Kazakhstan’s ruling family is preparing for a merger, as a grandson of President Nursultan Nazarbayev gets ready to tie the knot with the daughter of an energy baron.
Aysultan Nazarbayev, the youngest son of the president’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, is planning to wed his fiancée, identified by Forbes Kazakhstan as 20-year-old Alima Boranbayeva, an art student in London. She is the daughter of Kayrat Boranbayev, who heads the KazRosGas energy venture.
The groom’s family has not confirmed the bride’s identity or the wedding date. But on May 20, Dariga Nazarbayeva said that wedding preparations were afoot and would be carried out “quickly and well.” The nuptials – which will almost certainly be a private affair – are expected to take place this summer.
Aysultan Nazarbayev, who attended Sandhurst, Britain’s prestigious military academy, is currently a 23-year-old lieutenant in the Kazakhstani armed forces. He is also a talented football player, who is now on the reserve roster of Astana FC, a team in Kazakhstan’s Premier League. Aysultan Nazarbayev’s father is Rakhat Aliyev, who fell out of favour with President Nazarbayev in 2007 and soon thereafter was divorced from Dariga Nazarbayeva. Aliyev currently lives in Malta, and remains a vitriolic critic of the president.
In all, President Nazarbayev has three daughters, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. The family members are a diverse bunch that includes politicians and oil magnates, flamboyant socialites and religious conservatives. Most family members steer clear of politics, but Dariga Nazarbayeva has followed in her father’s political footsteps. Following her divorce from Aliyev, Nazarbayeva’s star waned for a few years, but she staged a comeback in 2012, and gained a seat in parliament for the ruling Nur Otan party.
With a knack for a pithy sound bite, Nazarbayeva is believed by some commentators to harbour hopes of succeeding her 72-year-old father as president. One of her political goals is “being a real buttress to the president, my father, in all his undertakings,” she told the Zakon.kz website before last year’s parliamentary election. Nazarbayeva has talents outside politics: she is an opera singer and an entrepreneur with a personal fortune of $593 million, according to a wealth ranking compiled by Forbes Kazakhstan last year. A flair for business runs in the family: the magazine put the wealth of her eldest son, 28-year-old banker Nurali Aliyev (who has given the president his two great-grandchildren), at $200 million.
Their riches pale in comparison with those of Nazarbayev’s middle daughter, Dinara Kulibayeva, who owns a sprawling business empire spanning sectors from oil and gas to banking with her husband, Timur Kulibayev. They feature on the international Forbes rich list, worth a cool $1.3 billion each.
The family fortunes have come under fire in Kazakhstan amid allegations of cronyism and corruption fuelling the acquisition of billions of dollars. Nazarbayev has shrugged off criticism, remarking that his relatives have as much right as anyone else to do business.
Given their vast collective fortune, the Nazarbayevs may have an interest in trying to keep the presidency in the family. Another member tipped as a possible successor is Timur Kulibayev, though he has displayed little interest in politics. His reputation took a knock when he was fired in disgrace in 2011 for failing to tackle an oil strike under his jurisdiction that ended in fatal unrest.
Kulibayev has since kept a low profile at home, but he cuts a more flamboyant figure on London’s social scene, where he mixes with the likes of Prince Andrew – from whom he once bought a house at $4.5 million above the asking price, raising eyebrows in Britain and Kazakhstan – and Goga Ashkenazi, a glamorous socialite and entrepreneur who once described her ambition as “to conquer the world.” Kulibayev’s association with Ashkenazi has been splashed all over the British media, which say he is named on her son’s birth certificate as the child’s father.
Not surprisingly for such a high-profile family, Nazarbayev’s relatives have a habit of making headlines. His youngest daughter, Aliya Nazarbayeva, received a barrage of negative coverage in Kazakhstan over the opulence of her 30th birthday celebrations in 2010, reportedly featuring concerts costing $2.4 million and gifts including a Turkish villa and a yacht.
Aliya Nazarbayeva owns the lavish Luxor spa in Almaty and designs elite jewelry priced at up to $100,000, but her society girl image is undergoing a rebranding: last year she made an environmental documentary, “the time has probably come when I want to do something for my people, for my Kazakhstan, for the Earth.”
One family member maintains a far more austere profile. The president’s nephew -- Kayrat Satybaldy, who was raised in Nazarbayev’s home after his own father died -- is a pious Muslim who has held top posts in the army, domestic intelligence, and public administration. Nowadays he plays a political role as Nur Otan party secretary in charge of promoting youth patriotism.
As the ruling family gathers to celebrate Aysultan Nazarbayev’s nuptials, they will have plenty to discuss – but there will be one notable absence: his father, Rakhat Aliyev, is highly unlikely to attend, given that he faces a 40-year jail sentence if he ever returns to Kazakhstan.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.