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November 26, 2008

Report from Kazakhstan

The Conference has just closed and I am now waiting to be collected and taken for a brief excursion into the mountains to the South. Almaty is a strange city in one sense, situated in an ancient tribal nation, it is a twentieth Century plantation. Growing out of a border post garrison established in the nineteenth century it has become and industrial and commercial centre. During the Soviet years it was the capital and was also used as a place of exile where anyone considered to be not "Politically Correct" as far as the Communists were concerned, was sent to cool their heels far from the media or the risk of being able to 'infect' anyone else with their ideas.

Today the city suffers badly from smog, a combination of industrial discharge and traffic, which, in a climatic area where wind is rare, tends to hang over the lower part of the city in a desne cloud. It is also a seismically active area, so the city suffers regular damage - in 1912 it was flattened entirely - and the buildings ad the roads show some of the marks of this.

Historically it is important in that it occupies a place where the Akim Khans met their tribesmen in regular 'court' to settle ownership of horses and cattle, decide on marriages and hear complaints. In pre-recorded history it was also the spot where successive tribes of the nomadic people who lived here, buried their dead and built burial mounds. It is now a city trying to regenerate itself and high-rise buildings are the order of the day. There are 167 high-rise structures already and construction or planning taking place on another 32. Enormous investment is being made here, but a striking feature is the absence of supermarkets. There are high class shops and hotels, and plenty of flats, hotels and small shops and markets at the other end of the scale - but nothing in the middle.

At a formal dinner last night I was surprised to be presented with a golden statuette of the city's most famous find - the "Golden Man". A 3,000 year old burial find, the Golden Man was a young warrior dressed for burial in a suit of small gold plates all sewn together to make an impressive suit. Interestingly his head dress is identical to that worn until the Soviet era by the Khan and his retinue.

All in all an interesting visit, made a tad amusing by my having been televised during the presentation of my paper - and this morning being interviewed for Kazak and neighbouring Television news through an interpreter - so now I'm infamous here as well.

Posted by The Gray Monk at November 26, 2008 07:36 AM

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