A dispute between a lesbian activist and a fighter sparked a fierce debate on Kazakhstan's social media networks, revealing deep rifts in national identity among the youth of this Central Asian nation.
In mid-May 2020, Kazakh heavyweight fighter Kuvat Khamidov began posting a series of tweets to his account calling for the death and rape of members of the LGBTQ community, such as:
почему есть отстрел бродячих собак, но нет отстрела педиков?
– Kuat Khamitov (@Kuat_Khamitov) May 22, 2020
Why do they shoot stray dogs and not fags?
This caught the attention of Nurbibi Nurkadilova, an LGBTQI rights activist who responded to Khamitov on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. He wrote a long letter to the fighter on his Instagram account, which as of June 10 had almost 3,000 comments.
Part of his letter says:
Я являюсь открытым представителем ЛГБТ + сообщества!
И своим заявлением, вы оскорбили меня, моих друзей и моего любимого человека! Что в вашем понимании, «такие люди хуже собак»? Вы сравниваете мои человеческие права, права гражданина этой страны, с собачьими – то есть, считает Своими высказываниями, вы откидываете страну назад! Вы препятствуете развитию!
I am a member of the LGBT + community!
With your affirmations, you have insulted me, my friends and the person I love. What do you mean, “these people are worse than dogs” (referring to a Khamitov tweet, already removed). And do you compare my human rights with those of a dog? Does that mean you think I have no rights? With your statements, you are making this country back down! You are an obstacle to progress!
After her publication, Nurkadilova He says having received threats from athletes and followers of the fight:
В срочном порядке мне пришлось сменить место жительства, меня эвакуировали правозащитники. Я сменила квартиру, потому что ко мне домой начали заявляться незнакомые люди.
I had to urgently leave the place where I lived. I was evacuated by human rights activists. I changed my apartment when strangers started showing up at my door.
He clearly struck a chord, which he mentions in his long post: the different, and contradictory, direction that young people in Kazakhstan would like the country to take.
The (re) invention of tradicionales traditional values ’
In the ideological vacuum that remained after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, several post-Soviet states had to build alternate narratives to form the nation. It was a complicated task: many former Soviet republics had a short previous history as modern nation states, the Stalinist purges had wiped out their intellectual elites in the 1930s, and the ethnic balance of power had been established by Soviet policies of privileging Russian speakers. Slavic ethnicity. Kazakhstan was no exception.
The relative ideological indulgence of the perestroika period in the mid-1980s allowed new discourses to emerge that were severely repressed in previous decades. The strongest of these speeches concerned religion and national identity.
Then, when Kazakhstan achieved independence in 1991, grassroots work for an ethno-nationalist awakening had been in place for decades. Citizens sought to revive conservative and religious norms and social models that they could define as non-Soviet and non-Western. They advocated a return to an imagined and invented “traditional” model of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and strictly defined gender roles. It was a trend observed throughout the former Soviet Union, from Central Asia to the Caucasus and Russia itself.
In this understanding of Kazakh society, LGBTQs were outsiders. Although the country decriminalized same-sex activities in 1998, there is still no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Human Rights Watch, hate crimes against LGBTQs are frequent. For their part, the religious leaders of the Islamic Churches (about 70% of the population) and the Orthodox Christian communities are known to support strong discourse against LGBTs.
But some young Kazakhs reject those values, like Nurkadilova herself.
Global Voices called on the founders of the Kok team, an online Kazakh LGBT magazine founded by Daniyar Sabitov and Anatoly Chernoussov, revealing Nurkadilova and Khamitov's discussion on the prospect of Kazakh youth:
Мы еще раз убедились, что в Казахстане существуют два лагеря людей, которые радикально противостоят друг другу, когда речь заходит о правах человека в контексте ЛГБТ. Их борьба очень важна, потому что ведется она на поле третьего лагеря – людей, которые пока не опред
This confirms once again that there are two large groups of people in Kazakhstan who are in radical opposition when discussing the human rights of the LGBT community. Their fight is important because it occurs before the third group, the people who continue without deciding.
However, Sabitov and Chernoussov believe that this scandal is particular:
То, что у Нурбиби большая стабильная лояльная аудитория подписчиков, которая только растет – вот это может быть индикатором того, что у части молодежи есть запрос на новых героев. Это первая ЛГБТ-активистка не из числа “купленных Америкой городских сумас ок, как демают ок,
The fact that (Nurkadilova) has a stable and loyal audience that continues to grow is perhaps an indicator that some of Kazakhstan's youth are looking for new role models. She is the first LGBTQ person who cannot be dismissed simply as one of the “urban madmen who are influenced and managed by the United States,” as they often describe us. She is an activist who has her own significant social capital.
Music versus stereotypes
In recent years. Music has become an important means for the youth of Kazakhstan to raise issues of identity and gender inequality. A band with an important role in that discussion in the popular K-pop style band Ninety One. The band sings almost exclusively in Kazakh, and their public performances show their members' interest in reversing stereotypes and gender identities. This video was viewed five million times, a non-trivial number as Kazakhstan has a population of 18 million.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-F88_oGn30 (/ embed)
The fact that this band becomes a cultural icon is highly significant in modern Kazakhstan. Yevgenia Plakhina, Global Voices contributor and close observer of Kazakhstan's popular culture, co-produced a documentary about Ninety One, which seeks to expand the debate on role models for Kazakhstan's youth. He expressed his thoughts with Global Voices on the importance of the band to discussions of gender identity in Kazakhstan:
Группа Ninety One появилась, когда в Казахстане полным ходом шел процесе о и и и я я я я я я я я Почему они стали причиной ожесточенных дебатов? Во-первых, у них очень много фанатов по сравнению с другими казахскими групово ококо оково оков 600 Во-вторых, они выглядят не так, как канонически должен выглядеть казахая е о к к к к, сережки в В третьих, за это они очень нравятся девушкам и женщинам, уставшим от образа казахского мачо. В четвертых, против них сложно использовать риторику, что все зло приходит с Запада. K-Pop, который в Казахстане, превратился в Q-Pop пришел к нам с Востока. В пятых, ребята поют на казахском и собирают вокруг себя ту аудиторию, которую хотии подря
The Ninety One band emerged when Kazakhstan was experiencing a “return to tradition,” or the reinvention of traditional values. Why did the band become the subject of so many debates? First of all, because they have a large number of followers compared to others in Kazakhstan: around 600,000 subscribers on YouTube and 575,000 on Instagram. Secondly, they don't appear as traditional Kazakh men are supposed to appear: they wear earrings, they dye their hair, and they wear shiny clothes. So many girls and women love them; They are tired of the typical Kazakh male. Furthermore, they cannot be used to advance the narrative that all evil comes from western culture: K-pop came from the east, and became Q-pop in our country (Kazakh is spelled qazaq in the Kazakh Latin alphabet) . Finally, they sing in Kazakh and gather the audience that supporters of traditional values want to influence more.
Plakhina sees the roots of these alternative role models in the 1990s, when the winds of change inspired artists to explore across the region. He points out that there is a real continuity between generations of artists who dare to belong to the Kazakh culture:
Nineанаты Ninety One открыты для новых идей и не хотят строить такое общество какое строили их предки 200 летна Конец 1990-х в Казахстане, был временем относительной свободы. В мои студенческие годы популярной была MC Гуль – женщина, читающая рэп (кто бы мог подумать!). В казахоязычной среде, я думаю, это была группа «Орда». Именно оттуда вышел продюсер группы Ninety One – Ерболат Беделхан.
Ninety One fans are open to new ideas and want to build a society inspired by their ancestors 200 years ago. In the late 1990s, Kazakhstan was relatively free. As a student, rapper MC Gul was popular. In the areas where Kazakh is spoken in the country was the band Orda, whose member Erbolat Bedelkhan became producer of Ninety One.
It can even be argued that Ninety One has been more successful than the Kazakh Government in promoting the use of Kazakh, singing almost exclusively in Kazakh and promoting the new writing of the language in the Latin alphabet. This video, which has already been viewed 200,000 times on YouTube, is a good example:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C05uje0VYg (/ embed)
Perhaps the strongest message in Nurkadilova's letter is that Kazakh culture is not solely owned by nationalists and traditionalists, but exploration and a thirst to explore new terrain is not new in the largest country in Central Asia.