The reason why it was decided to hold Syrian peace negotiations in Astana

The reason why it was decided to hold Syrian peace negotiations in  Astana

The last week, a second round of Syrian peace negotiations finished in Astana, resulting in an agreement on the establishment of the monitoring group on the truce in Syria with the participation of Iran, Russia and Turkey. The Astana format is another platform for the Syrian peace process, in addition to Geneva. Forbes writes, why Astana was chosen such a site. Vestnik Kavkaza leads the excerpts from its article.

Kazakhstan has found its way into the Western news with Syrian peace talks in the capital, Astana. Since little news comes out of the landlocked Central Asian nation, it is worth looking at the reasons why Kazakhstan’s capital and leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, are symbols of the stability that Russia, Turkey and Iran would like to forge in Syria.

Kazakhstan bills itself as a Eurasian nation, one in which the U.S., Russia, Turkey, China and Iran have great interest. Nazarbayev, the former Soviet nation’s first and only leader, has ruled since 1989. Perhaps the most influential, little-known world leader, he has used a Machiavellian combination of cunning, ruthlessness, diplomatic acumen and public works to consolidate his domestic political power. Ruling the ninth-biggest country in the world, Nazarbayev has also adroitly used Kazakhstan’s geostrategic location between Russia, China and the “stans” of former Soviet Central Asia and its vast oil and gas deposits in the Caspian Sea to play larger economic and military powers off each other. For example, in support of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Nazarbayev allowed the U.S. Air Force flyover rights; Kazakhstan is a charter member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group that includes Russia and China and focuses much of its attention on counterterrorism and intelligence sharing; and the center of the country still houses the Russian Cosmodrome at Baikonur.

 No stranger to national collapse or nation building, Nazarbayev stood by Gorbachev and Yeltsin during the August 1991 Communist hardline coup that threatened Gorbachev’s reforms. Since  then, Nazarbayev has been the longest-serving and, arguably, most effective leader in the former Soviet Union. His administration has been able to contain the ethnic, religious and economic strife that has led to the rise of Islamic extremism in other Central Asian republics. In addition, Nazarbayev successfully moved the capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997, in part to stifle a nascent Russian separatist movement. In a move roundly applauded in the West, Nazarbayev voluntarily dismantled all nuclear missiles inherited from the Soviet Union, making Kazakhstan a nuclear-free state.Astana, a former dusty provincial town, which came to some prominence during Khrushchev’s “Virgin Lands” campaign of the 1950s, lagged behind the cultural and economic capital, Almaty, until the late 1990s. Previously known by its Russian name, Tselinograd, and Kazakh, Aq-Mola, the city was christened with the unoriginal name Astana (“capital” in Kazakh) in 1998.

From the Central Concert Hall shaped like the national instrument, the dombra, to Khan Shatyr mall built to resemble a nomadic yurt, the city captures the desires of a leader and people trying to construct a national heritage from the ruins of a nomadic and Soviet past.

However, maybe the greatest significance of holding Syrian peace talks in Nazarbayev’s Astana is the power and resilience the city and the man symbolize. Nazarbayev has dealt with foreign and domestic threats swiftly and mercilessly...Thus, there is a brief but rich history in this young nation holding the peace talks. Its leader has mastered “managed democracy” and made Kazakhstan an indispensable partner of America, Russia and China. Astana sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, and legitimate and authoritarian rule. It appears to be the ideal spot to convene a meeting to determine the fate of Syria, a nation that has succumbed to many of the same challenges that Nazarbayev has thus far been able to tame.