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Nazarbaev Calls On Kazakhs To Defend Independence, Unity

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has called on citizens to defend Kazakhstan's independence and laid out plans for a new celebration of the Central Asian country's history.

Those plans, and Nazarbaev's fiery language, sounded like a pointed response to dismissive remark Russian President Vladimir Putin made about Kazakhstan.

Speaking on December 15, on the eve of two-day official independence anniversary celebrations, Nazarbaev said that Kazakhstan will celebrate the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh khanate in 2015.

That appeared to be a direct answer to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who publicly said in August that Kazakhs had never had statehood.

Nazarbaev said Kazakhstan's independence "is a result of our ancestors' efforts, their blood and sweat, their call to every Kazakh to choose defending Kazakhstan to the last drop of blood."

Nazarbaev's statement came on December 15, a day before the actual celebrations of Kazakhstan's independence, while Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was in Astana to participate in the gathering of prime ministers of the Shanghai Organization (SCO) member states.

Opening the SCO gathering earlier on December 15, Nazarbaev said that "the organization is working first of all for stability, the absence of territorial disputes between member-states and joint efforts against three evils of the modern life: separatism, extremism and terrorism."

Also on December 15, the Sary-Arqa District Court in Astana sentenced a Kazakh citizen, Yevgeny Vdovenko, to five years in prison for fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine earlier this year.

Some 25 percent of Kazakhstan's 17 million population are ethnic Russians, who mainly reside in the country's northern regions neighboring with Russia.

The Kazakh-Russian border, known as the longest in Eurasia (almost 7,000 kilometers) has changed many times both during Tsarist period and Soviet-era.

In later 1980s and early 1990s, Russian nationalist groups both in Kazakhstan and Russia often called for referendums on some Kazakh territories' joining the Russian Federation.

The calls became more intensive after Russia's iconic writer, a Nobel Prize laureate, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wrote in his article in a popular Soviet newspaper "Komsomolskaya Pravda" in 1990 that Kazakhstan's northern territories were geographically part of southern Siberia and should have been included within the Russian Federation.

Shortly after Solzhenitsyn's essay appeared, then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev affirmed in several television interviews that at least five districts in northern Kazakhstan were in fact Russian territory, and he called for a broad-ranging discussion of the issue.

Such calls for the revision of the Kazakh-Russian border have note been present over the last decade but Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine have raised concerns among Russia's neighbors that it may have designs on parts of their territory.

Based on reporting by KazTAG and Kazinform

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