In a very rare move, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has marked the Norouz new year holiday in the ancient city of Samarkand in neighboring Uzbekistan, a sign of improving ties following the death of divisive Uzbek leader Islam Karimov in 2016.
Norouz is the pre-Islamic Persian New Year celebration of spring that is marked in many countries in Western and Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev met Nazarbaev in Samarkand, Mirziyoev's office said on its website. It pointed to what it said were recent improvements in bilateral ties between the two Central Asian countries.
A video posted on the website showed Nazarbaev and Mirziyoev standing side-by-side, not wearing ties, and the Kazakh president congratulating the "brotherly Uzbek nation" on the Norouz holiday and stressing the importance of "our being together."
"May Allah support us. Kazakhs and Uzbeks share the same history, language, religion that we have preserved through centuries and all the legacy left to us by our ancestors we have to preserve as well. In these difficult times we have to assist each other, to learn from each other," Nazarbaev said.
Nazarbaev's visit to Samarkand came six days after he hosted a rare Central Asian summit in Astana, an event initiated by Mirziyoev, who has taken steps to improve Uzbekistan's ties with its neighbors since he became president after Karimov died in September 2016.
During the autocratic Karimov's 27-year rule in Central Asia's most populous nation, its relations with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were strained by disputes over transit routes, border security, water resources, and other issues.
Nazarbaev has declared 2018 the Year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan.