Kazakh craft fair offers handmade souvenirs

ASTANA – This summer, the capital is welcoming more tourists than ever. As EXPO 2017 nears its end, guests are seeking mementoes to take a piece of Kazakhstan home with them. The Sheberler Ayuly (Village of Crafts People) offers a variety of handmade products in national style. The exhibit, located near Baiterek monument, will be open until the end of the expo.

“Foreign tourists and guests of our capital necessarily want to get some souvenir or gift that is connected not only with the city of Astana and the expo, but in general with the symbols of our country. Here, everyone is able to find such original products made by local crafts people,” said Sheberler Ayuly organiser Aigul Zhanserikova, according to the city akimat (local administration) press service.

The exhibition features products of crafters from different regions of Kazakhstan – Almaty, Astana, South Kazakhstan, Petropavlovsk, Atyrau, Kostanai and Semei. Anyone can buy souvenirs with Kazakh symbols at affordable prices.

Exclusive products made of leather, ceramics, wood and clay, various jewellery, traditional Kazakh embroidery, wallets and bags, children’s slippers and other handmade souvenirs are especially popular among tourists.

“The whole world is now moving in the direction of eco and ethno. This is becoming a big trend; therefore, all the products produced by artisans reflect this style. Prices here are acceptable and affordable for many,” said Zhanserikova.

Similar products can be found near the Yessil River embankment, where craft shops and artist’s workshops are located in 14 half-yurts.


Photo credit: astana.gov.kz

“Every city in the world has its own Arbat,” said Astana’s Saryarka district Akim (Mayor) Arman Turlubek referring to a famous walk-only street in Moscow. “This is the place where folk craft people, musicians and artists gather. They are representatives of a unique subculture that is always open for each person and pleasing with their works and talents. Their style forms a special look of districts and cities. As you can see, the most skillful masters of applied art are gathered here. The atmosphere of the Yessil River embankment makes this place truly beloved and popular.”

Fans of handmade items can purchase bead and stone jewellery, knitted and ceramic products and interior and play dolls, as well as soap. Masters engaged in pottery, leatherwork and embroidery demonstrate their best products to fair visitors.

“I have been engaged in art for seven years. At this exhibition, we offer albums, postcards, decoupage boxes, paintings, handmade soaps and so on. Both foreign tourists and local residents visit the site, looking for some unusual souvenirs associated with Astana,” fair participant Evelina Andrakhanova told the paper.


Astana’s promenade was created on the initiative of city Akim (Mayor) Asset Issekeshev. The facility is designed to awaken an interest in the history and traditions of the Kazakh people among the younger generation.

“This is my second visit to Kazakhstan. I am from the Czech Republic. I live with my friends near the embankment and almost every week I come here to pick up some gifts for my family members. I like the atmosphere here, I really enjoy it. People come here not only to buy something, but look at these amasing handmade items, play chess, sing karaoke or just relax,” said tourist James Kral.



Zhastary youth centre takes active part in Astana life

ASTANA – Astana Zhastary Youth Centre takes an active role and provides real assistance to capital youth ages 14-29. Established Feb. 3, 2014, the centre is completely supported by the city administration.

“The centre has four major departments. The first one is the employment and career guidance department. It aims at the employment of young people. Its employees receive résumés and find the right jobs for young people, conducting different trainings on the development of professional and personal skills and entrepreneurship with the participation of such professional trainers as Emin Askerov, Danil Faizullayev and Chingiz Lepsibayev. Trainings are constantly held for young people and absolutely free of charge,” said Head of the centre’s department Aigerim Beisembayeva in an exclusive interview with The Astana Times.

“The second organisational department is responsible for the creation and organisation of projects and activities. Dozens of successful projects have been created for the three years of the centre’s existence, some of which are held to this day,” she said.

The centre offers projects for a variety of interests, such as book dating to popularise reading, Astana Ideas, a platform to present concepts for urban studies, and the Saryarka Short Film Festival.

“The third is the department for the development of domestic clubs. At the moment, there are 18 community clubs in our centre where children can participate in boxing, karate, choreography, modelling, fine arts and CrossFit,” said Beisembayeva.

“And the last one, the fourth, is the legal assistance department. The centre provides free legal consultations for young people,” she added.

Beisembayeva noted the club was founded and operates to give any young person the opportunity to come to the centre, use it as a resource and receive assistance.

“We are striving to become a second home for all teenagers, children and young people,” she said.

Although local authorities finance all the centre’s activities, it is always seeking help from volunteers.

“Everybody can become a volunteer at our centre. It is enough to come to our office and fill out a volunteer questionnaire and after that we will train such persons in our volunteer school. The activities of our volunteers are very extensive and different. They take part in the most interesting events of the city such as Yarkokross, Astana Art Fest, matches of the Astana Football Club, Astana Marathon, Delphic Games, BI Group Triathlon, Inter-Syrian negotiations and Astana Economic Forum,” she said.

Volunteers are also visible at EXPO 2017, as they continue to participate in the three months of the international specialised exhibition.

Information about the centre can be found on its Instagram pages: @astana_zhastary and @job_astana_zhastary.



Astana to be featured in National Geographic’s Megastructures television series

ASTANA – The new “Astana, City of the Future” film about the architectural wonders of Astana will debut Aug. 8 at EXPO 2017 in Astana.

The film is a new episode of National Geographic’s iconic TV series Megastructures, which shows high-tech innovations used in the construction of some of the world’s most impressive buildings. The film on Astana is going to show the story of Kazakh capital’s construction and modernisation using up-to-date computer graphics.

“Astana, City of the Future” was produced by the Off The Fence production company. Its crew visited Astana in April to capture its unique architecture with a focus on the EXPO 2017 campus. The most important point of the film is the construction of the key element of the expo,  Nur Alem, which is considered the largest spherical building in the world.

The documentary also includes interviews with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, head of the Astana EXPO 2017 national company Akhmetzhan Yessimov, architects Gordon Gill and Norman Foster, who took part in Astana’s design.

The film will be shown on National Geographic’s international channels till the end of August. Before the unveiling of the documentary, the film crew will hold a press conference at the EXPO Media Centre Aug. 9 at 2:30 pm. National Geographic’s Executive Vice President in Europe & Africa Deborah Armstrong and Executive Producer of the film and CEO of Off The Fence Ellen Windemuth will participate in the press conference.



Astana, Singapore to cooperate in green construction technology

ASTANA – The Kazakh and Singaporean delegations signed agreements on joint cooperation in Astana as part of the Singaporean visit to the EXPO 2017 for the National Day of Singapore, the Astana akimat (city administration) reports.

The Kazakh delegation was represented by Akim (Mayor) of Astana Asset Issekeshev and the guests were represented by Senior Minister of Trade and Industry of the Republic of Singapore Koh Poh Koon.

During the meeting, the akim presented the delegation a programme of be capital’s development as tasked by the head of state until 2020. The akim told the gathering about the transformation of the capital to a “smart and safe city” concept. Astana, according to the akim, is also to become a Eurasian and international hub for investors and innovations, taking into account the creation of the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC).

The Kazakh delegation proposed projects in areas such as the introduction of smart technologies into city planning and management systems in the areas of public transport, health, education, security, and transparent workflows of the akimat and city services.

Following the meeting, the sides agreed to implement projects in three areas.

The first is to study Singapore’s experience, regulations and organisation of work on smart infrastructure, digital engineering, green construction, using Building Information Modeling technology in design, building permits, construction and building management.

The issue of green construction and the use of energy-efficient technologies was considered separately. Singapore has developed its own green standard and the number of buildings that meet the green standard is 33 percent.

The second agreement deals with cooperation regarding public transportation systems, road construction planning, parking, the introduction of information technologies in passenger transport and the creation of an integrated model of passenger transport management, among others.

As for the third area, the sides agreed to cooperate to introduce more technologies in public healthcare.



Astana to become most attractive city in Eurasia by 2020, says mayor

ASTANA – Urban leaders gathered for the 25th International Assembly of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Capitals and Major Cities July 13-14 to discuss a new programme of sustainable development as a response to global challenges. Akim (Mayor) Asset Issekeshev spoke on the first day about specific plans for the capital.

“In accordance with the United Nations Development Programme, 17 sustainable development goals were outlined. One of them is making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, which includes 10 tasks – affordable housing, safe and sustainable transport, sustainable urbanisation, protection of the world’s cultural and natural heritage, population protection, air quality, green areas, links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas, mitigation and adaptation to climate change and constructing sustainable and resilient buildings,” he said.
In terms of access to housing, the capital has already reached the UN level, as rentals exceed 20 million square metres.

“On the transformation of the urban environment, we determined 50 public spaces as centres of urban life – streets, squares, parks and development of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Also, for the equal development of the city, we divided the capital into 129 sectors, each with a population of up to 10,000 people and 34 social standards,” he said.

In terms of security, the city is implementing the country’s first large-scale, public-private partnership video surveillance project. More than 10,000 cameras will be installed on roads, public places and social facilities, all coordinated at a single situation centre.

“To ensure environmental sustainability, city authorities are implementing a number of low-carbon projects, including the transition to low-carbon transport. We plan to expand the river and create artificial lakes on the under-flooding grounds to mitigate the effects of climate change,” said Issekeshev.

The city is moving toward full gasification, investing 2 billion tenge (US$6.14 million) to build a natural gas regasification station. A new gas supply source was launched based on innovative LNG (liquefied natural gas) technology, which provides a substantial reduction in emissions compared to coal and diesel fuel.


To develop transport infrastructure, authorities have introduced an intelligent transport system. Measures are underway to increase the attractiveness of public transport.

“By 2020, we intend to make Astana the most attractive and exciting city in the Eurasian space with excellent urban recreational activities and the most professional business destination. Astana should become one of the key centres for holding various forums, summits, business conferences and cultural and sporting events, because the city has a quality and developed infrastructure for this – airports, train stations, hotels, wide streets and boulevards. We set a goal to increase the number of foreign tourists to one million a year and up to two million people from other cities of Kazakhstan. This means increasing the number of tourists more than three times,” he said.

Forum participants noted the main trends are similar – cities are striving for the use of smart technologies and digitalisation – and ended the session by voicing many proposals and issues to be solved. Issekeshev suggested creating a single information resource to exchange experience, expanding the circle with the inclusion of the CIS countries such as Russia and Belarus, as well as those in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and China and India.

“We came out with the initiative to establish a Council of Mayors of the cities of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) countries, between Russia, China, India and Central Asia. The objectives of the council are cooperation in the areas of trade, the exchange of technologies in urban development, energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart technologies, development of public transport and e-commerce, university connections and much more. All these goals are in line with the idea of the SCO. The council should become a pragmatic platform, working not from session to session, but as a permanent body,” he said.

Capital authorities earlier amended the city development programme until 2020 aimed at improving the quality of life, building a new model of sustainable growth and transforming Astana into a successful, global smart city. The capital has also developed a master plan through 2025, a document of strategic spatial planning in which each department’s activities are focused on achieving one goal.



Astana Taxi launches at new Nurly Zhol train station

ASTANA – Visitors and residents arriving at a new Nurly Zhol train station in Astana can now use Astana Taxi services right at the train station to get to any part of the city.

“The taxi service now has 350 cars. I think it is very convenient for passengers because they can order a taxi right at the train station and get to any location in the city. In addition, the taxi has lots allocated specially for it on the third floor,” noted deputy head of the Nurly Zhol train station Nurlan Amanzholov.

Photo credit: railways.kz

Opened June 1, the Nurly Zhol train station receives nearly 60 percent of trains coming to Astana.

Launched in May after the merging of several taxi companies, Astana Taxi increases the variety of taxi services, which is particularly timely for Astana welcoming greater number of tourists as it is hosting EXPO 2017.

The taxi can be ordered in three ways: through a call centre at 15800, a mobile app or at a taxi stand.

In case a driver and a passenger speak different languages, they can contact a call centre where operators can interpret the talk in five languages.

Similar to taxis in metropolises around the world, all taxicabs have a uniform design.

According to the city administration that runs the taxi service, Astana Taxi strives for a high-quality service, which includes free Wi-Fi, call centre, mobile app and point-on-sale terminal for non-cash payments. In addition, drivers have to go through a number of checks to ensure safety of passengers.

As all licensed taxi in the city, Astana Taxi can drive on a bus lane, which significantly cuts time that passengers spend on the road.

It has also additional parking lots near the train station on the right bank of Astana’s Yessil River, the airport as well as shopping malls.



President thanks scientists, forest rangers for creating Astana as ‘Green Belt’

ASTANA – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev recently thanked Kazakh scientists and forest rangers for creating the man-made forest belt that surrounds the city.

Photo credit: 24.kz

“I would like to thank the scientists and forest rangers for their work. It is not so easy to grow trees in this area. Now we have a big forest here that has become a natural oasis inhabited by animals and birds,” he said in a briefing to the media after reviewing the forest belt from the air on July 4.

The 80,000-hectare green belt was planted at Nazarbayev’s direction in 1997 and is expected to reach 100,000 hectares by 2020. The plan is to connect the green belt with the closest nearby natural forest at the Burabai resort.

“This forest will be here for as long as people live here. This is the wealth of our country. Astana is hosting the EXPO 2017 international exhibition that promotes the capital’s image as a city committed to the principles and ideology of green development,” said the President, noting the forest’s role in improving the local climate and ecology.

He also briefed the media on the construction of a recreation zone in the green belt.

The green belt is supported by the 110-hectare Ak Kaiyn forest kennel near Astana, which produces about nine million seedlings annually for 26 species of trees suitable for the local climate.

The President also chaired a meeting on the green belt after reviewing it from the air. The meeting was attended by Vice-Minister of Agriculture Yerlan Nyssanbayev, head of the Presidential Administration Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, Astana’s Akim (Mayor) Asset Issekeshev, Akmola region Akim (Governor) Malik Murzalin and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture Askar Myrzakhmetov.

Nyssanbayev reported that the green zone is constantly monitored and supported.

After flying around the ‘green belt’, Nazarbayev visited the ethnoaul (ethnical village) located in the Bal Karagai recreation area.



Astana International Airport renamed in honour of President

ASTANA – Astana’s international airport has been renamed Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport in honour of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The name change follows a large-scale renovation resulting in a much expanded capacity at the capital’s airport and a new terminal.

Photo credit: kapital.kz

Kazakhstan’s Civil Aviation Committee is now negotiating with the International Air Transport Association on changing the airport code, TSE, which still refers to the name of the city, Tselinograd, which was abolished in 1992.

Chair of Kazakhstan’s Mazhilis (lower chamber of Parliament) Nurlan Nigmatulin highlighted that the renaming initiative received massive support in the state.

“I want to congratulate all of us, all Kazakhstan citizens on this decision. The proposal to secure the outstanding contribution of the Leader of the Nation to the construction of our state was already actively discussed in society after the adoption of the Declaration of the Parliament on the 25th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence. This also affected the renaming of Astana International Airport. This initiative received massive support from citizens of Kazakhstan, which we saw first-hand during our trips to the regions, during meetings with the people,” Nigmatulin said.

Kazakh Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev noted that the idea to rename the airport after Nazarbayev, implemented by the government’s resolution, was proposed eight years ago by Senate Deputy Darkhan Kaletayev, who was the first deputy chair of Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party at the time.

“We all know that the brands ‘Kazakhstan’ and ‘Nazarbayev’ are inseparable. Today, it is actually a single concept. International practice shows that airports are named after national leaders,” Kaletayev said in May 2009 in a programme on the Astana TV channel.

He cited the example of George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.

Changing the airport code is another matter. Airports around the world are identified by three-letter codes, and while cities and airports may be renamed, changing an airport code is difficult and expensive, and therefore rarely done. This is why many airports have codes that don’t seem to match their current city names: St. Petersburg’s airport is still coded LED (for Leningrad), Samara – KUF (Kuibyshev), Vladikavkaz – OGZ (Ordzhonikidze), Bishkek – FRU (Frunze), and so on.

Astana Airport, which serves a city that has been twice renamed (from Tselinograd to Akmola and from Akmola to Astana), is still coded TSE for Tselinograd. The Civil Aviation Committee is negotiating to have it changed, as well as the codes of other cities of Kazakhstan, which have not changed since the times of the Soviet Union.

In an interview with Russia 24 TV channel on July 4, Nazarbayev explained his reaction to the renaming of facilities in his honour.

“This is not my initiative. I am always against it. This happens regularly. I guess people appreciate [my work] and I am grateful for that, for the fact that they see the work I have been doing, even though any politician, any leader of any state should strive to be remembered in history through his deeds,” he said. He said he believes this is a matter for the future generations.”

“I often recall the expression of Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman emperor and philosopher, who, when asked why there were no monuments in his honour, would respond: ‘I don’t want people to ask whose monument was that. I would prefer they ask, when I am gone, why there is no monument built to him yet.”



Astana moving closer to becoming smart city

ASTANA – The idea of smart cities is gaining ground around the world, and specifically in Kazakhstan, which intends to keep up with the trend. With the capital’s intention to enter the world’s top 50 smart communities, the city is working hard to achieve the goal.

Smart cities merge digital innovations and the physical world to make people’s routines easier by ensuring sustainable development and improving the quality of life. In 2013, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev instructed the Akimat (city administration) to develop a set of measures that will foster the path to the smart communities list and the item has been on top of the city administration’s agenda.

“It is a global trend. It is a necessity. All cities and developed countries have been working in this field. Those tools and resources that we had before the digital century became outdated. Now, we need to move in a different direction and search for new technological and innovative solutions to ensure the sustainability of the city. Smart City is a foundation for that,” said deputy head the Centre of City Technologies Expertise Bakhytzhan Ualikhan.my screenshot1

Time was needed to learn the best international practices from cities such as Barcelona, Dubai, Moscow and other successful examples, he added.

The Smart Astana project incorporates technology-driven solutions in various sectors, like hospitals, schools, the ticket booking system and street lighting. In conjunction with a comprehensive set of measures to make public services more efficient and accessible, Astana Innovations, a subsidiary of the Astana city administration, developed the Smart Astana app. A beta version was made available in January 2016 and within a few months, Astana residents and guests were able to fully enjoy it.

Available in three languages, the app offers approximately 20 services ranging from making a doctor’s appointment to ordering a taxi.

“A primary purpose is to combine all services into one app. There is no need to download dozens of apps. All systems are integrated,” said Ualikhan.

One of the app’s main features is push notifications that are of a great use to parents, as the city’s cold winter weather often results in school cancellations. Mobile operators used to notify parents, but there were many complaints about untimely announcements – some parents received them on time, while others received them much later.

“The city Akim (Mayor) instructed then to solve this issue and, given a large number of smartphone users, we decided to develop an app such as Smart Astana, where push notifications became a key component,” he added.my screenshot2

The app also offers another channel to reach 109 service, an intellectual contact centre that deals with a wide range of complaints from locals and guests. Whenever a person is dissatisfied with city or public services or sees something that needs to be fixed, he or she can contact the centre through the app, the Smart Astana website, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Developers continue working on the app to add new features and fix bugs, noted Ualikhan.

“We have updated our app this year and added new services. We plan to continue issuing updates for the app, increasing the number of available services up to 40 and also working on the existing services,” he said.

Users relay remarks on a wide array of subjects.

“There are many comments. Of course, it is impossible to satisfy every person. Someone does not like the design, while another does not like the services. But, in general, people are positive about the app,” he added.

The app will also be useful to residents and guests as it shows the schedule of the city’s cultural events, which is particularly important during EXPO 2017.



Astana offers audio tours

ASTANA – Free walking tours with a help of audio guide were recently launched at the Nurzhol Boulevard and the embankment of the Yessil River, according to the Astana administration’s press service. Audio tours about the main sights of the capital are available in six languages.

According to the Deputy Director of Astana Convention Bureau Askar Adambekov, two walking tours with audio guides have been launched in Astana. The first route is at Nurzhol Boulevard, which includes 30 sites, and the second one is on the embankment of the Yessil River close to the Central Park with 15 sites.

Users can become acquainted with the main attractions using audio guides in Kazakh, Russian, English, Chinese, German and Turkish languages. They can get an audio tour and a map guide for 500 tenge (US$1.5) as a deposit in special tents near the Khan Shatyr shopping centre, in front of Baiterek monument and on the embankment of the Yessil River. The user’s deposit is returned at the end of the route.

“This year we integrated the audio guided walking tours with the help of the Izi.Travel international network, which provides walking tours for a number of states.  We will no longer issue audio guides at the second stage of the project,” explained Adambekov.

The main difference of Izi.Travel is users do not need to purchase audio guides for the deposit. Everyone who wants to use the mobile application can visit the Izi.Travel’s website and listen to information about the sights of the capital.

Professional guides, historians, announcers, editors and studio managers prepared the audio guided walking tours.

Another sightseeing activity prepared for tourists is the trip on the Hop-on, Hop-off double-decker buses. Buses are equipped with audio guides in six available languages, including Kazakh, Russian, English, Chinese, Turkish and German.

The starting and ending point of the route is a place in front of the Duman entertainment centre along the Kurgaldzhin Highway. The route includes Duman entertainment centre, Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre, Mangilik Yel Arch, Mega Silk Way Shopping Mall, National Museum of Kazakhstan and Baiterek monument.