ASTANA – Norway and Kazakhstan are two countries separated by nearly 4,000 kilometres but by only one country – Russia. Both are globally known as big players in oil and gas production, but they also cooperate and support each other in world nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament efforts.
“Norway and Kazakhstan have good and established cooperation in disarmament and nonproliferation,” Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Kazakhstan Ole Johan Bjørnøy said in an interview. “In 2013 alone, we had five ministerial visits between Norway and Kazakhstan; Bolat Zhamishev, who at the time was minister of finance, Serik Abdenov, the then minister of labour and social protection, current Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov, Kairat Kelimbetov, the then deputy prime minister, and Kanat Saudabayev who was serving as the Nazarbayev Centre’s director and who visited Oslo in March 2013 for the Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons,” the ambassador said.
State Secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Torgeir Larsen visited Kazakhstan in May 2012. The Norwegian delegation, together with the National Nuclear Centre, held a seminar on nuclear non-proliferation.
Bjørnøy intends to visit Eastern Kazakhstan, Semey, Kurchatov and Ust-Kamenogorsk later this month to update himself on the developments in the region. These are the parts of Kazakhstan that sustained the most damage from nuclear tests conducted on the territory of Kazakhstan more than 40 years.
“Both Norway and Kazakhstan are oil and gas producing countries and both are committed to the development of emerging technologies and moving away from their resource-based economies. Kazakhstan is now an upper-middle income country, which puts our countries on a different level of cooperation, they are not in a donor-client relationship, but rather a partner like relationship especially when it comes to nuclear nonproliferation, where Kazakhstan set a very good example by hosting P5+1 negotiations in the past two years,” the ambassador added.
The head of the Norwegian mission also sees Kazakhstan’s potential in other areas.
“Kazakhstan has huge potential in its developing mining industry, which is something that Norway is very interested in,” the ambassador continued, “we would like to explore this country’s great tourism potential as well. Inbound tourism is not our direct responsibility, as the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Norway and ambassador Askar Tazhiyev are responsible for that; nevertheless, we are seeing an increase of tourists to Norway and I would like to acquaint myself with the [current] situation in the country,” he added.
“Recently, I visited the Tamgaly Petroglyph site 120 kilometres from Almaty. It is one of the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kazakhstan and was added to the prestigious international list in 2004. The Norwegians were nomads at sea and the Kazakhs were nomads on the steppes. If you look at history and follow the Viking’s routes, they travelled down along the Volga River. They might have even left traces around the Caspian Sea. They also crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America. They ventured very far, in the same way as Kazakhs roamed on horses across these vast territories all the way to Western Europe. I think it would be [fair] to say that both peoples were on the move and, therefore, have this trait in common. The petroglyphs, or “rock art” is something we also have in Norway, that is why it was so interesting for me to visit Tamgaly,” he explained.
“[The site] is being restored now and it could be a great tourist destination, although it is a bit difficult to find, as there is only one sign in Kazakh on the side of the road. In the end of June, I am planning to go to Rakhmanovsky springs [the mineral springs in East Kazakhstan]. Many countries have big tourist industries based on mineral springs like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary.”
Although Norway doesn’t have mineral springs, the Scandinavian country sees up to five million tourists a year, including business visitors to the cosmopolitan city of Stavanger, which is the Norwegian oil and gas hub, the ambassador said.
“Oil and natural gas are the largest exports of Norway, followed by highly specialized small and medium-sized companies in the petroleum service industry. Seafood is the third largest export. Norway exports seafood, mostly salmon, to 97 countries, with the Customs Union being the largest market, France is the second and Japan the third,” ambassador noted.
“We frequently host salmon cooking classes and have invited cooks from Norway to hold them in schools and restaurants; in Astana, Schuchinsk, Petropavlovsk and other cities of Kazakhstan. We are preparing to host the next one at the end of June in Karaganda. The cook at the residence of the Norwegian Ambassador is now responsible for these cooking classes. This will compliment government efforts to promote healthy eating. The message has been well received,” he said.
Bjørnøy assumed office in August 2012, three years after the embassy opened in 2009.
“I have been to Astana on many occasions and have witnessed the city develop. My first visit to Kazakhstan was in 1999, under the Norwegian chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).Back then, the only five-star hotel was the Intercontinental, now known as Ramada Plaza Hotel. Of course, when returning in 2002 and in subsequent years, I was able to see how the city has grown and it’s quite impressive what has happened in such a short period of time.”
The ambassador, who comes from a town of a little over 45,000 in western Norway, enjoys winters in Astana, despite not being used to such cold and winds in his home town where the winters are milder and the temperatures fluctuate between 0 and minus 10 Celsius at the most.
“Aalesund is my home town and accommodates a lot of maritime companies and industries related to ship building and equipment production. The town is also an entry point to the well-known GeirangerFjord,” he explained.
Protected by its UNESCO World Heritage status, Geiranger is surrounded by majestic, snow-covered mountain peaks, wild waterfalls and lush, green vegetation; Geiranger Fjord boasts an impressive tally of 700,000 visitors a year.
“What’s nice about Astana’s winters is that the snow falls and it lingers until spring. Norway gets a lot less sun than Astana. We have a lot more precipitation and a lot more snow and, of course that means more clouds and less sun, so winters here are bright with long days and are characterised by a cold sun of sorts; as some of my colleagues say, the sun ‘bites,’” Bjørnøy said.”
“My philosophy is wherever you are, look for the positive things in life,” he noted. “There are no mountains here and no sea, but this place is good for cross country skiing in winter and bicycling in the summer.”