The Story of Kazakh-Land ™

by Michael Hancock-Parmer on 11/7/2010 · 28 comments

This is Michael Hancock again – it’s been a little while since I’ve posted last.  As it turns out, I have something to share that will both tickle your fancy and have something to do, however tangentially, with my still-unfinished-thesis on the history of Kazakhstan circa 1723.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Kazakh-Land!  Situated near sunny Malibu, California, it offers something for everyone, from romantic folk-art displays to retirement-style weekend getaways.  The website is plenty nice and the word on the inter-tubes [up to this point] is that it’s the real deal.  However, there is a lot of suspicious English (especially on the guestbook and caretaker pages) that smells of Russian translation.  Like some bad Borat joke, Russian-language descriptions of the theme park name-drop Pamela Anderson and Angelina Jolie.  It’s not their fault, of course – these descriptions come off the site’s own guestbook, which reads like a finely translated and prepared proof-of-concept brochure.  In other words, I’m skeptical whether any of these people are real.  And I remain skeptical, as the website has no actual information regarding pricing, reservations, etc.  I tried to contact the staff via email, and I will update this post with the eventual results.  If this site is legit, it certainly would appeal to some of the readers of Registan.net!

In case you’re wondering what connection it has to my MA Thesis, here is where it gets interesting.  When I first heard of Kazakh-Land, it was from some friends who wondered just from where the equipment had come, particularly because of the odd nature of the yurts involved.  They were asking why, for example, all the yurts pictured are called either “yurt” or “yoourt” on the website, as opposed to the Kazakh name, “Felt home,” or Киiз Үй.  The color also came up – all the yurts seemed to be white, instead of the typical brownish color of steppe yurts in Kazakhstan.

I thought nothing of it… until I saw the pictures.  And then something clicked.  Granted, it’s just an assumption until I hear the full story, but I think that I know: where the yurts came from, why they’re white, and why Kazakh-Land is in Malibu, California, of all places.

First, here are two pictures:

This is identified as the Central Square of Kazakh Land.  Note the white yurts, the structure with a pagoda beside three yurts on raised platforms, the center being larger with an awning leading one into the leader’s presence.  We’ll come back to why this isn’t “Kazakh,” per se.

And this picture is from the 2005 Kazakhstan-financed box-office bomb called “Nomad: The Warrior,” released in Russian as “Кочевник” and in Kazakh the title the same, though in the plural: Көшпендiлер.  Truth be told, I actually liked the film.  This photo came from this website, belonging to a crew member that worked on the film.  Any doubts you have about whether or not the yurts came from the movie will disappear once you run through all the pictures on that site.  And you’ll see that the prominent yurts in the first picture are visible in the upper-right corner of the second picture.

I got a chance to visit the set not long after filming was finished in August of 2005.  What I recall is how swiftly the river (I believe it was the Ili) flowed through this defile – enough to make me nervous about swimming in it.   These film-set pictures popped up during my thesis research, as I am working on how different historians have interpreted the events of 1723 in various ways – and that is a large part of the inspiration for the film “Nomad: The Warrior.”

So – whose beautiful camp is rendered in that movie set?  Is it the Kazakh camp, you ask?

Of course not!  It’s the camp of the dread and terrible Jungar/Жоңғар, related to the Kalmyks of the Volga region in Russia, though not quite the same folks.  Interesting, in the film “Nomad: The Warrior,” these are the only people on screen actually living the nomadic life – the Kazakhs are seen riding the steppe alone and protecting their walled city of Turkestan from the dreaded Jungar horde and their European cannon specialist [based LOOSELY on a true story – ask me about Renat sometime, that guy was awesome!].

So, that’s why the yurts are white – because they seem to be taken from this movie set, and they are Mongolian yurts in the film.  “Nomad: The Warrior” was made with Hollywood help, so that explains how the equipment could have finally reached California, though not how the park was set up in the first place.

The page that interests me most, however, is the “About the Caretakers of the Park” site.  It is as nicely produced as the others, yet seems to be introducing a cast of storybook characters, with the kindly shepherd-patriarch Karim Kulibaev heading the flocks as kindly tourists take in Kazakh culture.  I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be more intriguing this way, but almost none of the people seem to be involved in actual park~tourism activities.

Which led me to finally call their bluff and look up their address.  They claim to be two minutes from Highway 101, and they have a map on the site showing their park lying somewhere north of Castro Peak.  Google Mapping that place shows a couple things: some local vineyards, lots of no-doubt expensive prime ranch and luxury house land, and absolutely no sign of yurts, theme-parks, or anything approaching a grassy expanse of land.  There’s a golf-course, though, kind of in the shape of Kazakhstan, if you squint and are bad at geography.  But maybe there’s a park in the offing!  The website does list an address: Kanan Road/Mulholland Agoura Hills, CA 91301.  If you punch that into your Google map search, you’ll come up with this website and a price-tag.  So, know anybody looking to money-launder on the order $7 million, just for the land?  Not sure if 455 acres is enough to simulate the vastness of the steppe.  Why not somewhere east of Wyoming, west of the Mississippi?  Land would certainly be cheaper!

So, the jury is out, but the verdict seems certain.  Which is a bummer, because I was hoping for some kazy and ат етi.  Maybe if this proof-of-concept fake website generates enough interest, the bank investors can be tricked into signing off on the loan and putting up some yurts!


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This post was written by...

– author of 20 posts on Registan.net.

Michael earned an MA in Central Eurasian Studies in 2011 and remains a student at Indiana University pursuing a dual PhD in Russian History and Central Eurasian Studies. He served 6 months in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan in 2005. After the events in Andijan and the subsequent closure of the program, he served 2 years in southern Kazakhstan, returning to the Midwest in 2007. His general area of interest is on post-Timur Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, centered on the Syr Darya river valley.

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{ 28 comments }

Telyn November 8, 2010 at 12:59 am

I want to stay in a yurt at Kazakh-Land! but instead I’m afraid I can only help debunk it. I live in this part of the world, drive through Kanan Dume several times a week—it’s one of three main routes through the Santa Monica Mountains—and I have never seen a yurt or heard a whisper of “Kazakh-Land” before (in fact, the only thing remotely connected to Central Asia in the whole area that I’ve ever seen is a ranch up on Mulholland Highway where they keep a pet bactrian camel).

None of the photos on the website look like anything like the Santa Monica Mountains, and the whole area on the map is in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which has strict zoning. Development proposals of any type attract a lot of attention, and if anyone tried to get a permit for a theme park, even a small one, the local media and who alphabet soup of government agencies ranging from the California Coastal Commission to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy would be all over it.

Love your blog and find it fascinating. Cheers!

toshkan November 8, 2010 at 1:46 am

The “chak chak bakery” makes me want to think this is a joke, but looking through the site I can only come to the conclusion that whoever edited the site has fairly thorough knowledge of kazakh language and culture and had the patience to create a rather detailed and non humorous site. (karim kulibaiev is nowhere to be found on google anyway). I hope it exists….I would love to find fresh kumis and I really think I could fry up a pretty round baursauk for the competition on baursauk day.

Narcogen November 8, 2010 at 2:42 am

Doing a whois on the domain might also have been productive.

Registrant ID: M0HSMX3-RU
Registrant Name: Bekmambetov Projects Limited
Registrant Organization: Bekmambetov Projects Limited
Registrant Street1: 3 Themistokli Dervi str.
Registrant City: NICOSIA
Registrant Postal Code: 255549
Registrant Country: CY

Bekmambetov Projects is the company of Timur Bekmambetov, Kazakh film director/producer of “Wanted” fame.

Bekmambetov launched a screenwriting contest this spring, and in July at the first film festival ever held in Kazakhstan, the Astana International Action Film Festival, flew in five finalists from the United States, France, Kazakhstan, and the UK. The American, Miller, won a cash prize and a development deal with Bekmambetov Projects Ltd. Bekmambetov and Michele Wolkoff, president of development for BPL, will produce the film.

http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/2010/11/07/afm_breaking_news_weinstein_co._gets_rights_to_bekmambetovs_contest_movie_a/

Michael Hancock November 8, 2010 at 11:12 am

Seems like it brings up more questions than it answers. The first connection I found between Nicosia, Cyprus and Bekmambetov was a law firm – MGAP – with offices in Cyprus. This law firm includes Bekmambetov among their clients. Curiouser and Curiouser – I think this points again towards the “proof-of-concept” type of website.

AJK November 9, 2010 at 6:14 am

MGAP has offices in Cyprus? Their website doesn’t say so. I’d be surprised if it’s anything more than a “Virtual Office” of sorts.

MGAP does a lot of Russia-British stuff, and their firm is mostly Russian expats. It looks…fairly interesting, to say the least. They’re thick with Bekmambetov, the manager of the firm has been credited in all of Bekmambetov’s films.

I agree, it’s a proof-of-concept. Which is too damn bad, isn’t it.

Christian November 8, 2010 at 2:46 am

I am native language speaker of English and I have signed the guestbook. It is fact. Do not insult the signers of guestbook with accusations of falseness Mr. Gankok.

On a serious note, most of the other photos are clearly not from where this place is supposed to be – i.e., East of Mississpipi forest, the real steppes, some lake on the east side of the Cascades further north, etc… I would laugh, but these idiots seem to have a page on which to make reservations.

KZBlog November 8, 2010 at 10:59 pm

A lot of the photos come from stock websites if you Tiny-Eye search them.

Michael Hancock November 8, 2010 at 11:07 pm

I am sure that the greatest thing about the post is that it seems to be a practicum in “how to find out if something is fake on the interwebs.”

Chris Merriman November 8, 2010 at 6:33 am

Christian – you seem to be overly insulted by something that was more aimed at the web site owners than the visitors.

As a native English speaker, you might want to correct your text next time…

I am _A_ native language speaker of English.
or even…
I’m a native speaker of English.

It is _A_ fact.

Do not insult the _signatories_ of _this_ guestbook…

East of _the_ _Mississippi _ forest

Christian November 8, 2010 at 7:59 am

I’m a friend of Michael’s. That was just a joking comment. I like Michael, Kazakhs, Malibu inland real estate and even people who correct my grammar in comments on Registan. Eto fakt.

Chris Merriman November 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Sincere apologies for not picking up on the sarcasm/humour in your comment. I guess the style was a little too realistic for me to fully engage my brain before firing off a reply 🙂

Michael Hancock November 8, 2010 at 11:13 am

Chris, thanks for the defense, but yeah, Christian was being a little meta-funny there. No worries.

Michael Hancock November 8, 2010 at 11:14 am

And please, any people that actually signed that guest book and want to prove that they aren’t figments of the imagination of some student or marketing temp, speak up!

Christian November 8, 2010 at 7:18 am

Hey, my name’s also Christian, and I am in no way affiliated with the dude above.

What I wanted to say though was that the post was amazing, a classic of post-Soviet surrealism… right here in the USA… maybe?

I’d also note that in the first picture there’s a miniature stupa to the left of the pagoda. That would make it a Buddhist structure which is probably not mobile, and thus a bit out of place in even the most opulent of nomad camps. It would be even weirder in a pre-Altan Khan Mongolian camp or a pre-1800 Dzhungar/Kalmyk camp. At least, that’s my humble opinion.

And then the Soviet-style truck buzzing around the second picture makes it even less likely that we’re looking at something in North America.

Still, amazing find and great post 🙂

Michael Hancock November 8, 2010 at 11:17 am

I didn’t notice the stupa, but it makes total sense. The Jungars were Buddhist, and their Buddhism is mentioned in some nationalist re-imaginings of the 1723 disaster as fuel for the ‘massacres.’ So far, nothing I’ve found has lent credence to that. Muslims are always more likely to be killed by other Muslims, as Christians are always more likely to be killed by other Christians, and Buddhists more likely to be killed by other Buddhists. Mormons (and other smaller sects) haven’t yet reached critical mass, but one day they too will be their own worst enemy. :3

The Kamaz you see was used in the film – which makes sense, since not many other kinds of vehicles would be able to get down onto the banks of the Ili in that region.

Greg November 8, 2010 at 8:10 am

This really looks like a course-project for some student.

Steven November 8, 2010 at 8:19 am

As to the little tidbit about “white yurts” at least my Kazakh teacher told me years ago that all yurts started out that way. They were given to a family after they got married and since they were from new felt, they were always white. Any aul that looked like the movie with all white, picture perfect yurts would never have existed, anywhere, anytime.

Interestingly, I saw the Kazakh-land site for the first time today. It’s so fake, it’s comical. Just the fodder that a Borat would be looking for.

Kzblog November 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm

First can they open one in Kazakhstan? I would like to actually see some Kazakh culture celebrated here near Astana, instead of all the kurlatais and bug Nauryz celebrations happening in Europe and the US.

But if Bekmambetov is involved it might be viral advertising for a movie instead of a real park.

Kzblog November 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm

On the other hand the name Karim Kulibayev seems like a potential joke, but by someone who knows enough not to mock NAN.

KazakhLaJauna November 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Dang….I just returned from 5 yrs of service in Kazakhstan! I live in Northern Cal and was ready to mount a trek to Kazakhland! Bummer.

Grant November 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm

I wonder why anybody would want to make a fake theme park for Kazakhstan of all places. It isn’t as though a large portion of the internet community in the U.S would go searching for it. They probably would have had more success if they had made a site for a fake cruise.

AJK November 10, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I meant to say this earlier, but there’s a real, true, Kazakh-land in Istanbul, out by the city walls and the 1453 Conqueration Diorama. I’ll try to have a report soon.

myrafla November 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm

To: KazakhLaJauna.
Where in Kazakhstan have you worked? Me too, was about to take a trip to CA.
myrafla

KB November 17, 2010 at 4:23 pm

About 4 years ago I was coming home to Almaty. Besides met sat a pleasant American lady who was coming to save another poverty stricken, hungry child from a god forsaken corner of the planet. You should have seen her face when she saw that we actually had an ‘Airport’.

Besides the point. She mentioned to me that somewhere in the US, on an annual basis, American folks from all over the States like herself get together and celebrate Kazakh tradition. She said they wear traditional Kazakh clothing, and sing songs on Drumbha. I fear, ladies and gents, it has actually evolved into What you see Above!!!

Michael Hancock November 17, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I think you missed the point. This “Kazakh Land” make-believe (non-existent) park is actually created BY Kazakhs for use by non-Kazakhs (or at least by Kazakhstani citizens). I’m pretty sure this has nothing to do with foreigners’ perceptions of Kazakhstan, whether those of the international adoption community or otherwise.

That being said, I find it pretty funny that you think parents trying to support their adopted children’s cultural heritage is such a sacrilege. Would you prefer they grow up in some Internat speaking Russian and being ignored by their glorious Kazakh family connections? Tell me, if it’s true that two Kazakhs meeting for the first time can tell me how they are related, how is it possible for any Kazakh child to be orphaned? American children also need to be adopted, it’s true, but we don’t deny the utility of adoption in the first place.

Anna November 18, 2010 at 10:17 pm

For what it’s worth, Timur Bekmanbetov is Kazakh-born (he’s from Aktau or Atryau, someplace west), but a Russian citizen. He directed the awesome Night Watch and Day Watch movies (blockbuster Russian horror/scifi epics based on bestselling book series by Sergey Lukyanenko, who also has some sort of KZ connection, Russian but born in Karaganda maybe?) before going totally Hollywood with his latest films. Wonder if he’s got a house near this particular intersection??? I can see him living in Malibu.

matt November 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Any updates on the truth behind Kazakh-land™?

Michael Hancock November 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Well, for one thing, the website seems to be dead. Or at least it was when I checked it today (11-19-10)

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