Central Asia expert and sometime blogger Michael Hancock has stumbled across an unusual website: Kazakh-Land.com, which appears to represent a Southern California theme park that allows visitors to live like Kazakh nomads. On its flashy website, Kazakh Land claims to stand on acreage a few miles outside of Malibu and offer a cushy stay in a heavily romanticized version of rural Kazakhstan. But Hancock pokes around and finds a number of reasons to be suspicious.
First of all, the "guestbook" includes too-good-to-be-true testimonials ("We were living in a yurta nearby to Angelina Jolie!") alongside "guest photos" that are obviously clip art. Also suspicious is the near-total lack of pricing, reservation options, or contact information beyond the numberless phone number: "ххх-ххх-хххх." The staff bios appear similarly forged. Finally, the park "map" suggests that the California grounds are in the exact shape of Kazakhstan's present borders. But perhaps most damning is the cultural Kazakh authenticity of the site's extensive promotional material. To put it simply, Hancock doesn't find much legitimately Kazakh about it:
When I first heard of Kazakh-Land, it was from some friends who wondered just from where the equipment had come, particularly because of the odd nature of the yurts involved. They were asking why, for example, all the yurts pictured are called either “yurt” or “yoourt” on the website, as opposed to the Kazakh name, “Felt home,” or Киiз Үй. The color also came up – all the yurts seemed to be white, instead of the typical brownish color of steppe yurts in Kazakhstan.
Hancock looks through the photos of the park's supposed attractions and, deploying his impressively arcane knowledge of all things Kazakh, deduces that they are actually set pieces from "the 2005 Kazakhstan-financed box-office bomb called 'Nomad: The Warrior,' released in Russian as 'Кочевник.'"
So, that’s why the yurts are white – because they seem to be taken from this movie set, and they are Mongolian yurts in the film. ”Nomad: The Warrior” was made with Hollywood help, so that explains how the equipment could have finally reached California, though not how the park was set up in the first place.
So why create an elaborately false website to suggest the existence of a make-believe park? Hancock finds two clues: the site's language, which he says reads like poorly translated Russian; and the supposed address, which in fact links to a large plot of land listed for sale for $6.8 million. "Know anybody looking to money-launder on the order $7 million, just for the land?" he asks.
Hancock's co-blogger Joshua Foust suggested a more modest explanation on Twitter: "I think more that it's a website meant to generate interest for a loan to open it." When I asked why someone would apply for a bank loan using a website that consists of claiming they've already done the thing they're asking for money to do, he sighed, "I don't know. I don't really care, either. I just think that website is hilarious."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.