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The Asian side of the world

Jean-François Sabouret

Part one. Regional dynamics and globalisation

OSCE and the Kazakh Presidency in 2010

Wanda Dressler

Texte intégral

1April 2010

2A country almost unknown to most, Kazakhstan holds the presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe this year. This organisation is recognised under the regional agreement of the Charter of the United Nations. It offers a platform for dialogue and decision-making in conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict recovery (human, politico-military, economic and environmental aspects of regional security) to European and former USSR countries since 1994, following the Helsinki Final Act. It may be surprising that such a responsibility be given to a young Muslim nation that only became independent in 1991. A brief review of its history will enable us to shed some light on its remarkable development.

3The Kazakh steppe land, at the crossroads between Chinese, Turkish, Russian and Persian civilisations, was home to the largest nomad population in the world until the end of the 19th century. Settled by force under the Soviet rule, the country has had to contend with the painful legacy left by this regime and ultra-liberal globalisation since 1991.

4Nevertheless, Kazakhstan boasts many enviable assets. It is the 9th largest country in the world, with an area of 2,7 million km² and a population of 17,1 million in 1991, bringing together over 130 different nationalities and religions. The country has the advantage of possessing the last oil reserves in the world, which remain largely unexploited due to their landlocked position (14th oil exporter in the world), and exceptional mineral resources rich in uranium (2nd), zinc and manganese (4th), lead, cobalt and iron (7th), gold (8th) and gas (15th), not to mention a great agricultural potential.

5Until 1991, the country was prevented from fully benefiting from its resources under the control of the expansive military-industrial complex of the Soviet Empire. This painful experience ended with the massacre of a third of the nomad population, who faced famine or were forced to flee collective farming and the violent repression that followed the frequent revolts, and the transformation of the country into an enormous Gulag. The “traitors” of the revolution (the Ukrainians, Polish, Volga Germans, etc.) were taken to the north where they were left without any proof of identity in difficult environmental conditions and were obliged build the foundations of an industrial and agricultural country. The Koreans and Uyghur people escaping the Korean partition and Chinese repression in Xinjiang found refuge in the south. The Virgin Lands campaign, which was supposed to provide the Empire with cereals in the 1950s, resulted in the rapid depletion of the poor arable layer of the steppe. The open-air nuclear test site near the Altai Mountains has left the area contaminated for thousands of years. The poorly regulated intensive cotton exploitation has led to the drying out of the Aral Sea.

6The suffering shared and endured by the Kazakh people has formed modern Kazakhstan. In 1986, under the Perestroika, the first Republic provoked a student uprising when Mr. Gorbachev dismissed the First Secretary, Kazakh Dinmukhamed Khonaev, and replaced him with a Russian, G. Kolbin.

7Under the new presidency of Noursultan Nazarbayev, a reformer from the ruling circle of the party, this young nation took control of the situation and set itself apart with symbolic and strategically important decisions. On coming into power, Nazarbayev stated his determination to peacefully manage the country by relinquishing nuclear weapons. On 29th of August 1991, he succeeded in closing the Semipalatinsk test site, for which the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement, led by the writer, Olzhas Suleimenov, with anti-nuclear militants from Nevada, had been fighting since 1989.

8Unlike most oil-producing countries (where the elite have badly handled their resources) and other emerging countries (opting for shock therapy), the new president implemented a step-by-step development plan “Kazakhstan 2030” to give his country ample time to reach the level of the major world powers. Aware of the necessity to reconstruct the Eurasian region in following the European Union’s example, which, for him is a model, he adopted a multilateral foreign policy to escape the Russian influence while offering Russia an alliance without the hammer and sickle within the Commonwealth of Independent States.

9Going against the European experts’ bleak predictions for dissolution, he gave his country a centralised constitution based on the French model, created a new capital in the north near the troubled areas where the Russian majority and Cossack groups were protesting for their territory to belong to Russia, and abandoning the capital that was built during the last century in the south to counteract the threat from the Chinese. He disassociated Kazakh citizenship from Kazakh people in order to create a citizenship that would be more inclusive to all inhabitants of the Republic, cutting short any attempts to separate the Republic. He established a state ideology of Eurasia, giving it the opposite meaning to Russian Eurasism – a substitute for imperial ideology in the aftermath of its collapse. He created the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan of which he became the President in order to closely manage the 130 ethnic groups and religions. For Nazarbayev, as culture is closely related to religion, he ordered the construction of a pyramid of peace and concord, inviting all world and traditional religions to a tri-annual meeting to reflect on regulating religious conflict. He attempted to put into theory the Kazakh model of co-existence and inter-ethnic tolerance in tracing its new path “towards Europe”.

10It is important to understand this aspect of Kazakh politics in order to grasp the fundamental nature of the conflict management missions that the presidency of the OSCE has assigned itself, beginning with the Afghan and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. However, this aspiration for tolerance beyond suffering is undoubtedly due to its history and strong culture, which contributed to sealing the fate of Kazakhs today.

11Between nomadism and settlement, the Scythians gave way to the Sarmatians, then the Turkish community whose influence dates back to the 6th century when the Kazakh territory became associated with the Turkish Kaganat (from which the Seljuq sultanates of the 11th century and the Ottomans of the 16th century originated). Islam, which appeared from the 8th century, flourished during the 12th century in the city of Turkestan, owing to Khodja Akhmet Yasawi who spread a Sufi version of the religion that was tolerant of women and literature, stimulating great minds such as Abu-Nasr al-Farabi.

12Conquests of and alliances with external Chinese and Mongolian tribes continued from the 13th to the 15th century. The region was ruled by Genghis Khan only between 1219 and 1221 and was subsequently divided between his sons. The disintegration of the Kaganat, which left behind groups of nomad cattle farmers, led by a Khan affected certain territories. The Kazakh tribes were first incorporated into a Khanate under the Uzbek jurisdiction in the centre and northeast of modern Kazakhstan. The Uzbek Khanate was the only of its kind to become strong enough to give rise to the Uzbek nationality. These tribes then formed a part of a Kazakh Khanate, which gained independence between 1456 and 1465, and has expanded to the southeast of the country today, near Alma Ata (known as Almaty). After the collapse of the Golden Horde at the end of the 15th century, an attempt to extend the Kazakh State towards the West was initiated.

13In 1520, a code was adopted that was maintained for two centuries. The emergence of the three present Juzes occurred between the breaking up of the Golden Horde and the beginning of the 18th century (the Juzes – hordes in French – remain influential political and familial entities and have close ties with the lands on which the Kazakhs live). The repeated threats of the Djungar Mongol tribes at the end of the 17th century urged the country to request Russian protection, which resulted in a conquest. The “osmosis” between the two populations was shaken up until Sovietisation. This was due to the sporadic revolts linked to the progression of the Russian agricultural and military colonisation led by the Cossacks until the beginning of the 20th century in the outposts of the Ottoman Empire, which were growing in increasing strategic importance.

14The colonisation process nurtured great minds, due to the contact with renowned exiles, of which the most famous was Chokan Valikhanov, a companion of Dostoyevsky during his time in exile. By opening itself up to the West, this process contributed to what the Kazakhs call “Kazakh enlightenment” of which Abai Kynanbayev became its symbol and who brought about change from an oral to a written tradition, sharing his vast knowledge of the East and West with the people. He even spread the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in the steppe.

15Furthermore, from the beginning of the 1917 Revolution, the Kazakh intelligentsia, educated in St. Petersburg, produced a wave of militants in favour of the social emancipation at the root of a very powerful cultural movement, which, in the 1920s, laid down the foundations for a philosophy of multicultural co-existence. However, like the first victims of the Stalin purges, their message disappeared. Today it has been revived with its spiritual successors preserving the image of a deep and rich Kazakh culture where tolerance is the highest value.

16It is this steppe culture that the presidency of the OSCE is asking us to get to know through the actions put forward by its President who exemplifies the words of Olzhas Suleimenov, one of its ardent upholders and current permanent ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan for UNESCO in Paris: “The suffering that the Kazakh people have endured is so awful that we feel the pain of others. We are very close to other nations and we welcome the idea of bringing the world’s cultures closer together.”

17In his book, Le livre de la glaise, Suleimenov writes: “The nomad’s past is a reality that is becoming more complex every day. They are now portrayed as clichés of ancient scholars. We still only have a very vague idea of the role they played in the history of mankind.” In light of the enthusiasm brought about by this presidency, which is organising a summit on tolerance in Astana in June 2010, UNESCO will launch the “International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures” on 27th of April 2010 with a concert of Kazakh virtuoso musicians in the Salle Gaveau in Paris. On 29th of August, the “International Day of Action against Nuclear Testing” will take place. In 2011, Kazakhstan will chair the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Thus, in the near future, there will be a number of interesting events concerning Kazakhstan that will encourage us to continue discovering this country.


Centre national de la recherche scientifique

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