Two countries — one prize

A distinguished diplomat, a veteran of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of France and Kazakhstan, Munira Artykbekova have gone down in history as the first female Kazakh that received the most illustrious French award — the Order of the Legion of Honour. In her interview to MUSEOFNOMAD, Mrs. Artybekova shared her emotions related to this award and told about the relations of France and Kazakhstan.

I have worked for 32 years in the field of strengthening trade and economic relations of Kazakhstan and France. Despite that, the fact of receiving the Order of the Legion of Honour became a big surprise to me, although a very pleasant one. When I got the mail from the Ambassador of France in Kazakhstan — Mr Didier Canesse that Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, has made a decision to reward me with the Order, I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. When it dawned on me, I couldn’t hold back tears. I was one of the first Kazakh diplomats working in France. After Kazakhstan became an independent nation we had our work cut out for us - we had to build interstate relationships and networks. We even sang Kazakh songs to the French. And now, after all this work, to receive such an honorable reward.

My diplomatic career and my long-lasting relationship with France are the result of a happy coincidence. I studied English at school, dreaming of becoming a diplomat, but I knew that becoming one wouldn’t be easy for a simple Almaty girl. To become one I would have to enroll in the MGIMO University, but it was only accepting diplomats’ children according to a special quota. I failed to enroll in the Faculty of History of KazGU and a year later in an English department of a pedagogical university. Despite that, the admissions committee had offered to petition the rector to accept me into the French department, as it had a shortage of students. That was how the love of French became the love of my life. Later I had a career in science, an internship in LGU, then received my economics education. Finally, in the beginning of the 1990s when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan felt an acute shortage of economists that knew French I was at the right place at the right time. This is how my childhood dream came to life: I was working at the embassy of our country in Paris and for a while was a temporary appointee in regards to dealings of Kazakhstan in France (Editor’s note: the diplomat that is responsible for the duties of the ambassador when they left their position, but the new one has not been appointed yet), then I worked at UN.

Kazakh-French relations are that of equal partners based on mutual respect. Our countries have signed the Treaty of Friendship, Understanding and Cooperation, an Agreement on strategic partnership. France has a wealth of experience in developing its democracy and economy as one of the leading states of the EU. This experience, without a doubt, is interesting and important to us. Our country, in turn holds the leading positions in Central Asia — our country is important to France from political and economic perspectives.

Today I lead the French-Kazakh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and I am very pleased with our cooperation with the french partners. At present the Chamber has 55 members, which are companies from totally different fields: financial and banking sector, pharmaceutical industry, mining industry and oil industry. French companies are excited to work here — they see the Kazakh political reforms and support them.

Despite the fact that our countries are separated by a distance of 8,000 km our countries have a lot in common. First of all is the language. Yes, yes, do not be surprised! Even though French is a Roman language and Kazakh is a Turkic language, there are sounds that are present in Kazakh and French, while being absent from many other languages. The French know how to be friends just like us, as well as respect the elders. There are many nationalities coexisting together in France the same as Kazakhstan. And, of course the similarities of our national cuisines — both our people love mutton.

Overall, our cultural cooperation makes me really happy. Actors and musicians from France regularly visit Kazakhstan. I would also like to note that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of France-Kazakhstan includes such higher education providers as the University Sorbonne-Kazakhstan and a business university Alma U. We are proud of the fact that the famous French Sorbonne is represented in our country, while Alma U is famous and popular in Europe.

I am grateful to my family for everything I have: to my parents who have always believed in and supported me, to my brothers and sisters, to my son Bolat. I would like to dedicate his prestigious award — the Order of the Legion of Honour to them.

Author: Igor Toporkov

Photo: hero's personal archive

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