Voices from Kazakhstan: protesters unbowed despite bloody crackdown

Aset Abishev was among the many first protesters to take to the streets in Kazakhstan’s largest metropolis Almaty final week and one of many first to be arrested. After 4 days in detention, he emerged lined in bruises that he stated have been the results of being tortured and crushed.

“The police division, all 5 flooring, was a form of a torture conveyor. Screaming might be heard from each window,” the longtime opposition activist alleged. “The tortures have been horrific. They put baggage on younger folks and strangled them. They beat folks, jumped on these mendacity on the ground.

“These have been peculiar residents who have been grabbed on the road, passers-by, taxi drivers,” he added.

The biggest and most violent protests in Kazakhstan’s historical past broke out in the beginning of this month within the western metropolis of Zhanaozen over a gas value rise.

By the point they have been quelled practically every week later, the demonstrations had unfold throughout the nation, mushrooming into wider protests about poverty, corruption and the affect of former chief Nursultan Nazarbayev. The unrest prompted the federal government to resign and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to ask Russian-led forces from former Soviet states for assist.

Authorities buildings have been torched and the president ordered safety forces to shoot “with out warning”. Greater than 160 folks, together with law enforcement officials, have been killed. In keeping with earlier official estimates, over 10,000 folks had been arrested, though on Friday the president stated 2,000 had been detained.

Smoke rises as protesters rally near the Almaty city hall during the most violent protests in Kazakhstan’s history
Smoke rises as protesters rally close to the Almaty metropolis corridor throughout probably the most violent protests in Kazakhstan’s historical past © AFP/Getty

Tomiris Izgutdinova, a 20-year-old Almaty pupil didn’t be a part of the protests. However her mom, Nuraliya Aytkulova, was gunned down on the best way to her daughter’s dwelling. Shot twice within the chest, she was discovered bruised and battered on town’s Republic Sq., stated Izgutdinova. It’s unclear who fired the pictures that killed her.

“Solely this vile authorities is guilty,” stated Aytkulova’s brother, Nuraybek. “It has to vary. What is going on is horrible. They’re switching locations within the authorities, whereas frequent folks can barely survive. And after they converse out, they’re smashed and actually blended with dust, as Nuraliya’s physique was.”

Authorities officers didn’t reply to requests for remark concerning the allegations of violence. On Friday, Tokayev stated on Twitter: “Those that dedicated critical crimes will probably be punished in accordance with the regulation.”

Addressing parliament earlier this week, Tokayev blamed Nazarbayev for creating an oligarchic state that had enriched a small group and left tens of millions of peculiar Kazakhs struggling to make a dwelling. The president reversed some gas value rises and pledged pay will increase and a social fund — paid for by the rich — to handle grievances.

Nuraliya Aytkulova and her daughter Tomiris Izgutdinova
Nuraliya Aytkulova, left, was shot lifeless in Almaty on her approach to see her daughter Tomiris Izgutdinova, proper © Tomiris Izgutdinova

However because the restoration of the web — shut down throughout the nation for a lot of the previous week — revealed the dimensions of the bloodshed overseen by Tokayev, public sentiment turned in opposition to him, based on political analysts and activists.

“Our folks say: ‘They turned the web off, blood flowed. They turned the web on, proof flowed’,” stated Dana Zhanay, an activist who joined the Almaty protests.

“We had just one demand: change the regime in energy. Individuals are bored with not having residents’ rights, of fixed disrespect for human rights,” she stated.

Nonetheless, Zhanay and different protesters instructed the Monetary Instances they’d been joined by teams of instigators and native Islamist radicals with unclear motives. Teams of “very younger males in civilian garments” have been distributing arms, she stated.

Then, she added, seemingly random dysfunction broke out, with no apparent goal. “Folks have been being killed and there have been no police, no safety providers. Proper in entrance of me, there have been grandmothers and grandfathers mendacity on the bottom.”

The president alleged earlier this week that Almaty was beset by “20,000 terrorists” and blamed activists and the liberal media for “colluding” with them.

Darkhan Umirbekov, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s reporter within the capital Nur-Sultan, stated he was detained and questioned for a number of hours after filming the primary protests. He stated police additionally got here to the door of his colleague Makhambet Abzhan, who he alleges disappeared shortly after.

“I’m additionally sitting on my suitcase as if it have been 1937, ready for them to come back for me,” Zhanay stated, referring to the interval of Stalinist repression within the Soviet period.

A Kazakh riot police officer detains a protester in Almaty
A Kazakh riot police officer detains a protester in Almaty © Vasily Krestyaninov/AP

Activists instructed the FT that the persevering with brutality was growing public anger, with folks railing in opposition to what they noticed as solely beauty authorities modifications since Nazarbayev stood down in 2019.

Regardless of his detention, Abishev stated he was decided to dwell “in additional battle”. He has solely not too long ago completed a three-year jail time period after the federal government designated the opposition motion he’s a part of, Democratic Selection of Kazakhstan, an extremist organisation. The European Parliament has referred to it as a peaceable motion.

The organisation is led out of France by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former Kazakh banker and authorities official who fell out with Nazarbayev and fled into exile after the federal government confiscated his belongings and accused him of fraud. He has denied the allegations, claiming they have been politically motivated.

“What we’ve seen isn’t some type of a pointless Russian revolt,” Ablyazov instructed the FT. “Mass frustration and hatred has led to what you’re seeing . . . It’s going to go on.”

In the meantime, activists have stated Kazakhstan’s safety forces have been going door-to-door, questioning folks and checking their telephones.

Almaty resident Liaylim Abildayeva stated she was breastfeeding her three-month-old daughter when 10 folks in balaclavas burst into her flat and beat her husband in entrance of her and two different kids. They then took him away, claiming that he resembled somebody who distributed weapons in the course of the protests, she stated.

“It’s nothing however a horrible mistake. The kids and I’ll undergo trauma for all times,” she added. “He could also be detained for a very long time — he’s the one breadwinner within the household.”

Kazakhstan’s countdown to chaos

Protesters clash with Kazakh police in Almaty
© Alexander Kuznetsov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

January 2 2022

The primary protests get away within the western metropolis of Zhanaozen, prompted by the federal government’s resolution to raise value caps on liquefied petroleum fuel, which is broadly used to gas vehicles within the area. The demonstrations are peaceable, with no arrests.

January 4

Protests unfold to Kazakhstan’s largest metropolis Almaty. The main focus morphs to mirror social discontent rooted in inequality and poverty. Protesters additionally demand the removing of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev from his place as head of the Safety Council. The protests flip violent and eight law enforcement officials are reportedly killed. A whole lot are arrested and the web is shut down.


January 5

The violence escalates and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declares a state of emergency. Tokayev accepts the resignation of his authorities and takes over the Safety Council. He appeals to the Russian-led Collective Safety Treaty Group, a army alliance of former Soviet states, for assist to quell the protests.

January 6

Russian-led forces arrive, tasked with “defending necessary state and army services and helping Kazakh regulation enforcement in stabilising the state of affairs”.

January 7

Tokayev points a “shoot to kill with out warning” discover to safety forces. Hundreds are arrested and 26 protesters and 18 police are reportedly killed. The web is partly restored.

January 8

An uneasy calm is restored. About 164 folks have been reportedly killed and hundreds have been detained in the course of the unrest. Karim Massimov, an ally of Nazarbayev, is fired as safety chief and arrested on expenses of treason.


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