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Kazakh student opens social café as supportive workplace for mentally challenged youth

Fri, 2017-03-03 04:56

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – A young and aspiring Nazarbayev University student is set to open a social café paving the way out of isolation for people with mental health challenges. The new project, created by 20-year-old Maulen Akhmetov, aims at recruiting people with mental disorders, promoting charity and spreading social awareness among youth and understanding and respect in society. In an interview with The Astana Times, he said he and his team hope to break the stereotypes that surround people suffering mental illness.

Maulen Akhmetov

“It is very important for a person to be settled in life, to be happy and to benefit society. It is something that everyone wants. In Kazakhstan, we have long been engaged in charity, organising different fundraising events and delivering clothes and necessary items to needy families. However, we wanted to focus on the systematic approach to solving these problems. We wanted to base the charity not on human generosity, not on people’s pity or pride, but a simple desire to eat delicious food and get good service,” he said.

Young adults undergo training in occupational therapy workshops established by the Medical Centre of Mental Health operating in the capital. Centre psychologists provide counselling at such workshops, which offer skills like sewing, knitting, carpentry, construction, dance and art.

“Centre director Yerbol Nurkatov promotes the idea of a new approach towards treatment and rehabilitation. They encourage young people back into society, to develop their communication skills and live independently. I think that the problem is hidden not in such people, but in the fact that there are no possibilities. Only a few people know about the challenges that such people face. There are now approximately 102 adults in Astana attending the workshops. This project creates an integrated approach system of rehabilitation, so that we can monitor the process,” added Akhmetov.

Everyday Social Cafe team

The café, based on the campus, will employ 20 people. The staff intends to develop the idea of social responsibility by eliminating food waste, cooperating with animal shelter organisations and reducing plastic waste. Visitors will be able to become part of the team of young enthusiasts, and part of the proceeds is to be donated to other initiatives.

“We like to experiment and we are committed to helping people identify their capabilities to further their careers. We want to establish a system that would effectively train and encourage people. You know, they are brave people. People find strength and come to the centre to study and change their life. Just imagine a person stuck at home is beginning to make steps towards society, communicating with others every day. When a person gets financial independence, he or she begins to look at life from a different perspective. They get meaning in their life; they keep developing and they help their families. I think communication is the most healing and effective method to make a person happier,” Akhmetov told the paper.

The young entrepreneur came up with the idea of a socially-inclusive workplace last year and presented it at the ABC Quick Start Acceleration Programme for beginning start-up companies, inventors and innovators launched by the Astana Business Campus innovation cluster and the university.

“I like that we start with Nazarbayev University, because I believe that these students will be able to make a big difference in the country. Someone just understands that every person in the world has his or her own place in society; everyone has potential strengths. The only thing is just whether you focus on the strengths or the weaknesses of the person. You just start looking for his or her potential. That is all,” he said.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently supported the project and agreed to allocate a place for the café in its pavilion at EXPO 2017. This will be a great opportunity for people with mental challenges to break through barriers that have too long prevented them from meeting people, said Akhmetov.

“We would be glad to contact the commercial department of EXPO 2017 and tell them about our social project and the will to bring our message to the expo community,” he said.

The post Kazakh student opens social café as supportive workplace for mentally challenged youth appeared first on The Astana Times.

Flying blind with Air Astana

Fri, 2017-03-03 02:00

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

It was a nightmarish moment for us passengers on Air Astana flight KC0942 on the evening of Tuesday Feb. 21 when two minutes after take-off from Heathrow all the cabin lights and internal electrical circuits failed.

For the next fifteen minutes we waited, with varying degrees of nervous impatience, for power to be restored. “Let there be light!” was our prayer.  But darkness remained over the face of the aircraft.

The passengers’ anxieties multiplied. They were expressed in questions which ranged from “Is this plane safe?” to “How on earth are we going to endure six hours of air travel without an opportunity to read or watch an in-flight movie?”

In an increasingly tetchy mood, explanations were demanded of the visibly rattled cabin crew.  The expression “flying blind” took on a new meaning. Suddenly from row number eight in the blacked-out depths of the Business Class seats, a saviour appeared.-

“Peter Foster – CEO of this airline,” was the self-introduction from the tall, athletic looking figure who bounded up the aisle towards the flight desk. Encouraging sounds of his leadership soon reverberated back to the body of the aircraft. Brisk words of command were spoken to the stewardesses. Noises of repair attempts were audible. I thought I caught a glimpse in the Stygian gloom of the CEO brandishing a screwdriver. Perhaps I was dreaming. But clearly this was a hands-on style of leading from the front. Yet still, alas, there was no light. We remained in darkness.

Peter Foster came back into the cabin proffering profuse apologies with the gracious charm only a true British gentleman can carry off well. Then in addition to his fusillades of “frightfully sorrys” he skilfully threw the ball back to the passengers by offering us a choice.

“I’m going to take a poll,” declared the CEO. “Either we can turn back to Heathrow and get the problem fixed. Or we can continue to go ahead without light.” He added that the ovens had also been put out of action by the failure of the electrical circuits. So there would be no hot food.  Even our seats and seat tables could not move because of the power cut.

After these inauspicious announcements, opinion pollster Foster started his head count.

The vote resulted in a 100 percent majority to carry on flying.

“At least we can now have a good picnic,” declared the versatile CEO/electrical engineer/pollster now turning genial host.

To their immense credit, the well-trained cabin crew led by Inflight Supervisor Anar and assisted by Mereke, Aigul, Ainash, Yelena and Saltanat entered into the spirit of the 30,000-foot picnic.  Taking up the baton of charm and good cheer they smilingly spread white napkins over the knees of the passengers. Chilled vodka, champagne and white wine flowed in abundance. So did the cold food, which consisted of delectable smoked salmon, prawn canapes, cheese and chocolate desert. Soon we were well over the Urals. A spirit of appreciative camaraderie spread through the passengers. A round of applause was given to the can-do cabin crew.

Just when things could hardly get better the lights came on again to loud cheers. Anyone feeling underfed was promptly offered the hot food from the original menu. The sun, as well as the electric light seemed to be shining. And in a crowning moment, all the business class passengers were told that the next time they bought an Economy Class ticket from the airline they would get a free upgrade.

Flight KC0942 landed on time at 5:40 a.m. at Astana International Airport. I was on parade for my breakfast meeting at the Hotel Rixos Astana with perfect punctuality. “Did you have a good flight?” enquired my Kazakh host. “Marvellous. Couldn’t have been better,” I replied.  “Air Astana is a great airline – especially if the CEO happens to be on board.”

A former British Member of Parliament describes a recent harrowing and positive experience aboard an Air Astana flight

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Young chef introduces molecular gastronomy to Astana

Fri, 2017-03-03 01:30

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Kairat Amanbayev, also known as Kai Aman, is the 25-year-old chef and founder of Resto Studio – Modernist Cuisine, a trendy new place on the map of capital restaurants. The official opening is not scheduled until July, but the city’s first molecular gastronomy spot already serves customers in the evenings.

Kairat Amanbayev

“For some people, the main feature of the restaurant is design or open kitchen, for example; for me, it’s probably cooking itself, creation of something completely new, the development of a culture in the field of culinary arts,” he said in an interview for this story.

Prior to the official opening, the young chef plans to add a summer terrace.

“But the serving will not be as in other places. Usually it is ashtray, salt and pepper. Here, there will be a Baccarat-style table. That style never gets old. The table will be served with china, crystal and ceramics,” he added.

Cooking is Aman’s true passion. He is a graduate of the British Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and has been training and working in different cities and countries.

“I risked choosing such a format and I hope to show the people of this beautiful city something new, something they have not tried yet,” he said.

For the entrepreneur, it is all about the cuisine.

“The cuisine is about the art of finding new combinations, about the development of our tastes, something much more adventurous; it is about working with unexpected combinations of ingredients. The kitchen is about exciting new challenges and a life-long world of creative possibilities. Science gives us the opportunity to analyse and determine the compatibility between the different ingredients at the molecular level,” he added.

Modernist Cuisine uses chemistry, physics and scientific data as a launching pad for future meals.

“It is no secret that our food system is out of balance. Global challenges such as climate change, sustainability and obesity are directly linked to food. By changing the way we eat, we can restore our planet and maintain a healthy life,” said Aman.

The company’s long-term mission is to become a platform to create unique, fully customisable recipes based on science and promote healthy, sustainable living.

“We believe that by opening up exciting new flavour combinations, we can improve our enjoyment of food and the quality of everyday life,” he said.

Serving alcohol in the restaurant is still under discussion.

“I have been thinking a lot to make it in a modern molecular gastronomic style. To make alcohol in powder, we can take whiskey and mix it with maltodextrin and tapioca, so we get powder, which is easily soluble in water or any fluid,” said Aman.

There are also plans to open a school for cooks, waiters and bartenders.

“I feel really bad that this profession [cooking] is not appreciated by many, although it is hard work. Therefore, to be a chef you need to be crazy in a good way, because only people in love with the profession can work in such circumstances. Usually, cooks come to work before anyone else – at 7-8 a.m. in the morning to make preparations. Waiters constantly hurry them, because guests think that robots work in the kitchen, so you have to do everything in a hurry and under very big psychological pressure. All day, sometimes it can be 16-20 hours, you work on your feet, so by the end of the day your back and legs refuse to hold you and beg you to sit on the floor,” he said.

But it is all worth it when guests give compliments and appreciate the work.

“We work for those seconds. I become really happy when I see I made people a little happier,” he said.

Aman, born and raised in Almaty, moved to the capital several years ago.

“Everyone has their goals in this city and I had mine, too. One day I saw a brochure with information about Business Road Map 2020. I did not know how business worked and went through 48 hours of training in Damu and continued participating in courses,” he said.

Later, Aman created his first project – a mobile kitchen or so-called food truck.

“I did not want to get millions in cash; I just wanted to show this city my experience which I got in the west in the United States. I wanted to develop affordable food in the city,” he said.

He worked on his idea for almost six months, but due to legislation issues had to abandon it. He didn’t give up, however, and started studying the city’s restaurant market from the inside “to better understand the system.”After that experience and taking into account other issues, Aman continues to work on Modernist Cuisine to make it something truly unforgettable and innovative.

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In Kazakhstan, 35 of 40 presidential powers to be redistributed under final draft proposal

Thu, 2017-03-02 05:47

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Thirty-five of a proposed 40 presidential powers would be redistributed to other branches of government under the final draft of proposed constitutional amendments designed to decentralise the powers of President and increase the powers of the Kazakh Parliament. The draft was presented March 1 at the final meeting of the government working group on the issue.

The powers to be redistributed would relate to economic governance, finance, public property and the administrative-territorial structure of the state, head of the working group Adilbek Dzhaksybekov announced at the meeting led by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The proposals need approval by the President and Parliament and no deadline has been set.

The final draft was created following a nationwide public input process from Jan. 26 to Feb. 24, during which 6,000 suggestions were submitted by the public concerning all areas of Kazakh law, including the powers held by each branch of government.

The final draft proposal includes 23 amendments to the Constitution and 35 amendments to existing laws. Under the proposal, Kazakhstan would remain a presidential republic, but each branch would operate more fully and independently.

“We cannot say that radical changes have been made, the basics are the same,” said Professor of the Kazakh Academy of Public Administration and member of the working group Zinaida Fedotova.

President Nazarbayev noted that the presidential republic form of government has served the country well in its 25 years of independence but that the time had come for a broader distribution powers.

“The proposed changes in the governmental system are aimed at further strengthening the democratisation of our society and the foundations of democracy, strengthening the role of the parliament, increasing the autonomy and responsibility of the government, keeping the presidential form of government. This is the essence of the reform. The constitutional framework of law enforcement and the judicial systems will also be improved. The guarantees of immutability of our constitutional system will be strengthened,” the President said at the meeting.

Nazarbayev also said that the public’s input was important in drafting the final proposals.

“I have tracked the discussion attentively, and my conclusion is that the people of Kazakhstan have mostly supported the amendments proposed. Today, we will look closely at the proposals and views of the citizens, summarise and take a decision on our further actions,” Nazarbayev said. “We are tasked to decide the fate of the document important for the future of our people, to summarise the nationwide discussion.”

The public input process resulted in a wide range of suggestions across many areas of Kazakh law, touching on 63 out of 98 articles of the Constitution, said Dzhaksybekov during the final working group meeting. Only those suggestions relating to redistributing powers were included in the final draft proposal. Other suggestions will be considered separately.

Suggestions were received to both strengthen and reduce the powers of the President and Parliament. Some suggested shifting to a parliamentary republic form of government and changing the way Mazhilis (lower house a Parliament) members are elected to single member constituencies. Others even suggested switching to a unicameral parliament.

“Proposals have been received to strengthen the requirements for deputies, limit the ability to run for candidacy to only once and increase the age limit for members of the Mazhilis and the Senate (upper house). Proposals on the status and activities of the government mainly focused on enhancing its accountability to the Parliament, i.e. agreeing to a structure of the government with the Mazhilis and the Senate on a mandatory basis. It was also suggested that the government should be accountable not only to the Mazhilis, but to the Parliament as a whole,” Dzhaksybekov stated.

But, said Dzhaksybekov, in general the public comments supported increasing the powers of Parliament.

Public suggestions were also received to convert the Constitutional Council to a Constitutional Court.

The largest number of proposals received was on law enforcement and the judicial unit – 2,148 proposals. They dealt with strengthening requirements for judges, raising the minimum age and length of service in the legal profession. Dzhaksybekov noted that those amendments had already been made in accordance with the Plan of the Nation back in 2015. Proposals also included changing the order of formation of local courts and letting citizens elect judges.

“A big number of proposals came from lawyers, who offered to reflect the powers of the attorneys, strengthen the guarantees of the rights of the accused and reduce the term of arrest without a court order from 72 to 48 hours. Positive feedback was received on the proposal to clarify the status and powers of the prosecutor’s office,” Dzhaksybekov added.

A significant number of suggestions also concerned property rights. Maslikhats (local legislatures) and local executive bodies were also mentioned in the proposals. Citizens suggested increasing the age limit for deputies and limiting the number of terms they could serve. Citizens also suggested allowing akims (local mayors) to be elected by the public rather than appointed by the government.

Other proposals included strengthening the state language and adding English to the country’s official languages, he said. Citizens also suggested both banning and expanding the use of the death penalty.

Though only suggestions involving the redistribution of powers were incorporated into the working group’s final draft proposal, the government plans to consider and respond to the public’s other suggestions.

“The spread of citizens’ opinions points out our flaws and shortcomings in the governmental system. It indicates the spheres we must continue working on, especially in the law enforcement system. The working group has to identify the most important things that are requested most by the citizens; it is impossible to include everything at this stage,” Nazarbayev said.

The working group was established Jan. 11 after the President said in December at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the independent Kazakhstan that it was time for the country to consider the redistribution of power. On Jan. 25, the President made a televised address on the redistribution of powers between the branches of government, where he presented the draft law “On amendments and additions to the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan.” And on Feb. 24, the working group announced the completion of the nationwide discussion.

On March 1, Nurlan Nigmatulin, the Speaker of the Mazhilis, announced the convening of the joint session of Parliament for March 3 where many experts consider the proposed amendments to be discussed.

The post In Kazakhstan, 35 of 40 presidential powers to be redistributed under final draft proposal appeared first on The Astana Times.

Kazakh Government approves construction budget for National Pantheon, Kuryk port

Thu, 2017-03-02 00:53

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Kazakh government approved Feb. 21 a resolution to implement the state budget for 2017-2019. The budget includes the construction of the National Pantheon and Kuryk port.

“We added projects worth 63.5 billion tenge (US$203 million), which include building the National Pantheon and Kuryk port, as well as financing for Zhilstroisberbank. The list of public buildings for this year has been presented and consists of 147 items worth 438.6 billion tenge (US$1.4 billion),” Finance Minister Bakhyt Sultanov said at the Feb. 21 government session.

He added that the approved list contains 122 positions worth 354.3 billion tenge (US$1.13 billion) and the construction of the pantheon will cost 1.7 billion tenge (US$5.4 million).

In his report, the finance minister said that the budget contains transfers to local executive bodies and includes national investments and the construction of socially important buildings.

Sultanov highlighted that the draft resolution was made in accordance with the requirements of the budget code and noted there is a need to speed up the execution of project documentation. He instructed the ministry of finance and corresponding programme administrators to take measures for the timely adoption, financing and use of budgetary funds.

Earlier, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev approved amendments to the law on the national budget for 2017-2019.

The government plans to build the pantheon in Kabanbai Batyr village, which is situated not far from Astana. The village is already home to the mausoleum of famous Kazakh hero Kabanbai Batyr. It is planned that the pantheon will represent a tomb of national heroes who made great contributions to the development of the state and will truly honour the memory of such people. The government plans to use international experience in its construction of the pantheon.

The new Kuryk ferry port will concentrate 35 percent of all traffic on the Caspian Sea. The ferry complex is under construction. The government plans to provide the port with its own vessels as well.

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Medical implants to be produced with support from East Kazakhstan region

Thu, 2017-03-02 00:50

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Businesses supported by funding from the East Kazakhstan region are set to launch production of medical implants developed by local scientists, reports.

“The region’s administration has provided businesses the opportunity to take advantage of local scientists’ development and offer state support. Scientists applied for funding to the Ministry of Education and Science and received preliminary approval. It is expected that they will allocate 2.7 billion tenge (US$8.6 million) by the end of this year. This amount will be spent on the implementation of 10 innovative projects. They will allow modernising the technology at industrial sites and help to master the production of modern and popular production. For example, it is planned to establish production of medical implants of tantalum and titanium fittings for the oil and gas industry. Another important project is the development of superconductors for CT scanners,” according to a statement.

“If Kazakhstan produces this product, we will be able to take the appropriate niche in the world in the production of CT scanners, because the essential part in such equipment is the superconducting wire. We can produce this wire at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant,” Rector of East Kazakhstan State Technical University Zhasulan Shaimardanov said.

The Ulba Metallurgical Plant is located in Ust-Kamenogorsk, a major centre of non-ferrous metallurgy of Kazakhstan. Since 1997, the company has been part of the Kazatomprom National Atomic Company , representing the interests of Kazakhstan in the nuclear industry. It is one of the world leaders in terms of production of beryllium, tantalum and niobium, as well as uranium-based fuel bricks for nuclear power stations. It is also the site where the international bank of low-enriched uranium fuel under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency is being established now.


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FM confirms Kazakhstan’s human rights and disarmament priorities in Geneva

Thu, 2017-03-02 00:45

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov outlined once again Kazakhstan’s priorities in human rights, democratisation and disarmament processes in a high-level segment session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Conference on Disarmament (CD) as well as during bilateral meetings over the course of his visit to Geneva Feb. 27 to March 1.

Addressing the participants of the Feb. 28 UNHRC session, Abdrakhmanov outlined Kazakhstan’s priorities and objectives regarding the effective implementation of human rights.

“The promotion and effective protection of human rights is impossible without peace, security and development. The three pillars on which United Nations activities are based are closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing,” the minister stressed.

According to Abdrakhmanov, Kazakhstan regards its election to the UN Security Council (UNSC) as a high responsibility and a sign of the international community’s trust in Kazakhstan and its peaceful policy, and in the country’s initiatives and proposals to strengthen the UN’s role in ensuring peace and security across the globe.

In this regard, he highlighted that on March 2, Kazakhstan celebrates the 25th anniversary of its accession to the United Nations. He emphasised that Kazakhstan is committed to progressive democratisation, has ratified universal human rights documents and is constantly working on implementing their provisions into national legislation.

In addition, Abdrakhmanov noted that Kazakhstan would continue to contribute to the achievement of global sustainable development. One of these steps will be EXPO 2017 in Astana this summer. The expo, with its theme of “Future Energy,” will promote sustainable energy and finding ways to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.

Speaking at the Conference on Disarmament the same day, Abdrakhmanov presented Kazakhstan’s position on important international issues and stressed that the Conference has proven potential to make a major contribution to the disarmament process.

Speaking about Kazakhstan’s approaches to nuclear disarmament, the minister highlighted that the subject is one of the key priorities for Kazakhstan’s tenure as a non-permanent member of the UNSC. This was presented in the policy address by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the UNSC in January.

At a meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, the progress of the Geneva talks on a Syrian settlement was discussed. The sides noted the relevance of the Astana process in bringing peace to Syria and the region.

Abdrakhmanov also held a meeting with Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Roberto Azevêdo and congratulated him on his re-election to the post for a second term. Azevêdo thanked the Kazakh side for supporting his candidacy and noted the keen interest of the WTO to expand cooperation with Kazakhstan. He also stressed Kazakhstan’s WTO membership will contribute to the effective implementation of the country’s trade potential and facilitate the integration of Central Asia into the global trade system.

Abdrakhmanov also congratulated Azevêdo on the entry into force of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world, has huge transit potential and is interested in the implementation of an agreement that will help Kazakhstan reduce trade costs by 15 percent.

In turn, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Klaus Schwab said at a meeting with Abdrakhmanov that the WEF attaches great importance to cooperation with Kazakhstan. He praised the growing role of Astana as an important platform for discussing complex issues of international relations and the global economy, noting in this regard the talks on Syria within the Astana process. Schwab also invited the Kazakh side to participate in the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa that will be held in Jordan May 19-21.

Abdrakhmanov focused on the implementation of Kazakhstan’s third modernisation programme, which aims to create a new model of economic growth to increase the country’s global competitiveness. The minister noted the interest of the Kazakh government in WEF initiatives on energy partnership and human capital development.

Abdrakhmanov also met with Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Christian Friis Bach, who highlighted the successful chairmanship of Kazakhstan in the Commission and its Executive Committee, which contributed to closer cooperation between UNECE member states during tense economic and political times in Europe.

Abdrakhmanov noted Kazakhstan’s interest in expanding cooperation with the UNECE, as well as in creating new directions and formats for such cooperation in the context of global economic and social crisis.

Bach commented on the joint preparation of the Kazakh government and the UNECE for the Ministerial Conference and the International Energy Forum that will be held June 11-14 as part of EXPO 2017 in Astana. He also noted the importance of the exhibition and its focus on sustainable energy, which, in his opinion, will contribute to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals and give significant impetus to the development of Kazakhstan’s energy sector.

Abdrakhmanov thanked UNECE and Bach for their support in creating the International Centre for Green Technologies and Investments and the International Water Assessment Centre in Astana.

The Kazakh foreign minister also held bilateral meetings with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva Michael Møller, and his counterparts from Albania, Australia, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Mongolia, Nepal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine, as well as deputy foreign ministers from Cyprus and Uruguay.

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What Central Asia can offer as tourist destination

Thu, 2017-03-02 00:36

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Throughout the centuries, Europe has been reigning supreme as the world’s most visited tourist destination. As of 2015, France topped the list of the most popular vacation spots, followed by Spain (third), Italy (fifth), Turkey (sixth), Germany (seventh) and the U.K. (eighth), leaving the U.S. (second), Mexico (ninth) and Russia (10th) as the only three remaining countries in the top ten.

Supposedly, tourists spend a few summers tanning in Asia Pacific, a few more exploring medieval castles and roaming narrow streets in Spain and Austria and are then perplexed with what to do on their next vacation.

By human nature, people are curious about the unknown and mysterious. Central Asia is not the destination that immediately pops into one’s mind after hearing the word “vacation.” It doesn’t excite like the beaches of Thailand or the Maldives, but does raise a few questions: Why go? What is there to do or see? and the most common question, Where is it?

Central Asia is often referred to as the region of the five “stans” – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All these countries have commonalities; once left by the reverberation of the Soviet Union, as well as cultural and traditional similarities, yet today they are quite different in terms of foreign policy and internal affairs.

Central Asia is famed for the Silk Way – a trade route that spun for centuries connecting merchants between East and West. People are often stupefied when asked about this part of the world, so The Astana Times wanted to shed some light on the region’s pearls.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan – rich in history and mystery  

The enchanting Samarkand, considered to be Tamerlane’s capital, is nearly 2,750 years old. Timur the Lame, also known as Tamerlane, was a Mongol ruler, founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia and the first ruler of the Timurid dynasty. Rome is the only other remaining city as old as Samarkand; the other, Babylon, was destroyed in 539 BCE.


Samarkand has survived conquerors such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, the Arabic Conquest and finally Tamerlane’s conquest. As a result, the city’s culture is a mix of Iranian, Indian, Mongolian and even Western and Eastern influences.

Samarkand is Uzbekistan’s second-largest city and boasts more than a dozen incredible historic sights. Numerous mausoleums and mosques dot the area, such as Bibi Hanim Mosque, Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Mausoleum of Khoja Abdi Darunee and St. Daniel, Observatory of Ulugbek, Registan Square and Rukhabad Mausoleum.

The city also counts numerous museums such as Afrasiab Museum, Aysel Art Gallery, Memorial Museum of Mirzo Ulugbek, Museum of Culture History, Museum of Peace and Solidarity and Museum of Winemaking.

Samarkand is located about 308 kilometres from the capital Tashkent and it takes about four hours to travel there by car and only two hours by a high-speed train. If one wants to explore real history, this is the place to be.

Sky-blue Issyk Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan

One needs to be physically present at Issyk Kul Lake to understand its beauty. No book, no film, no tale can describe the feeling of lying on one of its beaches. The clean, fresh air, blue sky, surreal waves and crystal clear water are a perfect combination for any vacationer. But there is one huge “but” – trips must be ideally timed; miss the peak season and instead of the above-mentioned delights, one will be freezing in the rain and watching ripples on the lake, regretting having not read this article before going. The best time to visit is from the end of July to the end of August. Expect to meet a lot of people, but at least one will get a suntan and the chance to swim in the lake.

Issyk Kul

Lack of infrastructure can be irritating, but not if one chooses premium class stay. The lake is located about 250 kilometres from the capital Bishkek and it takes about three-four hours to get there by car. Always make sure to bring a light jacket; evenings are usually cold and windy.

Darvaza gas crater, Turkmenistan – “gateway to hell”

If one has visited Samarkand and soaked one’s feet in Kyrgyzstan, now is the time to get warmed up … at the “gateway to hell.”  Darvaza is a small village of about 350 in the middle of Karakum, the hottest desert in Central Asia. It is located about 260 kilometres from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Why are we mentioning the small village in the pearls of Central Asia story?

Darvaza Door to hell

The natural gas crater, 70 metres in diameter and about the size of an American football field, was first spotted burning in 1971 and has been ever since. The area is saturated with natural gas. The story has it that while on drilling explorations that year, Soviet geologists encountered a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground underneath the rig collapsed, leaving a huge hole in the ground on fire. According to Wikipedia, to avoid the poisonous gas discharge they attempted to burn it all off and hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a few days, but the gas is still burning today. Looking at the fire can be quite mesmerizing. Tours to this destination usually don’t take more than one day, with an option to stay overnight in a tent.

Iskanderkul Lake, Tajikistan

Tajikistan, the only Farsi-speaking former Soviet state, is a fascinating country. Influenced over the course of hisroty by the Persians and the Soviets, it boasts a mix of cultures and the mightiness of the Pamir mountain range. As a tourist destination, however, Tajikistan requires a tempered and adventurous character. Lack of basic conveniences and infrastructure makes this destination great for adventure enthusiasts, eco and ethno tourism, alpinism, mountain hikes, hunting, rafting, paragliding and wild nature photography.

Iskanderkul Lake

As the pearl of this country we recommend visiting Iskanderkul Lake, which will bring about peace of mind and help gather one’s thoughts. It includes Fan Niagra, a 38-metre waterfall, ethno-cultural villages offering cultural dishes and wonderful scenery with snow-capped mountain tops piercing the blue skies. Legend has it the lake was named after Alexander the Great, who crossed it from India on his way to Central Asia.

It is located about 130 kilometres from the capital Dushanbe and it takes about two hours to get there.

Kazakhstan Singing Dune

The famous Singing Dune is located about 180 kilometres from Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and its former capital. The 150-metre tall dune is three kilometres long and the western wind makes sounds like an organ, hence its name. Since ancient times it was thought these sounds were the whispers of spirits or never-seen animals. People describe them differently; some say they are the sounds of musical instruments, while others feel they are the sounds of river boats or jet planes.

Singing Dunes

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Institute of Diplomacy contributes to developing foreign service and promoting national interests

Thu, 2017-03-02 00:29

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Innovative approaches have transformed foreign policy in recent years. Digital diplomacy is a modern and technological dimension of foreign policy, used as a new soft power tool to advance national interests, project political and economic power.

Anuar Ayazbekov

In his address to the nation, “Third Modernisation of Kazakhstan: Global Competitiveness,” President Nursultan Nazarbayev attached particular importance to digitalisation as one of the means “to get ahead of the future and decisively meet the challenges” of today’s changing world. This aim also touches upon the nation’s foreign policy, as innovative approaches in recent years have transformed its conduct.

The Astana Times interviewed Institute of Diplomacy Director Anuar Ayazbekov to learn about digital diplomacy and the institution’s current activities.

What is digital diplomacy?

Digital diplomacy today is the most modern and technological foreign policy dimension. It is widely used by governments and foreign ministries of economically developed countries as a new soft power tool to advance national interests, to project political and economic power, and, overall, to increase the degree of agency of the country.

In this respect, it is certainly very heartening that our nation follows the trend – the Committee for International Information at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has made great advances in the field of digital policy. The ministry has increased its presence in cyberspace over the last few years, where it actively uses digital platforms not only to cover its day-to-day activities, but also to encourage foreign audiences to view pressing international issues from the vantage point of Kazakhstan. In addition, the committee uses the variety of digital tools to promptly respond to different issues that constantly emerge in regional and global international affairs.

What is the institute’s primary purpose?

The institute’s primary task is to provide highly-qualified human resources to our foreign service.

Kazakhstan actively promotes its foreign policy agenda and has achieved significant advances in global affairs. At the same time, in the dynamically changing geopolitical and geo-economic conditions our foreign service faces a plethora of new challenges and opportunities. Therefore, in order to be able to address them timely and adequately, the diplomatic service should possess a multi-disciplinary combination of competencies and knowledge in such spheres as public policy, economics, diplomacy, PR, policy analysis and international relations.

Here, the Institute of Diplomacy is seen as the key element of training and professional development of the country’s civil servants, mainly diplomats. Thus, it contributes to the development of Kazakhstan’s foreign service and, at large, the advancement of national interests.

What essential skills and competencies do you develop in the students?

The institute prepares managerial-level professionals in diplomacy who confidently navigate global politics by mastering such disciplines as international relations, conflict and security, negotiation and conflict resolution and foreign economic policy. And the fact that the institute is working hand in hand with the foreign ministry is of principal importance here. The ability to provide professional, practice-oriented diplomatic education is our major advantage.

Our faculty is comprised of acting career diplomats and veterans of diplomatic service. For example, the former first Minister of Foreign Affairs Tuleutai Suleimenov is our full-time professor. Ambassadors at large and directors of the departments at the MFA teach courses on a regular basis. Guest lectures of the foreign diplomatic corps accredited in Kazakhstan are also held. This is our uniqueness, as we are the only institution of its kind in the country.

This advantage enables our master students to immerse in the practical realities of foreign service as they study real historical cases, practice simulation games, learn policy analysis methods, obtain skills in the art of diplomatic protocol and etiquette, study theory and practice of negotiation techniques, gain sound regional studies training and perfect professional civil service competencies.

Moreover, upon graduation our students fluently speak and write in at least two foreign languages.

How do you position yourself among other diplomatic education establishments? Do you have joint projects with visiting professors?

Since the Master of International Relations is a quite flexible programme, it allows integrating best international practices in our education process. The programme’s curriculum is developed on the basis of the experience of leading foreign schools of international relations and diplomatic academies.

On the practical side, we do cooperate closely with our colleagues abroad. For example, for the last 10 years the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna has served as the basis for our student internships. We also collaborate with Kyrgyz, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish diplomatic academies, the Clingendael Institute of International Relations in the Netherlands, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the French National School of Public Administration.

We also aim to increase the number of our foreign students’ corps. For instance, the regional hub of civil service in Astana is annually providing grants for civil servants from Central Asia to study at the institute.

We work closely with foreign experts and practitioners – retired career diplomats, prominent scholars and representatives of the partner institutions. The institute also engages professors and researchers from the range of foreign universities and think tanks – we interexchange our experiences in teaching, invite professors to supervise theses, organise joint conferences, co-write edited volumes and form research consortia.

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Samruk Kazyna calls on investors, international companies for cooperation

Thu, 2017-03-02 00:21

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund held an event Feb. 27 for nearly 300 representatives of the diplomatic corps, major international companies, banks and investors. Top managers of the fund discussed their development strategy and invited international companies and investors to cooperate.


“One of the key fields for investment attraction is implementation of transformation and privatisation programmes of public and government assets. In December 2015, the government adopted a complex plan of privatisation for 2016-2020, which specifies the list of organisations for privatisation,” First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi said opening the event.

He added that about 600 companies worth $10 billion operating in mining, processing, energy, transport, oil refining and owned by the state will be privatised.

Top managers of the fund presented a strategy of shifting from the asset administrator to the active portfolio investor role and reported about interim results of the transformation programme. They discussed the privatisation process and long-term projects.

“The opportunity to invest in the Samruk Kazyna group of companies is unique, because the fund brings together the largest enterprises of the country in various sectors,” Samruk Kazyna Chief Executive Officer Umirzak Shukeyev said.

“The fund’s transformation programme aims to make these assets more attractive. Today, Kazakhstan and Samruk Kazyna are and even more reliable option for investment than a few years ago. For example, over the past two years, Kazakhstan has climbed from the 51st to the 35th position among the economies by ease of doing business rating of the World Bank,” he added.

Managing Director for Strategy and Portfolio Investments of Samruk Kazyna Baljeet Grewal emphasised that the fund’s main objectives are the modernisation of Kazakhstan’s economy, working on long-term projects and sustainable development. She also highlighted that all the transformations processes in the fund are strategically important and will optimise and diversify the fund’s portfolio, decrease risks and more importantly rapidly adapt to economic changes.

“At the moment, the privatisation is in its active phase. It is planned to sell 217 companies, which are divided into two lists. The first list contains 45 largest companies. Some of them, such as Kazatomprom and Air Astana, are in the priority list for IPO (initial public offering),” said Director of Assets Privatisation and Restructuring Department of Samruk Kazyna Dauren Tasmagambetov.

He also noted that the decision on the public offering will depend on many factors, such as macroeconomic environment, capital market conditions and the companies’ conditions.

Samruk Kazyna has prepared 75 percent of assets from the second list of companies (172 small and medium-sized enterprises) in 2016 and agreed two privatisation methods with state commission. It is planned to implement most assets by the end of 2018.

“We believe that Samruk Kazyna is the partner of choice for any international investor that enters this region in the absence of local partner. We can play a role of strategic or financial partner by providing support to development of new business, while letting our partners run the business,” said Director of Privatisation and Asset Restructuring Department of Samruk Kazyna Yerzhan Tutkushev.

The fund has established a special team for identification, negotiation and structuring new partnerships. Top managers of the fund explained they are looking for new opportunities, which can be proposed by investors, and invite investors with success stories from any part of the world to replicate or expand their business in Kazakhstan.

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Kazakh fashion designer offers custom-made tailoring in New Zealand

Wed, 2017-03-01 04:22

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – A 34-year-old Kazakh-born tailor is bringing fashion trends to the streets of Auckland. Asya Sadyrova has made clothing for beauty contest participants and offers custom-made tailoring.


Born and raised in Ust-Kamenogorsk (East Kazakhstan region), Sadyrova has had a propensity for varied handcrafts since she was young, even making doll furniture.

”I was studying at a regular school and attending a music school at the same time. I was also taking cutting and sewing classes and began sewing when I was 14 years old,” she said in an interview with The Astana Times.

Sadyrova subsequently became a member of the fashion design faculty at an institute in her home city. She ended up in New Zealand by chance, moving to the country in September 2013.

“I sure enough did not want to leave my undertaking and began working from home bit by bit. After a while, I decided to move forward and opened my own atelier [fashion design studio], where I provide a wide range of services for tailoring,” she said, adding she also does custom-made tailoring.

Living in New Zealand, Sadyrova embraced the country’s unique fashion style and integrated it into her own design aesthetic, according to her website, Her vision is to make women feel “feminine, beautiful and powerful for any occasion.”

Her atelier, in the Auckland suburb of Sandringham, offers tailoring, alterations and original dressmaking. Evening wear such as cocktail dresses and ball gowns, wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses and other items are some of the tailor-made services offered on the website.

Her work has also been seen at the Miss World New Zealand contest. Sadyrova sews for a local online brand which was asked by event organisers in 2016 to become a sponsor.

“As a side note, the same thing will probably take place again this year. Some of the participants of various contests are my steady customers,” she said.

Sadyrova looks forward to bringing her label “ASYA” to the New Zealand market, which embodies both class and sophistication, according to the website.

The designer noted the differences in clothing choices between women in Kazakhstan and New Zealand.

“Girls in Kazakhstan and the entire post-Soviet area are quite obsessed with their looks, like to dress up all the time and have the perfect fit for their body and shape. Meanwhile, locals in New Zealand seem relaxed, prefer comfortable and occasionally very casual clothing,” she said, according to news reports.

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Non-profit launches to assist, promote Kazakh-language journalists

Wed, 2017-03-01 03:05

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – A new non-profit organisation launched in January to help journalists working in Kazakh-language media improve their professional skills.

More than 70 people attended the Feb. 11 first meeting of the Kazakh-speaking Professional Journalists public association, during which the group identified the key work areas, brainstormed on the priority activities, outlined the action plan for this year and discussed the scope of work. The organisers presented the participants with membership certificates.

The main objective of the public association is to identify the challenges and find solutions to improve the work of Kazakh-speaking journalists working in print and broadcast media outlets. The organisation founders seek to build Kazakh-language journalists’ professional capacity and competitiveness.

“The modern-day demand is education, professionalism and competitiveness. To ensure we meet these requirements, the journalists need a common discussion platform. Since the first day of launch, we have received lots of support. We will use the social networks to maximise feedback and opinion sharing within the journalist community,” said Kenzhekei Toktamurat, one of the founders.

The new group is committed to serving as a platform for an open conversation about what skills the Kazakh-language journalists are lacking or what changes they are faced with. The association also seeks to raise the status of the Kazakh language through media.

The Kazakh government also seeks to strengthen multilingualism by supporting use of Kazakh and Russian, and building English proficiency through education.  To revive and support the Kazakh language use, which in the Soviet times was limited to domestic and local use, the Law on Mass Media requires all state television and radio channels to broadcast at least fifty percent of their content in Kazakh. However, journalists believe there is still much to be done.

“We want to ensure journalists have access to information in the Kazakh language. We want to help them in the work they do. It is not a secret that many state authorities are unable to provide information and give interviews in Kazakh,” Toktamurat said.

According to the organisers, this often hinders the timeliness of Kazakh news reports compared to Russian-language media who have better access to quick and comprehensive information.

To address this, the reporters, government bodies, national companies and financial institutions should work together and hold joint workshops to have a better understanding of each other’s work and industry specific topics and terms, the activists believe. This will help foster a new generation of professional Kazakh journalists working in different genres.

“We also want to focus on the media workers’ achievements, their contribution in strengthening civil society, covering and starting conversations on socially important topics, impacting decision-making. The organisation will be able to give credit to the people who have earned that though their work,” Toktamurat added.

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Kazakh-French business ties strong at 25 year mark in relations

Wed, 2017-03-01 03:02

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – In the past two and a half decades, Kazakhstan and France, though separated by a great distance, have maintained friendly, cordial and cooperative relations. This has allowed the two states to build strong and solid business ties. Jean-Yves Kozak, vice president for Astana of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry France Kazakhstan (CCIFK) sat down with The Astana Times to talk about partnerships the countries have built together.

Jean-Yves Kozak

“Cooperation between France and Kazakhstan is very important for both countries and not a new phenomenon. [This year] marks the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Kazakhstan,” Kozak said.

France is Kazakhstan’s third largest investor, he explained. In the last decade, the European country has invested nearly $10 billion in the Kazakh economy. France is also Kazakhstan’s fifth biggest export market and sixth biggest supplier. Trade turnover between the two countries totalled $2.9 billion in 2016.

“Main investments were made in the energy industry with Total and GDF Suez investing in the oil and gas sector. Areva is present in local uranium production. Other activities and sectors are also represented in Kazakhstan, including transport (Alstom, Airbus, Eurocopter), construction (Saint Gobain, Vicat, Vinci), consumer goods (Danone, Lactalis, Peugeot, Renault, Servier, Sanofi-Aventis, Schneider Electric) and defence industries,” the deputy head of the commerce chamber explained.

Supporting businesses is crucial, Kozak believes. Founded in May 2016, the CCIFK seeks to promote mutual interests, provide a platform for negotiations and information exchange, and ensure the development and maintenance of business ties between France and Kazakhstan. At present, the organisation brings together 40 members.

“It was a priority for us to create a chamber where we can bring together French, Kazakh and other companies linked with France. French companies make up 73 percent of our members; 21 percent are Kazakh companies and other members make up the remaining six percent.”

The organisation has also set its sights on strengthening Kazakhstan’s presence in France by bringing Kazakh investment to the French economy. “We have a vice president located in Paris closely working with Business France and Economic Service,” Kozak said.

In less than a year, the CCIFK has organised 15 major business events. The French Investments in Kazakhstan meeting held in Astana Nov. 29 in particular facilitated the exchange of views and information between business circles and local government officials on administrative barriers to doing business.

According to Kozak, despite the efforts undertaken by Kazakhstan to facilitate the distribution of employment visas, the matter still remains a challenge. “The procedure remains difficult, too bureaucratic. It takes a lot of time for companies to obtain work visas and understand how they work. Our investors are not only working in Almaty and Astana. There is a difference in procedures for getting work visas in the regions of the country,”

Along with strong business and trade ties, Kazakhstan and France enjoy extended cooperation in culture and education.

“Sometimes, we forget about our cooperation in education and culture, but France is also very active in Kazakhstan with the Sorbonne Institute in Almaty and a French school at Miras School in Astana. Alliance Française is also present in these two cities and will soon open in Shymkent,” said Kozak.

As Astana prepares to host EXPO 2017, focusing on finding sustainable development and green energy solutions, later this year, France is working on its national pavilion. The country confirmed its participation in November 2015 during the official visit of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Paris. This major event was followed by the United Nations Climate Change Conference and the signing of the associated Paris Agreement ratified by 194 countries, including Kazakhstan.

“Climate [and] new technologies are priorities for France. EXPO 2017 in Astana is perfectly timed to continue this project together. France is communicating a lot about Astana EXPO 2017, having its own pavilion,” Kozak shared.

“In the future, I think our countries can extend collaboration to other key sectors such as agriculture, tourism and security, not forgetting about new and future technologies,” he concluded.

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Kazakh finance minister pledges to cut red tape for business

Wed, 2017-03-01 02:59

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Kazakh Ministry of Finance is planning to reduce inspections and ease the bureaucratic pressure related to doing business in the country.

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The information came from Finance Minister Bakhyt Sultanov. At a government meeting in February, he spoke about the measures aimed at reducing red tape for business owners.

“The following measures will be taken to reduce pressure on business. Small businesses using cash machines with online status notifications will not be subject to checks. That means 13,000 less inspections. Return of VAT for exporters, who use electronic invoicing, will be done twice quicker, in just 30 working days. To improve the administration of VAT, we are discussing with business circles the possibility of introducing special VAT accounts. On the one hand, this will reduce to zero VAT refund fraud; on the other hand, it will ensure an automated return, especially for small and medium-sized businesses,” Sultanov said.

To encourage good business practices and strengthen priority sectors, the principle of a “green corridor” has been introduced by the customs service for major taxpayers, large producers, investors, authorised economic operators and other players who have complied with the legislation.

In order to shift from tax inspections to in-house control, the ministry is planning to introduce a horizontal monitoring system, abolishing the old practice of pre-planned unsolicited inspections.

The minister also reported that the year-end savings of the national budget was 110 billion tenge (US$345.7 million). Another 36 billion tenge (US$113 million) allocated for the government’s target activities has not been used. Sultanov named changing of contract terms and conditions and backlogs as the main reasons why some of the target funds remain unused.

In 2016, 147 assets at 31 billion tenge (US$97 million) were privatised, Sultanov informed. Overall, as part of a four-year privatisation programme, the government has sold 394 assets worth 106 billion tenge (US$332 million).

“The work on reduction of state ownership will be completed in 2018. Pre-sale of strategic assets initially planned for 2019-2020 will also be carried out in 2018. The list of remaining enterprises to be privatised includes 105 companies,” Sultanov said.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev instructed the government to redistribute the unused funds. He then highlighted the need for a comprehensive systematic approach to taking privatisation decisions.



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Kazakhstan, Russia reaffirm nuclear energy development cooperation

Wed, 2017-03-01 02:50

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA ­– Kazakhstan and Russia last October signed an updated memorandum of understanding to cooperate on nuclear energy projects during a meeting in Astana.

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The memorandum focuses on cooperation in developing nuclear energy joint ventures using existing infrastructure, including uranium mining segments, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication and the final stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. It also reaffirms earlier agreements of the Comprehensive Programme of Kazakh-Russian Cooperation in nuclear energy.  The MoU was signed within the framework of the October 2016 13th Forum of Interregional Cooperation between Kazakhstan and Russia.

The trilateral memorandum was discussed during a recent meeting between Kazakh Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation Director General Alexei Likhachev and a representative of Kazakh national uranium importer and exporter Kazatomprom, according to The group also discussed Rosatom’s participation in EXPO 2017.

Rosatom, established in 2007, is the regulatory body of the Russian nuclear complex, which includes more than 360 enterprises. It is headquartered in Moscow and runs all nuclear assets of the Russian Federation, both civil and military.

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Philanthropy indicator of society’s maturity, say corporate charity forum participants

Wed, 2017-03-01 02:43

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Kazakh capital hosted the first corporate charity forum Feb. 24-25 organised by Samruk Kazyna Trust social development foundation. The event served as a unique dialogue platform for activists, public authorities and businesspersons to exchange experiences in promoting philanthropic initiatives and strengthening social responsibility.

Samruk Kazyna head Umirzak Shukeyev welcomed the forum participants and noted corporate social responsibility is a litmus test, indicating the maturity and evolution of the society, economy and state as a whole.

“The importance of this trend is evidenced by the attention the head of state pays to it in his policy. The President has repeatedly pointed out that we must consider the development of business through the prism of social responsibility, social transformation and building of a social state,” he said.

Shukeyev also urged participants to have open discussions and cooperate with each other.

“Today, representatives of the largest companies of Kazakhstan and Russia, local government agencies, parliament members, leading charitable organisations and international experts have gathered together in this venue. The forum should become a platform that brings together business, government institutions and public organisations for a social partnership. Each of you has experience in the implementation of social projects. Each of you has something to share. I am sure that the forum will help create the leaders of corporate charity and help transfer the accumulated experiences. This will give impetus to the development of social initiatives in our country,” he said.

Famous Russian actor and philanthropist Konstantin Khabensky sent a video message to the participants, in which he said he was very pleased that charity is receiving more and more attention and becoming systemic and effective. Khabensky created a foundation in 2008 for children with brain tumoгrs and severe brain diseases.

The forum opened with the plenary session “Corporate Philanthropy: Social Role of Business in the Society’s Development.” Kazakh senator Darkhan Kaletayev, Gazprom Neft regional policy head Anna Kazarina, Pavlodar region Akim (Governor) Bulat Bakauov, PriceWaterhouseCoopers Eurasia managing partner Mark Hannye and businesspersons Raimbek Batalov and Aidyn Rakhimbayev discussed ways of building mutually-beneficial partnerships between the government, business and non-governmental organisations to promote charity. They also shared some success stories and effective social projects.

Kaletayev, Samruk Kazyna Trust chairperson of the trustees’ board, spoke about the foundation’s main principles, goals and objectives based on values such as efficiency, social relevance, consistency and transparency.

“These values ​​are close and clear to all modern organisations involved in the development of social programmes. We must improve the quality of social projects, make them more systematic and large-scale, bring up leaders in this field and secure continuity of sharing experience in the future,” he said.

Kazarina believes social projects should be mutually beneficial to all stakeholders, including the government, business and non-profit sector.

“Without the participation of all three parties, bringing charity to a new qualitative level is impossible. All three of these institutions are interested in the qualitative development of the social investment tools that can provide a long-term effect. Business can bring not only financial resources, but expertise, thereby enhancing the charity tools,” she said.

On the first day, the organisers held various workshops, seminars and a concert. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to the purchase of special equipment to help blind and visually impaired children learn to read.

Day two found the foyer of Astana Opera hosting an extraordinary interactive exhibition where social projects were regarded as art pieces. Every exhibit and installation was related to one of the successful social projects of Samruk Kazyna Trust.

The second day of the forum featured “I Believe,” an open conference with 12 speakers engaged in unique social projects, including Miloserdie voluntary society fund head Aruzhan Sain, Vlast online magazine chief editor Vyacheslav Abramov and Samruk Kazyna Trust national consultant Sholpan Baibolova.

The participants shared their personal stories, spoke openly about how charitable organisations work and challenged the status quo around disability. Often the speakers themselves, and those in the audience, could not hold back tears.

The story of Veniamin Alayev, executive director of Kenes Comprehensive Rehabilitation Centre, seemed to have touched everyone in the audience who gave him a standing ovation after his speech.

Alayev was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was only nine months old. His parents never gave up on him and provided him with a good education and opportunity to live a normal life. Alayev, however, remembers how different his life was from those of his friends and what a challenge it was for his parents to have him grow up and be educated in a regular public school along with healthy kids.

He now has a family, baby daughter and significant job. His work focuses on making society more inclusive for people with special needs.

Alayev admits his success story is an exception to the rule. Society needs to open up to people with disabilities, he believes, noting schools must be ready to accept students with disabilities and employers to recruit them as adults.

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Kazakhstan finishes fourth in Asian Winter Games

Wed, 2017-03-01 02:37

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

SAPPORO – Kazakh athletes took fourth place in the team standings at the Asian Winter Games (also known as Asiad), held Feb. 19-26 in Japan. In total, Team Kazakhstan won 32 medals – nine gold, 11 silver and 12 bronze. First place went to team Japan, second to South Korea and third to China.

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Competitions were held in 11 sports with 64 sets of medals contested. About 1,200 athletes from 32 countries, including Australia and New Zealand, took part in the games held in Sapporo and Obihiro, both located on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

According to media reports, Japan paid only 3.5 billion yen (roughly $30 million) to hold the games and sold 70,000 tickets for the event. The next Asiad will be held in 2021 in China, ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

Kazakh athletes won medals in eight sports. Curlers, snowboarders and the downhill skiing team did not win any medals.

The biathlete team showed particularly good results, winning six gold medals of the seven sets. Yan Savitsky, who represented the athletes in the seventh discipline, men’s pursuit, was unlucky with the weather. Galina Vishnevskaya, who won four golds, became the main heroine, winning three medals in the individual event and one in the team relay.

“I think Team Kazakhstan has achieved excellent results. It would be wrong to say it was easy for us, but we tried hard in every race and deserved our wins. This season I want, first of all, to keep my place in the world’s top 30 ranking. The Olympics will be held next year, which we should be prepared for to try to compete for medals,” said Vishnevskaya.

The performance by figure skater Denis Ten was disappointing, as the 2014 Olympic bronze winner could not show his best skills in Japan. A fall in the short programme and inaccuracies in the free programme left him far behind the leaders. After the performance, he said he was not discouraged despite not winning any medals, as the main competitions for him at this stage are the upcoming World Championship and the 2018 Olympics.

By contrast, young Kazakh figure skater Elizabeth Tursynbayeva made a splash in the women’s event. The 17-year old won the hearts of the Japanese audience and a bronze medal. She performed to music from a film by famous Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.

“I performed well. There was a small mistake in the beginning, but the rest was done well. I did better in the free programme than in the short one and was more concentrated. In general, the competition was held at a high level. This is a good achievement, of course, and I will keep on working to make progress in the future,” said Tursynbayeva.

Two more medals for Team Kazakhstan came in speed skating. The 2013 World champion Denis Kuzin won silver in 1000m and together with the team took bronze in the team pursuit.

The short track skaters won some medals as well. The women’s team took bronze, which, taking into account the strong competition, was equal to a feat.

“We managed to win bronze in this fierce competition. This is another proof that we have formed a good women’s team. As for the men, we brought the second team, but they could compete for medals as well. It was our purpose to test their strength in the fight against the Olympic champions,” said Kazakh short track team head coach Madygali Karsybekov.

The Kazakh ski jumpers achieved decent results. A silver in the team competition and two bronze medals by Sergei Tkachenko and Marat Zhaparov were a pleasant surprise.

The mogulists performed quite well, too. Julia Galysheva won gold and silver and Dmitry Reiherd captured two bronze medals. Both could actually claim even better results, as there were serious complaints against the judges.

Kazakhstan’s ice hockey team took first place, winning all three games in the men’s tournament. Moreover, the team clearly dominated every game, scoring “scores” of goals and keeping a clean sheet in each.

“If you remember, our team lost to the Japanese team in the finals of the 2003 Asiad, held in Japan. Now, we revenged on their ice. [But] most importantly, the team completed the tasks [assigned by the manager] and won. The fact they did not allow a single goal in three games adds confidence and proves that our hockey team played really hard and did their best,” said goalkeeper Vitaly Kolesnik.

The skiers added more medals to the country’s medal count, climbing the podium several times. Rinat Mukhin won the title of Asian Games champion in the 15km individual race, while Yelena Kolomina won two silvers and one bronze. In the men’s 10km mass start, Sergey Cherepanov was a runner-up and Nikolai Chebotko gained a third place finish. Second place also went to the men’s relay team (Cherepanov, Erdos Akhmadiyev, Chebotko and Mukhin).

Kazakh fans had a number of good reasons for feeling proud at the Asian Winter Games. Since the next Olympics will be held in less than a year, the results can be considered a good claim for medals in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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Kazakh President, ATOM Project Hon. Ambassador nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Tue, 2017-02-28 06:18

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project Karipbek Kuyukov along with the international organisation Global Zero have been nominated for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Director of the Basel Peace Offices (BPO) Alyn Ware from Switzerland submitted the nominations, according to a February 26 posting on his Facebook page. “I am submitting a nomination for two individuals and one organisation, each of which is making a significant and complementary contribution to public awareness and political processes for nuclear disarmament,” Ware said in his official letter.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev

According to Ware, nuclear weapons are primarily a political weapon, not one currently used in the battlefield. As such, there is no single approach to eliminating the threat. Success in achieving nuclear abolition will require a combination of approaches, some emphasising the inhumanity and illegality of nuclear weapons, others emphasising the economic and political costs, and others emphasising the possibilities to achieve security without relying on nuclear deterrence.

“President Nazarbayev stands out as a leader who has taken a number of significant nuclear disarmament initiatives during his 22 years as leader of Kazakhstan. … He not only has a commitment to the achievement of a nuclear-weapons-free world, but continues to take a number of initiatives that are influential in the process to achieve such a world. A Nobel Peace Prize would enhance the influence and support these processes globally,” Ware said.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at Building a Nuclear-Free-World international conference in Astana, Aug. 29, 2016.

In his letter, available at, Ware listed several of Nazarbayev’s contributions to the global nuclear disarmament process which he said merit the recognition. These include closing the Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk; foregoing the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal to become a nuclear-weapon-free country [the nomination says “third largest” whereas in effect Kazakhstan’s arsenal used to be the world’s fourth largest, smaller than those in Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine]; leading the negotiations for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Central Asia; establishing the UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests; hosting a number of international conferences on nuclear abolition; initiating the Universal Declaration for a Nuclear-Weapons Free World which has now been adopted by the United Nations; launching a Manifesto for the 21st Century which outlines a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2045, the 100th anniversary of the United Nations; addressing military spending and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including a challenge to all governments to contribute one percent of their military spending to meeting the SDGs; pledging action on nuclear disarmament in the UN Security Council, where Kazakhstan has a non-permanent seat from 2017-2018; and launching the Nazarbayev Prize for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World and Global Security.

“Kuyukov is a hero of the nuclear age who is highlighting the tragic experience of his region in Kazakhstan – devastated by the long-term effects of Soviet nuclear tests. The ATOM Project, which he leads, informs the world of the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons and the imperative for nuclear abolition. A second-generation victim of nuclear tests, Karipbek was born with severe health complications, including being born with no arms. He has overcome these to become a renowned painter (using his feet and mouth) – including paintings depicting the nuclear testing in his region. Karipbek speaks at key events in the United Nations and around the world, telling story after story of the families that are still being severely impacted by birth defects, cancers and other health effects,” he added.

Karipbek Kuyukov

The letter also notes Global Zero leaders include very influential legislators and former officials from the nuclear armed and allied states. They produce influential reports and hold effective consultations and meetings in the capitals of nuclear-armed states. Global Zero youth have been instrumental in raising the issue through social media, at international conferences, in mainstream media and most recently in the U.S. presidential election campaign, where they managed to raise the nuclear weapons issue in town hall meetings with most of the presidential candidates.

In addition, Member of the Scottish Parliament Bill Kidd also nominated Nazarbayev and Kuyukov for their dedicated and effective actions to highlight the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, as well as for their leadership in promoting a nuclear-weapons-free world, reported.

“Nuclear weapons are recognised as the most extreme form of violence. They are the most destructive of all weapons in terms of their explosive force, the poisons they release (radiation) and the long-term and severe impact on human health and the environment, including their potential for catastrophic climatic consequences,” Kidd noted in his application to the Nobel Peace Committee.

Kuyukov (L) and Ware (R) at Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Assembly in Prague, 2015.

“I would like to express my gratitude to all my friends for kind words and congratulations,” Kuyukov wrote in his Facebook account having received hundreds of congratulations from people around the world upon the news of his nomination. “I always say that I am proud to live in a country that was one of the first states to renounce nuclear weapons. Everyone knows the role of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Antinuclear Movement, headed by Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov. Our President signed a decree to close the Semipalatinsk Test Site after 40 years of nuclear tests. The Atom Project, initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, continues the peaceful policy of Kazakhstan. This recognition actually goes to our people, and especially the decent work of our heroes: the President, writers, scholars, doctors, teachers, journalists and the art community of Kazakhstan. Each of them has contributed to the prosperity of our state, and we should be proud of this and keep striving for even higher level. My mission on Earth is to do what I can do and if it brings some benefit to my country, my family and everyone who knows me, it means that I do not live in vain.”

The BPO is a joint initiative of the Canton of Basel, University of Basel Sociology Seminary, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Global Security Institute, Middle Powers Initiative, World Future Council, IPPNW Switzerland and the swisspeace Foundation.

The ATOM Project is an international campaign designed to create awareness surrounding the human and environmental devastation caused by nuclear weapons testing. The ATOM Project seeks to affect real and lasting change by engaging millions of global citizens to permanently stop nuclear weapons testing by joining together to show the world’s leaders that the world’s citizens deserve and demand a world without nuclear weapons testing, according to


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Nazarbayev, Putin note potential for expanding ties during Almaty meeting

Tue, 2017-02-28 04:14

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed bilateral cooperation and international issues Feb.27 in Almaty.

During the meeting, Nazarbayev stressed the close and trusting relationship between the two countries.

“This year marks 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between us. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was established thanks to our close partnership. In my opinion, it is an important and promising establishment for all the participants. Today, more than 7,000 Russian companies are registered in our country. They are contributing to the creation of a new processing industry. Your visit to Kazakhstan in autumn 2016, as well as our St. Petersburg meeting in the framework of the (Eurasian Economic Council) allowed us to sign 41 contract worth $3 billion,” he said, according to an Akorda press release.

Nazarbayev noted Kazakhstan and Russia have similar positions on many international issues and that Kazakhstan’s membership in the UN Security Council in 2017-2018 will help implement common objectives.

“Russia is taking measures to address the topical international issues, including the settlement of the Syrian conflict. Russia proposed to hold several rounds of talks in Astana. The process has started. In general, a series of meetings will be organised throughout the year in order to address this and other issues, including in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on June 8 in Astana. We solve all the current issues in a friendly manner. We shall be moving forward, creating joint ventures along the way,” Nazarbayev stated.

Putin thanked his counterpart for the organisation of the Astana Process to help resolve the conflict in Syria.

“I know that Kazakhstan has played a positive role in this process not only as an organiser. You personally took part in the organisation of meetings, as well as worked with the participants and delegates. Thanks to you, it became possible to achieve) results which never had been achieved earlier. The established mechanism of control over the ceasefire is the most important thing. This is the foundation for further negotiations in Geneva,” Putin said.

He further noted the importance of Kazakhstan as a key economic partner for Russia and stressed the need to expand trade and investment cooperation, including thanks to the conditions established as part of the integration process.

The Russian leader expressed hope for Kazakhstan’s support in dealing with global issues as of a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

During the meeting, the sides also discussed Eurasian integration and economic cooperation.

The day before the official meeting on Monday, Nazarbayev and Putin met informally, to ski at an Almaty resort.

On Feb. 27, Putin left Almaty for Tajikistan, and he is also scheduled to visit Kyrgyzstan as part of his Central Asian tour.


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Kazakh Deputy PM notes increased bilateral trade during meeting with Uzbek President

Tue, 2017-02-28 04:02

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – First Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Askar Mamin met with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and participated in the 16th session of the joint intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation Feb. 23 in Tashkent.

“Kazakhstan is the largest strategic trade partner of Uzbekistan in Central Asia,” Mirziyoyev said, noting the two countries are entering a new stage of economic cooperation.

According to a press release from the Kazakh government, Mamin said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev attaches great importance to relations with Uzbekistan and that cooperation has allowed the opening of joint trading houses in agribusiness, chemicals and the petrochemical industry. Mamin also noted the importance of cooperation in tourism and the automotive and petrochemicals industries and joint agreements to open bus and air routes. An Almaty-Tashkent high-speed railway and an increase to six flights a week between the capitals are expected to launch soon.

Trade turnover also increased 40 percent to $1.6 billion in 2016 with plans to increase that to $5 billion by 2020.

After the talks, Mirziyoev awarded the Dustlik (Friendship) Order to Mamin for great contributions in the development of mutually beneficial relations between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, his personal contribution to the expansion of cooperation between the two countries in the field of railway transport, as well as participation in major projects of interregional transport corridors in Central Asia.

At the meeting of the joint intergovernmental commission, the participants stressed that the development of industrial cooperation and joint investment projects should be the main focus of cooperation between the regions.

“We are ready for active cooperation with Kazakhstan and implementation of joint projects. The expansion of interregional cooperation will certainly contribute to the intensification of trade-economic and investment cooperation,” First Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Ochilboi Ramatov said.

The Kazakh and Uzbek delegations discussed bilateral cooperation in energy, customs, oil and gas, transport and transit, tourism, scientific and technical, the cultural and humanitarian spheres, as well as cooperation in military and military-technical fields.

The growth in the transportation of goods by rail between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 2016 to 19 million tonnes was also noted. The parties agreed to limited transportation tariff discounts for Kazakh grain through Uzbekistan, and Uzbek fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products through the territory of Kazakhstan.


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