A Call to Action in Defense of Bozjyra

Adamdar news Together JerSu Kazakhstan

A Call to Action in Defense of Bozjyra

February 9, 2021

Mangystau, Kazakhstan

The coalition working to save Bozjyra posted a petition in Kazakh and Russian that calls for the preservation of Bozjyra and other valuable natural and historical sites in the Mangystau region. The petition also demands that developers halt construction of a hotel at a site near Bozjyra, and that state authorities start working on a meaningful plan for both the protection of Bozjyra and the inclusion of the Ustyurt Reserve in the UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage List. Over two thousand people signed the petition within the first few hours it was online. Click the link to sign the petition in Russian (the text of the petition in English is available here).

In the last few days, local residents have reported seeing construction workers, heavy construction equipment, and a number of trailers near Bozjyra. A correspondent at the Aktau-based news agency Lada.kz confirmed the reports. Work has already begun near Bozjyra despite protests from environmental organizations and a lack of comprehensive public hearings on the matter. 

 Experts and environmental activists are concerned about the potentially irreparable damage to the unique site. They claim there are several violations of environmental norms and Kazakhstani law, and perhaps most notably “a direct violation of the UN Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which was ratified by Kazakhstan.” 

The world-famous writer, researcher and traveler Paul Salopek also spoke out about the situation in Bozjyra and the threat of its destruction. In his words, Bozjyra “is truly one of the great remaining temples of natural beauty left on Earth. That it is being desecrated for quick profit by greedy commercial developers is a crime not just against the Kazakh people, who are the collective stewards of this unique natural heritage, but also a severe blow against the threatened species who inhabit the region, including shy and rare mountain sheep and antelope. This ill-conceived project represents an assault on an unspoiled landscape of global significance. We can’t look away.”

On February 5, the village of Kuryk in the Mangsystau region held a public hearing on the hotel construction plan. Local residents were joined by scientists, independent experts and environmental activists from Aktau, Almaty, and Astana. An additional 100 participants attended the hearing over Zoom. However, organizers violated meeting norms and restricted participation on numerous occasions. They prevented independent experts, scientists, and environmental activists from providing full statements no matter whether they were attending in-person or on Zoom. When one environmental activist voiced violations committed by the developer and government agencies, her microphone was turned off. This was also the case whenever participants brought up corruption. Government officials also tried to interrupt and censor independent journalists.



Experts from the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (АСБК) joined experts from other environmental organizations in calling out the numerous shortcomings and violations in the developer’s plans.

The Text of the Petition:

A Public Appeal

In regard to the threat to the unique site of Bozjyra, and in response to the plans to build a VIP-Hotel on that site, we, concerned citizens of Kazakhstan, consider it necessary to make a statement to the state authorities, the private sector, and the civil society of our republic.

While we are in full support of the development of tourism in Mangystau and other regions of Kazakhstan, we remain convinced that it is necessary to adhere to the principle of minimal environmental impact in the modern world, also known as ecotourism. 

We are concerned that the Bozjyra site, a landmark not only of Mangystau but all of Kazakhstan, is not yet counted as a specially protected area of national significance, and as a result the flow of tourists is as of yet uncontrolled. This may lead to great harm for this fragile area.

First of all, for the development of tourism in Bozjyra we believe we must do as much as possible to preserve the natural wealth and otherworldly landscapes in the region. Bozjyra must be classified as a specially protected natural area as soon as possible, and all related rules governing visitors and the protection of the site must apply. Until it is added to this list of protected areas, it is necessary to develop and adopt special rules for visiting this site with the help of the public. All visitors must be subject to these rules. We are firmly against Bozjyra being overrun by massive, unregulated tourism, and we are against the important site being transformed into a “paradise for the elite.” We are for maintaining equal and responsible access to natural sites for all who love and appreciate the nature and culture of Kazakhstan.

We are categorically opposed to the construction of the hotel in the proposed location, which is namely four kilometers from the cliffs and five hundred meters from the border of the Jabayushkan Reserve. In this location, the hotel will be easily visible from all lookout points at Bozjyra, and the construction and subsequent use of the hotel constitutes an extreme threat to the surrounding living environment. The presence of the hotel will destroy the pristine beauty of the Bozjyra and cause irreparable damage to the local ecosystem. It will diminish the natural and historical value of the site and undermine its appeal for future tourists. 

The construction currently being carried out at Bozjyra is also a direct violation of the UN Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which Kazakhstan has ratified. We are standing up for the sustainable development of the country, which should be carried out according to the international obligations of Kazakhstan.

We call on the Kazakh Ministry of Culture and other authorized state authorities to work toward the inclusion of Ustyurt and Bozjyra in the UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage List. This will hugely benefit the international reputation of the region and stimulate the growth of sustainable tourism locally.

We are in favor of the expansion of opportunities for the local population and believe ecotourism will provide for this expansion of jobs specifically through creation of guest houses, the production of food and local handicrafts. And if one day there is a real need for a VIP-Hotel, it will be easy to find another location that still provides access to the plentiful beauty of Mangystau. The Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (АСБК) recommends construction 20-25 kilometers from Bozjyra, which really can be considered “close” in many developed countries.

Bozjyra is an invaluable treasure for everyone in Kazakhstan, and an indelible piece of world heritage. Most importantly, Bozjyra and Ustyurt more broadly is a sacred place, an important site in our homeland. It is the pride of Mangystau, and dear to all who live in the region. And this treasure must be preserved! We all need to realize this before it is too late.  

We call on citizens, representatives of civil society, state authorities within the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as international environmental and cultural organizations to join us. Join us in our demands to the authorities of the Mangystau region, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, and the political leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan:

· Ensure the preservation of Bozjyra and other valuable natural and historical sites in Mangystau;
· Halt construction of the hotel at the currently proposed site;
· Start working on a meaningful plan for the protection of Bozjyra and the inclusion of the Ustyurt Reserve in the UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage List.

Бозжыраны сақтайық! Сохраним Бозжыру! Save Bozjyra!

Background and other materials on this topic:

“Saving Bozjyra” — interview with Azhar Dzhandosova
“Bozjyra: On the border between the earthly and the otherworldly” — essay by cultural scientist Zira Naurzbayeva on the cultural and sacred meaning of the Bozjyra site
“Activists demand protection for Bozjyra”
“Breakthrough in Efforts to Protect Bozjyra”
“Bozjyra under threat again”
“Paul Salopek on the threat to Bozjyra”

The editors of Adamdar/CA continue to follow the situation surrounding Bozjyra.

Published: February 9, 2021