Independence of Central Asia continues as Kazakhstan strips new currency of Russian

By Kanat Altynbayev

The first Kyrgyz currency design, dating back to 1993, is shown at a Bishkek conference last May 11 dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's banknotes. [Kyrgyz presidential website]

Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (right) and Kazakh National Bank Chairman Daniyar Akishev speak at an international conference in Bishkek dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Kyrgyz som last May 11. [Kyrgyz presidential website]

Members of the Russian nationalist movement "17Vagon" outside the Kazakh Embassy in Moscow in February protest the coming exclusion of the Russian language from Kazakh banknotes. [17Vagon/Facebook]

ALMATY -- Kazakhstan is redesigning its national currency to exclude the Russian language, a move that reflects Central Asian states' continuing shift toward greater independence from Russia.

The new design of the Kazakh tenge includes Kazakh ornamentation, portraits of prominent figures who contributed to the country's history and development, unique historical, geographical and architectural landmarks, images of native flora and fauna as well as important symbols associated with the country.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev approved the currency revamp by decree last December 12. The country has not yet announced a date for the appearance of the new banknotes.

Tenge notes now in circulation are denominated in both Kazakh and Russian.


Kazakh banknotes are shown March 1. Future tenge notes, unlike the bilingual ones shown, will bear only the Kazakh language -- not Russian.  [Kanat Altynbayev]

Russia did not fail to notice the removal of its language from all future Kazakh currency, except for commemorative and numismatic coins.

Russian 'attention'

"This topic has our constant attention, given that this is one of the tasks and functions of the Russian Foreign Ministry, not only in connection with Kazakhstan, but in principle regarding the entire space inhabited by native speakers of Russian," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said February 22, as quoted by the radio station Moscow Speaking.

At a news conference the same day, she called the currency redesign by Kazakhstan -- which is moving to Latinise its presently Cyrillic alphabet -- an "internal affair".

Russian nationalist zealots were less restrained.

In a Facebook post dated February 25, members of the 17Vagon nationalist movement are shown picketing the Kazakh Embassy in Moscow.

One member holds up a handwritten poster reminding Nazarbayev that in 2014, Ukraine lost Crimea and the Donbass, territory populated mostly by Russian speakers -- allegedly because the country had humiliated them.

The poster warns that Kazakhstan might lose its northern regions, where the majority of residents speak Russian as a native language.

"Nazarbayev, remember -- Russophobia is dangerous! Bring back Cyrillic," the poster reads. "Bring back the Russian language to the tenge. When Russians are humiliated, they can leave -- and take their lands with them."

The protest outraged some in Kazakhstan, who called it an incitement that deserved attention from law enforcement.

Russia is sensitive to events in Central Asia that run counter to its interests, said Astana businessman Ruslan Bekeyev.

"However, one should respect the choice made by sovereign countries, because each of them has its own values and its own path of development," he told Caravanserai.

Matching other Central Asian currencies

The Kazakh banknote design of today has drawn criticism from some Kazakh activists, who point out that none of the other Central Asian states has Russian notations on their currencies.

In fact, of all the 15 post-Soviet states, only Kazakhstan and Russia have Russian-language inscriptions on their currency. Even Ukraine and Belarus, which speak Slavic languages similar to Russian, have no Russian on their currencies.

Other Central Asian currencies reflect national and cultural values, as well as perpetuating the memory of heroes and notable individuals.

Kyrgyzstan celebrated the 25th anniversary of its national currency, the som, last year. In 1993, the country became the first post-Soviet state to shed rubles and to put its own banknotes into circulation. They bore exclusively Kyrgyz inscriptions from the start.

The 10-KGS (14 US cents) bills of 1994 to 1997 bore the portrait of Kasym Tynystanov, who was executed in 1938 during Stalin's Great Terror, said Marlen Karybayev of Bishkek, a schoolteacher of history. Tynystanov helped create a Latin alphabet for the Kyrgyz language in the 1920s.

"Kyrgyzstan thus demonstrates its commitment to the restoration of historical justice, even though the Russian government is trying to avoid discussions of the repressions" directed by Joseph Stalin, he told Caravanserai.

At an international conference last May in Bishkek celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Kyrgyz national currency, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov stressed that the som "became not only the main instrument of independent monetary and credit policy but also a symbol of the independence of a sovereign state".

Meanwhile, the Uzbekistan has been using Latin designations in the design of its currency, also called the som, since 2013.

The fronts of the Uzbek banknotes shows the denomination, the national coat of arms, and the Arch of Good and Noble Aspirations in Tashkent, as well as a statue of Mirzo Ulugbek, a ruler of the Timurid dynasty and grandson of Tamerlane.

The banknotes' reverse sides show the parliament and senate buildings, the Palace of Forums and the Ulugh Beg Observatory.

Tajik banknotes have inscriptions in two languages: Tajik on the front and English on the back.

It is important for Tajikistan to emphasise the attributes of its nationhood, Jasur Abdulloyev, a spokesman for the Dushanbe-based Centre for Journalistic Investigations of Tajikistan, told Caravanserai.

That is why the recent design of the somoni depicts scholars and statesmen from Tajikistan who have made significant contributions to the country's development, as well as its top historical and cultural attractions, he said.

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Why is Russia displaying chest-thumping over this rather ordinary thing? This is Kazakh money with Kazakh inscriptions.


Are these design changes going to reflect on the country's economy somehow? Is there a chance now the IMF will make this currency convertible? And what does it have to do with the national independence? We've been independent for more than 25 years, this is our reality, it's time to get used to it already. Merely "symbolic" independence... Is it something those who came up with this idea wanted to emphasize?


That's a domestic affair of Kazakhstan. None of Russia's business


Good. Well done, Kazakhs! Uzbeks are with you!!


Well done, Kazakhs. This is a response to the unfriendly acts of Moscow.


At an international conference last May in Bishkek celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Kyrgyz national currency, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov stressed that the som "became not only the main instrument of independent monetary and credit policy but also a symbol of the independence of a sovereign state". Akylbek Zhaparov of the Kyrgyz parliament proposed dividing and making provinces of Kyrgyzstan governed by developed countries, "Azzatyk" reported. There you have their "independence"...


These countries have been independent for 27 years! Who is constantly forcing them to be "friends" with Russia? Come on, really... You've been independent for the past quarter century... And what do we see? Millions of migrant workers flooding Russia every year and then they learn the language on their own and apply for the Russian citizenship. At the same time, we learn almost every year how badly their countries "are longing to get rid of Russia..." SO, GET RID OF IT NOW, YOU AREN'T SLAVES OR ARE YOU? Is it Stalin cramming you into the planes and trains to this day? You should be living in heaven on Earth now, shouldn't you... You have kicked out the majority of Russians, got rid of the language and even removed Russian inscriptions on banknotes... What else gets in your way so that you can't go back home and develop your countries and republics?


That would be OK, but millions of Kyrgyz and Uzbeks come to Russia, where everything is in Russian for money. Maybe they wouldn't go there and really steer away from Russia? Is that possible that Russians persuade them to come to Russia or maybe threaten and force to do that?!


[They are] milking the bull!!! Wish they all could be put in a vat of shit neck-deep and a headsman would be swinging his sword every five minutes so that they had to duck!!!


Let's have banknotes in the Kazakh language in Russia. By the way, even the [Russian] word "dengi" ["money" in Russian] derives from the word "tenge"


Don't be ridiculous! If these two words sound similar, it doesn't mean the word "dengi" derives from "tenge", because in ancient Rus money [dengi] came about long before nomadic Kazakh tribes found out about cash.


It is you who is ridiculously ignorant here. All the financial terms were introduced by Turks of the Golden Horde - dengi (tenge) [money], kazna [coffers], altyn [historical Russian currency], bazaar [market] etc.


Way to go friends. When our forefathers counted stars, they had rags as shoes, and wore animal skin. But they do not want to accept that.


Kazakhstan is catering to the West more and more. Therefore it is little wonder. This is just the beginning... But nothing good will ever come out of this policy


It should be known by a wider audience - there was a reason for Nazarbaev to have made this move. It is revenge for the ethnic clashes between Armenians and Kazakhs orchestrated by the Kremlin in Kazakhstan. After that Russian intelligence hyped up this rather ordinary topic so that even Armenian authorities had to make a statement.


Gimme a break! Ethnic clashes were completely executed by Ak Orda [Presidential Palace] to distract people from protests.


Quit the nonsense. There was a bigger rally because of that. These are the Russian provocations. This is why NAN [Nazarbaev] avenged it by stripping banknotes of Russian.


Whenever I open your website there's some nonsense gone wild on the page. Where do you get this sh.t from?