Since the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site 20 years ago, Kazakhstan has been committed to put an end to nuclear weapons.

Last year, the Nazarbayev Center was created in Astana to pursue this fight.

Roman Vassilenko, Deputy Director of the Center, is very much involved in this issue. He was a few weeks ago in Oslo for the two conferences on nuclear weapons and has written an opinion article we are glad to publish.

A full 20 years after the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, the pain of the tragedy remains a reality and nuclear weapons, a threat for the world. However, change can be noticed. A large number of countries, organizations and individuals are today concerned with disarmament issues; many are committed to raise these issues at the highest levels. This will hopefully trigger a chain reaction of global nuclear disarmament. Things can, and need to change.

But we need more voices, more commitments, and more involvements. We need a critical mass that supports our movement. For this, we need to remind the world of the pain brought by the Semipalatinsk tragedy.

Recently, 400 NGO members from over 100 countries participated on March 2-3 in the International Civil Society Forum in Oslo organized by ICAN (International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons). On March 4-5, the international conference ‘Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons’, organised by the government of Norway, gathered over 500 representatives of the world’s governmental and international organisations, research fellows and experts.

What made these events memorable?

They were marked by the desire to stir-up international opinion and to urge world leaders to find an alternative to nuclear weapons as an absolute guarantee of security and to abolish them. Dozens of governments and hundreds of NGOs and think tanks around the world are engaged in this problem. I want to believe that their efforts will bring results for victims of nuclear tests as well as the process of nuclear disarmament.

The ATOM Project, launched on 29th August 2012 and which we at the Nazarbayev Center presented at this platform, is just one of the voices calling for help for victims of nuclear tests and for more concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament around the world. Large-scale involvement in the anti-nuclear movement and the participation of different countries and organisations is its strength. Its power is in the medium it provides for the voices of people for whom the consequences of nuclear tests are an everyday reality.

The events in Oslo were also marked with the confidence in the rightness and the ultimate success of the idea of a world free of nuclear weapons, a notion that seems utopian, and therefore pointless, for many. A number of arguments supported this:

1)       Mankind has found the courage to abandon two other weapons of mass destruction—biological and chemical weapons — by signing relevant U.N. conventions, so why wouldn’t it give up the most destructive weapons in the world?

2)       A number of countries, including South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, have had the courage to abandon their nuclear weapons programmes and/or nuclear arsenals, and their experience can be an example to others.

3)       There is growing awareness in the world that the use of even one of the 19,000 nuclear weapons in a ‘limited regional war’ would lead to disastrous consequences not only for the region but for the entire world by undermining the global economy and environment.

Of course, one can argue with these positions. One could say that humanity is, in fact, moving in the opposite direction, toward expansion rather than reduction in the nuclear club, as evidenced by recent nuclear tests in North Korea, for example. However, according to representatives of governments and civil society organisations from 132 countries in Oslo this month, this only makes the efforts of committed supporters of nuclear disarmament more relevant.

Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstani people remain more than ever committed to a nuclear weapons free world. The artist Karipbek Kuyukov, a survivor from the Semipalatinsk tragedy born with multiple disabilities including no arms and a truly great man is certainly an example to follow when it comes to this fight.

Through his courage and faith in life, Karipbek has shown that spirit is bigger than substance. A talented artist, a leader of public opinion, a lifelong activist for nuclear disarmament and Honorary Ambassador of the ATOM Project, it is impossible to listen impassively when he tells the story of his life and calls for urgent action in order to build a world without nuclear weapons. His story inspires first tears, then hope and finally action. “We, as survivors and witnesses of horrific madness, strive to warn the world before it is too late about the consequences of nuclear weapons,” Kuyukov said, addressing the International Civil Society Forum. “If billions of people around the world would realise the consequences of nuclear weapons testing, global public opinion united as one would have enough power to eliminate atomic bombs forever. My appeal for a nuclear-weapons free world is expressed in my paintings. I put part of my soul and part of my heart into them… The nuclear arms race, the desire to conquer the world with nuclear weapons is growing. We need to stop it.”

I sincerely bow to Karipbek Kuyukov and people like him. Thanks to them, I believe that humankind will think more deeply and the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, which seems utopian for many, will become achievable.


* The ATOM Project is an initiative of The Nazarbayev Center, whose mandate, in part, is to continue and broaden Kazakhstan’s legacy of fighting for a world free of nuclear weapons and weapons testing. The ATOM Project hopes to affect real and lasting change by uniting citizens to show the world’s leaders that its citizens deserve and demand a world safe from additional nuclear weapons testing.


* The Nazarbayev Center is a Multifunctional Scientific-Analytical and Humanitarian-Educational Public Institution established to study and promote the history of statehood of Kazakhstan and to contribute to the country’s national development and international cooperation.