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Cablegate: Kazakhstan: Iftaar Dinner Builds Rapport With

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OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK
RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW
RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSL RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #1618/01 2661037
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 231037Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6328
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 1961
RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1330
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2029
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 0981
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2497
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2811
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 1516
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 1397
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 001618

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, SCA/PPD, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM SOCI KISL SOCI RS KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: IFTAAR DINNER BUILDS RAPPORT WITH
KAZAKH-LANGUAGE AND MUSLIM COMMUNITY LEADERS

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: On September 14, the Ambassador hosted an Iftaar
dinner for more than 20 prominent Muslim community members,
including the Deputy Chairman of the Kazakhstani Muslims' Spiritual
Board Muhammad Alsabekov, many Kazakh-language journalists, and
university students. Participants thanked the Ambassador for
arranging such a culturally-appropriate opportunity to convey
President Obama's Ramadan message and hold a fruitful conversation.
The participants -- leaders of Kazakhstan's Muslim community who
predominantly speak Kazakh -- urged Post to engage more with the
Kazakh-language community. END SUMMARY.

ENTHUSIASTIC, APPRECIATIVE PARTICIPANTS

3. (SBU) During an Iftaar dinner the Ambassador hosted in Almaty on
September 14, more than 20 leaders of the Muslim community and
Kazakh-language journalists engaged in a lively discussion about
bilateral relations and domestic events. The Deputy Chairman of the
Kazakhstani Muslims' Spiritual Board Muhammad Alsabekov -- serene,
soft-spoken, and understated except for his gold-embroidered
navy-blue velvet traditional robe -- told the Ambassador that the
Grand Mufti would have attended, but was currently hospitalized
because of serious complications from diabetes. For his formal
remarks, the Ambassador read an abridged version of President
Obama's Ramadan message. Participants applauded more than politely
and took home copies of Post's Russian translation.

4. (SBU) The following day, journalists from "Alash Ainasy"
newspaper and the "Assyk Arna" Islamic television station thanked
Post, saying, "We are very thankful for yesterday's after-fast
evening meal. Those people who give such a meal to people who are
fasting shall be rewarded with God's goodness. May Allah be
rejoiced seeing your respect to Islam!" A scholar with a doctorate
in philosophy who works as a senior manager for Price Waterhouse
Coopers also wrote to PolOff expressing appreciation for "the
opportunity to chat with the Ambassador and hear his answers to my
questions."

A NEW PERSPECTIVE FROM THE KAZAKH-LANGUAGE COMMUNITY

5. (SBU) Participants pointed out that Kazakh-language media view
international political incidents, especially the Russo-Georgian
conflict of August 2008, very differently than Kazakhstani Russian
press. According to one of the Ambassador's interlocutors, the
Kazakh-language press immediately criticized Russia's actions during
the August 2008 conflict and "100 percent supported Georgia." They
criticized the Russian-language media for largely supporting Russia.
One professor told the Ambassador that the Kazakh-language
intellectual community is significantly more pro-American than the
Russian-language community. They encouraged Post to expand outreach
to Kazakh-language media and NGOs, rather than focus on larger and
more entrenched Russian-language entities. Everyone spoke Russian,
but one of the most respected young people at PolOff's table was a
man who had won a national Kazakh-language contest. The group
agreed that Kazakh usage is -- and should be -- increasing, telling
PolOff, "Next time you come back, let's speak only in Kazakh."
(COMMENT: Being able to hold a basic conversation in Kazakh helped
PolOff establish a rapport. END COMMENT.)

ISLAM ON THE RISE AGAIN

6. (SBU) According to students from Al-Farabi National University,
"religion is a growing force in Kazakhstan." They noted
Kazakhstan's July 1-2 Congress of Leaders of World Religions
demonstrated Kazakhstan's values of religious diversity and
tolerance. (NOTE: Kazakhstani officials announced their country
will make promoting inter-religious tolerance a key tenet of
Kazakhstan's 2010 OSCE Chairmanship. END NOTE.) Iftaar
participants at PolOff's table, mostly young people in their 20s and
30s, unanimously agreed that the number of followers of Islam in
Kazakhstan is growing rapidly. One journalist told PolOff he just
founded a new religious television station broadcasting in the
Almaty area. PolOff's interlocuters highlighted the importance of

ASTANA 00001618 002 OF 002


charity in Islam, and its positive effects on society.
"Unfortunately, our charity organizations, even Islamic ones, are
not well-developed yet," Kuanyshbekova said. "We could learn a lot
about this from U.S. organizations, which are well-known for their
activities." One of the most talkative interlocutors, "Alash
Ainasy" newspaper correspondent Anar Kuanyshbekova, said the
post-Soviet rebirth of Islam is a positive force, causing a sharp
drop in alcohol abuse -- and associated problems.

CAN YOU WEAR HEADSCARVES IN U.S. SCHOOLS?

7. (SBU) PolOff's interlocutors, none of whom had travelled to the
United States, expressed sincere interest in learning more about
U.S. Islamic communities. Kuanyshbekova asked if U.S. schools
permitted women to wear headscarves, and said her cousin, a
Kazakhstani teacher, had been told she could not wear hers at
school. PolOff asked the young journalists to comment on a
conversation PolOff overheard between three young women on an Almaty
bus near the Grand Mosque, comparing attitudes towards religion,
specifically wearing headscarves, in France and Kazakhstan. (NOTE:
According to PolOff's personal observation, wearing the hijjab in
Kazakhstan is increasing, although less than 10 percent of the
female opulation wear headscarves, even during Ramadan. PolOff
observed two young women enter a restaurant to break their Ramadan
fast wearing headscarves, pray before eating, and then tuck their
headscarves into their purses. Fewer women wear headscarves in
Astana than Almaty. END NOTE.) Iftaar attendees echoed
Kazakhstan's prevailing sentiment of tolerance, and said women
should be free to wear headscarves, if they choose.

THEY'RE NOT READING WHAT WE'RE READING

8. (SBU) None of PolOff's interlocutors spoke English well, or had
read President Obama's Cairo speech. Only one person at PolOff's
table, a young man also fluent in Arabic, said he watched a few
televised portions. The young man said he "had a positive
impression of the United States," due to a friend's experience. His
friend wanted to visit a mosque in the United States, but got lost.
Since he looks Central Asian, he was initially afraid to ask the
police for directions, because he thought they would think he was a
terrorist. The young man recounted that when he did finally ask a
police officer, he politely replied and personally helped him find
the mosque!

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Post held several well-attended events focused
on the President's Cairo speech. The warm reception the
participants gave the Ambassador suggests that we might have
opportunities to build bridges with Kazakhstan's growing population
of observant, Kazakh-speaking Muslims. The majority of the news
here originates from Russia. But, as we have urged before,
providing Post with more funding to translate documents and
distribute them, including increasing our Kazakh-language
translation capacity, is critical to break down communication
barriers. END COMMENT.

HOAGLAND

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