Who we are

Leila Mekhdi

Leila Mekhdiyeva is a freelance journalist and writer born and raised in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in a mixed Azerbaijani-Kazakh family. She has been living in the Czech Republic since 2015. After graduating from Prague’s Anglo-American University with a BA in Journalism & Communications, Leila has written for a variety of media outlets including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, BLVD Magazine, Lennon Wall Magazine, and Youth Time Magazine.

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Leila Mekhdi


Central Asia in The World Press Freedom Index 2024

The latest annual World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has revealed the current media landscapes in 180 countries and territories, including the five Central Asian republics; the results have revealed a deplorable situation in most of these countries.

ProTenge’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Found Guilty of “Spreading False Information”

Investigative journalist, founder, and editor-in-chief of the independent media ProTenge Jamilya Maricheva was fined for her January post on Telegram expressing support for Radio Azattyq’s journalists.

The Live-Streamed Murder Trial of Saltanat Nukenova Keeps the Attention of Millions in Kazakhstan

The ongoing high-profile murder trial against the former Minister of Economy of Kazakhstan Kuandyk Bishimbayev explained.

NilCeutica: A New Skincare Brand by Azerbaijani-American Dr. Nilufar Rahimova

How a Doctor of Pharmacology decided to open her own skincare brand after ten years of creating skincare products for herself, friends, and family.

11 April 2024

Caucasus, Stories

Nazrin Aghamaliyeva on Hadis, AnimaFilm Festival, & Vaginismus

The animation artist behind a successful short animation film, Hadis, talks about the struggles of Azerbaijani Turks in Iran and the censorship of taboo topics in Azerbaijan.

“Worse than Chernobyl”: Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site and Its Legacy

As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues threatening the West with the possibility of nuclear war after revoking Russia’s ratification of the 1996 global treaty banning nuclear weapons tests, Kazakhstanis living close to the former nuclear test site say, “Let our suffering be a lesson to others.”

ALZHIR Camp: How Innocent Women Became Victims of Stalin’s Purge Against the “Traitors” to the Motherland

In the heart of Kazakhstan, 40 kilometres west of its capital, Astana, stands what was once a Soviet Gulag camp and, today, a memorial museum, ALZHIR. The story of this camp makes it unique in its own tragedy.

Uzbek Forum for Human Rights Reveals the Potential Backsliding of the Cotton Harvest Industry in Uzbekistan

The latest report on cotton harvesting reveals that the authorities in Uzbekistan allegedly forced pickers to fulfill production targets set by the government, putting at risk the return of forced labour in the country.

Country Life Vlog: Azerbaijani Cottagecore YouTube Channel’s Popularity Explained

What started as a lowkey cooking video channel at the end of 2019 became the most famous channel showcasing the Azerbaijani countryside and introducing national dishes to the worldwide audience.

Women’s March in Kazakhstan: Feminists vs the Mayor of Almaty

Kazakhstani women refuse to be silenced by the government, standing as a quintessential definition of the International Women’s Day.

28 February 2024

Central Asia, Stories

Kazakhstan: Will The New Amendments to the Law “On Mass Media” Infringe Media Freedom Even More?

RFE/RL’s lawsuit against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, a potential ban on foreign media, and discrimination against journalists—Kazakhstani media’s troublesome reality.

27 February 2024

Central Asia, Opinion

Why the Khojaly Massacre Shouldn’t Be Forgotten Even After the Return of Karabakh

Remembering victims of the Khojaly Massacre, the bloodiest massacre of the First Karabakh War by Armenian armed forces.

26 February 2024

Caucasus, Stories

The Latest Misogynist Remarks from Kazakh Politicians

As the government in Kazakhstan is reviewing a new bill with harsher sentences and penalties for domestic violence, Kazakh politicians continue to shock the public with their misogyny.

19 February 2024

Central Asia, Opinion

Dark Times Are Looming over the LGBTQ Community in Kazakhstan

As the first and only LGBTQ-education website for teenagers, SelfTanu.kz, got banned in Kazakhstan, the next day, a group of individuals gathered in Almaty demanding that an anti-LGBTQ law be implemented in Kazakhstan.

14 February 2024

Central Asia, Stories

Mary Efendi: From an Azerbaijani Immigrant to an American Bestselling Author

A story of an Azerbaijani-American writer whose debut novel, I Sat Alone by the Gate, is more than just another immigrant tale.

23 January 2024


The Gender Pay Gap in South Caucasus and Central Asia

South Caucasian and Central Asian gender equality in numbers

Qandy Qantar: Kazakh Tragedy of January 2022

Remembering the bloodiest tragedy of independent Kazakhstan

The Significance of International Solidarity Day of Azerbaijanis

The day that reminds Azerbaijanis of the world of the importance of their unity and loyalty to their roots

30 December 2023

Caucasus, Stories

Zhana Adamdar: Tokayev’s New People?

The rally against violence organized by the youth movement Zhana Adamdar on 25 November received a lot of backlash from Kazakhstan’s civil society and activists, calling the movement pro-governmental and the rally performative activism.

25 December 2023

Central Asia, Opinion

Measles Epidemic in Kazakhstan

Over 20,000 cases of measles have been recorded in Kazakhstan. The government urges the population to get vaccinated while the hospitals struggle to fit patients. The latest measles epidemic in the country has shed light on poor vaccination policies and the rise of anti-vaxxers in the country.

Decolonialism in Kazakhstan: Why Now?

Kazakhstan has been an independent state for almost 32 years. However, never before were its citizens so focused on their own history, traditions, and language. Now, with the rising popularity of the academic term “decolonialism” in the country’s everyday life, Kazakhstan is going through its own metamorphosis.

8 December 2023

Central Asia, Opinion

Iran: Lake Urmia is Drying Up, Ethnic Azerbaijanis Put Blame on the Government’s Discrimination

How Iran’s Lake Urmia is causing further divide between the ethnic Azerbaijani community in the country, and why the government needs to listen to them.

4 December 2023

Iran, Stories

Azerbaijani Ballerina Chinara Alizade on Leaving the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Becoming a Prima Ballerina in Poland

Chinara Alizade’s life is but a fairytale. Dancing ballet from the age of five, she since gained her title of a prima ballerina, and was awarded the titles of “Honored Artist of Azerbaijan” and “The Best Classical Ballerina in Poland.” In this interview, she opened up on her move from Moscow to Warsaw, her marriage, and what it takes to be a successful ballerina.

28 November 2023

Caucasus, Stories

How Capitalism Further Enforces the Slavery and Oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang

As Uyghurs in China face persecution and those who were able to flee and speak up about their experience receive indirect threats from the Chinese government’s mouthpieces, the questions remain the same. How did we get here? Why is nobody doing anything to stop it?

17 November 2023

Regions, Stories

Kazakhstan: Former Minister of Economy Beat His Wife to Death, It Reignited the Country’s Ongoing Fight Against Femicide

This a heartbreaking story that has hit a nerve in Kazakhstani society reminding women that the fight for harsher domestic violence sentences is of utmost importance in a country with the lack of protection of women’s rights.

16 November 2023

Central Asia, Stories

“In my life, nothing has worked out as easily as painting artworks and selling them”—Story of Aziya, a Kyrgyz-Kazakh Artist in Prague

Her works are full of life and colours. Her characters—as she calls the people depicted in her artworks—are full of stories hidden in their faces. The eclectic style of her works, which is so beloved by contemporary art connoisseurs and admirers, makes you study each painting with peculiar attention to detail. Her name is Aziya, a Kyrgyz-Kazakh artist living in Prague, Czech Republic. Although coming from a family of artists, it was only three years ago when Aziya allowed herself to dive deep into the world of art by becoming a full-time artist. Now, her works are being sold for thousands of dollars, and her exhibitions are being held in the greatest art capitals of the world.

6 November 2023

Central Asia, Stories

Assel Baimukanova is Saving the Caspian Seals in the Age of Climate Change

Growing up, Assel Baimukanova saw her father, a marine biologist Mirgaliy Baimukanov, monitoring Markakol lenoks, a species of fish that can only be found in the Markakol Lake in Kazakhstan. She wanted to follow in his footsteps. He, however, wasn’t so keen on it. “Why do you need to be digging in the cold all your life?” Now she is 32, and despite getting her degree in philology as her father wanted, she spent over ten years in the marine biology field working alongside her father and her hydrobiologist sister.

31 October 2023

Central Asia, Stories

“The Truth Always Comes Out”—The Story of Rushan Abbas, Founder of the Campaign for Uyghurs

We live in a time when ethnic conflicts and identity politics are on the front pages of every news media. Yet one nation’s struggle remains unrepresented—the discrimination of Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. We spoke with one of the most prolific Uyghur activists in the West, Rushan Abbas, whose personal story is intertwined with the oppression and genocide of Uyghurs in China from the very beginning.

26 October 2023

Regions, Stories

Malik Zenger on Winning at the Cannes World Film Festival & Producing Black Eyed Peas Music Video

From winning the Best Director Music Video Award at the Cannes World Film Festival to producing the new music video for Black Eyed Peas, Kazakh filmmaker Malik Zenger has achieved impressive heights in his career this year alone. Yet behind his recent rise to fame are years of work, studies, and trials. Zenger’s filmmaking path wasn’t straightforward.

“Safe Clothing (?)” Installation in Almaty Sheds Lights on the Ongoing Sexual Harassments in Kazakhstan

Journalist and blogger Ulpan Ramazanova talked to us about her first art installation, “Safe Clothing(?)” in Almaty, organized to debunk the myth that sexual harassment is a result of what a victim wears and her own involvement in this “difficult and unpleasant topic” to give voice to the anonymous victims through her projects.

28 September 2023

Central Asia, Stories

Are Glamping Yurts Yet Another Cultural Appropriation in The West?

Traditional housing used among many Central Asian nations today is utilized as an eco-friendly glamping option in the Western world. This is not the first instance when the heritage of the oppressed and underrepresented ethnic groups is used for profit. Yet who is to say what makes it cultural appropriation?

26 September 2023

Central Asia, Opinion

Jana Cekara Film Festival in Almaty Goes Online Due to Pressure from the Kazakh Government

Jana Cekara Film Festival was set to be hosted in Almaty for the second year to advocate for the violation of rights of Turkic nations in China’s Xinjiang region. Yet a few days before the film festival was planned to open, the Kazakh National Security Committee pressured the venue providers to refuse to host it. Jana Cekara’s team, despite losing the venue, decided to move the festival online, refusing to be silenced in the country that some suggest supports the Chinese government on their “re-education” of Muslims in East Turkistan.

15 September 2023

Central Asia, Culture

How Kazakhstan Is Reviving the Aral Sea that the Soviet Union Destroyed

Kazakhstan is leading the charge in reviving the Aral Sea, which while once a vital ecosystem, now remains a stark reminder of environmental consequences.

12 September 2023

Central Asia, Stories

Kazakhstan’s Battle Against Bride Kidnapping and Gender Inequality

Bride kidnapping cases are growing in Central Asia, and Kazakhstan is no exception. Part of the society in rural areas explains that it’s part of the Kazakh tradition “Qyz Alyp Qashu,” while experts are looking into ways to toughen the penalty for the crime. 

6 September 2023

Central Asia, Stories

Tahmina Rafaella: The Venice Film Festival, Patriarchy in Azerbaijan, and Life in LA

Tahmina Rafaella, the director and lead actor of "Banu," talks about her journey and the societal issues in her native Azerbaijan that inspired her to create her debut movie.

29 August 2023

Caucasus, Stories

In Kazakhstan, the Fight Against Animal Cruelty is Far from Over

Despite new laws regarding animal abuse, incidents continue to make headlines in Kazakhstan, but what more is being done to prevent these horrific acts of cruelty?

8 August 2023


Always Inspired: Azerbaijan’s First Podcaster Leila Aliyeva

Leila Aliyeva, the founder of Always Inspired, one of Azerbaijan's most popular podcasts, talks about her journey from a corporate career to an anonymous food blog to an open and honest podcast discussing mental health.

21 July 2023

Caucasus, Stories

Dina Smailova’s Help to Sexual Violence Survivors is More Than Just Activism

Dina Smailova is an activist and founder of Ne Molchi Kazakhstan, a foundation helping victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse, who is not afraid to confront the government, NGOs, and the system. We discussed why she had to relocate to Tbilisi, Georgia, and why she can’t return to Kazakhstan.

Soviet Modernist Architecture in Almaty

What do you think of when you hear “Soviet architecture”? Gray building blocks? Emblems of arms and hammers? Lack of individuality? All are correct. Yet today, we take a look at when Soviet architecture produced something beyond its cliche buildings and explored different shapes, creating the style of Soviet Modernism.

​​Snow Leopards: How a Symbol of Kazakhstan Turned into a Vulnerable Species

Snow leopards are an important symbol in Kazakhstan, and now vital steps are being taken to save them, including the conservation of their habitats, a nature reserve, and a rehabilitation centre.

How Journalist Aisana Ashim is Building a Media Empire in Kazakhstan

Aisana Ashim, a 31-year-old media entrepreneur and founder of multiple publications, is fighting for independent journalism in Kazakhstan.

Jamila Musayeva: Azerbaijan’s Famous YouTuber and Etiquette Consultant

A successful YouTuber from Azerbaijan, Jamila Musayeva, whose content on etiquette and manners has gained over 770 thousand subscribers and more than 23 million views on her channel, shares her view on etiquette, the importance of knowledge, and how facing fears is paramount to success.

Uyat: How Shame Keeps Us Hostage

"Uyat" (shame) in Kazakhstan enforces gender stereotypes, victim-blaming, and inadequate protection for women and children.

Veronica Fonova: What It Takes to Be a Feminist in Kazakhstan

Leila Mekhdiyeva interviews Veronica Fonova, a 30-year-old graphic designer and feminist activist in Kazakhstan. She is the co-founder of KazFem, has participated in the UN Women’s Conference, and established a reliable source on domestic violence statistics.

How Kana Beisekeyev Transformed Documentary Filmmaking in Kazakhstan

Leila Mekhdiyeva talks to Kazakhstan’s successful filmmaker about his professional path, his successes, and his creative plans for the future.

International Women's Day in Post-Soviet Countries: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In post-Soviet countries like Kazakhstan, International Women's Day is marked each year by near-mandatory gifts of flowers, but is this all it's meant to be? Leila Mekhdiyeva shines some light on the good, the bad, and the ugly of March 8.

How Russia “Civilized” Kazakhstan

The relationship between Kazakhstan and Russia is complicated, but after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Kazakhs have been reflecting a little more angrily about the way their republic was brutally shaped by Russian power over the past century.

Diaspora Kid – One Azerbaijani Kazakh's Story

Growing up in Almaty, Leila Mekhdiyeva started to discover prejudice against her for being half-Azerbaijani. However, rather than giving up her mixed identity, she went on to explore and celebrate her Azerbaijani roots.