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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 2, 2009 Kazak00,!.00r, n seen as bridge to Muslim world Michael J. Jordan Kazakhstan's new synagogue, Beit Rachel, was built in the heart of the sprawling new extortionary or monopolistic maneuvering, especiallywhen Europe's dependence on Mid- east oil is predicted to rise to 75 percent by 2015. Georgia represents the bottleneck through which Caspian crude is now pumped westward, from Azerbaijan to Turkey, and on to Europe, Israel and elsewhere. Israel. meanwhile, is fully dependent on foreign oil, but for decades has been denied access to Middle Eastern crude, while natural-gas im- ports from Egypt are unstable. So. Jerusalem has nurtured an "axis" with moderate- Muslim Turkey and Azerbai- jan, supporting the massive Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. or BTC. pipeline that opened its taps across the south Caucasus in 2006. The Jewish state also em- braced ambitious plans to one day build underwater pipelines beneath the Caspian that would tap into the oil reserves of Kazakhstan and natural-gas fields of Turk- menistan purportedly the world's second largest--and deliver them westward along those same BTC pipelines. Russia's trampling upon Georgian soil. though, may "have sabotaged that grand vi- sion. with one leading analyst writing that trans-Caspian pipeline plans "now belong in the trash basket." Ichay, however, says that while the Georgian crisis made the region "'a little more cautious," the pipeline project "has gone too far to be canceled now." regardless of Russian obstruction. Moreover, the U. S.-led NATO military alliance con- siders it a top priority, with many  of its members frantic about "energy security." "The quest to secure guar- anteed supplies could in- creasingly shape the foreign policies and priorities of NATO member states and others worldwide," Jamie Shea. the NATO director of policy planning, wrote in 2006. This. he said, may include "protection of criti- cal infrastructure or crisis response options." In recent years the U. S. military has also proposed a "Caspian Guard" to patrol the waters, which are claimed also by Russia to the north and Iran to the south. With energy-hungry Chi- na. Kazakhstan's neighbor to the east. also eyeing the events closely, analysts say the stage is set for future conflict in Central Asia. All ofwhich also sheds light on one of Europe'.s most con- troversial decisions vis-a-vis Kazakhstan. " Last year. the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe the continent's top democracy and human- rights xatchdog elected Kazakhstan to chair the organization in 2010. even though President Nursultan Nazarbayev has led his coun- try through independence from the Soviet Union. in 1991. without a single elec- tion judged "free and fair" by OSCE monitors. Astana had lobbied for the 2009 chair, but was rebuffed until it agreed to democratic reforms. Just this month the Washington-based Freedom capital, Astana. By Michael J. Jordan Part II of a JTA series. ASTANA. Kazakhstan (JTA) In a world where Israel can claim few Muslim friends, no one is more pas- sionate about Kazakhstan than the Israeli envoy to this oil-rich nation. While the nation jockeys to be a major energy producer, joining Caspian Sea neighbors Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan as a vital alternative to Middle East instability and Russian heavy-handedness, observers often cite the Central Asian nation as a moderate Muslim bridge to the Islamic world: That helps explain why Western allies typically down- play the unseemly side. of Kazakh rule repression of independent critics, persecu- tion of political opposition. harassment of marginal reli- gions. They instead accentu- ate the positives about this ex-Soviet republic. Israel's ambassador here. Ran Ichay, also tends to focus on the upside, listing several Kazakh achieve- ments of recent years that he terms "world-class con- tributions." Kazakhs. for example, voluntarily dismantled their nuclear program, even as folks in the northeastern region of Semipalatinsk still suffer from having served as human guinea pigs for Soviet-era nuclear testing. And twice they have hosted the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, an interreligious forum they created that Ichay says is the rare gather- ing where Jews. Israelis and Iranians are spotted around the same table. "Kazakhstan is very dif- ferent from what we know in the Middle East." he says from his modest office in central Astana. the capital city."They use their religion as a bridge between cultures." Still. the elephant in the room remains oil and the worldwide Worry over "'energy security" that was under- scored by Russia's assault on Georgia in August. Beyond the headlines, that clash in the Caucasus also caused ripple for Kazakh- Israeli relations. Though the CasIian basin is estimated to hold just 4 percent oftheworld's reserves. experts say it still provides enough leverage to curb House. which ranks Ka- zakhstan as "Not Free" in its annual worldwide survey, chastised Astana for propos- ing reforms that "fall short" of promises to loosen its grip on media, elections and other institutions. Other observers contend it is better to integrate flawed ex-Soviet states such as Kazakhstan and Georgia into the West as much as possible, even if they are far away from attaining E. U. or NATO membership. Indeed. Kazakhstan's unique standing goes be- yond its oil wealth for Jews as well. "You start with the energy, the geographical location, and the relationship they're trying to carve out with the U. S. specifically and the West in general, trying to steer an independent course from Russia." says Mark Levin. the executive director of the Washington-based NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia. Ukraine, the Baltic Staes & Eurasia. "Then you get to our specific concerns as Americans and as Jews: It's a country with no government- sponsored anti-Semitism, where Jews and Muslims live friendly side by side. and with full diplomatic relations with Israel." In fact, given the tendency of some of its neighbors, and that its own populace is almost evenly split between Kazakh Muslims and Rus- sian Orthodox. the Central Asian heavyweight strives for friendly relations with all. In 2002. for example. JTA reported that Nazarbayev told visiting European rabbis of his "'very good" relations with Iran's then-President Mohammad Khatami. that he had broached the case of Israeli pilot Ron Arad. miss- ing in Lebanon since 1986 and allegedly held in Iran. and would do the same regarding Israeli soldiers reportedly held in Lebanon by the Teh- ran-backed Hezbollah. With show trials of Iranian Jews then goingon, one rabbi proposed Kazakhstan serve as mediator. In 2006. Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi. Yona Metzger, also asked Nazarbayev to press Syrian President Bashar Assad about Israeli soldier Gi- lad Shalitl whowas kidnapped by Hamas. As the future chair of the OSCE. which has been promi- nent in European efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Ka- zakhstan may play a pivotal role when that issue emerges, says Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jew- ish affairs for the American Jewish Committee. Kazakh officials. Baker says, already have demon- strated sensitivity about anti-Semitism. "The extent to which Kazakhstan understands this issue and is supportive, this will go Well beyond its borders," he says. With Iran's suspected pur- suit of nuclear weapons also on Europe's agenda, Baker says Kazakhstan again could be asked to play mediator. 'We've come to recognize that we live in a world where critical issues are not going to be solved by one or two countries," he says. "Finding other allies will increasingly matter as well.'" Kazakhstan's "bridge" potential also extends to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the past decade. Ichay says some have floated the idea that Astana might become involved with the Middle East conflict as a heav- ily Muslim country trusted by both sides. The Israeli envoy rejects that possibility. "If I have no problem with Kazakhstan. why put it in a position where it has to express an opinion on such sensitive issues?" he says. "Why put a healthy man in a sick bed?" Kazakhstan is more valu- able in its neutrality, Ichay says, contributing to inter- faith dialogue. Besides, he laments. "We have enough intermediaries. One more can do no more." St Lrvivors give museum high marks 00tction in Nazi archive By Ben Harris NEW YORK (JTA)--Barely a year after Holocaust sur- vivors publicly vilified the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for its handling of a trove of Nazi-era archives, the institution says it now has about half of an estimated 50 million pages of records in hand and is turning around most requests for information in eight to 10 weeks. The museum says it has received about 7,500 requests for information, and between one quarter and one half of HAND00 N SERVICE Handy man and General Maintenance Air Conditioning Electrical plumbing Carpentry Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960 those receive some documen- tation from the archives--a massive cache of documents stored for decades by the In- ternational Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen, Germany. "It's a pretty high number when you recognize the num- ber of actual survivors still with us has declined dramati- cally," Paul Shapiro, director of the museum's Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, told JTA. "As a result of wht the museum achieved, tile flow of inquiries to Arolsen went up, and to Yad Vashern. "A lot of people became jaded about this issue before the collections were opened because they had waited for 10 years and got no answer. We encourage those people I;o come back and ask again;" : For decades the archwe+- which includes records Of concentration camp incarcer- ations, forced labor, displaced persons and resettlement of an estimated 17 million people--remained closed to researchers and under the authority of the International Tracing Service, which oper- ates under the umbrella of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Survivors could make requests for informa- tion, but often it took years for them to be fulfilled. In 2006, the 11 countries responsible for the archive moved to open it to the pub- lic. The transfer of electronic copies of the files began the next year and in November 2007, after the 11 countries had ratified the agreement, the archive was opened to the public. Still, the museum came un- der withering criticism from survivors groups, accusing it of indifference to urvivor needs by refusing to make the files freely available for search online. Much of that criticism appears to have dissipated. "We've got no complaints-- zero," said Jeanette Friedmin, director of communications for the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. "No being pulled aside in an event. Nothing like that." Klara Firestone, the found- er and president of Second Generation L. A., who said last year that if the museum did not provide immediate remote access to the archive it would be a "serious blow" to the survivor community, told JTAshe didn't know anyone on the West Coast who had made a search request. "I really don't feel it's fair for me to even comment," Firestone said. David Gold said he made a request for information about his mother and received a response nine days later. "The Holocaust Museum is by far superior in terms of any other Web site," Gold said. "I think Yad Vashem is put to shame in terms of what the museum has done and certainly in terms of what's available online. There's cer- tainly no comparison."