Kazakhstan

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Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

“We want to work in a bank”, said Toghzan, the prettiest of the three with only slightly stretched eyes distinguishing her from a European. She and Daniya were studying at a finance and banking institute. “My dream is to go to New York”, echoed Indian looking A nur (not on the photo) when she heard we also lived there.

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Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

Just like races and languages, in Central Asia religions too formed an evolving mosaic, starting with Zoroastrianism, Manichaeanism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, shamanism, and the latest, Islam. Here in the Kazakh capital, Christian Orthodoxy is strong even among the youth. The Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park is colorful and wholly made of wood, looking like an assembled toy with plenty of little golden cupolas and crosses standing out against the blue sky.

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Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

As in all economically better off societies, Kazakh were more camera-shy than the other Central Asians, and less friendly. One more reason not to overstay, apart from the heavy bureaucracy, and the lack of monuments, apart this one below. So, more hip, macro, or simply monument shots.

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Turkistan, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

We made a huge westward detour to get to Central Asia’s biggest intact dome and the country’s one and only worthwhile ancient monument: the 14th century Yassaoui Mausoleum, the blueprint of the Samarkand ones, which brought us up back almost to the longitude of that city. A few people were making the round, hugging the wall, presumably praying, except I caught with my macro a young woman yawning (below), the one behind her looked so very much Chinese. On the way in we passed near Otrar (or Al-Farabi), but didn’t see anything for the place was razed when its stupid governor brought down Genghis Khan’s wrath on himself and on the whole of Western Asia and Eastern Europe by killing the Mongolian ambassadors.

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Turkistan, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

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Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

And we thought Bishkek was bad. In Almaty, the most russified of all Central Asian capitals (alright, Astana is Kazakhstan’s new capital, but Almaty is the main city, just like New York overrides Washington DC), the cheapest room in the least expensive hotel we found the next day was … 150 dollars a night at the Kazzhol Hotel. We ended up in a university dorm for 25. A bit like this babuska who entered the little cafeteria, and got hot water in her jar to make her own soup.

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Karkara, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

Towards the border in a remote area where China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan meet. Yet we had made it! 1197 km in 23 hours from central Kazakhstan to the north-eastern corner of Kyrgyzstan via one bus, three taxis, one collective taxi, one official car, and a minivan, in a quick sequence. The official car belonged to the customs officers who drove us to the first Kyrgyz village for 40 bucks.

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Turkistan, Kazakhstan, October 2008.

Shahrzod, 2 year-old, and Gulbahar, 5 year-old, kept kissing in the minivan, Next to us was Ruslan, a barely 18 years old already at university, and not only, alone in his class he had passed the concours to go and study four years in… Manchester, UK. His English was first class, previously he had also won a math contest and was sent to Moscow, on top of it he was very pleasant, and kept translating everybody’s many questions.

Next to the kids were two more youth, the woman reminded us very much of a Greek friend of ours, and her brother-in-law looked just like a Turk – both Gulmina and Rasoul were indeed Turks, something not at all exceptional in Turkistan. Their grandparents lived in Georgia, and after WWII Stalin relocated their nationality to Kazakhstan, meanwhile their original place had been taken by Greek leftists who fled after the civil war (1948), and joined long-established Greeks in Georgia, a kind of population transfer. And you end up years later with places like, say Astoria, Queens, with a majority of Greeks. This was Turkistan in the early third millennium, Turks amidst Kazakhs and RussiansIn the mashrutka, the passengers constantly shifted between (Turkic) Kazakh and (Slavic) Russian. Ruslan was studying international relations in Russian, Kazakhs can choose between the two languages in school but obviously Russian gives them more opportunities.

 

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