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Qishloq Ovozi

Bolat Nazarbaev's family connection has helped make him fabulously wealthy.

They say you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family.

But if given the choice, many people would probably choose the relatives they already have, or at least some of them.

Bolat Nazarbaev -- the younger brother of Kazakhstan's first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev -- is likely one such a person.

Bolat has been called "Kazakhstan's first brother" and his family connection has helped make him fabulously wealthy.

Just how wealthy is difficult to say. He is widely rumored to control the bazaars in and around the commercial capital, Almaty, as well as trade along the Kazakh side of the Chinese-Kazakh border, including the lucrative Khorgos dry port, among other things.

For someone who was a plumber when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, it is an impressive jump.

Bolat, 68, is the youngest child of the Nazarbaev family. Nursultan, who is 81, is the eldest.

Another brother, Satybaldy, who was born in 1947, died in a car crash when he was 35.

Sister Anipa Nazarbaeva, 71, lives a reportedly quiet life in a home near Almaty, where she is a businesswoman and the honorary head of the Association of Businesswomen of Almaty Province.

The Family Name Is Enough

Bolat was recently the subject of an extensive report by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq. The report revisits a day in October 2019 when Bolat arrived by helicopter to an event in the southern city of Shymkent.

Hundreds of people were in attendance as various forms of entertainment and copious amounts of food were provided -- all while police and special Interior Ministry troops stood guard.

The event turned out to be a circumcision party for a young son of Bolat's, and there were questions about who was paying the bill for everything, though Bolat demonstrated he personally was not short of money when he started distributing hundred-dollar bills to guests like it was candy.

The Azattyq report also recalls another moment, when Bolat answered a question from journalists about where he got his money by replying "the surname is enough."

Enough to land him a seat in 2000 on the board of directors at one Kazakhstan's most lucrative companies, Kazakhmys, the country's largest copper producer and the 20th largest copper producer in the world.

Enough that Bolat appeared on documents seen in 2014 as a shareholder in Kazakhstan's RBK bank with a 7.83 percent stake. The RBK bank is connected to Kazakhmys owner Vladimir Kim, who is reportedly a close confidant of Nursultan Nazaerbaev.

Kim is also considered to be the richest man in Kazakhstan.

After Maira Kurmangalieva divorced Bolat in 2012, they got into an ownership dispute over a luxury apartment in the Plaza Hotel building and two apartments on Wall Street in New York City. The properties were worth a combined value of more than $25 million. They also fought over apartments in Miami worth an estimated $3.4 million and a villa in Cannes, France, that the couple bought for $25.9 million.

The villa in Cannes said to be owned by Bolat Nazarbaev and his ex-wife.
The villa in Cannes said to be owned by Bolat Nazarbaev and his ex-wife.

Bolat ended up keeping all of that property, but reportedly gave Kurmangalieva a $20 million house in New Jersey in compensation.

20 Wives?!

Along with being a major holder of luxury real estate, Bolat is reputed to be quite prolific in matrimony, though the exact number of wives he has had is unclear.

His first wife, Guzhan, died in June 2020. In an interview with the Aina TV channel shortly after she passed away, Bolat said they had been together for 50 years and added that "I've never known a woman like Gulzhan."

But clearly Bolat did know other women, as the divorce and property settlement case in the United States with Kurmangalieva showed.

After Bolat divorced her, a different young woman named Gulnur Nazarbaeva was posting on social networks that she was married to Bolat.

Gulnur and Bolat
Gulnur and Bolat

At the circumcision party in Shymkent, there was yet a different young woman with two sons sitting next to Bolat.

Yermurat Bapi, a veteran opposition journalist who is currently the publisher of the Dat newspaper, said that according to unofficial information Bolat had "about 20 wives."

The Kz.expert website, which has reported on Bolat's lavish lifestyle many times, wrote in June 2020 that Bolat "changes his wives like he does his socks."

The Kz.expert report also selected Bolat, who "practically never crawls out of scandals," as the most likely sacrifice to be made from the Nazarbaev family after Nursultan dies, to mollify critics of the first president and keep the inner circle ruling the country in power by pretending to combat the previous excesses of the Nazarbaev family.

Many of first President Nazarbaev's family members have obviously enriched themselves during the nearly three decades Nazarbaev was the leader of Kazakhstan, but Kz.expert was probably correct in labelling Bolat the most expendable relative when Kazakhs demand justice for the many years of predation they endured at the hands of the Nazarbaev family.

Omurbek Tekebaev is seen shortly after the attack, with visible injuries on his face.

“It was a political attack,” longtime Kyrgyz opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev told journalists in Bishkek after being assaulted. “The start of political terror.”

Tekebaev was speaking just minutes after he was surrounded outside the Park Hotel in Bishkek on December 1 by a group of young men who hurled abuse and threw some punches at him.

With visible signs of having been struck in the face, Tekebaev said he was going to meet with other opposition leaders at the hotel when he was suddenly confronted by the group, which he says yelled at him for challenging the results of the November 28 parliamentary elections.

Tekebaev and other opposition parties suspect fraud took place during a "blackout" of the Central Election Committee's website tabulating the votes.

With some 70 percent of the vote counted by voting machines late on November 28, Tekebaev’s Ata-Meken party had 6.17 percent of the votes, surpassing the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament.

After a glitch in the Central Election Commission’s (BShK) website caused screens to go blank for about 40 minutes, the vote tally reappeared with 90 percent of the vote counted and Tekebaev’s party well short of the votes necessary to hold seats in parliament.

Three other parties also saw their chances to enter parliament similarly disappear.

Voting Machine Malfunctions, Record Low Turnout In Kyrgyz Parliamentary Elections
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Since then, Tekebaev has been one of the most vocal politicians in criticizing the BShK, accusing authorities of cheating his party and others out of parliamentary seats.

Tekebaev described the attack on him to reporters afterward and said his phone and eyeglasses had been stolen.

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, a rival of Tekebaev, spoke with the opposition leader and ordered the Interior Ministry to find and arrest the people who assaulted him.

Edil Baisalov, the deputy chairman of the cabinet of ministers, called for an investigation into the circumstances around the attack, adding, “There is no room in Kyrgyzstan for political violence.”

A voter casts his ballot during Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections in the village of Gornaya-Mayevka outside Bishkek on November 28.
A voter casts his ballot during Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections in the village of Gornaya-Mayevka outside Bishkek on November 28.

A suspect was detained later the same day in possession of Tekebaev’s phone and charged with robbery.

While it seems doubtful that Japarov or top government officials would have ordered the attack, the fact that there is only one suspect thus far -- who has only been charged with robbery -- suggests that the police are not taking the incident seriously.

There were several accounts that claimed two buses with dozens of young men arrived near the site of a protest being held outside the BShK building, shortly before Tekebaev was due to meet with other opposition leaders to discuss their next moves in challenging the election results.

Videos show Tekebaev scuffling with a group of young men and at least one person trying to hit him.

Tekebaev said police were nearby but did nothing to intervene.

Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the State Committee for National Security and a longtime friend of President Sadyr Japarov, was dismissive of the attack.
Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the State Committee for National Security and a longtime friend of President Sadyr Japarov, was dismissive of the attack.

Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the State Committee for National Security (UKMK), a longtime friend of Japarov, and someone who likes to project a “tough guy” image, was dismissive of the incident, saying it was not an attack on Tekebaev, "they just struck him."

Tashiev did not elaborate on what exactly he thinks constitutes an attack.

But his remarks could be interpreted as a lack of interest on the part of authorities in investigating, for example, who organized the buses that ferried the men to the venue for Tekebaev’s meeting or who else besides the man in custody surrounded Tekebaev outside a hotel that is only some 100 meters from the government building in downtown Bishkek.

The suspect has been tentatively identified as 23-year-old Ybysh Eshpaev, who is reportedly from a village near the town of Tokmak.

The website 24.kg spoke with Tokmak city council member Cholpon Sydykova, who said Eshpaev was Tokmak Mayor Urmat Samaev's chauffeur.

Samaev confirmed to kaktus.media that he knows the suspect but added that “70 to 80 percent of [the people in] Tokmak” know Eshpaev. He denied that Eshpaev is his chauffeur.

The attack on Tekebaev was precisely the sort of incident Kyrgyzstan does not need as the tabulation of the hand-counted votes continues.

With roughly two-thirds of the recount posted, the results seem to approximately jibe with the earlier machine count that the opposition is protesting.

That is unlikely to sit well with them as they accuse the government and the BShK of rigging the vote count.

The results of the failed parliamentary elections of October 2020 led to the ouster of Kyrgyzstan’s government and president.

The repeat of those elections just over a year later was, according to Japarov, supposed to show the world that the country could conduct clean elections without any controversy.

In comments to RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, former Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva said the attack on Tekebaev was a “blow to the president’s reputation” and added this would be the “big news” the world would see from Kyrgyzstan.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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