Tales from KZ

Kazakhstan. Perry. A New Community.

Returning to Kazakhstan

July 12, 2011

7:48 PM

London Heathrow Airport

 

I’m incredibly nervous and I haven’t yet figured out why. Part of it may have been the lamb donor I ate after visiting JHub (thank you David), but I think the more substantial contributing factor is a sense of uncertainty regarding my return to Kazakhstan after almost two years. I have nothing to be nervous about, but at the same time my stomach is in knots.

My nervousness may stem from a few points: I imagine changes but I have no idea what they are; my friends – where are they now and what are they doing; my Russian language ability; and, simply a general concern over whether these next 5 weeks will be able to replicate, in any degree, my Peace Corps experience for two and a half years.

I realize that there’s no reason for this trip to have any similarity to my earlier life in the country. But, at the same time, I feel like I’m revisiting a part of my life that has been largely closed. I never intended to close that door, but all the same, I’ve pursued new opportunities, been involved with a whole variety of projects, and have gotten older. It sounds absurd as a type, but that feeling just sits there.

I know that the moment I sit on the plane, shut my eyes, and wake-up surrounded by clapping passengers (or possibly not given that the plane is likely a variety of a few families, a few students, and professionals), I will be better at ease. I’m very excited to be in Kazakhstan for the next few weeks, new perspectives since the last trip will bring a whole new experience to my visit.

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Redefining Global Jewish Peoplehood

Given that I’ve spent at least the last ten years strongly passionate about the idea of global Jewish peoplehood and equality amongst how the Jewish community globally relates to itself, it feels very strange to say that ROI was the first situation where I felt a sense of global Jewish equality.

My first trip to Bulgaria in 2001 with BBYO introduced me to emerging Jewish life in another part of the world outside of Israel. Yet, on this trip and consequent travel (including to Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucuses, Germany, Turkey, and much of Europe), I’ve seen a clear divide between talk of “global Jewish peoplehood” and practice of the idea. Clearly, there are demographic, financial, organizational, and historical challenges that the non-American diaspora Jewish community faces, but even so – since I can remember, from what seems to be the mainstream U.S.-perspective, these communities have been treated as places needing help rather than communities that have a vibrant future.

As it is constantly banged over our collective head, the North American and Israeli communities are the two anchors of the Jewish community – Europe, South and Central America, Asia, Australia, Africa – they may have deep history and active communities, but the main arbiters of global Jewish policy, meaning, and opportunity are with the U.S. and Israel. Since that first trip to Bulgaria – I felt how false that perspective was and continues to be.

Growing-up in the 1990s, never having experienced war that engulfed any sense of the collective diaspora Jewish people, my perspective is clearly different from older generations. I can be optimistic and a little idealistic; even with today’s challenges, I see so much opportunity. Rather than dividing communities, today’s world gives us the chance to redefine how “we” is defined.

By the time I went to Bulgaria, e-mail was widespread; even on dial-up, I could get in keep in touch with new friends from around the world relatively easily. By my freshman year of college, it felt as if everyone was always available. Now – I have more “friend requests” from overseas than Americans. These new systems, new technology, and quicker information sharing radically change how the Jewish community and people connect and retain relationships.

Yet, even with the seemingly shrinking world, why is the Jewish community so divided globally? Many organizations, which do a superb job at building connections between American Jews and specific overseas Jewish communities, that do a great job of finding meaning in Jewish identity, still find it difficult to comfortably break down national barriers. If, as we are often told, the Jewish community is “one people”, why does it often feel as if the American Jewish community looks at Jews outside of Israel and North America as curiosities?

Traveling through Central Asia and the Caucuses, I saw how the American Jewish community provides lifesaving support for older generations of Jews. I participated in Jewish identity programs that would not exist but for the value that American Jews put on supporting Jews around the world. But, I think it’s about time to properly recognize – as a number of organizations have begun to see – that even with shrinking communities in many countries, Jewish life can exist and can flourish in what we consider the unlikely places – and especially in more traditional homes of Jews, such as a whole range of European countries.

ROI 2011 brought together 150 Jews from around the world – participants weren’t representatives of their countries, they were individuals that each brought their unique experience; country of origin was one of those characteristics, but not the defining one. A number of organizations – including JDC, Hillel, AJWS, Moishe House, Limmud, and the Schusterman Foundation – have embarked on trying to build these relationships, but so much more could be done. American Jewish life and global Jewish life are intertwined – we should stop isolating our communities and act more honestly on our belief of global Jewish peoplehood – we can learn and challenge each other, realizing the idea of a global Jewish people.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

ATID Graduation Speech

Speech delivered at the ATID Graduation Ceremony, Monday, May 16, 2011. Shareey Zedek Synagogue, Southfield, MI.

Sitting in a yurt in the Karokum Dessert in Turkmenistan, I had absolutely no expectation of having a conversation about Judaism. Following two years in the Peace Corps, I spent four months of traveling around Central Asia and the Caucuses. Thanks to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, I was able to connect to Jewish communities in each country. Yet, Turkmenistan – a country where the former President built golden monuments of himself in every city and small town and where reality is more absurd than popular rumors – I was warned off from the Jewish community. In Uzbekistan, I had been told that the head of the Turkmenistan Jewish community would be out of the country when I was traveling through – so, I stopped thinking about it. In a country of only a hundred or so Jews remaining and where practicing Judaism is not open and fully legal, the challenges outweighed the potential of connecting with what I thought would be a mainly older community.

So, there I was sitting in the yurt with my friend Jennie, our tour guide – Oleg, a large, boisterous Russian man, and the driver of our second Jeep. While traveling, I was relatively open with my Jewish identity. Even in the primarily Muslim countries of this region, I found people to be overall interested and respectful of Judaism. Through a conversation about “Levi” jeans – which, by this point, I had forgotten how to pronounce due to a long time without speaking about them in English – Oleg asked what my background was.

In America when we’re asked our “background”, it generally means country of origin or present ethnic identity. In the Former Soviet Union, the question goes deeper. The question is meant to illicit a response that explains your long family history – what is your historic bloodline and historic ethnic group; and, in the Former Soviet Union, ‘Jewish” is an ethnicity.

“Jewish”, I said.

From here, the conversation just got stranger. Oleg exclaimed that his best friend is Jewish. As he’s saying this, I pull out my phone and ask if his friend’s name is “Zinovi” – the head of the Jewish community. Oleg looks shocked. How did I know Zinovi? We connect the dots and a week later I’m sitting at my 25th birthday dinner with Zinovi and his girlfriend. Zinovi, by the way, is in his mid-30s.

What is it about being Jewish that creates this bond so far away from familiarity? Clearly we were interesting to each other due to me being the rare American in Turkmenistan and Zinovi being the rare Jew in the country, but it went deeper than that. The connection was quickly familial. I want to propose that this sense of global Jewish peoplehood starts with how we learn about Judaism and deepens with how we integrate Jewish values into our life.

Today, you graduate from ATID, the Monday Night religious school program. Over the last four years in particular, what did you learn? What will you remember four years from now when most of you graduate college? Presumably, you studied Jewish texts, you discussed how present day challenges can be analyzed through Rabbinic sources, you debated ethical issues and cultural relativism, you celebrated the holidays, and you engaged in service activities that brought many of these lessons to life.

Without even thinking about it, we tend to integrate our Jewish identity into a great deal of what we do. When I applied for Peace Corps, I noted to my recruiter that it’s clear I’m Jewish from my resume. As many of you will find out, large government and other types of bureaucracies often do not play telephone well. A few months later, I receive a call from Peace Corps’ Washington office. The staff person asks if I realize that Peace Corps is a non-proselytizing organization. I’m honestly really confused and say as much – because I have no idea what he is talking about. He explains that I noted in my interview that my Jewish identity is important to me and he wanted to be sure I wouldn’t try to convert people overseas. Apparently, he had a pretty flimsy background on Judaism. A month later, I’m in Kazakhstan and am able to connect with the 30,000 person Jewish community. Ironically, around a year later, one of the students in our volunteer club started coming to Friday night services that the one religious man in the city – 43 hours by train from the bulk of the 30,000 Jews in the economic center of the country – and I held. She came to America on an exchange program, and is now converting to Judaism. Her attraction to Judaism and her struggles to learn basic Jewish concepts that we take for granted also reflects on the opportunity that you have had over the last four years.

Take a moment to reflect back on what you studied. How valuable do you consider your education in this program? What would you change? How do you want to apply what you learned to the next steps in your life? Do you think that what you learned was worthwhile? Olya, my friend in Kazakhstan, would have jumped at an opportunity to be immersed in Jewish study – to have a chance to debate and analyze Jewish concepts – something that is rarely provided in the rote memorization of Kazakhstani schools.

These are questions to take with you and apply to everything you do. Not too long ago, I sat in a similar position to where you are today. My future options seemed pretty clear – college, a job, graduate school, and another job. But, there are so many ways to achieve fulfillment in life and a linear path does not work for everyone.

Your parents may hate me if you take my suggestion, but consider taking time off. Think about what you want – recognizing that what you want will likely change – and explore. Explore yearlong service programs in America and around the world, such as a variety of Israel-based service trips, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, the JDC’s Global Service Corps, AVODAH, AJWS, and City Year, create your own business, and travel to countries that aren’t “tourist-friendly” destinations. There are an infinite number of ways to make a difference, to be creative, and to explore – take advantage of the opportunity.

While thinking about your next steps, also consider how your Jewish identity is a part of your actions. As we’re in a synagogue, there are many questions that are appropriate to ask in this space that would not be relevant in a public school setting. Do you feel comfortable discussing Judaism with non-Jewish (and other Jewish) friends? When you think about yourself, is Judaism an underlying factor in self-awareness or is it an aspect of your identity that you separate from a more secular side? When you volunteer, do you view this as an expression of your Jewish identity or as something more intrinsic and simply as what a “good person” does?

Judaism, of course, does not have a monopoly on helping others. All religions, faith-traditions, and moral structures have lessons that lend justification to helping others – whether in direct service, helping others become self-sufficient, or in providing direct support. Yet, you are Jewish and Judaism has lessons throughout its tradition that challenge us to embrace actions and create a world that is more morally just than that which we entered.

The organization I currently work for, “Repair the World”, is named after the concept of “tikkun olam” – repairing the world. I want to reflect for a moment on this phrase. To repair something seems to imply that there was a point where everything was all stitched up nicely. There was never a point where the world was perfect. As we all go about our own paths and strategies to make the world a better place, keep in mind what that “better place” could look like. We all know the story that teaching a man to fish is better than giving him a fish everyday. But – the other side of the story is that there has to be water and fish for him to catch. The water, the ground level of what is necessary, speaks to deeper issues of social justice. In the next steps of your life, how will you help create an environment where we don’t just empower others, but also explore and help improve deeper social inequalities that make the lessons necessary in the first place?

As you have or will be told more times than you can count over the next few months, you’re entering a new and incredibly exciting part of your life.  Already, you have had the opportunity to do amazing things. Over the next many years, you have the opportunity to grow, to learn, and to challenge yourself in ways that make a positive difference on individuals and the world. Remember what you learned up to this point, continue to challenge yourself, have fun, and explore.

Congratulations!

May 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cheering for Joy and Reflecting on Justice

“I recall God silencing the singing angels when the Egyptians were drowning. Justice is one thing joy another?” – @RabbiWill [Berkowitz]

I was thinking about this extensively as I went to the White House during President Obama’s announcement last night. The unmitigated joy of the crowd – many of whom were unable to clearly articulate the ramifications (or lack of ramifications) of Osama’s killing – struck me as somewhat profane, but simply very strange.

The cheering of “U.S.A.! U.S.A!” spread through the crowd, with people basically dancing in front of the White House (although the drums did not arrive until around 1:30 AM). People climbed the light poles, throwing American flags up high, climbed to the top of trees, and generally were enveloped in the festivities.

But, what was being cheered? For many, for the collective “us” of America, Osama’s death is cathartic, I think it is partially substantiating the idea that we have control over our own life and our own destiny; no longer will one many scare us and dictate to us where our fear should be based.

Many countries burn effigies to protest or to celebrate – we raised the American flag. Over and over again the crowd erupted in renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner”, “Proud to Be an American”, and chants of “America. Fuck Yea.” This American pride is contagious and is healthy – to an extent – and I think it’s pretty inclusive, there was an Algerian flag waving in the sea of red, white, and blue – representing the new-found freedom in that country.

Yet, what message is being portrayed to the rest of the world – and what will we look back at yesterday as symbolizing? At least between 11 and 2, the crowd in DC was largely young – college students and young professionals. The mood was festive and no one had a desire to discuss what Osama’s death means for the on-going wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Libya.

I thought President Obama’s statement balanced the feeling of “mission success” with a need to look forward to what comes next and a recognition that this was justice – and justice should be the focus. Just outside of where he gave his speech, however, the crowd’s joyousness was explained by a few young men and women on Al-Jazeera interview as “We got him” and “It’s over”. Neither very insightful statements – and these expressions (especially when coupled with a can of beer and shirts being taken-off) speak to the need for feeling in control.

I’m very glad I went to the White House yesterday – being part of that crowd was being part of history. Yet, the response disturbed me. I don’t know what would have been better. A vigil would not have been appropriate; a silent rally, in memory of Americans and people from all over the world who have died – may have been better; but, people wanted to express a lot of pent-up emotions – they needed to find a way to express frustration with 10 years of war and I imagine part of it was the feeling of an end of an era – no longer will this bogeyman hang over our head, releasing taped statements anticipating the downfall of our way of life.

Hopefully, moving forward we have last night as a point of collective euphoria and reflection, realizing how to continue to live in a global society, respectfully.

May 2, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tres Hombres, The Next Act

After the charity parties organized by “Tres Hombres”, subsequent Peace Corps Volunteers and Aktobe volunteers began to organize more charity parties.  This past week, for International Volunteer Day, the Aktobe Vestnik published a wonderful article about the continued work of the volunteers.  I’m very proud of Nurgul, Zhenya, and everyone else that has been working really hard to make these a success and help Aktobe.

Милые сердцем, добрые волей

Четверг, 9 декабря 2010 / 20 просм., 13 сегодня

http://www.avestnik.kz/?p=9618

Волонтерское движение в нашей области набирает обороты. Если несколько лет назад добровольцы вызывали подозрение у иных граждан, то сегодня их работа заслуживает самых теплых слов благодарности. В минувшее воскресенье они отметили международный День волонтера.

Как выглядит работа волонтера изнутри? Что самое трудное? Часто ли приходится слышать отказ или натыкаться на грубость? Об этих тонкостях «АВ» рассказала Евгения Огай, уже немало времени посвятившая волонтерской деятельности.

Все началось с трех мужиков
«Tres hombres» («Три мужика») – это не название разухабистой поп-группы. Так звали себя Артем Баркан, Артур Акопян и Левон Тертерян, которые во главе с волонтером Перри Тейчером впервые стали проводить благотворительные вечера. Доход с этих party направлялся больным детям.
Через какое-то время к «Трем мужикам» присоединились три девушки, тоже волонтеры. Потом появилась Женя. Теперь это уже не «Три мужика», а три девушки – Евгения, Нургуль и Лаура.

Хороших людей больше!
По сути, работа Жени заключается в том, чтобы не жалея времени, искать людей с деньгами и часть их свободных средств привлекать на помощь нуждающимся. Это можно сделать несколькими способами. Например, организовать тематическую вечеринку, на которой люди будут жертвовать деньги. Для того, чтобы на такой вечеринке было весело и интересно, нужно горы свернуть…
Во-первых, надо придумать тему и сценарий. Первая самостоятельная вечеринка у Жени была организована для Назерке Аширбековой, и там царил деревенский стиль. Теперь на очереди «Hawaii-Party» 17 декабря в «Седьмом небе» для мальчика Сержана. То есть будут яркие одеяния, гирлянды цветов и широкополые шляпы.
Во-вторых, надо организовать зал, отыскать артистов с готовыми номерами, обеспечить рекламу, подарки и информационную поддержку. И самое  трудное – уговорить людей сделать все безвозмездно.
Тут Евгения начинает с благодарностью перечислять, какие  бизнесмены постоянно идут навстречу. Магазин модной одежды предоставляет стильные футболки, фотосалон делает в качестве подарка фотосессию, фитнес-клуб дарит свои сертификаты. Артисты с удовольствием выступают бесплатно, а владельцы ресторанов пускают в свои залы, несмотря на то, что за это время могли бы заработать на банкете или свадьбе.
– Хороших людей больше, – радуется Женя, – наша задача только оправдать, не подвести никого.
Вечеринки, хоть дело веселое, приносят не очень много прибыли.
– Те, кто думает, что это легко – взять деньги в одном месте и принести в другое – ошибаются. Они не представляют, сколько мы тратим личных средств на переговоры по мобильному, проезд, всякие мелочи типа шариков или билетов, – говорит Женя. – А у нас есть основная работа, учеба, семья.

Деньги для Сержана и не только
Другой способ принести больше пользы – это напрямую работать с предпринимателями, без вечеринок. Тут уже приходится немного труднее. Женя рассказывает, как очень долго готовилась к встрече с одним известным в городе человеком, руководителем ТОО – читала о нем в интернете, подбирала доводы для беседы. А беседа так и не состоялась. Деловой человек сказал, что сам позвонит, как только появится время, и на этом исчез. Женя не теряет надежды, что все-таки увидит его. Ведь сумма, которой он может безболезненно поделиться, способна подарить кому-то год жизни. Или обеспечить канцтоварами и игрушками целый интернат.
– Вот теперь у нас вечеринка в гавайском стиле. Как, что будет – пока не знаю. Волнуюсь. Напишите, пусть люди придут и помогут Сержану, – Женя задумчиво отпивает чай.
Малыш  Сержан, страдающий лейкоэнцефалитом, сейчас главная забота волонтера. Собственный сынок бегает по дому, слава Богу, здоровый. А за Сержана постоянно возносятся молитвы в церкви, куда ходит Женя. За него и  заодно за всех тех, кто помогает волонтерам делать добро.
Шолпан ТУЛЕУЛОВА

Sweet heart, good will

Thursday, December 9, 2010 / 20 views. 13, today

Volunteerism in our region is gaining momentum. A few years ago, volunteers were simply trusted by the other citizens, but today their work deserves the warmest words of gratitude. On Sunday, they celebrated International Volunteer’s Day.

How does volunteerism work from the inside? What is the hardest part of the work? How often do we hear refusals to help or encounter rudeness? “AB” asked Zhenya Ogai, who has already devoted a lot of time to volunteer activities, these questions.

It all started with three men
“Tres Hombres” (“Three Men”) – it’s not the name of rollicking pop band. Rather, it is the name that Artem Barkan, Arthur Hakobyan and Levon Terteryan, joined by Peace Corps Volunteer Perry Teicher called themselves as they first began to organize charity evenings.   Revenue from these parties helped sick children

After some time, the “three men” were joined by three young women.  Then, Zhenya started to volunteer. Now, it is not “three men” but “three women” – Zhenya, Nurgul, and Laura.

More good people!
Zhenya now spends a lot of time connecting people with money and helping find ways to contribute to help the needy. This can be done in several ways. For example, organizing theme parties at which people can donate money.  While such a party is fun and interesting, it is necessary to move mountains…

First, we must come up with a theme and script. The first party Zhenya organized was for Nazerke Ashirbekovoy, and it had a “rustic” style.  On deck is “Hawaii-Party”, December 17, in “Seventh Heaven” for the boy “Sergey”.  To create the theme, the room will be full of bright robes, garlands of flowers, and wide-brimmed hats.

Second, it is necessary to organize the room, find artists to assist with decoration, create advertising, and find gifts.  And the most difficult – to persuade people to do everything for free.

Here Zhenya begins her gratitude list, noting the long-list of businesses that are supporting the event. Fashion store offers stylish t-shirts, photo studios are doing a photo shoot as a gift, a fitness club is providing gift certificates. Artists are happy to perform for free, and restaurant owners have provided the space for free, despite the fact that during this time there could be a banquet or wedding.

“People want to help,” said Zhenya. “Our task is to make it happen and not to fail anybody.”

Parties, although fun, do not bring profit. “Some people think that it’s easy – take the money and then throw another party – but they are wrong.  The money we collect does not go to the personal funds we spend on administrative work – cell phone, driving, tickets, and such,” says Zhenya. “And we all work, have school, and families.”

Money for Sergey, and not only
Another way to bring more benefits – is to work directly with entrepreneurs, with no parties. This work has been a little harder. Zhenya tells how she has been preparing for a long-time to meet with a famous person in town, the head of an LLP – she researched online and prepared for the discussion. But, the conversation never took place. The businessman said he would call as soon as he can, but the time has seemed to disappear.  Zhenya, howver, does not lose hope that it will still work out.  After all, the amount he can share could give someone years of life, couple provide toys, or education.

– Now, we have a party in the Hawaiian style. We’ll see how that goes.  How that will be – do not know yet. Worried. Write it down, let people come and help Sergey, Zhenya thoughtfully takes a sip of tea.

The young boy, Sergey, who suffers from encephalitis, is now the main concern for the volunteer. Zhenya’s son runs around the house, thankfully, healthy. As for Sergey, Zhenya prays for him in church; for him and at the same time for all those who continue to help the volunteers to do good.

Sholpan TULEULOVA

 

 

December 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Appropriate it’s based in Turkmenistan

Courtesy of The United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (http://unrcca.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=1996)

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June 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Better Late…

*WPD101   06/14/2010

U.S. Aids Victims of Ethnic Violence in Kyrgyzstan

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By Stephen Kaufman

Staff Writer

Washington — The Obama administration wants a coordinated international response to address the ongoing ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan and is providing humanitarian assistance for the victims, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Speaking to reporters June 14, Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke earlier in the day about the situation with the foreign minister of Kazakhstan, which borders Kyrgyzstan, and Crowley affirmed that U.S. officials are maintaining “very close touch” with the Kyrgyz Republic’s provisional government over the situation.

“We, along with other international donors, are in the process of providing humanitarian aid, and we are in discussions with the provisional government regarding their humanitarian requirements,” Crowley said. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake has also reached out to Kyrgyz authorities to determine if they need any nonhumanitarian assistance.

The United States is looking at how it can work within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and with countries in the region “to provide assistance and help the provisional government stabilize the situation,” Crowley said.

Violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks, who constitute nearly 1 million of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.5 million people, has raged since June 10 in southern Kyrgyzstan. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), more than 100 people have been killed and more than 1,200 injured since then, and an estimated 80,000 have fled their homes seeking to cross into neighboring Uzbekistan.

The ICRC launched a preliminary emergency appeal June 14 for funding to enable it to help 100,000 victims, according to a June 14 statement by the organization.

ICRC spokesman Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet said that while the situation in the city of Osh had grown “a little calmer,” nearby Jalal-Abad has grown “very dangerous.” Osh, the second-largest city in Kyrgyzstan, is located in the southern portion of the country; many supporters of former president Kurmanbek Bakiev are concentrated in the area. Bakiev was ousted during civil unrest in April ( http://www.america.gov/st/peacesec-english/2010/April/20100408154911dmslahrellek0.4479792.html ) and the interim provisional government took over.

In southern Kyrgyzstan, “some areas are deserted and we believe many people are staying in their homes because they are too scared to leave,” Ducruet said.

At the OSCE’s Annual Security Review Conference in Vienna, Nancy McEldowney, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Kyrgyzstan and offered condolences to the victims.

“This tragedy is a powerful reminder of the fact that we, the participating states of the OSCE have a responsibility to take all possible action to prevent these types of conflict, and to help resolve them once they occur,” she said.

McEldowney reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the OSCE, and said she hopes delegates to the security review conference will use the occasion to “discuss, debate and decide upon practical ways to improve and expand the capacity of the OSCE to solve problems and enhance the lives of those who live throughout the OSCE space.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site: http://www.america.gov)

NNNN

QUESTION:  P.J., do you have a comment on the situation in Kyrgyzstan, which was turning in a rather (inaudible)?  Do you keep in touch with the authorities in Bishkek over that?  And what is the latest status of the Manas Transit Center?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, let’s see.  Let’s start with the – we are concerned about reports of loss of life and injuries.  And there were reports of serious Kyrgyz and Uzbek clashes in the city of Osh that began overnight.  We have been in touch with the Kyrgyz Government about the violence.  We have done our own checking and report no American injuries or casualties at this point.  We are obviously staying on top of that situation.  Meanwhile, we do continue to talk to the Kyrgyz Government about the transit center at Manas.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Good Job US Embassy in Kazakhstan

June 14 2010

Michigan

It’s horrible to follow a horrible situation and know that there should, at a minimum, be greater awareness of what’s going on, if not calls for action to protect innocent people from further slaughter.  At least there’s some coverage in American newspapers and on blogs.

Especially given that state of facts, it’s amazing that the US Embassy in Kazakhstan’s weekly e-mail update (in both English and Russian), sent out Monday morning, KZ time, includes absolutely no mention of the violence/unrest in Southern Kyrgyzstan.

See below for the weekly update.

from info@usembassy.kz <info@usembassy.kz>
to
date Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 11:15 PM
subject Washington File – Monday, June 14, 2010

*WPD50011

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

America.Gov COMPILATION SYSTEM

English (public-domain) Edition

Friday, 11 June 2010

(Send your requests and complaints to wffeedback@state.gov)

PEACE AND SECURITY

501  Open Skies Treaty Fulfills Arms Control Needs

()  (746)

BUSINESS AND TRADE

502  Expanding U.S. Economic Opportunities with China

()  (651)

DEVELOPMENT

503  American Soccer Star Shares Love of Sport from Cairo to Cape Town

(Lorrie Fair explores power of soccer on way to FIFA World Cup)  (803)

504  Pakistan’s Economy Seen as Resilient, Despite Challenges

(Governance, security issues closely tied to economic growth)  (1062)

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

505  South China: Networking for Climate Change Solutions

()  (827)

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

506  Iraq Takes Control of Web-Based Library for Its Scientists

(U.S. agencies support low-cost access to online educational materials)  (755)

507  Algerian-American Groups Celebrate Through Science, Culture

(Regional and online organizations support strong Algeria-U.S. ties)  (883)

PEOPLE AND PLACES

508  New Voices in Fiction: 20 Under 40

(The New Yorker magazine hails promising young writers)  (1033)

509  Participation in Art and Entertainment Empowers Arab Americans

(Playwright Betty Shamieh outlines keys to success for Arab-American artists)

(708)

510  Americans Devoted to Arab Causes Receive Recognition

(Academic, journalist and culture guardians honored at convention luncheon)

(702)

OFFICIAL TEXTS AND TRANSCRIPTS

511  Transcript: White House Press Briefing, June 10

(Press secretary Robert Gibbs briefs reporters on a range of topics)  (9133)

512  Transcript: State Department Daily Press Briefing, June 10

(Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley briefs reporters on range of topics)

(5173)

513  Text: Statement on Escape of Sudanese Convicted of Killing Aid Workers

(U.S. expects Sudanese authorities to apprehend convicted murderers)  (237)

514  Text: Statement by Secretary Clinton on Day of Russia

(Reaffirms U.S. commitment to strengthen, renewed relationship with Russia)

(315)

515  Text: Statement on Visit of Russian President Medvedev to White House

(Obama looks forward to discussing bilateral relations with Russia)  (398)

516  Text: President Obama on Philippine Independence Day

(Obama sends best wishes to people of Philippines on their 112th anniversary)

(130)

517  Transcript: Secretary Geithner’s Remarks at Senate Finance Hearing on

China

(Testifies on policy actions to strengthen U.S.-China economic

relationship)  (2756)

518  Text: Ambassador Marantis at Foreign Trade University in Vietnam

(USTR official urges Vietnam to take part in Trans-Pacific Partnership)  (1808)

519  Text: Treasury Official on Global Recovery, Asia, Financial Landscape

(Brainard’s speech at Federal Reserve Bank Conference in San Francisco)  (2173)

520  Transcript: Remarks by Clinton, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Spencer

(Diplomats answers questions on security, BP oil spill, Iran, trade and more)

(3288)

521  Transcript: U.S. Statement on May 30 Municipal Elections in Georgia

(U.S. congratulates Georgia on progress toward meeting OSCE standards)  (398)

Word Count Total:  33979

NNNN

June 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PBS

Wednesday, June 9 2010
Pinckney, MI, USA
It’s already been 6 months since I was last in Kyrgyzstan.  As everyone who spent even one day on the road with me learned, I take a lot of pictures while traveling.  When I returned home, unfortunately, that has resulted in countless hours reviewing and deleting photos.  In my four months around Central Asia and the Caucuses, I took around 30,000 pictures.  I’m still deleting.
Like its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan had a case of Presidential Billboard Syndrome (PBS).  PBS manifests itself in poorly photoshopped pictures of the country’s president hanging over roads across main cities, provincial capitals, rural towns, and middle-of-nowhere roads.  Clearly, more billboards equals greater respect and appreciation of the President.  A main diagnostic factor in PBS is multitudes of children.  Everyone loves children, no one more than the President of any country, particularly when he is embracing a faintly smiling crowd in a stadium or a field of cotton.

Former Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev

I expected the pictures I took of President Bakiev’s smiling face would be up for a long time to come.  5 months later, I imagine these non-environmentally friendly huge sheets of plastic are protecting someone’s home from rain, or is still laying along the side of the road.
With the focus on democratic change, I imagine the interim government has so far avoided PBS.  That’s too bad for the advertising companies.
I’m told, however, it’s like the flu.  As soon as election season and a new administration arrives, I would not be surprised if it’s back.  The election may be all about the people and democracy, but the billboards will likely not stay away for long in some form.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev

President Imomali Rakhmonov of Tajikistan and President Dmitry Medvedev adorning a Tajik-Russian school in Dushanbe

President Berdymuhamedov of Turkmenistan and the entire nation

While no longer the President of Azerbaijan, his picture is everywhere, unlike that of his son, Ilham Aliyev, the current President

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jews in the Steppe: An American Jew in Kazakhstan and Ukraine

Originally posted at http://www.jdcinservice.org/jdcnextgeneration/jews-in-the-steppe-an-american-jew-in-kazakhstan-and-ukraine

JDC Short-Term Service welcomes past participants to share reflections on their service with jdcinservice.org. Today, Perry Teicher, 25, reflects on his time serving throughout the Former Soviet Union.

When I traveled to Ukraine with JDC Short-Term Service and University of Michigan Hillel in 2005, it was (surprisingly for me as I thought back on it) my third time in the sphere of influence of the Former Soviet Union. In 2000 and 2002, I had been to Bulgaria on earlier Jewish service learning trips. While not officially a part of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria’s Jewish community suffered a similar identity loss as the other countries behind the Iron Curtain.

With each trip, the reality of the Jewish communities we spoke with, built community centers with, drank with, danced with, sang with, and ate with became more real. In Ukraine, our 15 UM students worked side-by-side 15 Jewish Ukrainian youth for 10 days, tearing down an old building, constructing a new community center and picking potatoes in Konotop, a small village in the eastern part of the country. I thought this would be the last of my few and far between trips to the FSU.

Как страна. How strange. After graduating from the University of Michigan, I found myself living and working in Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps Volunteer for over two years. I had no inkling that, through this experience, I would connect with the Jewish community in my adopted country. Fortunately, Peace Corps was open to the idea, and through my connection to JDC – and JDC’s connection to the community – the Jewish community welcomed me with open arms. My JDC Short-Term Service trip opened my eyes to the vivacity of the Jewish communities of the FSU.  Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to connect and engage with a unique Jewish community in a deeper manner. 10 days working with a Jewish community is a great introduction to communal life and challenges; living in a community gives you an understanding of daily life, history, and potential.

During my Peace Corps service, I celebrated the holidays with the Jewish community in Aktobe (my site) and Almaty (the economic center). Within a few weeks of arriving in Aktobe, I was invited to a community Hannukah dinner, with about 25 other members of the Jewish community. Although a mostly older crowd, there were a few younger couples around the table. Even though I spoke Russian like a 6-year-old, I was welcomed with open arms. After eating more than my stomach could handle, I started to feel a part of the community, leading to more dinners, Shabbat services, and Hesed events over the next two years.

In 2008, JDC invited me to participate in two JDC Short-Term Service trips that were working with the Jewish community in Almaty. In Summer 2008, a group of Tufts students came to Kazakhstan, followed by an NYU group in Summer 2009. Both groups spent 10 days cleaning the houses of elderly Jews in Almaty, weeding their overgrown gardens, playing with kids at Jewish summer camp, and renovating the Jewish community center.

And while the experience definitely had a clear impact on the American students, the impact on the Kazakhstani Jewish community has also been far-reaching. Spending more time with the Kazakhstani Jewish community months later, the impact of these groups is very clear – perspectives of the Jewish community widened and needed help was performed, in a manner that created new ideas, new understandings, new programs, and lasting positive impressions.

My experience over the last two years reminded me that participation on a JDC Short-Term Service trip, or living among a Jewish community abroad, you are only seeing part of the community, that the experience is a segment of a bigger canvas of Jewish life.

Intense experiences such as these often make it difficult to reengage with what used to be “everyday life”.  It would be easy to segment my experiences with the Jewish communities of the FSU as a one-time experience; as something that happened and is done. But that is not the case. These experiences are not just memories to be filed away and pulled-out when useful.  Rather, these last two years, and the earlier trips, built real bonds and inspired new ideas that influence everything I do.

June 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment