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Pardon Us, World Heritage
Ecocide for Personal Gain

Ecocide is the intentional, intensive destruction and pollution of the natural environment, creating the threat of environmental catastrophe. This is precise characterization of the situation in the Maly Almatinsky Canyon (alongside the City of Almaty), which has developed as a result of the lack of consistent policies to protect the Republic of Kazakhstan’s most valuable natural territories.

In order to preserve and restore the unique natural complexes of the Zailiisky Alatau, which hold great environmental, historical, scientific, esthetic and recreational value, the government of Kazakhstan adopted a decision to create the Ile-Alatau National Park (February 22, 1996, No. 228). Admittedly, no buffer zone was established around its border, and no procedures were established for removing outside land users from the park.  But “Moscow was not built in a day”. The key was that the multiple-year efforts of specialists, scientists and the public to create the park were successful and it seemed that there was a real possibility to steadfastly protect nature’s beauty and wealth… but, as is well known, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

In just two years time, by the Presidential Decree “On Changes to the Border of the City of Almaty” (April 29, 1998, No. 3929), 57.9 hectares of the Ile-Alatau National Park in the Maly Almatinsky Canyon were transferred to the city’s administrative jurisdiction.  These lands did not lose their status as an environmentally protected territory of national significance.  Thus, on the surface, it appeared that this decree was adopted in order to establish the optimal administrative management scenario.  Only later did the true meaning of these metamorphoses become clear.

On October 1, 1999, the Akim of Almaty City made the decision to create the Medeu Natural Park in order to preserve the particular environmental, recreational and scientific value of the Medeu Hollow and to decrease pollution and the human footprint on its territory (October 1, 1999, № 906). A clever basis for this action was presented:  “The creation of Medeu Park is a measure aimed at protecting the Ile-Alatau National Park from its excessive recreational burden, by redirecting the recreational barrage away from the true natural territories…” (Natural-Scientific Grounds…, p. 144). Had they remembered about the national park’s buffer zone?  No, it had never been established.  According to the plans, Medeu Park should function as the buffer zone for the Ile-Alatau National Park in the Maly Almatinsky Canyon, created on the city’s territory and a narrow strip wedged in the Ile-Alatau National Park.

On January 31, 2000, the plan to create Medeu Park was discussed at а public hearing.  Specialists from Kazgiproleskhoz, Lesproekta*, leaders from the Ile-Alatau State National Natural Park and NGO representatives (including the Ecological Society “Green Salvation”) expressed negative attitudes towards the idea of its creation.  They stated that the organization of such a structure was inadvisable, as it would lead to an increasing human footprint on the territory of the national park, as well as to a reduction in the effectiveness of environmental protection measures in the Medeu Hollow as a whole.

Public concerns grew after the results became known of work by a joint panel from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, and the General Public Prosecutor regarding compliance with the legality of Specially Protected Natural Territories (Reference and Resolution…). The panel acknowledged numerous cases of legislative violations, including those in the Ile-Alatau National Park.

Concerned with the deteriorating situation in the Medeu Hollow, the public tried to draw the attention of the country’s leadership to the problem. In September 2000, participants in the Second Ecological Forum of Nongovernmental Organizations of Kazakhstan appealed to the President, members of Parliament, and the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection to halt the destruction of the territorial and environmental value of the Ile-Alatau National Park (Appeal…). The public received even more weighty arguments for protecting the park when, in December 2000, the park was included in a tentative list of sites nominated by the Republic of Kazakhstan for the List of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Meeting Decisions…).

Responding to the public appeal, in February 2001, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection also expressed opposition to the creation of Medeu Park (Response from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection No. 03-05-10/507). “In fact, it is envisaged that [Medeu] Park will include the buffer zone of the Ile-Alatau State National Nature Park and the protected forests around the river beds of the Malay Almatinka and Butakovka, in which, under powerful human influences, there are now growing sparse, diseased plantings of Sivers apple trees, apricots, Karkas Kavkazsky trees (Celtis caucasica) and 14 other ancient types of plants included in Kazakhstan’s Red Book… The creation of a city park on the border of a national park and its buffer zone will have extremely negative consequences… Considering the aforementioned, the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection considers the creation of the city’s Medeu Nature Park to be unnecessary”. The Ministry did not approve the conclusion of the project’s environmental assessment, conducted by the Almaty City Territorial Department on Environmental Protection (Response from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection No. 03-05-10/507). Nevertheless, the park was created. And it included a portion of the Ile-Alatau National Park—a Specially Protected Natural Territory of a higher level.  Such a decision could only have been made by native bureaucrats.

Almost simultaneous to the creation of Medeu Park, chaotic construction of private cottages began on the park’s territory. Wild, fertile forests began to be cut down, water storage areas began to be built, the rivers and their banks became covered in waste, mighty fences were erected, and the inscription “Private Property” began to appear…along with armed guards!

Visitors to Medeu Park are greeted by a sign at the entrance with dual meaning: “Nature is in Our Hands!” Certainly, the basic idea behind the park’s creation lies in this slogan—to privatize, or more simply, to steal the territory of the hollow, which is now at the disposal of Almaty’s Akimat.

Despite the negative conclusion from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, in 2001, under the suitable pretext of “executing the ‘Complex Program for the Development and Arrangement of Specially Protected Natural Territories of the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2030’ and for the purposes of preserving and renewing the unique natural complexes” of the Zailiisky Alatau, the City Akimat renamed the state establishment “Medeu” to the State Natural Park “Medeu” and gave it the state of an environmentally protected establishment! (December 10, 2001, No.3/332). This is not the normal course of things in our homeland!

Subsequent events may be briefly described as an interdepartmental battle for the long tenge, or rather the long dollar, the victor of which emerged…the Akimat.

On February 6, 2002, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection continued to insist that the “decision of the Almaty City Akim to create the State Natural Park ‘Medeu’ was made in violation of norms established by the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and is subject to repeal via established procedures” (Response from the Ministry, No.02-05-10/375).

Nevertheless, on July 15, 2002, a government decision was issued “On Converting Individual Portions of Specially Protected Natural Territories to Different Land Categories” (July 15, 2002, No. 780), including land from the Ile-Alatau National Park.

In January 2003, the Almaty Akimat was forced to acknowledge that the situation in the natural territory was continuing to deteriorate: the stream of automobile traffic was increasing, private construction was continuing, and the problems of water storage and drainage remained unresolved.

Alas the specialists and the public turned out to be right.  Converting a portion of the land from a national park to an administrative jurisdiction of the city and creating Medeu Park not only did not foster the improvement of the environmental situation in the natural territory, but rather made it worse. And what sort of way out did the Akimat suggest?

The Akimat adopted the decision entitled “On Measures to Improve the Environmental Situation in the Medeu State Nature Park and the Chimbulak Mountain Skiing Complex” (January 24, 2003, No. 1/41).  Among other things, this decision speaks about the construction of aerial tramways and multi-tiered parking garages for thousands of vehicles as one of the means to improve the environmental situation!?

From all appearances, the Akimat’s decision was strengthened by weighty arguments that convinced even the Ministry of Environmental Protection (formerly the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection).  On August 20, 2003, the Ministry replied to a public inquiry that, in accordance with Article 41 of the 1997 law “On Specially Protected Natural Territories”, a state nature park is analogous to a national state nature park, holding the very same tasks and fulfilling the same functions. The difference lies only in that it is a specially protected territory of local significance! The bureaucrats at the Ministry of Environmental Protection were not able to come up with any other arguments. “Considering that the Natural Territory is also a Specially Protected Natural Territory, and its status is analogous to the status of the Ile-Alatau National Nature Park, we consider that the seizure of land from the latter meets the requirements of active legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan” (Ministry of Environmental Protection response No. 02-05-07/4061).  But why not do the opposite? That is, convert the land into a national park under the aegis of a central authorized body, ensuring more reliable protection for the territory?

In the conclusion of the letter, it is stated that the “Ministry ensures that continual government control will be exercised over the observation of the environmental protection regime on the territory of the establishment”. It is possible that control was ensured.  But legality? No! On more than one later occasion, the Minister of Environmental Protection, A.S. Samakova, hopelessly threw up her hands, calling for the restoration of order to the Medeu Hollow.

In February 2004, six and a half years after the 1997 adoption of the law “On Specially Protected Natural Territories”, a government decision was passed (February 27, 2004, No. 240), defining the procedures for the demolition of buildings, structures and objects located within Specially Protected Natural Territories.  To date, there has been no information about the “demolition” of anything from the given parks.  But then the list of architectural “masterpieces” erected in their borders is several dozen pages long.

 And the fate of the decision itself was unenviable.  On November 7, 2006, it was repealed by a new government decision “On Establishing Regulations for Providing for the Rental [!] of Land Portions on the Territories of National State Nature Parks in Order to Realize Regulated Tourism and Recreation” (No. 1063).  Since then, the question of demolishing objects and structures is no longer raised, and construction in the parks is proceeding at full speed.

Finally, the President tried to resolve the issue by applying procedures to Medeu Hollow.  On June 11, 2004, a Presidential Directive was issued entitled “On Measures to Preserve the Unique and Rare Landscapes on the Territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan” (No. 474).  In this directive, it is written in black and white that “The government of the Republic of Kazakhstan…over a three-month period reviewed the issue of assigning the status of an object of state natural-zapovednik fund** of republic-wide significance to the territory of the Shchuchinsko-Borovsky Recreational Zone, and the Medeu and Shymbulak Hollows, and will ensure their preservation by means of establishing prohibitions and limits to economic activity on these territories…”.  So all the same, it was more correct to convert the lands into the disposal of a national park!?

But what was the President’s Directive to Almaty’s Akimat?  A simple sound, and nothing more!  Therefore, it was simply ignored, the government kept silent, and everything returned back to how it was.

In 2005, the issue was taken up by the Environmental Public Prosecutor of the City of Almaty.  She conducted a compliance verification with environmental protection legislation on the territory of Medeu Park (Response from the Public Prosecutor No. 37-05).  Yet one more attempt by our environmental protection authorities, government and Presidents at constancy.  And it resulted in regular reports and tabulations of violations and destruction, but anything involving the Akimat is like water off a duck’s back.

At the end of 2006, the Almaty Akim, having fully come to believe in his impunity, declared a true war on the nature of Medeu Park and the Ile-Alatau National Park. Let’s develop the Medeu Hollow!  Let’s build parking lots, trade/entertainment centers, restaurants, bars, nightclubs…! The latter, clearly, are utterly essential for the preservation and restoration of the unique natural complexes of the Zailiisky Alatau!  And next up is the Kokzhailau Hollow, and then the next place, and then the next. And what about the world heritage? There is world heritage here, where one’s head spins from the smell of greasy dollars.

And again everything is decided under the cover of good intentions. The initiators of a new project announced that they intended to put an end to the violations of legality and to establish order at the Medeu Hollow. “On the whole, it is anticipated that the project to reconstruct and develop the Medeu and Shymbulak Resorts [Author’s note: Not Specially Protected Natural Territories, but resorts!] will have a long-term positive impact on Kazakhstan’s economy and will become an example of realizing a strategy of sustainable development of a community with viable infrastructure and the corresponding services and maintenance resources” (Project to Reconstruct…, p. 4).

A recent legend, but one that is difficult to believe!  In late April 2007, without a positive conclusion from environmental assessments, and even without the completion of an environmental impact assessment, and without the agreement of the parks administration, the companies began construction of an aerial tramway. And they began by cutting down Tien-Shan Spruce, digging out hollows and, as in the good old pre-environmental times, dumping the soil down a slope into a river.

And, finally, the last point in this history. To bring cynicism to the brim, the National Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan on UNESCO and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) is headed by the Akim of Almaty City! The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was developed and signed in 1972, under the initiative of UNESCO. Kazakhstan signed the convention in 1994––13 years ago!  But as of yet not one natural object of Kazakhstan has been included in the World Heritage List! In July 2007, the Ministry of Environmental Protection conducted a sub-regional seminar on preparing the nomination for the “Western Tien-Shan”. And the nomination of the Ile-Alatau National Park has been postponed for an indefinite time. It “is distinguished by universal value from a scientific point of view,” and “natural beauty”, obviously, no longer interests anyone (The Convention…, article 2).

The multiple facts of violations and noncompliance with the law “On Specially Protected Natural Territories” in Medeu Park and the Ile-Alatau National Park speak not simply to the inactivity of local bodies of power and the authorized environmental protection authorities.  They attest to the paralysis of state power, which is a result of ever growing corruption.

In our opinion, the only way out of this growingly complicated situation is to restore legality and order.  Only then can ecocide come to a halt.



* Kazgiproleskhoz is a specialized state organization that plans the forestry economy. Lesproekta is a specialized state organization that studies and inventories forests.

** Objects assigned to the state natural-zapovednik fund are natural objects, including natural territories, animals and vegetation, that require very strict conservation measures and may not be used for economic activities.

References (in Russian)

Ecological Society “Green Salvation”

January 22, 2008

Translated by Michelle Kinman.