Born in 1993 on the second year of his parents’ marriage, Azamat Tazhayakov calls Atyrau, Kazakhstan his home. The wealthy oil city is located on the Ural River near the mouth of the Caspian Sea. “Atyrau” is the Kazakh word meaning a place where the river flows to the sea. Kazakhstan was once part of the Soviet Union but became a sovereign nation in 1991. Since then, the country has developed thriving industries in oil, construction, and shipyards. Most Americans would be quite surprised by Atyrau and Kazakhstan which lies at the intersection of Europe and Asia because it has successfully integrated ancient medieval history and thoroughly modern development.
This information is important because it establishes the setting for Azamat’s childhood. Kazakhstan was just beginning to fully adapt to its independence at the time of his birth. It was a country in transition from being under Russian control to becoming a successful Republic for most of Azamat’s life. He grew up in a country that was once mostly remembered as a region that endured for decades under Russia’s heavy hand. He learned quite young to value freedom and justice.
Azamat Tazhayakov’s father, whom he refers to as “papa”, has done well in the independent Kazakhstan. Ismagoulov Amir Tazhayakhovich is a well-respected executive in the oil industry who also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Abylaikhan Group JSC, which deals with oil wells drilling. He is also a deputy on the Atyrau Maslikhat or city council. His business success as owner of an oil field and road construction business meant that Ismagoulov could give his family the advantages of an excellent education and opportunities to travel.
Azamat has a brother who is two years younger and now attends university in England. He also has an 8-year-old brother and one-year-old sister. So, by taking the decision to study and get a better education in the United States, Azamat had to temporarily leave his family despite the close relationships that are common in Muslim families. The Ismagoulov Amir Tazhayakhovich family is Muslim that teaches humanity and equality between people. Ismagoulov is adamant that there was never any discussion or acceptance of religious radicalism and neither Azamat nor his family embraced jihadists or had any interest in religious fanaticism of any kind. Azamat is often described as soft-hearted and a man who is close to his mom and papa.
Ismagoulov wants the best education possible for his children. For this reason, Azamat attended a private elite international school in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. Miras International School is authorized by three International Baccalaureate programs. Ensuring Azamat was enrolled in a school providing a quality education was an important step in preparing him to attend one of the world’s top quality universities and to work in the family business. Upon earning the equivalent of a high school diploma, he applied to and was admitted to the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth (UMD).
In an interview with PRI’s Andrea Crossan, Ismagoulov said that he wanted Azamat to come to America and see with his own eyes what a true democracy looks like. At age 18, and in the Fall of 2011, Azamat began studies at UMD, living a very normal student life. To do so, he had to get a student visa, requiring US Consulate background checks, which he passed with no problems. He lived in an apartment in New Bedford which is over an hour away from Boston. While attending school, he called home every day – this indicates the close bond he has with his parents. At UMD, Azamat played soccer and made the all-star soccer team. Studies and sport took all of his time. Azamat’s posts in social networks reflect a life of a common teenager who is fond of pop music, cars, and travel. One of Azamat’s most memorable events was a trip to London where he laid flowers to princess Diane’s monument. Visiting Statue of Liberty in New York was also very important for him.
Azamat hoped he would be able to transfer to a Texas University in 2013 so he could concentrate on studying in a field related to oil refining, oil producing and oil wells drilling in preparation for entering the family business.