Former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev has confessed in a shocking memoir to fathering two sons in a polygamous relationship with Miss Kazakhstan 1999.
Rumours about Nazarbayev, 83, having second and third wives outside his official marriage have circulated for years. Now, in his newly-released book, My Life, the former president of nearly three decades (December 1991 – March 2019), has officially provided details of his nikah, or Islamic marriage, to Asel Qurmanbayeva, 40 years his junior and 19 when she started her affair with Nazarbayev.
Polygamy is illegal in Central Asia and,
under Kazakh law, Nazarbayev could be imprisoned for up to a year, but given his advanced age and the awkward publicity a trial of post-Soviet Kazakhstan’s first president could generate, that is seen as unlikely.
Kazakhstan’s parliament in 2001 and 2008 debated legalising polygamy. However, legislation was not passed following criticism from female lawmakers.
Qurmanbayeva was 18 when she won the Miss Kazakhstan title. She is younger than all three daughters from Nazarbayev’s marriage to his first wife, Sara Alpysqyzy Nazarbayeva.
Why Nazarbayev has risked the backlash from lifting the curtain on his polygamy is the subject of great discussion in Kazakhstan.
Talgat Kaliev, a diplomat, told RFE/RL that it is believed he wants to legitimise his second family.
“[N]ow it is officially possible to give something to them. They also have the right to inherit [Nazarbayev’s assets]. Otherwise their destiny would be very challenging,” he said.
Nazarbayev held the special title “Elbasy”, or “Leader of the Nation”, from 2010 to 2022. He became one of the longest-ruling non-royal leaders in the world, heading an authoritarian regime with a pervasive cult of personality and marred by major-scale corruption. The country’s capital, Astana, was even renamed after him, taking the name Nur-Sultan, for a period.
However, since the “Bloody January” unrest that swept Kazakhstan at the start of 2022, Nazarbayev has been stripped of his honorifics and remaining positions of influence by his former protégé, the current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. His downfall has included the loss of his immunity to prosecution and the removal of his “Elbasy” status.