The language issue is a touchy one in Kazakhstan, as an ethnic Kazakh comic in Russia has learned to his cost.
It all began with a brief promo spot for a comedy show that aired in June on private Russian station TNT. In the advertisement, one comic, Nurlan Saburov, asks his colleague Azamat Musagaliyev how he is doing, in Kazakh.
In response, Musagaliyev chuckles and replies with a meaningless babble — “Kurly murly, kurly murly” — intended to crudely mimic the sounds of Kazakh.
“And what does that mean?” asks Saburov, affecting a nonplussed air.
“What do you mean? Did what you said mean something? I thought we were just messing around,” says Musagaliyev.
Musagaliyev, 33, although an ethnic Kazakh, is from Russia’s Astrakhan region, which lies just northwest of Kazakhstan. He came to prominence through KVN, a venerable Soviet-devised comedy cabaret show that pits teams from various cities and countries against one another.
The promo has with delayed effect provoked howls of protest at the perceived lack of respect being shown toward Kazakh. One popular blogger, Sholpan Ali, wrote on Facebook that “this was a failed creative idea that in effect mocked the Kazakh language. But how could Azamat Musagaliyev agree to take part in something like this? Vile.”
Nurtas Adambay, an actor and comic was similarly critical.
“From love to hate all it takes is kurly-murly. It was a failed joke,” he said on Facebook. “They just didn’t expect that reaction from Kazakhstani viewers. You have to consider that they live in Russia and that they look differently at certain things.”
Culture Minister Arystanbek Mukhamediyuly also waded into the controversy, suggesting quite forgivingly that Musagaliyev might have been victim of a “misunderstanding.”
Musagaliyev’s social media accounts were flooded with insults and death threats as a result of the unhappy promo. In a preventative measure, he turned off the comments function on his Instagram account, but he was defiant about the joke itself.
“I know many of our own guys [in Russia] that don’t speak in Kazakh and that is a reality. I am sure that many of them reflected on this fact after seeing the promo,” he wrote. “I always have been and will be a Kazakh, regardless of anything that happens around me.”