Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is poised to cruise to victory in Kazakhstan’s presidential election on April 3, has resided at the pinnacle of the Central Asian nation’s political system for more than two decades. But his roots stretch back to a village standing in the shadows of the snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains.
Nazarbayev was born in the village of Shamalgan -- reached in an hour by car from Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty -- just over 70 years ago. Although not highlighted on any tourist maps, the two-story school on the main road bisecting the village hosts a modest museum dedicated to the school’s star pupil. Dozens of photos document Nazarbayev’s childhood, early Soviet-era political career and presidential successes. Vases, busts and statues bear his likeness. One wall depicts his family tree – tracing his lineage back to ancient Central Asian royalty.
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Dean C.K. Cox is the photo editor for EurasiaNet. Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.