Kazakhstan:  Following a NEW PATH  
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                       05 Nov 2008

                        It has only been 17 years since the Republic of Kazakhstan declared its independence.  The fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991 allowed this country to follow its own pathway to the future … a route not dictated by the authoritarian Communist powers of Moscow.  Much has changed in this country in the past few years … and, … more is to come. 

 Kazakhstan is located in central Asia and was once a part of the former Soviet Union.  China is to the East and Russia to the North and the West.  Kazakhstan has an area of approximately one million square miles, … one half that of the continental United States but with a population of less than 16 million.  … It is a country endowed with abundant natural resources and a multi ethnic people with a long history of cultural traditions and the ability to survive in the harsh environment of the place they call home.  It is also a country and a people where exploitation, slave labor, mismanagement and oppression were all around.  Yet, today they take pride in an exuberant free market economy and a constitutional democracy.

 The new capital city, built on the marshy areas along the Esil River, is the epitome of this rapid transformation.  In 1997, Aqmala … a small city in the central part of the country meaning “white tomb” in the Kazakh language became “Astana” meaning “the capital”.

 In the first 10 years of its existence, Astana has truly become “the Capital” of Kazakhstan.  With its large blue dome, the president’s office building dominates the skyline.  Nearby is the legislative branch of the government as well as the judicial chambers.  All of these key government office buildings are new and within walking distance of each other.  The Baiterek Tower is symbolic of rebirth as told in the ancient tree of life legend of the Kazakh people.  President Nazarbayev has said Astana is a geographical center of the Eurasian continent and that “In the course of time, this city will become one of the powerful communication centers of the vast super continent.” 

 Monuments abound in this country. … Some of these point to the past, … some to the future … and others honor those who have gone on before.  There are heroes of past conflicts, statesmen and politicians, educators, spiritual leaders, artists and laborers.  All of these monuments instill a feeling of pride and community among the people who call Kazakhstan their country.

  This is a place with over 100 ethnic groups living side by side and going about their daily routines. About 55% are Kazakh, 30% Russian and the remainder include Germans, Ukrainians, Uygars and Tatars.  For the well-trained eye, the ethnic diversity can be seen all around but it is the shiny new imported cars that add a new dimension to this mix.  This is evident in all of the larger cities: … in Almaty, the former capital, economic center and largest city; … in Karaganda, noted for the gulags during the Soviet era; … in the nearby city of Temirtau, a major metallurgical processing center;  … in Kakshetau, an agricultural and industrial area in the northern part of the country; …  in Atyrau near the Caspian Sea and a key location for exporting oil and gas; and, of course, in Astana, the capital.

 Mixed in among the transportation for the image conscious elite populace are the buses and trams used by the vast majority of the people.  The bus stops are crowded as are the buses. For the most part, those using this form of transportation make their homes in apartments and small houses characteristic of the Soviet times.  With decaying buildings, graffiti decorated walls and shoddy workmanship, there is a feeling of despair as one tries to navigate their way between potholes and piles of coal and garbage in many residential areas. 

 The new apartments and townhouses in the upscale districts are much different as are the homes in some of the suburbs.  These homes are for the investors, the government bureaucrats, and the oil tycoons.  They are the ones who are able to pay the price.  

The nomadic lifestyle of the Kazakhs is no more.  Occasionally, a lone rider on horseback is observed along the highway caring for his cattle but most now live in urban areas where jobs are more plentiful and the once ever-present yurt, … the nomad form of the mobile home, … has been replaced by high-rise apartments.  Large wheat fields occupy the places that were once pastureland of the nomads.  The planting, cultivating and harvesting is all done by huge machinery.  However, the family garden remains an important part of urban as well as rural homes. 

 Much of the central part of the country is a windswept inhospitable landscape where even camels find it difficult to survive.  The summers are hot and dry and the winters are a bone chilling cold.  The rivers quickly freeze over and the ice statues constructed around Christmas time last until spring.

 Still, the mountains to the east and the south add a special beauty to this land; … a place of free flowing streams and where people can escape the crowded city life and enjoy God’s creation.

 The oil and gas wells are the near term future but, … unfortunately, … have made little difference in the lives of most where good paying jobs are scarce.  Shopping is done throughout the year at open-air markets along the streets and apartments are cramped with limited modern conveniences.  The building boom, … fueled by money from international investors, … is now at a near standstill.  The worldwide economic problems of 2008 have all but dried up investment capital.  Many of the tall construction cranes are idle and partially completed apartment and office buildings line the city streets testing the free market economy so dear to the leadership of Kazakhstan.  Nevertheless, there is hope that soon money will return and the beehive of construction activity will quickly follow.

  There is reason to hope for continued strong economic growth since Kazakhstan is rich in a wide variety of natural resources, many of which are only in the early stages of development or upgrading from the Soviet days.  So, too, is the development of young people with a good education and zeal to succeed in the new market economy.  Those attending classes today will be the leaders of tomorrow, … leaders who will live in a much different world than that of their forefathers.

 Religious convictions … on the other hand … seem to be losing ground despite the new mosques, Orthodox churches and Jewish synagogues.  People have the freedom to worship as they choose; however, most choose to not worship at all.  Even though a vast majority claims membership in these traditional religions, attendance is low and worship reflects a devotion to duty rather than allegiance to the object of their worship.

 In contrast, Evangelical Christians make up a very small minority and often their places of worship are shared spaces with others or in remodeled schools or in homes.  Even with limited facilities and the state designation of “non-traditional religious group”,  … meaning they are considered a cult, … the family of believers is increasing.  It is growing despite the oppression, the isolation and the financial burden placed upon its members. 

(fade in church worship service in above paragraph)


·        Pray for Kazakhstan

·        Pray for It’s Leaders

·        Pray for a Growing Democracy

·        Pray for Freedom of Worship

·        Pray for a NEW PATH for the People of Kazakhstan



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