SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA – Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to the United States Kairat Umarov, addressing the audience of the inaugural Jay Nathan lecture series at the University of Scranton on April 2, said that despite early doubts in the West about Kazakhstan’s viability as an independent nation and the security of its borders, today Kazakhstan is a sovereign state, and by most measures one of the most successful countries in Eurasia.
Umarov told more than 100 members of the faculty, student body and Scranton community assembled in the university’s Weinberg Memorial Library that in the immediate wake of independence, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev made three core decisions that proved to be essential to its path to success: renouncing nuclear weapons, pursuing fundamental economic reforms and investing in the education of a new generation.
Kazakhstan’s diplomat recalled that for more than 40 years, Kazakhstan had been the “epicentre” of Soviet nuclear weapons testing in Semipalatinsk, which affected almost 1.5 million people and contaminated an immense territory almost the size of New Jersey, more than five times the size of the Nevada Test Site, with radiation. Having dismantled the test site’s infrastructure in cooperation with the U.S. and Russia, today Kazakhstan ranks 15th in the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Materials Security Index. One of Kazakhstan’s most recent contributions has been the decision to support the International Atomic Energy Agency’s initiative to establish an international low-enriched uranium fuel bank in the country, Umarov said.
Defining nuclear nonproliferation as the pillar of the Kazakhstan-U.S. strategic partnership, Umarov said the bilateral meeting between President Nazarbayev and U.S. President Barack Obama on the fringes of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March served to once again reaffirm the countries’ shared commitment to nonproliferation and strengthening nuclear security.
He also spoke extensively about Kazakhstan’s new national development strategy to guide the country toward the year 2050. The Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, Umarov noted, sets forth a bold vision of the country joining the ranks of the 30 most-developed countries by 2050 and affirms the goal of improving the quality of life of all people of Kazakhstan.
As the country moves ahead in realising its vision, “we clearly understand that we live in a very tightly networked world,” the ambassador said. Noting that the G8 and G20 formats are not fully effective in dealing with global problems, he reiterated President Nazarbayev’s call for the world to unite “in the face of common threats to bring about long-term and systematic approaches to shared challenges.” The G-Global initiative put forward by Nazarbayev two years ago, Umarov said, offers a path toward a fair, transparent, multipolar and constructive world order.
Ambassador Umarov noted that Kazakhstan attaches significant importance to expanding the country’s educational ties, exchanges and dialogue with U.S. universities. Thousands of young students from Kazakhstan have studied at American universities as part of the prestigious state-funded Bolashak programme. The selection process is highly selective, aiming to educate the future intellectual elite of Kazakhstan, Umarov added.
Kazakhstan’s ambassador said it was symbolic that the University of Scranton’s faith-based inclusive educational vision coincides with Kazakhstan’s philosophy of ethnic and religious tolerance, which has its origins in its history and heritage of Silk Road traders. In Kazakhstan, home to more than 100 nationalities and ethnic groups representing 18 confessions, “we celebrate unity in diversity and our proud history of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians,” while “it is also a beautiful historic irony that in Kazakhstan today the Jewish faith flourishes where Stalinist gulags once stood,” Umarov noted.
Umarov also spoke about Kazakhstan’s efforts since the first days of its independence to promote tolerance and interreligious dialogue worldwide. As the world was recovering from the aftermath of 9/11, he told the audience, “Kazakhstan responded to international grievances of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and many others by convening on invitation of the head of state a Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.” The congress has now become a tradition, gathering every third year in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, with an ever-growing number of participants.
Other speakers on the panel included Professor Jay Nathan of St. John’s University, Queens, New York; William Courtney, the first U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan; and Nancy Neill, founder of the Atlanta Communications Group. It was followed by an hour-long lively discussion and a Q&A session that covered a wide range of topics about Kazakhstan’s major export and import items, tourism industry, literacy rates, women’s rights and more.
As part of ongoing efforts to promote people-to-people ties and educational and citizen exchanges between Kazakhstan and the United States, Umarov also met with University of Scranton President Kevin P. Quinn, Provost Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Patricia Harrington, deans and faculty members to discuss areas of potential cooperation between the University of Scranton and higher educational institutions in Kazakhstan.
Founded in 1888, Scranton is a private Catholic and Jesuit university known for academic quality and a technology-rich campus. For 20 consecutive years, the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” guidebook has ranked the university among the top 10 master’s universities in the northern United States.
The university’s Jay Nathan Visiting Scholar Lecture Series was created to offer an opportunity for international scholars and professionals to address issues that could enlighten and benefit students, faculty and the community at large. The lecture series’ founder, Nathan, is a lifetime member of the Fulbright Association. In 2002-03, 2004, and 2005, Nathan was a Fulbright Scholar to Kazakhstan, serving as a visiting professor and Ph.D. advisor at the Lev Gumilyov Eurasian National University in Astana. He is an Honorary Professor of the Karaganda University of Economics and author of the book, “Kazakhstan’s New Economy.”
In 2012, Nathan endowed the Professor Jay Nathan Scholarship at the University of Scranton to provide financial assistance to graduate students enrolled in the university’s Kania School of Management who are from Mongolia, Thailand, India, Poland or the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan.