Recently, Kazakhstan celebrated quite a significant event – the election to the United Nations Security Council, one of the most important statutory bodies responsible for global peace and security. This is undoubtedly yet another international acknowledgement of the consistent and constructive foreign policy of President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in a crucially important moment for development of international politics in the context of instability in ensuring global peace and security.
Furthermore, this is an important achievement of Kazakhstan’s Foreign Service, which just celebrated its professional holiday on a high note. Being elected to the UN Security Council is undoubtedly an international success and reflects the very essence of the incremental establishment and development of our diplomacy. They may say that any Kazakh is a born diplomat who instinctively knows his place at any celebration or gathering, and the star spangled skies always show him or her the right spatial orientation in the vast terrain. Nevertheless, the allegory does not fully define professional diplomatic service.
In this regard, I think, it will be interesting to look back on our quarter-century history of independence and examine some interesting facts from the life of the brilliant luminary of the Kazakh diplomatic establishment, whose professional fate is closely linked to the history of international relations of sovereign Kazakhstan. I’m talking about the first Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kanat Saudabayev.
My first acquaintance with Kanat Saudabayev happened back in December 1990, when I received a telegram from Almaty with an offer to work as a translator for visiting Special Envoy of President Turgut Ozal, Turkey’s Minister of Culture Namık Kemal Zeybek. For a research assistant of the Leningrad Institute of Linguistics, it would be a rewarding experience. Moreover, for a young family with a one-year-old baby it would be a source of additional income. After deliberating with my wife, I flew to Kazakhstan to a meeting, which, as it turned out, would later change a great deal in my life.
The Turkish special envoy was received at the highest level – President Nazarbayev gave an exciting talk, while a luxurious reception with the participation of well-known cultural figures of Kazakhstan was organised on behalf of the government. So started the budding relationship with the future strategic partner of Turkey, with the active participation of Kanat Saudabayev, head of the cultural office of the Kazakh SSR.
Ankara has played a significant role in the diplomatic career of Kanat Saudabayev. By agreement of President Nazarbayev with Mikhail Gorbachev, Saudabayev was appointed ambassador of the USSR to Turkey in the autumn of 1991. However, a weathered pro, Albert Chernyshev, Soviet Ambassador in Ankara at that time, literally put the note verbal under the carpet and waited for the collapse of the Soviet Union, retaining his post in Ankara for a few more years.
Nevertheless, already in May 1992 Saudabayev became the first ever Kazakhstan’s ambassador abroad, appointed by President Nazarbayev, the first President of independent Kazakhstan, and the assignment was to … Ankara. I remember that the two ambassadors of Kazakhstan and Russia during their repeated meetings in Ankara recalled with a smile some “diplomatic tricks.”
I think Ankara and the current state of Kazakh-Turkish relations is an important first star in Kanat Saudabayev’s diplomatic career. It gives me great pleasure to recall the pioneering spirit of the work next to this very energetic person, who, in fact, was learning on the go, and was my first teacher in diplomacy.
Later, Kanat Saudabayev obtained more stars and new heights in his career – the first appointment to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan in 1994, which due to domestic circumstances was short in time but rich in content. The pace of diplomatic change at the time was tremendous. Kazakhstan joined the Partnership for Peace programme with NATO and there was an unforgettable marathon tour of South and Southeast Asia (six days of official visits to New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Islamabad, and technical landing in Bangkok and Calcutta), the first change of the Soviet political elite –Leonid Kuchma’s election in Ukraine – and more.
Kanat Saudabayev was always favoured by the heavens as he was one to offer President Nazarbayev to cut the ribbon of our Embassy in London in autumn 1996 which was then on Cromwell Road, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum . The establishment of British investments and a large circle of friends of Kazakhstan in the UK are an important part of Kanat Saudabayev’s legacy.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, he had to endure difficult years in Washington D.C., building a strategic dialogue between Kazakhstan and the United States, especially during the active phase of the fight against international terrorism after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Sustained and confidential political dialogue at the highest level of cooperation on the global agenda of security, significant investment projects of major U.S. companies, as well as a wide circle of friends of Kazakhstan among senators, congressmen, governors and ordinary Americans are just a few of the high notes of Ambassador Kanat Saudabayev’s impressive career.
I was fortunate enough to work closely with my mentor during his energetic yearsas chairman-in-office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010 and he is remembered by many in the area from Vancouver to Vladivostok for his role. The informal ministerial meeting in Almaty in July 2010 was an important component in the development of the OSCE Summit, which was to come in December and which was enthusiastically and painstakingly managed personally by President Nazarbayev. As Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev has made an important contribution in this landmark project for Kazakhstan’s diplomacy, which has really become a national project for all Kazakhstan. Saudabayev’s ability to communicate, persuade and inspire others with ideas was in high demand as the OSCE chair-in-office. And his contribution to the eventual triumph of the foreign policy of Kazakhstan was highly appreciated by President Nazarbayev. In 2011, he became a cavalier of the distinctive high state award, the Order of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The portrait of Kanat Saudabayev would be incomplete without mentioning his talents as a mentor. In the East, the wise men are called ustaz, because wisdom is not only the addition of knowledge and experience, but also the ability to convey it to successors. A large cohort of prominent Kazakhstan diplomats worked with Kanat Saudabayev in different years and in different countries. Just the first composition of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Ankara at the beginning of the 1990s including Abutalip Akhmetov, Omirtai Bitimov, Bekzhasar Narbayev, Dulat Kuanyshev, Zhanseit Tuymebayev, and Talgat Kaliyev later became Kazakh ambassadors abroad and took on other important government posts. This series of diplomats rightly can be considered the stellar constellation of Kanat Saudabayev.
At the same time, the main guiding star for Kanat Saudabayev has always been his family. In the early stages of my professional and personal development, my teacher taught me an important commandment – to take care of the family, because the family is the starting point. The world, my own country, hometown or village all originated from the family. The way Kanat Saudabayev takes care of his children and grandchildren has always been touching. Moreover, the way he protects his family from his everyday business is exemplary, without involving family members in his work, but stealing time for his family in his dynamic work schedule. Of course, it would be unfair not to mention a reliable family backbone – Kulyaikhan, a faithful companion of the hero of our story and the real wife-companion. Wherever in the world Saudabayev’s diplomatic career took him, she was always there as a beautiful and regal Kazakh lady and a caring and loving wife and mother.
It remains for me to wish Kanat Saudabayev, who turns 70 on July 18 and who has been the faithful and reliable conductor of the President of Kazakhstan’s policy and his close associate as well as an outstanding personality and a star of the first magnitude in the sky of the Kazakh diplomacy, further heights and new stars in his nomadic journey. I would be pleased to write something new about this unique person in about ten years, and I am sure it will be something exciting again.
The author is the ambassador of Kazakhstan to Austria and to international organisations based in Vienna.