Asia.

Last week, we were discussing nomadic pastoralism and the various steppe empires throughout history. I had quite a thrill in class last week when Professor Scott put up a picture of Yasawi's Mausoleum in Turkestan as an example of Timurid architecture and the contribution of Islamic scholarship in the region. While I was the only one in class who had visited Turkestan, another girl spent three weeks in Uzbekistan and had visited Samarqand and Bukhara, the bastions of Timurid architecture. Interestingly, she commented that the sites were incredible, but most of the tile work was restored during the 20th century. In Turkestan, the restoration efforts left much to be desired.

Finally, please read my new piece in Central Asian Newswire, "Transportation Networks are Expanding in Central Asia!" Thanks!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Celebrating Twenty Years of Independence

During the fall of 1991, the world witnessed the collapse of the world’s last great empire, the Soviet Union. One by one, beginning with the Baltic States and ending with Kazakhstan, the fifteen republics voluntarily seceded from the union. Today, September 1, 2011, marks twenty years of independence for Uzbekistan, while Kyrgyzstan celebrated its independence yesterday, Tajikistan celebrates on September 9th, Turkmenistan on October 27th, and Kazakhstan, the last republic to secede, on December 16th.

Twenty years following the fall of the “evil empire,” the triumph of capitalism over communism, and the inauguration of a “new world order,” does the reality on the ground reflect the academic theory and diplomatic rhetoric? Is life really better for the people of Central Asia?

These questions are too big to answer in one blog post and I will spend the next few weeks exploring this question. For now, I will make the argument that generally for the people of Central Asia, life is better in 2011 than in 1991. The region’s economies are transitioning to a free-market system. In Uzbekistan, 2011 is the year of small businesses and entrepreneurship.  Kazakhstan, an ardent supporter of free trade, is in a customs union with Russia and Belarus. While Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state with full WTO membership, all of the CARs belong to the UN, and retain either full or observer status in the SCO, CSTO, CIS, and WCO, among other IGOs. In 2010, Kazakhstan marked a turning point in its diplomatic history, serving as chairman of the OSCE.

I gained a fresh perspective on the true meaning of twenty years of independence for the CARs over the summer in Kazakhstan. While dining on manti, baursak and chai, in an Uzbek choikhana with my Kazakh friend, we discussed the country’s politics and role in international relations. My Kazakh friend commented how Western states over-exaggerate Kazakhstan’s “oppressive” regime. “The people in the West do not understand how far Kazakhstan has come since independence. One of my earliest childhood memories was waiting in line for bread. Today, you can easily walk into any store and buy food.”

She makes a valid point. While the Central Asian regimes may not uphold freedom of press, speech and organization, certainly Kazakhstan has made remarkable progress in providing basic services to its people. When compared to Somalia, the crystallization of a weak and failing state where thousands of people die everyday from starvation, or Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea, where hundreds are imprisoned for political crimes and live in a constant state of starvation, the CARs appear relatively well off. Sure, the CARs have their problems, as all countries do. When people have food to eat, which is really all that matters on a day-to-day basis.

To their credit, the Central Asian states, with an exception of Tajikistan during the civil war, have managed to maintain their statehood, as defined by Max Weber as an entity that claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence within a given territory. While there are continuing, almost intractable conflicts, such as the recurring clashes in the Ferghana valley, the June 2010 violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan and the porous Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, the fact that the Central Asian regimes have preserved their statehood as defined by Weber, as Machiavellian as the region’s leaders governing techniques may be, deserves to be noted.

Twenty years of independence, the Central Asian republics are secure in their statehood. Their people can eat without waiting in line for hours and their government officials can participate in the international system. Bravo.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Scenes of Almaty

Alas, images of Almaty! Enjoy!

The Kazakh-British Technical University

Panfilov Park

Panfilov Park Monument

Zenkov Cathedral

Altan Adam!!!

Downtown Almaty

The Central State Museum

View of Almaty from Koke Tobe

The symbol of Almaty -- the apple!

Nazarbayev's hand at the Altan Adam monument!

Almaty Ballet and Opera Theatre

A park and children's theatre near my house.

The Nur-Otan Party headquarters in Almaty.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Scenes of Old Astana

In this post, I am posting pictures of "Old Astana" to illustrate the striking contrast between "New Astana" on the left bank, and the Soviet-era portion of the city on the right bank of the Ishim River. The difference between the left and right bank illustrates the amazing development potential of Kazakhstan.

I will next post pictures of Almaty.


The Astana train station.

"Kazakhstan Temir Zholy" is the national railway company of Kazakhstan.

The Astana Opera house in the old bank.

A street in the old bank.

A statue in the old bank built during the Soviet Union. The figure's confident stance, the star on the pedestal, and the helmet at her feet, reflect the Soviet values of defending the great empire and victory in the Great Patriotic War (World War II).

A Soviet-era building in the old bank. 

A view of the right bank in Astana.

A government building on the right bank.

The President's Museum is absolutely spectacular. Like in most museums, I was unable to take photos, but I highly recommend you visit the museum for yourself! Housed in the former Presidential residence, this Museum is devoted to Nazarbayev and showcases a wide selection of gifts, paintings, photos and historical documents. On display are lavish gifts from heads of states, companies and countries. For example, Bill Clinton gave a set of golfballs to Nazarbayev. There are also gifts from Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton, Donald Rumsfeld, Gazprom and different NGOs like the East-West Center. It is just as fascinating to see what each person gave as a gift as it is to see the gift itself. For example, some organizations gave high-quality, antique weapons. I spent nearly all morning in this museum and could easily spend another day admiring all of its gems.

A view of a statue and Congress Hall, also known as Tsellinikov Palace, in the right bank.  Congress Hall was constructed in 1963 as Tsellinikov Palace, translates from Russian "as worker in the Virgin Lands," to serve as a facility for large gatherings of workers and a central venue to administer the Virgin Lands Campaign. Today, the building is an expedition center that regularly hosts trade shows and cultural events.    

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scenes of New Astana

Almaty was the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1997, President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved the Republic of Kazakhstan's capital to Astana. Almaty remains the largest city with a population of 1.2 million and is the financial and cultural center of Kazakhstan. Almaty simply has a different energy from Astana, with its rich history, southern location and geographical proximity to China and Kyrgyzstan. As a more northern and new city, Astana has a population of 800,000 and is rapidly developing. By 2030, the capital's population will swell to approximately 1.3 million. To see my full commentary on Astana, please read the piece I wrote on Central Asian Newswire titled, "Can Astana Develop in a Post-Nazarbayev Era?"

In this post, I am attaching images of new Astana. In later posts, I will post images from the old part of the city as well as from Almaty to illustrate the differences between the two cities. Enjoy and please feel free to comment!

Offices in downtown Astana.

More offices in downtown Astana. This new building is supposed to resemble the pages of a book opening.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ministry of Defence

A view of the new downtown Astana.

The National Archives.

The arched building is the KazMunaiGas Headquarters. Behind it stands the Khan Shatyr.

The Khan Shatyr.

The Khan Shatyr's interior.

Another view of downtown Astana. The building on the left is the Department of Transportation.

The Nur-Astana Mosque is the largest in Kazakhstan and towers 40 meters high. The Mosque, constructed in a traditional Islamic architectural style, stands out from Astana's many modern, International-style skyscrapers. There is also a madrassa adjacent to the mosque.

A view of the Ak Orda and Millenium Avenue standing at Baiterek.

The spatial organization of government buildings reflects an interesting configuration of political power.  The Ak Orda lies on the same central line (Millenium Avenue) as Baiterek, the Khan Shatyr, KazMunaiGas Headquarters and the Palace of Peace and Concord. In front of the Ak Orda is a public square and gardens. To the left of the Ak Orda is the Supreme Court and Senate building and to the right is the Astana State Auditorium and the Mazhilis. 

The Mazhilis (House of Representatives) building.

The Senate building.

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Ak Orda is the Presidential Residence. It is simply awesome.

Astana State Auditorium, designed by Italian Architects Manfredi and Luca Nicoletti.

The Palace (Pyramid) of Peace and Concord.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Images from Arbat

Arbat is a district in Moscow where artists gather to show their work. Almaty also has its very own Arbat, which was conveniently located on my walking route home from school. It was always so exciting to see local, creative energy and artistic expression. In the late afternoons and evenings, solo performers and bands performed here in a causal manner no different than artists on the streets of New York. Immersed in Kazakh culture, I gained a greater appreciation of local artists' perspective and enjoyed viewing their work in their native environment.

In this post, I have included images from Arbat. Enjoy!

Local artists lined their canvases along Arbat in the hopes of making a sale.