On the ground during the protests in Kazakhstan: what really happened?
At the same time, experts argued that Kazakhstan was not under attack by terrorists, but rather a clash between two political clans. Arguments emerged in the press that Samat Abish, the first deputy chairman of the National Security Committee (KNB), and businessman Kairat Satybaldy were behind the riots. Both are close to former President Nazarbayev.
But on January 6, KNB leader Karim Massimov was arrested on suspicion of high treason, replacing Abish and Satybalda. Several of Massimov’s deputies were also removed from their posts. On January 10, several senior KNB officials and local police officers were found dead in their homes and workplaces.
On January 11, Tokayev accused the KNB of “ignoring the terrorist threat”. As law enforcement will establish, some regional KNB leaders voluntarily handed over their offices to the attackers. At least one police chief in the city of Taraz has been suspected of the same offence. According to unconfirmed reports to date, he committed suicide while waiting to be charged with treason.
forget the people
From January 6 to 10, exchanges of fire between security forces and unidentified armed units – which the state described as “organized terrorist forces” – continued in Almaty. At first the battle covered five or six districts of the city, although it was later pushed back to the outskirts. Throughout Almaty there was no Internet access. There were problems accessing food and utilities. ATMs have been disabled or destroyed. Residents were horrified by the lack of information and the incessant shooting.
Most people did not leave their homes, although some ventured out to join the teams collecting trash and rebuilding the city’s infrastructure. Others, mostly in villages near Almaty, set up patrols of local residents to stop looting by outsiders flooding the streets.
People who had to move from one area of the city to another were always in danger. Armed groups also attacked them. The son of Eldar Tuimebayev, rector of the National University of Kazakhstan, died of gunshot wounds, along with two children. It is not known who carried out the shootings.
According to official information, 227 people died in the clashes, including 19 members of the security forces. More than 4,500 people were injured, according to the prosecutor’s office.
By the morning of January 11, nearly 10,000 people had been arrested. But because the Home Office doesn’t always specify whether people had weapons or valuables when they were arrested, it’s unclear how many of those people were detained for no good reason. On January 17, it was reported that 8,354 administrative cases were under investigation and 819 criminal investigations were active. Of these, 45 cases involved acts of terrorism, 36 – mass disturbances and 15 – murders.
With the restoration of internet access on January 10, arrests of activists and journalists came to light. Most were released or placed in administrative detention for several days. At least four journalists from the Aktobe region have been summoned for questioning. Human rights activists do not rule out that there may be more arrests and interrogations.
Despite the many civilian casualties, the government gave the utmost attention to the deaths of 19 law enforcement officers. The president delivered eulogies for the brave police officers and their families were promised free apartments and financial assistance. Ordinary people, on the other hand, receive more pro forma condolences.
The president’s promises to prevent future outbreaks of protests seem no less pro forma, so far. Tokayev pledged to revise the country’s social policy, create a new state fund that will sponsor social welfare initiatives and strengthen the law enforcement system. It seems that the elites were told to pay certain fees towards the disenfranchised population of the country. In turn, people are expected to obey authorities in return for higher pay.
The political order built by Nazarbayev seems so far unscathed. The demands and values of the people have always seemed insignificant compared to the interests of the Kazakh elites. When Tokayev requested troops from the CSTO, he intended to protect the authorities. As he said: “the state will not fall” – and as the Nazarbayev side added: “it is monolithic”.
Despite the destruction of the monument to Nazarbayev in Taldykorgan and the broken signs in the streets that bear his name, Tokayev continues to echo the former president. Unpopular initiatives come not from him, but from third parties – Nazarbayev’s favorite thing. Parliamentarians are far from stopping the ritual display of loyalty. And pro-government experts, speaking of the need to abandon the cult of the boss, still praise the “strong hand” of Nazarbayev.
Experts predict that next time the cost of failing to meet the needs of Kazakh society may be too high for the country if the right lessons are not learned. If we rely too much on one person – Tokayev, who repeats many of Nazarbayev’s actions – and not on our own political participation, then society will be quite capable of making another mistake.