Thursday, February 21, 2008

Steppe Rider

Kazakhstan Steppe RiderThe image above is the wallpaper/desktop on my computer. It's from the VladStudio collection of wallpapers offered by young Russian digital artist Vlad Geramisov. The title of this one is Le Cheval. I like it because it reminds me of Wind Rider -- a novel for young adults that imagines the story of an ancient nomadic people from the Northern Kazakhstan steppe, who first tamed and rode wild horses. The artist lives in the southern Siberian town of Irkutsk, so maybe it's not too far fetched a connection at all.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's a grand ol' place that can celebrate New Year's Day not once, not twice, but four times a year. We usually have our New Year's party on "Old New Year" (celebrated in Kazakhstan on January 14, on the Russian Orthodox calendar), and yesterday marked the beginning of year 4706 in Chinese astrological reckoning (though the symbols are a bigger deal in KZ than the date). You may know 2008 to be the "Year of the Rat," but thanks to a link this time last year from Sean Roberts, I am happy to say that from February 7 through January 25, 2009, we're in the "Year of the Earth Rat!" Each of the twelve animals of the zodiac is associated with 5 different elements, so a complete Chinese astrological cycle comes 'round every 60 years.

In our house, we have a Fire Rat, a Water Tiger and a Fire Ox. Based on birth year, we used to think that a friend was also a Tiger, but his early February birthday made him a Chinese Ox instead.

So far in 2008, we've missed 3 opportunities to throw the annual New Year's party. Luckily, there's one more New Year's to go -- this time, we're aiming for
Nauryz (Persian-Zoroastrian? New Year/Spring Equinox) in March.

Friday, February 01, 2008

On Human Rights
& News from Kazakhstan

Still here, still learning & reading, but alas, not finding time to write.

Earlier this week I was fortunate to attend a lunch discussion on human rights in Kazakhstan. The speakers were four human rights activists currently in the United States through a U. S. State Department program. An hour isn't a very long time to cover such a huge and serious topic, so none of the questions could be answered in depth. In short, the guests said that:

1. the Communist era offered significantly more human rights -- as long as you were a Party member or sympathizer, and exercised your rights in alignment with the Party's interests;

2. significant improvements in human rights were legislated in the first years after independence, however human and citizen rights have largely been rolled back since then;

3. Central Asia is unlikely to duplicate western-style democracies, but could develop their own true democratic structures;

4. the government has two faces: the successful business-oriented democratic face it presents to the outside world, and a more oppressive face turned toward its citizens;

5. the personal safety of opposition activists is tenuous (citing the kidnapping allegations against Rakhat Aliev, and the murder of Altynbek Sarsenbayev);

6. they pursue human rights goals, and risk the dangers, for their children's futures, and because it feels right to help people. As one speaker said, "If I don't achieve our goals in my lifetime, my son will take up the fight. And after him, my grandson."

The delegation visiting the United States includes:

  • Anara Ibrayeva, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Astana Office Director; lawyer

  • Marzhan Aspandiyarova, Nagyz Ak Zhol Democratic Party, Almaty City Branch Chair; "Save Our Homes" housing protection organization coordinator; journalist

  • Murat Telebekov, The Muslim Committee for Human Rights in Central Asia, United Muslims of Kazakhstan, Director; journalist

  • Yuriy Gussakov, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Karaganda Regional Office Director

One encouraging note for those who follow Central Asian politics -- while the speakers said that news from the region, in newspapers and via the Internet, was biased and one-sided, I discovered that I was, in fact, already familiar with amost all of the issues discussed, thanks to news alerts and my RSS reader.

Coverage from sites like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Registan, newEurasia, KZBlog,, and a host of smaller sites, really is a good way to keep abreast of current events not found in popular media (US, EU or KZ), and certainly not to be found in official government sources.

Radio Free Europe