In a few days, Kazakhstan, where I am travelling right now, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its independence.
Kazakhstan, the country of Borat? No! The real Kazakhstan, a huge and fascinating country that none seems to know anything about in the world.
First, it’s as large as Western Europe. It shares borders with 5 countries: will you be able to name them all?
Kazakhstan is associated to mythical concepts. The Silk Road was going through what is now Southern Kazakhstan – there’s not much but ruins left of that, but in Turkistan you can still admire the incredible Yasuai Mausoleum from the 14th century. Also, the Kazakhs are supposedly descendents of Genghis Khan: warriors on horse back throughout the steppes, how legendary!
There is a very own specificity of Kazakhstan that unfortunately disappeared but has marked the culture profoundly: nomadism. Until Stalin albeit, as a cultural genocide that forced the Kazakh people to abandon their ancestral way of life and settle in collective farms put an end to it in 1929-1933.
Another thing that surprised me when I learned it: apples are from Kazakhstan. I’ve read all details about it in Christopher Robbins’ book In search of Kazakhstan: a brilliant Soviet botanist named Vavilov discovered and demonstrated that apples originated from wild orchards not far from Almaty! OK, that botanist ended up in gulag too, but it was hard to avoid that in Stalin times…
Nursultan Nazarbaev has been the president since independence, and is re-elected every time with over 90% of votes (the constitution of Kazakhstan says you cannot be run more than twice, unless you are the first President! Nazarbaev did not come down with the last snow!).
OK, Kazakhstan occupies the 160th place (out of 180 countries) on Reporters without Borders press fredoom index; but Nazarbaev has succeeded in bringing a lot of economical wealth as well as stability to a post-USSR, multi-ethnic country, a sign that his alternative model might not be the wrong one for young independent Kazakhstan.
A last thing about Kazakhstan? Well, the national drink is fermented horse milk; there is also fermented camel milk. Would you try it?