This paper examines a neglected topic in the literature on Central Asian issues despite its major impact on the lives of millions of Central Asians, which is the future of bazaars in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Based on extensive interviews and secondary sources, it presents successively the relevance of the three main arguments on future of bazaars: (1) bazaars will disappear over the next five to ten years as the city continues to modernise and develop; (2) The collapse of the Soviet Union and of its centralised production and distribution system led to a decentralised, ad hoc, and often chaotic trading infrastructure that paved the way for the emergence of a new set of actors ― traders, bazaar owners, and government officials ― with interests in maintaining the new system; (3) the official government policy and administrative resources mobilized to fulfil the modernising mission of rooting out bazaars are at times directed to serve the interests of a powerful political élite. In such situations, high-powered political and economic figures struggle behind-the-scenes for control of this lucrative sector of the economy. Based on a detailed presentation of the case of Baian Aul, which was closed over a period of two years, the author convincingly shows how the interests of traders and owners were ultimately secondary to those of the country’s political élite, including the presidential family. It demonstrates how state institutions have been largely captured by the presidential family and use health/sanitary reasons to put pressure on some competing bazaars to capture a lucrative market. This paper is even more interesting that bazaar role in wealth formation in Central Asia is too often neglected despite millions or even billions of dollars of turnover in the case of Dordoy in Bishkek. Moreover, it demonstrates concretely how some public institutions are being used for a personal purpose in Central Asia. In the future, we can probably agree with the author on the fact that bazaar future remains bright since a major part of the population will continue to trade and purchase in bazaars and as long as customers come, it will remain a lucrative business, which is likely to attract members of the Kazakh élite.

Gaël Raballand, Observatory of Post-Soviet States, Paris
CER: II-7.4.C-649