Travel

5 Things You Didn’t Know about Kazakhstan

Written by Frank Kremer

Kazakhstan is a country in central Asia, it’s hot in the summer and gets chilly in winter. The roads are a bit rough and there’s no ocean. There endeth our (and possibly your) previous knowledge of the country of Kazakhstan.

Until we looked it up, and made a list. Just for you.


UF_2011” (CC BY 2.0) by super_collider

The Nation Has a Lot of History

Genghis Khan and his rather excitable Mongol horde tore through this country back in the 13th century. It’s four times the size of Texas, and most of it is vast steppes and endless plains, but that didn’t stop them from chopping down every tree in sight in order to turn them all into lumbering siege engines, bundles of arrows and a whole host of campfires. When Khan’s troops grew bored and drifted off to attack somewhere else, the void the invaders left filled up over time with culture, a shared longing for identity. That’s often the point where a people become a nation. And it’s where the story of Kazakhstan begins.

No sea, and boisterous neighbours on long borders impeded this identity but also made it robust. Folded under the cloak of Imperial Russia, and then as a Soviet Republic, Kazakhstan became an independent country in 1991, forged trading links with its neighbours and opened for business.

… And a Big Future Ahead


IMG_9326 Astana” (CC BY 2.0) by Ninara

A wealth of highly prized mineral resources lay beneath those dusty plains; gold and bauxite and uranium paint the ores, vast wells of natural gas flow deep underground. With control over its resources and an upsurge of international investment, the last Soviet republic to declare independence emerged culturally nourished and fully-fledged, with a rich depth of history and a breadth of ambition.

Kazakhstan has a Great Poker Face

For a country of just over 18 million inhabitants, there is a remarkable number of casinos and card halls in Kazakhstan. These venues cluster around the five largest cities, which can make for an exciting nightlife.

The grandest of all is Casino Altyn Alma, where 44 tables and 150 poker and gaming machines bustle with action. The nation is such a popular destination for poker pros that it has become a frequent stop on many a poker tour – last year the Eurasian Poker Tour (EAPT) paid a visit to Astana’s Cashville Casino, where Ukraine’s Shklyar Iaroslav scooped winnings of $33,330 in a well-attended Main Event which attracted 150 entries.

In spring 2016 local poker legend Aidyn Auyezkanov reached third position in the gruelling 2016 EPT Monte Carlo Super High Roller, further cementing the reputation of this emerging poker power.

There’s Space Enough for a Poet to become a Hero…

Whatever poets might say to the contrary, a poet rarely get to play a role in the shaping of their nation. Mostly they hang back to deliver bon mots from the sidelines.

Not so Abai Qunanbaiuli. He was a poet, and a good one to boot. He’s also a national hero.


Abai Qunanbaiuli” (CC BY 2.0) by somiz

 

The Kazakh city of Abay is named in his honour – “Abay” being an affectionate nickname he earned at school. It means “careful”.

Born in 1845, he attended a Russian school, where he fiercely absorbed the influence of the Russian poets, particularly Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. He was a published poet at 15, and soon after became a renowned composer and philosopher and translator of literature into Kazakh to round off his not inconsiderable skillset.

Throughout his life, Abay steered a careful and stately course between European and Russian poles of influence, and helped uncover a seam of nationhood through the comprehensive body of work he left upon his death in 1904. His major work is “The Book of Words”, a collection of poems and reflections on how the country and its people should relate to the world so vast around them.

His life story has at various times been the subject of 2 novels, an opera, and a biopic in 1995. He’s just as relevant to Kazakhstan today as he was to it back then. In 2012 Abay’s poetry made it into the top 10 AppStore downloads, which would have made him smile, wryly. New schools and libraries spring up, bearing his name and there are statues of him all over the place, including one in Moscow.

… And There’s a Huge Sculpture of The Beatles in the Park.

No, really, there is.

Atop the hill of Kok-Tobe in Almaty stands a big bold brass Beatles bench sculpture.

The Fab Four are cast together, frozen as an album cover – the only figure grouping of the four of them extant in sculpture. And it’s been done as a bench that you can sit on to admire the fine detailing of their looming Liverpudlian faces. Whilst you ponder what it’s doing there at all.

The answer, like untarnished beauty, is really very simple.

The Beatles reached out everywhere, they are ubiquitous. It’s kind of what they’re known for.

And the self-titled world’s greatest Beatles fan happens to be a gentleman by the name of Rinat Shayahmetov who politely pestered his city council for seven years until they got tired of writing replies and instead permitted Mr Shayahmetov and his friends to build the sculpture in tribute to the Fab Four and park it in the park.

That’s why it’s there.

You might call it a quiet triumph of perseverance to deliver a dream. Doubtless, Abay would have approved.

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Frank Kremer

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