The Stories of the Great Steppes, The ATOM Project & Kazakhstan National Day
By C. Naseer Ahmad

If beauty lies in the beholder's eyes then there perhaps was nothing more beautiful than to see the artist's sister holding a glass of water for Karipbek Kuyukov in the ballroom of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Washington. Patiently she waited until the artist took a few sips of water and gracefully greeted well wishers and friends who had gathered to celebrate the Kazakhstan National Day.

Perhaps every brick and pillar of the Willard Hotel is history. It was after all the place where Rev Martin Luther wrote his "I have a dream speech" while staying at this hotel in 1963 and a hundred years before General Ulysses S Grant lounged around in the lobby.

In this backdrop, the artist with no arms - a deformity caused by Soviet era nuclear testing in Kazakhstan - added to the hotel's list of famous visitors. A day earlier on December 10, 2012, Kuyokov's beautiful paintings - a work of love with his mouth and feet - were on display in the Rotunda of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington DC. As the honorary ambassador for the ATOM (Abolish Testing Our Mission) Project, Kuyokov has been quoted saying: "In my paintings, I try to express (what) the nuclear weapons bring .. I was born in the nuclear test site zone. I was born without arms, but I have the power and strength to call on the world to stop the development of nuclear weapons programs." His painting "A Mother's Pain" just a few feet from the podium conveyed a more powerful message than all the words spoken that night. Few people could walk away unmoved. "United, We Count" is an unmistakable message of the ATOM Project which beckons fellow human beings to sign onto an online petition at

The Kazakh National Day celebration at the Willard Hotel was an event worth remembering for the wide range of diplomats, military officers from various countries and representatives of governmental organizations. The event underscored the importance Kazakhstan receives in Washington and around the world. It is no ordinary feat as it manifests a determined effort to participate effectively in world politics and economy.

A take away from the Kazakh National Day celebration was the "The Stories of the Great Steppe" - an anthology of modern Kazakh literature by Dr. Rafis Abazov, Columbia University. In the foreword Erlan Idrissov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, wrote: "The concept of curiosity and love for exploring other cultures is deeply rooted in Kazakh society; at the same time we love to share our culture."

And, there was plenty to share - good food and bonds of friendship - at the Kazakh National Day celebration while perusing the poetic stories of the Great Steppe.

Speaking at the reception, Host and Chargé d'Affaires, Dastan Yeleukenov, noted the strong US-Kazakhstan ties. Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Affairs, followed with brief remarks reciprocating US friendship with Kazakhstan. Capricia Penavic Marshall, US Chief of Protocol was also in attendance.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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