08ASTANA870, KAZAKHSTAN – ALL IS CALM IN ALMATY OBLAST, AND THAT’S HOW

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA870 2008-05-06 07:32 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO6084
RR RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHPW RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0870/01 1270732
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 060732Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2343
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0499
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1907
RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY 0415

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000870 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/CEN (M. O'MARA) 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM KIRF PREL KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN - ALL IS CALM IN ALMATY OBLAST, AND THAT'S HOW 
WE LIKE IT 
 
Ref:  Astana 0767 
 
ASTANA 00000870  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (SBU) All is calm in Almaty Oblast and its capital, Taldykorgan, 
and residents are enjoying a steadily improving quality of life, at 
least according to oblast officials.  The urban population is 
growing, though the oblast remains largely rural and agricultural. 
Taldykorgan itself has experienced significant growth in investment 
since it was designated the oblast capital in 2001.  Civil society 
leaders report increasing government cooperation, though they are 
experiencing problems with corruption, tight government control over 
the media, and  severe restrictions on freedom of assembly.  The 
unregistered Alga party is very active in the region, and is 
building a grassroots network of supporters. End Summary. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
OFFICIALS SAY ALL IS STABLE, QUALITY OF LIFE IMPROVING 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
2. (U) During April 14-17, poloff and pol FSN visited Taldykorgan, 
the capital of Almaty Oblast, for a series of meetings with local 
government officials, NGOs, and political party leaders.  According 
to Galiaskar Sarybaiyev, deputy director of Almaty Oblast's 
Department of Internal Policy, the population of Almaty oblast is 
largely rural.  Approximately 1.6 million people live in the oblast, 
though only 150,000 live in Taldykorgan, the largest city. (Note: 
The city of Almaty is not part of the oblast, but rather is 
administered as a separate entity.  End Note.) Sarybaiyev reported 
that the urban population in the oblast is growing as a result of 
internal migration from rural areas.  Nonetheless, he said, most of 
the population remains in rural areas, as agriculture dominates the 
regional economy. 
 
3. (SBU) Both Sarybaiyev and Ardak Sydykov, secretary of the Almaty 
Oblast Maslikhat (legislative body), portrayed Taldykorgan and 
Almaty Oblast as calm and stable, with a steadily improving quality 
of life. Sydykov said that when Taldykorgan became the oblast 
capital in April 2001, it looked like Berlin after World War II. 
Now, the city is clean and features newly renovated and newly 
constructed buildings.  (Note: We were impressed by the cleanliness 
and orderliness of the city, and rank it as one of the cleanest in 
Kazakhstan.  End note.) Sydykov said that the oblast budget is seven 
times larger than it was in 2001, and he pointed to a significant 
increase in the number and quality of cars in the city as evidence 
that the standard of living has improved.  He said that when he 
became a Maslikhat member in 1999, citizens primarily complained 
about failure to receive salaries and pensions.  Now, he explained, 
the standard of living has improved, and citizens are far more 
focused on community issues such as schools, health services, 
quality drinking water, and the construction of roads.  He said that 
citizens rarely participate in Maslikhat meetings, though they 
frequently come to the office to make complaints. 
 
4. (SBU) Sarybaiyev maintained that the situation concerning ethnic 
relations in the oblast is stable and positive, and that it is the 
oblast government's top priority to maintain stability and keep the 
peace.  He told us that 64% of the population is ethnic Kazakh, 18% 
is ethnic Russian, 9% is Uighur, and the remainder is a mix of other 
ethnic groups including Azerbaijanis, Koreans, Kurds, Tatars, 
Ukrainians, and Kyrgyz.  He explained that the government supports 
inter-ethnic relations by operating 71 ethnic cultural centers to 
promote the development of languages, customs, and traditions. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
OFFICIAL SEES NO CONTROVERSY IN THE RELIGIOUS SPHERE 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
5. (SBU) Deputy director of the Almaty Oblast Ministry of Justice 
Murat Tanibergen told us that religious devotion is growing in the 
oblast, but there are few problems with religious groups and no 
incidents of religious extremism.  He said there are 538 religious 
groups registered in the region, including some non-traditional 
groups such as the Hare Krishnas and the Baha'i.  He said his office 
has no problems with the Jehovah's Witnesses active in the region; 
the government occasionally attends their services and conducts 
inspections to make sure that they are following legal requirements, 
and the Jehovah's Witnesses are very good about providing all of the 
information requested by the government.  He said that the Religious 
Issues Committee in the Ministry of Justice in Astana recently 
solicited proposals for inclusion in new draft amendments to 
Kazakhstan's religion law (see reftel), but he said his office has 
few problems with the current law and did not have much to 
 
ASTANA 00000870  002.2 OF 003 &#x000
A; 
 
contribute. 
 
6. (SBU) Tanibergen, without prompting, mentioned the ongoing 
dispute between local government officials and the Hare Krishna 
commune in the Karasai district, which is located in Almaty Oblast. 
He shared the usual government talking points on the issue (i.e., 
that the dispute is purely over property, not religion, and the 
government has no problem with the Hare Krishnas), and said that the 
local government was waiting for the Hare Krishnas to choose one of 
the alternate properties that had been offered to them. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
CIVIL SOCIETY MATURING, WITH SOME ROADBLOCKS 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) Representatives from the Taldykorgan City Society for 
Consumer Rights Protection NGO, the Democracy Support Center NGO, 
and the Taldykorgan Regional Women's Support Center NGO unanimously 
agreed that their relations with the government have improved 
significantly over the last five or six years, and the groups have 
significant freedom to operate.  In addition, the women's support 
center has received some contracts to provide services for the 
government.  However, the representatives said that local officials 
occasionally become very aggressive towards NGOs that attempt to 
monitor the government budget or question government expenditures. 
They also reported that the local government tightly controls the 
media, with the exception of one or two newspapers, though the NGOs 
are able to attract publicity through good relationships they have 
with individual reporters.  Finally, they maintained that there is 
significant corruption in the government contracting process; they 
claimed that many government officials or their friends create their 
own NGOs and then funnel government money to them. Saniya 
Kazabulatova of the City Society for Consumer Rights Protection 
asserted that only 10% of government grants go to support real 
projects, while the remainder of the grant money is stolen through 
fake NGOs. 
 
8. (SBU) Aliya Akhmediya, the Almaty Oblast representative for the 
Kazakhstan International Human Rights Bureau, described a tense 
relationship with local government officials.  (Note: Akhmediya is 
also the Almaty Oblast representative for the Azat opposition party, 
and was an opposition candidate for the parliament in last year's 
elections.  The Azat party maintains a small office and staff in 
Taldykorgan, but Akhmediya did not have much to report about party 
activities in the off year. End note.)  She works for citizens on a 
variety of legal and human rights complaints, including housing 
problems and unfair treatment in local courts. In her view, the 
government's attitude is that citizens would not worry about civil 
rights if activists like her were not provoking them.  She said 
local officials routinely deny or fail to respond her requests for 
permission to hold rallies, and described a recent incident in which 
she organized an unsanctioned rally with a group of citizens whose 
homes had been demolished by the government. The government summoned 
her after the rally and warned her that it was illegal to instigate 
protest actions.  Nevertheless, she told us she prefers to act 
rather than sit and wait for government permission. 
 
9. (SBU) Akhmediya told us that the government never invites her to 
roundtables or conferences, but she attends when she learns of them 
and asks tough questions.  She said, however, that her comments are 
never covered in the local media, because reporters know from their 
past experience that if they publish her comments, they will get in 
trouble.  Finally, she claimed that the religious freedom situation 
in the oblast was getting worse and that the government was 
increasing its intrusion, though she had no specific examples. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
UNREGISTERED ALGA PARTY BUILDS GRASSROOTS NETWORK 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
10. (SBU) Beniyamin Faizulin, the Almaty Oblast leader of the 
unregistered Alga party, agreed that local authorities consistently 
refused to grant permission for peaceful rallies, and told us that 
he and others in the party have been administratively fined for 
organizing unsanctioned rallies.  He also said that the party has 
virtually no access to the media.  In addition, he told us the party 
was recently forced out of its rented office near the center of 
town, and is now renovating a house on the outskirts of town to use 
as their office.  (Note: We met in the house, which was full of maps 
and party materials and staffed by two or three workers.  End note.) 
Faizulin also claimed that not long ago his wife was forced to leave 
her job as deputy director of a local law school because of pressure 
resulting from his opposition activities. 
 
11. (SBU) Despite these obstacles, Faizulin was optimistic about 
 
ASTANA 00000870  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
Alga's future, and described a very active and energetic local 
organization.  He said the party spends considerable time on 
outreach activities through door-to-door campaigning and working in 
the villages, and was very active in helping citizens resolve 
various social problems.  He told us that 20 to 30 people come to 
the Alga party offices every week with various complaints, and the 
party helps them organize into groups to resolve their problems, 
such as disputes with utility companies and problems with schools. 
The party also helps them file complaints and lawsuits.  He said 
that Alga is not focused on winning seats in parliament or competing 
in a rigged election process, but rather on building a network of 
leaders and activists at the local level.  He explained that the 
party was encouraging citizens to lobby and pressure their elected 
members of local Maslikhats, and would ultimately like to create 
"shadow" governments on the local level.  He described the party's 
work in rural areas as particularly important, because people there 
are completely suppressed by local akims and have no awareness of 
their civil or political rights.  (Note: Faizulin's description of 
Alga's focus and activities mirrors what we have been told by 
Vladimir Kozlov, Alga's national-level chairman.  End Note.) 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
12. (SBU) Local officials emphasized stability and an improving 
quality of life in our meetings, and from what we observed, we have 
no reason to doubt them: Taldykorgan in all respects appeared to be 
a clean, healthy, well run city, and we did not detect any unusual 
undercurrent of discontent in our meetings with civil society and 
opposition party leaders.  Nevertheless, the tight government 
control of the media and its efforts to prevent public assemblies is 
undoubtedly responsible for some of the calm, though human rights 
and opposition party leaders have found some traction.  The Alga 
party in particular has seemingly developed a systematic and 
long-term approach to building their movement in the region. &#x
000A;Finally, Taldykorgan represents only a small portion of the oblast 
population; whether the atmosphere of stability and improving 
quality of life extends to the much larger rural population is an 
open question.  End comment. 
 
ORDWAY

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