Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres paid a two-day visit to the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan last week in an effort to strengthen relations between the two countries.
During the visit, which ended Aug. 31, Peres and his Kazakh counterpart, Kasymzhomart Tokayev, signed bilateral cooperative agreements on trade, culture and technology.
An Israeli diplomat traveling with Peres said the visit was partly intended to provide additional opportunities for Israeli businessmen in this largely Muslim nation of 16 million, which became independent of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
Kazakhstan, four times the size of Texas and the largest of the former Soviet Central Asian republics, is rich in oil, gas and minerals.
During the visit, Peres met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. Nazarbayev was expected to visit Israel later this year.
On the first night of his visit, Peres addressed a gathering of local Jews.
Peres recalled the warm hospitality with which the Kazakh people greeted the thousands of Jews who fled to Central Asia when Hitler’s armies advanced through Russia during World War II.
About 16,000 Jews live in Kazakhstan today, many of them descendants of those refugees. Some 10,000 of them live in the capital of Almaty.
During his visit, Peres also attended a reception hosted by Israeli Ambassador Benzion Carmel.
At the reception, Peres donned a traditional Kazakh cloak and prayer cap to pose with the mufti of Kazakhstan, Radbek Haji.
The mufti, himself garbed in traditional robes, smiled broadly when Peres embraced him for photographers on a hotel terrace overlooking the Tien Shan Mountains, whose snow-capped peaks dominate Almaty.
Peres paid good-humored tribute to the size of Kazakhstan, just emerging from the Russian shadow, saying, “The Jews have more history than geography, while the Kazakhs have more geography than history. Let’s exchange a little of each.”