I have to confess that when I joined the group, I really didn’t know anything about Ambassador Umarov and the Republic of Kazakhstan. However, what I did know was from my earlier history and geography classes—the suffix “-stan” on the end of the country’s name had to mean they come from Central Asia or somewhere close to Afghanistan or Pakistan. Kazakhstan is one of five countries in their area whose name ends in “stan” (that means country, nation, or place of) and who were a part of the former Soviet Union. I have since learned a great deal about these people and their country, and much of what I learned is very impressive.
Kazakhstan became an independent state in 1991 after the USSR collapsed and was the last of the Soviet satellites to declare its independence. The country is roughly four times the size of Texas and has vast mineral resources, with an enormous economic potential. Today it is the world’s largest producer of uranium. It is also the world’s largest land-locked country with no openings to an ocean or a seaport. The country is transcontinental, situated in both Europe and Asia and is a diverse country in regard to its population.
Ambassador Umarov told of the difficult conditions in his country following the Soviet Union’s collapse. He spoke of his parents who had worked and saved their entire lives, retired with adequate savings and small pensions, and who were living fairly comfortably. After the collapse, though, all of their accumulated savings would not buy even one loaf of bread. According to the Ambassador, it is for this reason that economic growth and stability has been a main focus for their country, and he was very proud to say that after twenty-two years as a nation, Kazakhstan’s economy is stable and growing.
In addition to talking about his country’s economy, Ambassador Umarov shared with us that while under the Soviet’s control, there was major pollution and contamination of the land in their region. Consequently, the Kazakhstan government is very interested in cleaning up and protecting their environment. The Ambassador also noted that during the late 1950s and early 1960s the Soviet Communists established their collective government farms and that for the most part they were failures. After the collapse the Russians walked away from the farms and returned to Russia. The Kazahkstan people are in the process of rebuilding their agriculture infrastructure. This is one of the reasons the Ambassador and his group are interested in our agricultural success. He pointed out that when they became an independent nation, Kazakhstan’s leaders put the welfare of the people as their highest priority.
During further discussion, Ambassador Umarov stated that Kazakhstan is “quite proudly a close friend and partner of the United States, from nuclear non-proliferation to medical research.” According to the Ambassador, thousands of missiles with nuclear warheads in Kazakhstan were dismantled and sent back to Russia after the Soviet collapse. He went on to say that United States businesses have invested heavily in his country because of its “stable government and their adherence to the rule of law and democracy.” He also said that their “economy is booming” and that they are “an economic powerhouse” in the region and act as a “bridge of friendship and understanding and a great contributor to international peace and regional stability.”
It was enlightening and pleasurable to meet and spend time with these visitors. It was also easy to converse with them, as they spoke fluent English. They told us that there are three main languages spoken in Kazakhstan—Russian, the native Kazakh language, and English, with English being taught in their schools. The Ambassador shared with us that there are about 100 different ethnic groups in his country, including Chinese, Korean, German, and various groups that come from around their area. He referred to his country as a real “melting pot.”
Our visitors were complimentary of Southwest Missouri and were impressed and fascinated with our agriculture industry (cattle and livestock), our overall agriculture technology, and our production ability. It was a privilege and an honor to be able to get to know these individuals and to share our part of the state with them.