By 1st Lt. Abror Samatov | AFCLC
Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, is a city of contrast, fusion of East and West. Early in the morning, a call for praying, Namaz, can be heard coming out from loudspeakers of the new magnificent mosque, Hazrat Sultan Cathedral Mosque, which is considered to be the grandest in Central Asia. On the opposite side of the mosque is a marvel of Kazakh modern architecture, the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a glass-and-steel pyramid designed by a British architect Norman Foster. These sights express the spirit of the country, where different cultures and nationalities coexist.
The United States, on December 25, 1991, was the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence. Until 2006, the capital used to be Almaty, and then relocated to Astana. Although the primary language is Kazakh, the majority of population interacts with each other in Russian and most of the official meetings are held in Russian. My advanced Russian training in Riga, Latvia from 2014 through LEAP prepared me for my internship at the Political section of the US Embassy in Kazakhstan and made it more enjoyable. As a temporary part of the Embassy’s political section, one of my responsibilities was to read and analyze local press in Russian for any socio-political news and prepare unofficial reports. This gave me a chance to ‘read between the lines’ and to practice getting the essence of sophisticated texts that included subtle nuances, social-linguistic and cultural references. While supporting the US Embassy’s mission there, I interacted with local human rights NGOs and had a chance to have a professional discussion in Russian about radicalization in local prisons. Additionally, I assisted in facilitating the visit of the U.S. Ambassador-at-large for religious freedoms and sat at his meetings with local NGOs. Also, I authored a scenesetter cable and helped to create an itinerary for the visit of the U.S. Special Envoy on LGBTI Rights. Later, I joined the U.S. Air Attaché to represent Defense Attaché Office at a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan discussing a logistics matter. The meeting was held mostly in Russian.
On top of my daily office chores, I was able to take part in other extra-curricular activities that taught me more about the local culture, history and customs. I joined the hiking club led by one the staff members of the Embassy. We, as a group of more than twenty people, both Americans and Kazakhstanis, went to an overnight camping trip to the Burabay lakes, which is in the eastern foothills of Kokshetau Mountain, about 2-hour drive from Astana. It was not only a great team building event, but also good opportunity to listen to the local legends about the formation of those lakes and mountains. Furthermore, I represented the US Embassy at the American Corner at one of the universities in Astana and led round table discussion with about 30 local students and teachers. American Corners are small, American-style libraries located within a local partner organization, usually a university. It was a great opportunity to connect with local youth who are eager to learn about the United States which was a part of the Embassy’s Public Affairs Office’s mission.
During my short stay there, I learned that the U.S.-Kazakhstani bilateral relationship revolves around regional security and nuclear non-proliferation. One of the most successful programs of the Office of Military Cooperation (OMC) is the Kazakhstani NCO training academy where American military advises and assists to form and improve the training curriculum of the local NCO corps. As for nuclear non-proliferation matters, based on my conversation with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) chief, the U.S. assists Kazakhstani government in eliminating weapons of mass destruction and any related infrastructure that are the remnants of the Soviet era. On top of these cornerstones of our bilateral relationships, Kazakhstan is willing to cooperate on other matters, like human rights issues, addressing religious radicalization, torture in places of temporary holding, freedoms of press, etc. Some of the issues are being addressed in less public methods (for instance, LGBT community rights or religious freedoms), and so-called ‘quiet diplomacy’ being utilized where the solutions and improvements are not publically acknowledged due to socio-cultural tendencies of the local population.
Attending the weekly Country team meetings led by the Ambassador, unclassified and classified, where all the agencies of the Mission Kazakhstan were present gave me an insight of the multi-dimensional aspects of our involvement in maintaining and improving our relationship with the host country. Moreover, it gave me a chance to understand the Embassy’s organizational structure and how it operates administratively. My temporary duty at the US Embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan not only enhanced my knowledge of local culture and language, but also broadened the scope of my understanding of the Department of State mission overseas to support, maintain and improve our relationships with our foreign partners. With this attained knowledge and experience I truly believe that the program prepared me to be a force multiplier in the future missions of building international partnerships.