Remembering the highlights of 2019 in Kazakhstan

By Galiya Khassenkhanova

The year 2019 will be remembered as a milestone in Kazakhstan’s history, as it marked the end of an era in the country’s independent history with the resignation of First President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

This, however, wasn’t the only unforgettable moment of the last year of the decade. The end of one era is usually the beginning of another. The Presidential election resulted in Kassym-Jomart Tokayev becoming the head of state, who has already had time to implement changes and win over Kazakh citizens. The country can also boast cultural, sporting and humanitarian achievements.

The end of an era – Nazarbayev’s resignation

First Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev

The biggest story of the year came early, when Nazarbayev, who had been President as long as modern Kazakhstan has existed, resigned. The announcement came in a March 19 televised address. The move took many by surprise and ushered in the next period of the country’s development.

Nazarbayev led the nation for almost 30 years and many assumed he would run again in 2020, but he decided the country was ready for its next phase. There is no denying the contribution he made, ending Kazakhstan’s history of Soviet-era nuclear weapons testing and guiding the country to become a Central Asian leader in many aspects. The collapse of the Soviet Union left its member states in ruins, but Nazarbayev and the Kazakh people rose up through those difficult early years. The country has now set its goal on becoming one of the world’s 30 most developed nations.

Nazarbayev remains active in the country’s management as head of the Security Council and ruling Nur Otan Party and member of the Constitutional Council.

Vote for – Snap elections

Following Nazarbayev’s resignation, Tokayev, the former Senate chair, became President on March 20 as per the Constitution. He had worked in politics with Nazarbayev almost since the beginning of Kazakhstan’s independence. In 1992, Tokayev became deputy minister of foreign affairs and later served as foreign minister, deputy prime minister and prime minister, as well as a UN deputy secretary general.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

After the June 9 elections, Tokayev took office as the President of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev’s resignation and holding a national presidential election without the nation’s First President was unique to the Kazakh people, sparking an interest in politics. This, is turn, prompted some political rallies throughout the campaign and several arrests were made. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan was praised for its peaceful transfer of power.

Nur-Sultan – The future of Astana

The other big change that will leave a mark in history books was changing the name of Kazakhstan’s capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan. The change was proposed by Tokayev as one of his first acts as President and approved by the country’s legislature to honour Nazarbayev.

Jusan Operation – Repatriation of Kazakh people

Mission in Iraq to return 14 children to Kazakhstan

One of the highlights of 2019 was also Kazakhstan’s successful operations to return its citizens from conflict zones around the world. Since January, the government has conducted Jusan, a large-scale operation to return them from Syria. Entire families had earlier moved to the countries to fight along with Daesh, a terrorist organisation.

In four stages, the operation returned nearly 600 Kazakh citizens from Syria, 400 children and 150 women. The initiative that started under Nazarbayev was continued by his successor. Kazakhstan is the only country that has returned such a substantial number of individuals.

In March, the government learned some Kazakh women and children were detained in Iraq and started negotiations to retrieve them. Kazakh Foreign Ministry officials, doctors and social workers were finally able to fly to Baghdad in November to return 14 children.

People retrieved during the Jusan operation and the Iraq action undergo psychological and medical help in specialised rehabilitation centres.

Year of Youth

Traditionally, Kazakhstan dedicates each year to a country and cooperation with it or a feature and its development. The year 2019 was announced the Year of Youth and millions of dollars were allocated for university scholarships, youth programmes, entrepreneurial programmes for young businesspeople, home loans and other projects. Next year will be the Year  of Volunteer.

The World’s Best – Kazakh singers

One of the Kazakh people’s most significant cultural achievements this year was Kazakh singers showing the world they are among its best. Dimash Kudaibergenov and Daneliya Tuleshova reached the final in The World’s Best, a televised singing competition held in the United States. Kudaibergenov won the audience vote, but decided to give way to Tuleshova and another young contestant.

Although Tuleshova was not the ultimate winner, she became Kazakh United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Club Ambassador. Kudaibergenov did not stop at The World’s Best, as his career has continued to leap higher and higher. In December, he held a concert for thousands in New York’s Barclay’s Centre.

Another singing star lit up during Voice.Kids held in Ukraine. Yerzhan Maksim captured first place following a recount of the votes and later represented Kazakhstan on Junior Eurovision, taking second place.

Gold, silver and bronze – athletes’ achievements

The year was also fruitful for those involved in sports. Kazakh athletes won numerous gold, silver and bronze medals in areas including swimming, boxing, jiu-jitsu, cycling, skiing, tennis and cybersports.

Gennady Golovkin or GGG, another of the nation’s pride, fought Sergei Derevyanchenko to acquire the International Boxing Organisation (IBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) Middleweight Champion titles.

Football Club Astana beat Manchester United 2-1 in the Europa League fifth group match.

United in distress – Explosions in Arys

President Tokayev discussing situation in Arys

Another big story in 2019 was the tragedy in the town of Arys, when old ammunition in a military warehouse near the town exploded June 24. The detonations were so massive they damaged or destroyed most of the town’s buildings and injured many of its residents. Three people died, including one civilian, and the entire population was evacuated to Shymkent.

The gruesome situation, however, showed that, when in crisis, the Kazakh population comes together. People from all over the country began raising money and collecting items to help those in Arys while they were displaced and later to rebuild the town.

The government also promised to help the town rebuild and it was reconstructed within three months. By the beginning of October, more than 7,000 damaged houses had been renovated and more than 500 destroyed houses rebuilt. The government spent 56 billion tenge (US$144 million) to rebuild the town, 2.6 billion (US$6.7 million) of which was raised by the Kazakh people.

The explosion remains under investigation and has spurred a review of how munitions are stored.

Where the roads meet – Kazakhstan as discussion arena

Kazakhstan is continuing its work as a common ground for global forces to meet and discuss both conflicts and cooperation.

Syria has also been discussed in talks organised in the Kazakh capital since January 2017 brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey and aimed at ending the conflict, now in its ninth year. In December, the countries agreed to increase work toward stabilisation of the situation in Ildib and humanitarian help.

Astana Club gathered representatives from multiple countries to discuss international politics in Eurasia. The club released the top 10 risks in the international arena in 2020, which include terrorism, trade wars and nuclear threats.

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