An amazing woman, stellar in her attitude but most of all stellar in her essence, Dariga Nazarbayeva has been the uncontested hostess of one of the most stimulating fora, the Eurasian Media Forum, held recently in the former capital Almaty.
It was a short-notice invitation to attend the Forum, but all the while, the host organization, EAMF, was ultra-efficient in sending me all necessary documents overnight making it easy for me to obtain a visa in 20 minutes, instead of the usual 3 days I was initially told at the Consulate in
After a 19-hour trip, I finally arrived in the middle of the night in Almaty. Some concerned Russian friends of mine back in New York, after being horrified of my traveling alone to Kazakhstan, had warned me that they would most likely not have a wheelchair –which I use in every airport to make easy my way out of the plane.
However, as I had imagined, Almaty is a flourishing city, with nice, warm people, ready to please their visitors. And, as I had thought, there was no problem with the wheelchair, as a matter of fact they had the "Rolls" among all the wheelchairs I have found all over the world. So, that was definitely an auspicious beginning.
The next morning at the opening of the conference, I saw for the first time in person, Dr. Dariga Nazarbayeva. She is brainy, decisive, classy, elegant and was addressing the roughly five-hundred conference attendees in a very engaging manner. She spoke in Russian at all times except when it was on a one-on-one basis. Dariga is a political scientist, currently a member of the parliament, former founder (in the 90s) of
At the Forum, Dariga, who was the brain behind the success of the operation, shined as the rising star among the children of leaders in the Central Asian region, who are getting ready to likely succeed their progenitors. In neighboring
Dariga Nazarbayeva is a lawmaker who leads the political party Asar or All Together, and while some have argued that a president's daughter party does not speak much for a truly democratic state of affairs, during my visit to Almaty some of us were able to meet with opposition figures. Some of my colleagues told me that they were approached outside our hotel by members of the opposition and handed some printed material before being dispersed by the police. As Richard Perle said, the mere fact that we were able to meet with the opposition only means that the situation is not that bad, and we all knew it could be much worse.
Having been in August 1981 in Liechtenstein, when elections in Liechtenstein granted vote to women, and having also followed, albeit long-distance, the Kuwaiti elections granting vote to theirs in May 2005, it was for me a great feeling to see in Almaty, Kazakhstan, how Muslim women in Central Asia were not ‘being empowered' but much rather were taking the power by way of their knowledge, experience and free-will. And, their judgment is in the right place.
The first evening, after all panels, debates and talks took place throughout the day, was graced by an invitation hosted by the Mayor of the city of Almaty, Mr. Imangali Tasmagambetov at the beautiful Abay Opera and Ballet House where an amazing version of the Bizet's opera, "Carmen", was presented to the greatest joy of the opera lovers among us. The choreography was unique, extremely creative and showing how the Kazakhs excel in imagination and joie de vivre.
The second evening we were the guests at a cultural excursion and reception hosted by the governor of Almaty region, Mr. Serik Umbertov and CNN International. Fireworks and Kazakh cuisine were part of the menu.
The last evening was crowned by the Forum gala event at the exclusive Palladium Jazz Club, where Dariga granted the prizes to various assiduous and loyal participants who have loyally attended the Eurasian Media Forum during the last five years. And, right after that, the band started playing some wonderful, fun music for attendees to dance. And, to our most pleasant surprise, our hostess started dancing and pulling towards the dancing space other participants who came from other parts of the world such as
Though I cannot dance, much to my regret, I felt sincerely happy to be there and to enjoy the camaraderie that we all shared. It was a wonderful moment of union among us, whoever we were and wherever we were coming from.
It was good to meet there my good old friend Danny Schechter whom I had not seen since our meeting in
Among the Forum attendees were Serge Schmemann from the International Herald Tribune, Dara Reshid, advisor to president Barzani of Kurdistan, the BBC's Iranian writer Babak Ganji and the chief sub-editor of the Russian desk at the BBC, Indrek Ustal. It was impressive being in the same room with Ariel Cohen, one of the top specialists on