25 years of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and The Netherlands

Edition 28 September 2017, by Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro

On this occasion Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan, H.E. Mr. Magzhan Ilyassov.
Former posts: Advisor to the President; Head of Foreign Policy Center; several posts within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

1. As per May 11, 2016 you are the Ambassador to the Netherlands. How do you experience it to live and work in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands holds a special place in my heart. I first came to know your beautiful country in 1998 when I attended training courses for young diplomats in Clingendael Institute. Later, before my appointment as an Ambassador, I have been here for several times as a part of the official delegations and I remember that every visit went smoothly and productively thanks to high professionalism of our Dutch colleagues. In everyday life this country offers family-friendly, multicultural environment with highest standards of living and working, where English is widely spoken and international connection via Schiphol airport is very efficient. And The Hague is the place where one can experience different cultures through cuisine and performances without travelling far.

2. How would you characterize the current bilateral relationship between Kazakhstan and the Netherlands?
This year our countries mark the 25th anniversary of bilateral relations. In a quarter of a century, high-level political cooperation, mutually beneficial trade-economic, cultural and humanitarian collaboration have been developed on the basis of true partnership and understanding. These joint efforts made the Netherlands #1 foreign investor into Kazakhstan and one of our key trade partners, the achievements that we are eager to sustain in the future. Kazakhstan considers the Netherlands as a pivotal political and trade-economic partner in European Union and stands as a reliable partner of your country in Central Asia. The development of mutually beneficial multifaceted ties with the Kingdom of the Netherlands has always been based on cooperation, trust and friendship and continues to be amongst the priorities of our foreign policy.

3. The Expo 2017 took place in Astana from June till September 2017, which was a great success. How many countries participated and what can you tell me about the Dutch pavilion. How many visitors visited the Expo?
115 countries and 22 international organizations presented their vision and showcased the latest technological achievements in the field of “future energy” in Astana. I want to underline that the Netherlands was one of the first countries to confirm its participation at the exhibition. Your country was represented by two pavilions at once: national and corporate by “Royal Dutch Shell”, which was a unique combination. Multiplicative beneficial effect upon the younger generations is a major focal point of EXPO 2017. The expositions inspired youth from all around the world to play their role in the development of the future technologies by immersing them in “a play mode” into the process of research and development. For example, the Dutch Pavilion with the proud motto: “Low Land-High Energy” hosted an award ceremony of “The Holland Innovation Challenge”. The aim of the Contest was to mix young talented students and experts from both Kazakhstan and the Netherlands in teams and make them brainstorm to solve a real life environmental and energy challenges. The winners were awarded by the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Mr. Henk Kamp, who visited Astana to take part at the Dutch Day on June 22. Over 3,8 mil. visitors at EXPO-2017 had a unique opportunity to discover what the “future energy” technology offers and enjoyed rich cultural program with ethnic shows, exhibitions, performance by “Cirque du Soleil”, “La Scala”, Dutch DJ “Afrojack” and many others. In September, the EXPO 2017 finished its work but the bright memories of this unique event will stay with millions of visitors around the world.

4. Kazakhstan is the first Central Asian partner to have concluded an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU and is constantly working on a more open economy. Can you please elaborate about this?
Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) between the EU and Kazakhstan was signed in December 2015. The EPCA aims to ensure favourable conditions for political and economic cooperation and to promote stronger contacts between Kazakhstan and EU countries. Intensifying scientific, technological and educational cooperation through the EPCA will contribute to the further diversification of Kazakhstan’s economy and will strengthen its competitiveness. Topped by transparent rules and regulations for a favourable investment climate in Kazakhstan, EPCA should become yet another incentive and guarantee for the potential investors from Europe and around the world. We hope that in the nearest future the Parliament of the Netherlands will follow the steps of other 16 EU countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Sweden and others) which have already ratified it.

5. Baikonour, situated in your country is an important launching and landing site for the spacecraft to the International Space Station. Is our Dutch astronaut André Kuipers known to your country?
Did his participation to the space flight create a particular relationship between the two countries? Baikonur is the place where the first man, soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, was launched into space on April 12, 1961 and it continues to be the largest operational space launch facility in the world with numerous commercial and scientific missions taking off into space every year. I am sure that Andre Kuipers’ flights in 2004 and 2011 helped to build professional ties and confidence between our space agencies. Today, Netherlands Space Agency and Kazakh Space Agency work together on satellite image interpretation that can be used in agriculture, water and urban planning. In June 2017 Andre Kuipers led a group of 20 Dutch tourists to Kazakhstan, where they visited Astana and several other cities, including Baikonur where they had a chance to explore a spacecraft infrastructure and witness the real launch of a space rocket. It is a unique type of tourism that Kazakhstan started to offer.

6. Kazakhstan is a country with a very rich historical and cultural past. Can you please tell the reader about the impressive “Golden Man” of the Issyk kurgan in Zhetisu?
The ethnonym “Kazakh” means “free”, “independent” in Old Turkic language and fully reflects the character of our people, who always valued independence and freedom. By the second half of the XV Century, the first Kazakh Khanate (State) was formed as a union of nomadic tribes. The Golden Man is considered to be a unique cultural discovery of Kazakhstan and is on display in the National Museum in Astana. He was a young chieftan (leader) buried after his death in a costume fully covered with golden decorations. There are about 4000 pieces of them crafted in a special Scythian “animal” style. He was found in 1969 in a Scythian tomb about 60 km east of Almaty. The Golden Man image has been used on our national banknotes and his full-size replica stands on the top of a stella on the Independence Square in Almaty. The Golden Man is a true gem of a much larger collection of the Scythian gold that can be viewed in the National Museum in Astana. You have to see it to believe it!

7. Kazakhstan is not known to us as a tourist destination. Can you recommend some highlights to our readers?
Start by visiting our young capital Astana (which has direct KLM connection from Amsterdam), explore rocky mountains and lakes of “Borovoe” (200 km from Astana). Then take a flight or overnight train to Almaty – former capital city located next to gorgeous Tian-Shan Mountains and a home to a legendary “Medeo” skating ring, visit “Charyn Canyon” and “Kolsai” lakes, Green Bazaar and Tamgaly Petrogliphs. This is just a small fraction of what Kazakhstan can offer. There are Old Silk Road monuments and sites in Southern Kazakhstan and wild nature in the East of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world, has a great potential to develop tourism. Today, we invite our guests to experience a land of rich culture, breathtaking landscapes, ancient sites and genuine Kazakh hospitality along with unique food and drinks.

8. If you can describe your country in one sentence, what would you say?
In the heart of Eurasian continent, 2.7 mil. km2 of Kazakhstan with unique culture, nature and business opportunities await you!