ALMATY, Oct 13 (Reuters) - In a smoke-filled bar in the Kazakh financial capital Almaty, the laughter of Scottish ex-pats is loud and boisterous.
More than three thousand miles (5,491 km) separate the Scottish Highlands and the Central Asian steppe, but a mutual interest in oil and gas has created a surprising alliance.
Residents estimate that around 400 Scots live in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, a resource-rich country roughly the size of western Europe.
Most come from Aberdeen, Britain’s northeastern oil hub, and they bring with them their technical expertise.
“We’re going to try attract Kazakhs to Aberdeen over the next few years and look at initiatives, and create further investment in Scotland from Kazakhstan,” Lord Provost Peter Stephen of the Aberdeen City Council told an energy conference last week in Almaty.
He said over 100 companies from in and around Aberdeen are active in Kazakhstan, and the Scottish oil town even has a Kazakh consulate to serve the hundreds of Kazakhs who go to Scotland to train up for the oil business.
The Kazakh-British technical university, set up by a group of Scottish universities seven years ago, occupies a grandiose columned building in the centre of leafy Almaty, which housed parliament before the capital was moved to Astana.
Students attend study placements in Scotland.
“The oil industry here in Kazakhstan is expanding,” said Aberdonian Ian Ross, an engineer who has been living in Almaty for two and a half years. He works at German consultancy firm ILF, which is advising on the construction of oil and gas pipelines to China from Kazakhstan.
“We have many schools of every oil field technology in Aberdeen. They should send people to enhance their knowledge of the oil industry,” he said, puffing on a Kazakh-made Sovereign cigarette with a pint of lager in his other hand.
Dressed in a check shirt, blue jumper and faded jeans, Ross said he feels at home in Kazakhstan, where the number of Scots has swelled over past years as projects increased in size.
He regularly visits the ‘Guns & Roses’ pub on weekends, where a group of Aberdonians and other foreigners are served steaks and beers in dim lights to live music.
The Scottish-Kazakh relationship is one that makes sense, Provost Stephen from the Aberdeen council said.
“The history of nomadic tribes in Kazakhstan can even be likened to the clan system which existed in Scotland for hundreds of years... there are many similarities between us.”
On Kazakh business Internet blog www.azoo.livejournal.com, one viewer wrote a post saying Scottish traders were beginning to use Kazakh lingo.
“Our Edinburgh broker recently said ‘He’s a bit of a kotakbas’ about a local trader,” the post said, highlighting the slang word ‘kotakbas’, which means ‘dickhead’ in Kazakh.
The Aberdeen council says 98 percent of traffic between Britain and Kazakhstan’s western oil city of Atyrau, which lies on the cusp of the Caspian Sea, goes through Scotland.
A memorandum of understanding, signed by Aberdeen and Kazakhstan in 2006, has helped oil major Royal Dutch Shell and gas firm BG enter the Kazakh energy sphere.
The council is now putting pressure on Kazakh state-controlled airline carrier Air Astana, which flies to London, to set up a direct route between Aberdeen and Atyrau.
“This would show the rest of the world that Kazakhstan and Scotland are fully open for business,” Stephen said.
Air Astana has no plans to start a direct link, its European manager in London said, adding that the carrier has instead increased its Amsterdam-Atyrau service.
But perhaps for Scots living in the dusty Central Asian steppe, Scotland is not so far away.
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov. editing by Paul Casciato