Ambassador’s Remarks at the Festival of Lights Ceremony

Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
December 1, 2015

Congressman Chaffetz, thank you very much for your kind introduction.

Dear Elder Larry Lawrence and Sister Laurel Lawrence,

Mr. and Mrs. Marriot,

Mrs. Ann Santini,

Excellencies,

Distinguished guests,

I am deeply humbled by the honor and privilege to address this festive gathering as the diplomatic keynote speaker.

After having served here in Washington for almost eleven years, three of which in my current position as Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States, I have to say that the Festival of Lights is one of the D.C. area’s greatest community traditions, that celebrates compassion, self-reflection, and family togetherness.

Over the past years, my wife, Galiya, and I have always appreciated the deep and authentic relationship with the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We especially hold dear our close relationship with Ann Santini, whose passion for the important work she is doing we have always admired.

The people of Kazakhstan have a long-standing friendship with the Church Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It started back in late 1990s, when the first Latter-day Saints, Russell and Margaret Backus, came to live and work in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. They began having worship meetings in their apartment in late 1997 and a year later other Church families moved to Almaty and provided the nucleus around which the Church began to grow. The Church received official recognition and the first branch of the Church in the country was created in Almaty on July 29, 2001.

My dear friends,

Kazakhstan has been working to promote tolerance and interreligious dialogue since the first days of its independence. As the world was recovering from the aftermath of 9/11, Kazakhstan responded to international grievances of Muslims, Christians, Jewish, Buddhists and many others by convening a Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

Since its launch in 2003, the Congress has become a full-fledged platform for multi-track discussions on most pressing issues of religion and world politics. From 2003 to 2015, Kazakhstan’s capital Astana hosted five high-profile gatherings of senior clerics from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism and other faiths. 

I am especially pleased to note that in 2009 Congressman Eni Faleomavaega was one of the honorable guests of the Third Congress. This year in June the delegation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the Fifth Congress in Astana was led by Elders Paul Pieper and Jörg Klebingat.

In a few moments I will have the pleasure, together with Elder Lawrence, to turn on the 650,000 lights, which will illuminate the Temple grounds and launch the start of the new holiday season.

This Festival of Lights carries deep spiritual meaning because everywhere and in every culture and in every religious tradition, light is the symbol of joy and of life-giving power. The Festival of Lights signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

This celebration of light brings all of us together: whatever we believe, however we worship, whichever days on the calendar we celebrate, there’s so much in this season and the Festival, in particular, for people of all faiths to celebrate.

The Festival of Lights is a time for celebration, but it is also a time for reflection – a time when we must remember what we’ve been through and recognize the common aspirations we share.

My President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, just yesterday delivered his annual State-of-the-Nation Address, in which he gave his assessment of today’s world, dominated by the atmosphere of distrust and lack of cooperation among leading powers. He spoke about instability and conflicts, the growing threat of extremist violence, and the resulting refugees crisis. Indeed, Kazakhstan, under the leadership of President Nazarbayev, has consistently called upon world leaders to join efforts in the shared goal of restoring trust and pursuing confidence-building measures among nations.

I strongly believe that our light can shine even brighter, when we hold each other’s hands, when we embrace each other, and when we find it within our abilities to make a difference. And it is up to us to provide that first spark.

I wish all of you a very happy, safe holiday season and a prosperous year to come.

Thank you for your attention.