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Kazakhstan ambassador speaks to Hagerstown Rotary

February 23, 2000

By BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Kazakhstan's ambassador to the United States gave Hagerstown business leaders a history lesson Wednesday about a country that some Americans have never heard of and which did not exist 10 years ago.

Bolat K. Nurgaliyev's lecture to the Hagerstown Rotary Club came as Rotary officials are putting together a cultural exchange with the central Asian nation.

Rotary officials will select four area residents to spend four weeks this fall in Kazakhstan learning about the nation's history and culture.

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Next year, a group from Kazakhstan will visit the Tri-State area.

The importance of the exchange and others like it goes beyond an educational experience for the participants.

For Kazakhstan, such programs offer a foray into the American market. Investment from Western nations is crucial to developing the country's vast oil reserves.

"I hope you will conclude that Kazakhstan is an interesting place, if not to visit, at least to watch," Nurgaliyev said.

Nurgaliyev devoted most of his address to the basic facts about his country.

A former Soviet republic, Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991 after the breakup of the U.S.S.R.

The country is nearly 1.7 million square miles, or roughly four times the size of Texas, but has a population of just 15.6 million. It shares long borders with Russia and China.

In some ways, Kazakhstan could be called the melting pot of Asia, with people of more than 100 nationalities living there. The two most common are Kazakh and Russian. Nurgaliyev said they live together peacefully.

"It's something that distinguishes us from what, unfortunately, is happening in the rest of what was the Soviet Union," he said.

When Kazakhstan gained independence, it became the world's fourth-largest nuclear power, with 1,340 warheads.

But the country disbanded its stock.

"One of the major accomplishments that I have read about is that they eliminated all of their nuclear weapons in five years. And they had the fourth-largest arsenal in the world," said Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who presented Nurgaliyev with a framed poster of the doorways of Hagerstown.

"That has convinced everyone that they're serious about fighting for peace."

Shepherdstown, W.Va., Mayor Vincent Parmesano also offered Nurgaliyev a gift: A copy of a book of images of the town that was published during last month's Syrian-Israeli peace talks in that town.

Kazakhstan is rich in natural resources. It has the world's largest deposits of barite, lead and tungsten and about a quarter of the planet's uranium.

It exports about 260,000 barrels of oil a day, with potential reserves of 110 billion barrels.

"The potential oil development is enormous. It's mind-boggling," Nurgaliyev said.

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