By Colin Berlyne
For half a century, heroes in movies and comic books got their powers from atomic radiation. But in the 21st century, Kazakhstan has called on ordinary people around the world to be the real superheroes in joining the struggle to abolish nuclear weapons and build a safer world. To that end, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev launched a new initiative, The ATOM Project, on a history and auspicious day this year. The project was launched on August 29, the International Day Against Nuclear Tests and the anniversary of the closing of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site by the president of Kazakhstan in 1991.
To celebrate these historic events, an international parliamentary assembly was convened in Astana called From a Nuclear Test Ban to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World. More than 200 foreign participants from more than 75 countries and more than 20 international organizations, including the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency attended the conference. Also attending were representatives from 70 parliaments from around the world, including from nuclear weapons possessing states and nuclear allies. The gathering was organized by Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), the Parliament of Kazakhstan, and The Nazarbayev Center.
“We have an opportunity to once more remind the world about the tragic consequences of nuclear testing, and push the global community towards more decisive actions to achieve a final and definitive ban of such testing,” President Nazarbayev told the conference. “In this regard, Kazakhstan launches today the international campaign, The ATOM Project.”
President Nazarbayev said that during the four decades of Soviet nuclear explosions at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan endured almost half of all nuclear tests carried out across the world. “From day to day, the radiation poisoned our steppes, rivers and lakes, slowly killing all life in the area,” the president said. “This nuclear evil destroyed the lives and health of over 1.5 million people of Kazakhstan living in the vicinity of the test site. The effects of the nuclear tests are being felt to this day.”
President Nazarbayev joined with Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia in the forefront of the first two major global Nuclear Security Summits in Washington, DC in April 2010 and in Seoul, South Korea this year. The ATOM Project has been launched to direct the attention to the horrible humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons testing and to build on the global diplomatic momentum generated by those two historic gatherings.
Organizers of the project, implemented by the Nazarbayev Center in Astana, recognize that in recent decades the cause of abolishing nuclear weapons, and the awareness of the fundamental dangers they pose to life on the planet, have become dulled and superseded by other humanitarian and environmental issues. The project’s organizers and supporters believe the time has come to revive among governments and publics around the world an awareness of how dangerous and appalling the consequences of the testing and retention of nuclear arsenals has been, and of the threats that their continued possession poses to the human race in the future.
The ATOM Project seeks to educate global leaders and publics around the world and remind them of the terrible realities of nuclear war. It will focus global concern about the threat of the already existing nuclear weapons arsenals. One goal is to organize a movement to enable people around the world to directly express their position on the nuclear disarmament issue.The ATOM Project is also highlighting the suffering of individual victims of nuclear testing over the decades around the world. By placing this human face on the initiative, the ATOM Project will focus world attention on the plight of the estimated 15 million victims of radiation poisoning from the generations of nuclear testing around the world in countries such as Kazakhstan, Marshall Islands, Japan and Algeria.
The project is bringing to light the images and testimonies of the survivors and victims of the 40 years of nuclear testing in Eastern Kazakhstan and of the mutations and deformities suffered by their descendants. Videos and photographs of the victims, often horrific, are featured in the campaign in order to raise awareness surrounding the damage nuclear testing can cause.
President Nazarbayev has also urged the conference to create a global antinuclear parliamentary assembly. “Parliamentarians from all countries of the world are present at the conference today. That is why this forum can be called a prototype of the global antinuclear parliamentary assembly. I suggest considering the establishment of such an institute,” he told the August 29 conference.
The ATOM Project won immediate support from statesmen and anti-nuclear weapons experts and activists around the world. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle threw his weight behind it. Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans is another supporter. So are influential members of the Japanese Parliament.
“PNND is honored to partner with the ATOM Project to educate parliamentarians, governments and civil society about the horrific humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and the imperative this provides for their abolition,” PNND Global Coordinator Alyn Ware told the conference. “This assembly in Kazakhstan… has energized parliamentarians from around the world to step up their action to abolish nuclear weapons, including through the spread of nuclear-weapon-free zones and the promotion of a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons.”
This is just the beginning: Scientists, statesmen and humanitarians around the world haved pledge their support for the cause. But the project’s most important and ultimately most powerful champions are the ordinary people in every country whose idealism and courage can change the course of history. The organizers and supporters of the ATOM Project believe these people are the rising generation of heroes who will win the struggle for world peace and the survival of humanity.
Unique Artist Fights to End Nuclear Threat
By Colin Berlyne
Forty-four years ago, Karipbek Kuyukov was born without arms in eastern Kazakhstan, the horrific consequence of his parents’ exposure to the radiation generated by more than 100 atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by the Soviet Union. But Kuyukov has never seen himself as a victim. Not content with a successful career as an accountant, Kuyukov has also become an acclaimed artist and as a goodwill ambassador, he has travelled around the world in the cause of nuclear disarmament. This fall and winter, his artworks were featured in exhibitions in The Hague, Geneva and Washington, DC. And he now serves as The ATOM Project’s honorary ambassador.
“Many of my relations have died from the radiation from the nuclear tests,” he said. “In one family, first the father then the mother then all the children passed away – the whole family of 10. I, myself, have no arms to hug you, but I have a heart as big as the open space of Kazakhstan ready to embrace the world for peace and nuclear disarmament.”
Kuyukov was born in the village of Yegyndybulak, only 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons test site. “During the testing, my parents bore witness to those bright and vast mushroom clouds as they filled the sky,” he said. “When I was born, I was born without arms, and it was a shock to my mother. My father brought me to Leningrad. I ended up studying there and ultimately received my diploma, but I could never get used to prosthetic arms.”
“I have loved to draw since my early childhood,” he said. “I do not know why, but my soul was striving toward creating something beautiful. I did this without arms, but with my feet, legs and mouth. I have become an artist, because an artist’s soul cannot be diminished by a physical limitation.”
Kuyukov’s life has taught him that ignorance of the nuclear threat leads to suffering and tragedy. “The people who lived in Semipalatinsk at the time (of the testing) came out of their homes during the explosions to watch them. They didn’t even know about the health threats and devastating consequences of the crimes being committed against them,” he said. “People were basically treated as guinea pigs. Studies of both flora and fauna were conducted. At that time, we were told, ‘radioactive substances do not affect flora.’ What a terrible lie! Overdoses of radiation cause human beings to suffer from cancer tumours, skin cancer and leukaemia.”
Kuyukov says he has no doubt about his mission in life: “I am doing what I can so that people like me will be the last victims of nuclear tests,” he said. “I will continue to call on all mankind to preserve security on the planet until my heart stops. I do not want a repeat of these events at any place or time, anywhere on the planet.”
“We have a choice,” Kuyukov says when he speaks to audiences, be it in Astana or abroad. “We can be passive – and let the heads of state solve the issue – or we can unite and defend our citizenship and human rights. Every single person has a right to decide the future they want for themselves, their families and their nation.”
Former Secretary of State Charged with Implementing the ATOM Project
By Colin Berlyne
Kazakhstan’s global effort to end the scourge of nuclear weapons testing and abolish all nuclear weapons arsenals is being implemented by The Nazarbayev Center in Astana. And the responsibility for spreading that global message and attempting to unite global opinion for a world free from the nuclear weapons fall on the shoulders of The Nazarbayev Center’s Director Kanat Saudabayev.
Saudabayev is one of the country’s most experienced statesmen and a long time associate of President Nursultan Nazarbayev for whom The Nazarbayev Center is named. His career in the two decades since Kazakhstan won its national independence has prepared him well to lead this international initiative.
Saudabayev shares the president’s commitment to a multi-vector foreign policy that has led Kazakhstan to become the strategic hub of the Eurasian land mass – making it a bridge of peace, cooperation and understanding between East and West, North and South.
Born near Almaty (then known as Alma-Ata), in 1946, the 66-year-old Saudabayev was
Kazakhstan’s secretary of state from 2007 to 2012. He simultaneously served as foreign minister from 2009 to 2011 and presided over Kazakhstan’s highly successful year of chairing the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010. And he was at
Nazarbayev’s side in preparing Kazakhstan’s major contribution to U.S. President Barack Obama’s first historic Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC in 2010.
Previously, Saudabayev put in seven years as Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Washington. In this capacity, he played a key role in developing the strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the United States and made a major contribution in the field of nuclear disarmament.
He has earned degrees from the Leningrad Institute of Culture and the Moscow Academy of Public Sciences. He has also earned two PhDs – one in Philosophy from Kazakh State University and the other in Political Science from Moscow State University. He has received the Order of the Fatherland (Otan), the nation’s highest state award, and the Order of Distinguished Service (Kurmet).
Now Saudabayev is taking his lifelong passion and that of the president’s to create a world free of nuclear weapons on to a new, global stage of global public opinion as he directs the Nazarbayev Center’s efforts to make a world free from nuclear weapons a reality.