European Union action against Kazak government following Janaozen
violence.  By Saule Mukhametrakhimova

top official, they say they won’t be bought off.  By Almaz Rysaliev


to claw back former economic dominance as China moves into Central
Asian region.  By Dina Tokbaeva

blackout, then they devised alternative narrative for bloodshed.  By
Almaz Rysaliev


describes tense aftermath of violence in west Kazakstan oil town.  By
Janar Kasymbekova


police fire on demonstrators while Central Asian state celebrates two
decades of independence.  By Dina Tokbaeva

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MEP pressing for European Union action against Kazak government
following Janaozen violence.

By Saule Mukhametrakhimova

A member of the European Parliament says Brussels needs to take a
tougher line on Kazakstan in the wake of the violence of recent days.

IWPR interviewed Paul Murphy, a member of the European Parliament from
Ireland’s Socialist Party, who has been involved in supporting Kazak
oil workers in their campaign for better pay and working conditions
since 2009, and visited the country in July.

He was behind a letter sent to Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev
this week by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left, GUE/NGL – a
European parliamentary group of leftist parties – as well as by six
other political groups. They expressed concern about the violence
police deployed against striking oil workers, supporters and family
members in Janaozen on December 16.

Kazak officials say 14 people, most of them protesters, were killed
when police opened fire on crowds in the town centre on December 16.
Another man died in the nearby village of Shetpe the following day
when police opened fire on a smaller protest. (See Kazak Protesters
Demand Accountability for Killings.)

“We were horrified to hear that the riot police attacked the
protesters, opening fire with live ammunition on the unarmed strikers
and their families,” the letter said, calling for a swift and
genuinely independent inquiry into the violence, and for those
responsible to be brought to justice.

IWPR: In a statement on Janaozen on December 17, the European Union’s
foreign affairs high representative Catherine Ashton expressed concern
about the violence and expressed hope that the authorities would
investigate it. It does not seem to be a very strong statement, since
the Kazak authorities have already set up a government commission. It
does not look like they will allow an independent investigation. Will
the European Parliament follow up on this and press for an independent

Paul Murphy: I agree that the statement of Ms. Ashton is nowhere near
strong enough. Unfortunately, the leadership of the EU in the European
Commission has a strong tendency to pay only lip service to human
rights issues, in my opinion, while pursuing the commercial interests
of European big business. In the case of Kazakstan, they have proven
willing to deal with President [Nursultan] Nazarbaev because of their
interest in oil and other resources as well as the question of a
Trans-Caspian pipeline.

It is the responsibility of those of us concerned about workers,
democratic and human rights in Kazakstan to put pressure on the EU so
that Ms. Ashton does take stronger action in this case.

IWPR: How much leverage does the EU have?

Murphy: The EU has a lot of leverage in dealing with Kazakstan, in my
opinion. Forty per cent of Kazakstan’s external trade is with the EU,
and there is a lot of European foreign direct investment in Kazakstan
too, in particular in oil and gas.

Politically, the regime in Kazakstan clearly has an orientation to the
EU. With the talks currently under way about a new, enhanced
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Kazakstan and the EU,
the possibility to suspend those negotiations gives the EU extra
leverage, too.

IWPR: What does this agreement involve, and how important is it for
Kazakstan to get it signed?

Murphy: There is currently a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement
between the EU and Kazakstan. The essential element of this is a trade
agreement, to lower export and import duties by giving “most favoured
nation” status to each other.

The current negotiations aim to go further than this, to establish a
New Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, with deeper
political and trade integration and relations. The first talks about
this new agreement took place on October 12. From the point of view of
the regime in Kazakstan, this is an extremely important agreement.

IWPR: In a video address to the Janaozen workers you posted on your
website, you said you had launched a call to break off the EU
negotiations with the Kazak government on the agreement. What are
chances that this will be successful?

Murphy: As a call by only one MEP, it would not be successful, but it
is a question of building a campaign to put pressure on the EU and
Kazak authorities. I initiated an open letter from MEPs to President
Nazarbayev condemning the massacre of protesters and demanding an
immediate, genuinely independent inquiry. This was signed by 48 MEPs
from 17 different countries and six political groups, so that is an
important first step.

I will be arguing very strongly that the topic of Kazakstan, and in
particular the killings of workers in Janaozen must be discussed as an
urgent human rights topic at the next plenary session of the European
Parliament [on January 16-19]. If we are successful in getting it on
the agenda, it will be on Thursday, January 19, as part of a human
rights debate.

If we can manage to get a very strong resolution passed which condemns
the actions of the government and calls for a suspension of the talks,
this will put further pressure on the European Commission.

The key campaign will take place outside the parliament, however,
based on activists and trade unionists across Europe and the world,
acting in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Kazakstan
through protest actions to put pressure on governments and the EU.

IWPR: Your name is also associated with Campaign Kazakstan, a group
that has organised protest actions outside Kazak embassies in several
European cities since events in Janaozen. Can you describe this group?

Murphy: Campaign Kazakstan is a campaign that was initiated by me and
other socialist and trade union activists shortly after my visit to
Kazakstan in July. It was established to be a campaign for democratic,
social and workers’ rights in Kazakstan. It has particularly been
focused on building support for the oil workers’ strike in Mangistau,
because of the seriousness of this dispute.

We have campaigned within the trade union movement internationally for
support for the oil workers’ strike, including organising a delegation
of workers to meet with trade unionists in Europe. We had planned a
day of protest on Friday, December 16 in solidarity with the ongoing
oil workers’ strike, but when we heard about the violence of the state
forces, we immediately changed those protests into a protest against
this violence.

We will be continuing to campaign on the streets and in the trade
union and workers’ movement against the oppression of the Kazak state
and in support of the oil workers.

IWPR: Following the initial concerns expressed by international
organisations about the use of live ammunition against demonstrators,
another problem emerging in Janaozen is that of ensuring that the
rights of those detained after the unrest are protected. Is that
something you as an MEP or part of Campaign Kazakstan are going to
raise as an issue – and if so, how?

Murphy: Yes, from what I have heard, very serious human rights abuses
are now being committed in Zhanaozen. There appear to be mass arrests
of men in particular, to such an extent that they are unable to leave
their homes. I have also heard that those who have been arrested have
been subject to torture, for example being doused with cold water
outside in the freezing cold.

I have raised these issues in a meeting I had with the ambassador of
Kazakstan to the EU, but he denied them. However, I and the campaign
will be continuing to publicise these abuses with our protest actions,
my speeches in the parliament and elsewhere.

IWPR: International pressure hasn’t always been successful in making
Central Asia governments listen to concerns, act upon them and
acknowledge wrongdoing. What can this campaign in support of Janaozen

Murphy: I think an international campaign by trade unionists and
activists in support of the workers in Janaozen can make a real
difference in many different ways.

Firstly, it can bring the attention of people around the world to the
massacre that happened there, and the ongoing struggle of the oil
workers. Secondly, it can build real pressure on various governments
and the EU to stop ignoring the massive abuses of human rights in
Kazakstan, for example by withdrawing from the New Enhanced
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement talks.

Thirdly, it can give real practical assistance to the workers by
donating to the solidarity fund that has been set up for the workers
and their families. In those ways, we can provide real assistance to
the heroic workers and their families in Mangistau.

Interview conducted by Saule Mukhametrakhimova, IWPR Central Asia
editor in London.


After talks with top official, they say they won’t be bought off.

By Almaz Rysaliev

The Kazak government has entered into talks with oil industry workers
following the violence of recent days in which police opened fire on
demonstrators in the western town of Janaozen. But the strikers say
they will not be bought off, and are pressing for those behind the
shootings to be held to account.

Officials say 14 people, most of them protesters, were killed when
police opened fire on crowds in the town centre on December 16. Some
70 people were detained. Another man died in the nearby village of
Shetpe the following day when police opened fire on a smaller protest.

A state of emergency was imposed in Janaozen and will last until January 5.

On December 20, First Deputy Prime Minister Omurzak Shukeev, who is
heading up a government commission on Janaozen, met representatives of
the protesters in Aktau, the regional centre of Mangistau region.

The dispute began as an industrial dispute over pay and conditions in
several parts of western Kazakstan in May. In Janaozen, the strikers
staged daily protests which did not stop when their company sacked

According to the press office of the Mangistau provincial
administration, the authorities are now offering the protesters
alternative jobs, either within the region or elsewhere in the
country. They may be offered temporary public-sector jobs until a more
definitive solution can be found.

However, the talks were inconclusive.

The protesters insisted they wanted their old jobs back, not an alternative.

Janar Kasymbekova, a reporter for the Respublika online newspaper,
said the workers were told to put the recent unhappy events behind
them and they would get good jobs, plus wage compensation for the
months they have spent protesting.

“They said Shukeev’s proposal to find them employment was no more than
an attempt to buy them out,” Kasymbekova said.

Instead, both workers who are still in jobs and those who were
dismissed because of the strike are demanding that the authorities
account for the Janaozen violence.

They have called for three days of official mourning for those killed
in Janaozen, and insisted that those responsible for the shootings
should be brought to book. They also want compensation for the
families of the dead and injured.

Meanwhile, the authorities have stuck to their version of what
happened – that police only fired in self-defence, and that the
violence was stirred up by a group of provocateurs rather than
ordinary demonstrators. (See Kazak Spin Doctors Explain Police
Shootings on this.)

The protesters have been given one week to consider the government’s
offer before talks resume.

After the violence, a non-government commission was formed by
opposition members, media and NGO representatives and other leading
public figures. They set off from Aktau to visit Janaozen on December
21, and Kasymbekova accompanied them, but they were turned back on the
road before they got there.

Kasymbekova said the town authorities in Janaozen appeared to be in
denial about events of recent days. The trouble started on December 16
when protestors who had occupied the central Yntymak Square for months
tried to prevent a stage being erected for Kazakstan Independence Day
celebrations that day. Local residents told her they “found it strange
that the authorities decided to set up tents for the festivities right
in the middle of the square, since in previous years they used to be
placed around it for occasions like this”.

Kasymbekova added, “Officials in Janaozen are refusing to resign,
insisting again and again that they acted within the law. The
authorities are still backing away from establishing a constructive
dialogue with the protesters. That suggests they havent learned the
right lessons from what has happened.”

She said she feared that the official response would be to identify
culprits and punish them.

When she first managed to get into Janaozen on January 17, Kasymbekova
reported that police were rounding up any men they found on the
streets. (See Police Round Up Men After Janaozen Violence,)

She interviewed a woman called Sandugash Amanjolova whose husband was
taken away by police while they were both in the town centre on
December 16. Her husband is not an oil worker, but works as a security
guard for a local company, and had no part in the protests.

He was taken to Janaozen police station and Amanjolova has not heard
from him since. She and and around 70 other women went to the police
station, and she claims they heard the voices of men crying out from a
basement, apparently in pain.

“Now Janazoen is effectively under the control of military,” Kasymbekova said.

Kasymbekova reports that in Aktau, several hundred oil workers have
gathered daily near the main city square but were prevented from
entering it by the 1,000 to 1,500 members of the armed security forces
who were occupying it.

“They gather towards midday and leave in the evening,” Kasymbekova
said, adding that around 100 members of the security forces stayed
overnight to control the square.

“The official media have reported that there are drunk and disorderly
hooligans people among the protesters. That is not true. I personally
have not seen one drunk or anyone disturbing public order. What is
surprising is how organised and united they are.

“Today Aktau is fairly quiet. There are no problems getting food, the
shops are working as usual, and prices haven’t gone up.”

Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan.



Moscow will find it hard to claw back former economic dominance as
China moves into Central Asian region.

By Dina Tokbaeva

The years to come will see Central Asia at the centre of an economic
competition as traditional ally Russia tries to regain ground from an
increasingly powerful Chinese presence, a leading Italian expert on
the region says.

IWPR asked Fabio Indeo, a research fellow at the University of
Camerino who specialises in the geopolitics of Central Asia and the
competition of external players for influence in the region, to
comment on the growing role of China, and how Moscow is trying to
counter it.

Indeo also discussed how Central Asian states will fare once
international troops pull out from neighbouring Afghanistan in three
years’ time; the growing importance of Iran and the potential for
Middle East-style unrest in the region.

IWPR: The rise of the Chinese presence in Central Asia seems
inexorable, and some fear the region could fall under the sway of this
powerful neighbour. What’s your view?

Fabio Indeo: The economic growth of China in independent Central Asia
has been very impressive, especially if it’s compared with Russia.
Currently, China is the third-largest commercial partner of the
Central Asian states, after Russia and the European Union. In 2009,
China's net trade with the Central Asian region exceeded that of
Russia for the first time, and the trend is likely to persist in
coming years.

China has developed deep economic relations with all five Central
Asian states, even if its trade is mainly oriented towards those
states that it borders on. It is the second-largest foreign investor
in Tajikistan, while Kyrgyzstan has overtaken Kazakstan as the main
destination for Chinese exports in Central Asia.

Upgrading the strategic partnership with oil-rich Kazakstan is one of
the big successes of China’s economic strategy, because it is based on
relevant geopolitical issues such as nuclear and energy cooperation.
There is also a Chinese loan to develop Kazak industrial facilities,
and the free-trade zone on the Chinese-Kazak border.

But its main goal – economic integration – is strongly opposed by
Central Asian republics and also by Russia, obviously for different
strategic reasons. Central Asian nations oppose the creation of a
common market or free-trade area led by China via the Shanghai
Cooperation Organisation, mainly because they fear becoming Chinese
economic protectorates.

Among other factors that could set back China’s economic domination of
the area is the invasion of Chinese goods into Central Asian markets
that has seriously damaged national production, the growing number of
Chinese farmers buying up Tajik land, and the wage gap between Chinese
and Central Asian workers engaged in infrastructure-building in the
region. These factors are fuelling local discontent and creating a
potential threat to the political stability and security of the weaker
states, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

IWPR: Last year, the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and
Kazakstan came into force. How does this Moscow-led grouping affect
Russian-Chinese competition for economic influence in the region?

Indeo: The creation of a Customs Union in the CIS [Commonwealth of
Independent States] must be interpreted as a Russian geopolitical
response to the challenge presented by China’s position of strength in
Central Asian trade. The integration of Kazakstan and soon Kyrgyzstan
into the Customs Union and the planned extension to Tajikistan seem to
confirm this interpretation – that this is an attempt by Russia to
build a Eurasian regional organisation in order to weaken Chinese
economic penetration of Central Asia and restore its own traditional

Long-term implementation and success of this Customs Union would
modify the regional geopolitical chessboard, even if Beijing has a
strategic tool that it can use to turn economic relations with Central
Asian states in its favour – an economic and financial weapon in the
shape of huge investments and concessionary loans to Central Asian
countries. This could hinder Russian attempts, because Moscow is not
able to economically compete with Beijing.

Indeed, in the past years Russia has slackened off on implementing
several projects because of the lack of money to invest, such as the
planned expansion of the Caspian shoreline gas pipeline, and envisaged
investments in developing the Uzbek energy sector.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that implementation of the
Russian-backed Customs Union could benefit China by allowing Chinese
goods to reach a unified market of 170 million people.

IWPR: How will the geopolitical roles of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
change after once the United States-led forces withdraw from
Afghanistan at the end of 2014?

Indeo: The scenario following the planned withdrawal of US and NATO
military forces is difficult to predict, because it’s necessary to
take a lot of different issues into consideration. The most important
question is whether in 2014, Afghanistan will remain the main source
of threats and instability for Central Asia.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan should play a significant role in regional
geopolitics after the US withdrawal, because as border states they
share the same security concerns. However, recent foreign policy
decisions seem to reflect a reluctance to accept this growing
responsibility and get involved in ensuring security and stability in
the region.

At present, Uzbekistan plays a major geopolitical role to its position
as hub for the Northern Distribution Network, NDN, with 98 per cent of
non-lethal supplies crossing the Uzbek-Afghan border. After the US
departure, Uzbekistan could be dangerously exposed to terrorist
attacks, and interruption of the NDN route would create huge economic
losses for the Uzbek economy.

Uzbekistan’s decision to abstain from a common strategy for the
post-2014 period – it refused to sign the final document during the
NATO summit in Istanbul on November 2 – is hard to interpret. It could
be a strategic attempt to obtain more lucrative gains, given that
President Islam Karimov is fully aware that implementation of a
successful strategy will be impossible without Tashkent’s

The failure to involve Turkmenistan in the NDN and diversify the
supply route through the Turkmen-Afghan border is a weak point in the
strategy for the period after the US withdrawal. In addition,
Turkmenistan’s refusal to join regional security organisations – in
line with its policy of neutrality – hinders Ashgabat's ambitions to
play a role in the stabilisation of Afghanistan.

IWPR: What can you say about Iran’s role in Central Asia?

Indeo: Iran's role in Central Asia is destined to rise in the next
years, even if at present its theology-based political system is still
perceived as a threat to Central Asia’s secular states.

Iran is the only regional geopolitical player that – with Russia – is
engaged in developing Central Asia’s hydropower resources, by
supporting the Tajik Sangtuda-2 plant.

Its influence in the region was evident when Tehran forced Uzbekistan
to revoke its decision to block Iranian freight heading for
Tajikistan, destined for Sangtuda-2, which is opposed by Tashkent. It
threatened to prevent Uzbek exports passing through the Bandar Abbas
port on the southern coast of Iran.

Furthermore, Iran is a potential transit country for energy exports,
and is heavily involved in regional politics. Indeed, it is one of the
five littoral states on the Caspian Sea.

IWPR: The events of the Arab Spring demonstrate that even longstanding
authoritarian leaders are not immune to popular uprisings. To what
extent is such regime change possible in Central Asia?

Indeo: It is true that Central Asian and North Africa share a lot of
issues in common, which led to the so-called Arab Spring. These issues
are authoritarian control of power, limited freedom of press,
restrictions on civil and political rights, the absence of a
multi-party system, and elections that don’t fully conform to
international standards.

In Central Asia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – which the US-based NGO
Freedom House has named the “worst of the worst” states for their
authoritarian and repressive regimes – have all the potential elements
that could fuel a revolution similar to that in Egypt or Libya. But
Tajikistan can easily identified as a weak pawn in the Central Asian
scenario. A dangerous combination of poverty, authoritarianism, a
government crackdown on religious and civic liberties, and the threat
of Islamic terrorism leave this vulnerable state exposed to a
potential revolutionary wave.

Interview conducted by Dina Tokbaeva, IWPR Central Asia editor in Bishkek.


First they imposed news blackout, then they devised alternative
narrative for bloodshed.

By Almaz Rysaliev

By blocking access to information about the shootings in the western
town of Janaozen and putting out its own line on what happened, the
Kazak government has left its citizens with little awareness of the

Officials say 14 people, most of them protesters, were killed when
police opened fire on crowds in central Janaozen on December 16. Some
70 people were detained. Another man died in the nearby village of
Shetpe the following day when police opened fire on a smaller protest.
Close to 100 people were injured in the two incidents.

A state of emergency was imposed in Janaozen and will last until January 5.

Tensions have been simmering in the town for months as oil industry
workers went on strike and continued to protest after their company
sacked them. (See Kazakstan's Unhappy Oil Workers and Reprisals Merely
Anger Protesting Kazak Oil Workers.) What began as an industrial
dispute has grown into a political confrontation, crystallised by the
authorities’ use of force against the demonstrators.

Rights activists, media representatives and political analysts have
told IWPR about an information blackout followed by a deliberate
campaign to portray the protesters as violent troublemakers.

Andrei Grishin, a staff member of the Kazakstan Bureau for Human
Rights and Rule of Law, described how the government tried to control
the flow of information from the start.

“On the first day [December 16], the information blockade was total –
there was no access to Twitter, the website of Socialist Resistance
[workers’ movement], the first to break the news, was blocked and
still is, and so was the site of the independent news agency
Guljan.org,” he said.

“The authorities initially reacted by trying to stem the spread of
information. But then they realised it would be difficult to conceal
what was happening in Janaozen. Now they are trying to be ahead of the
game - to be the first to put out information, and ensure it follows
the angle they want reported. They’ve allowed journalists from
independent media into the previously isolated, but only under their

Karagandy-based political analyst Sergei Rasov described an
information-management plan that he believed was already in place for
such an eventuality.

“The first reports appeared on the internet. When events unfolded on
December 16, [Kazakstan] Independence Day, many media outlets weren’t
at work,” he said. “There were initial reports of mass unrest,
bloodshed, and shooting in Janaozen. But then all the channels of
information on the internet were cut. Minute by minute, more and more
information sites were blocked. Only Facebook remained. All the local
TV channels showed programmes about the [independence] celebrations.”

It soon became impossible to get accurate information from Janaozen
itself as telecommunications went down.

“The authorities acted promptly. There was probably a set of measures
activated on orders from above,” Rasov said. “I think this information
blockade plan was prepared in advance, in anticipation of a repeat of
the Arab Spring here, to prevent the public accessing information
about what was happening.”

While other news sources were shut out, Rasov said, the presidential
office, the government and the police appeared to act in concert to
manage public opinion by justifying the police’s actions and shifting
all the blame to the protesters.

“As a result, the following picture has been put out – a group of
brainwashed, drunk and drug-addled hooligans were engaged in disorder
and attacked the police, took away their service weapons and started
shooting peaceful citizens. And when the police saw this happening
they started shooting with intent to hit people,” he said.

Sanat Urnaliev, a correspondent for the newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya in
the Uralsk region, also in western Kazakstan, agreed that the main
news source for most people was the pro-government media, engaged in
portraying the violence as the work of “destructive, disorderly

“What’s more, none of these journalists is trying to look at the roots
of the problems – the seven-month strike, the arrests, and the
prosecution of trade union leaders and activists,” he said.

Tatiana Trubacheva, editor of the opposition newspaper Golos
Respubliki, told IWPR that the website of its online version,
Respublika.kz.info, had been hacked.

Rasov said the information blockade was continuing,

“Although the authorities say they’re trying to restore [mobile]
communications and internet access, everything is just the same as
it’s been from the outset.”

Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan.



Newspaper correspondent describes tense aftermath of violence in west
Kazakstan oil town.

By Janar Kasymbekova

We spent two days in Janaozen. The first night, we asked for a meeting
with Interior Minister Kalmuhambet Kasymov, who agreed to answer some

When asked who fired the first shots, he said the police were
initially equipped with non-lethal weapons, but later on the situation

“People dressed in oil workers’ uniforms” – that’s how he phrased it –
began rioting, setting fire to vehicles and throwing stones at the

He stressed that the oil workers themselves did not display
aggression; they behaved peacefully.

Then the police opened fire. “No one gave the order,” the minister
said. “Each policeman was thinking of his own safety at that point.
But at first they fired into the air.”

As for the woman who died in hospital of a bullet wound, reported in
the press, he said that was a ricochet round.

Kasymov said that if a similar situation occurred in Aktau [city to
which unrest has spread], and a crowd of unidentified people behaved
in the same aggressive manner, then he would give the order to shoot
at them.

As for what I saw in Janaozen, tensions have fallen there, but there
are a great many OMON [riot police] on the streets. There are 20 or 30
heavily equipped OMON police in every residential district and on
every street.

There are virtually no men on the street. Locals say that if any man
goes out into the street, he will immediately be picked up and taken
to a police station, so men are staying home. If they do have to go
out, they do so in the company of two or three women.

A woman came up to us and said that her husband was detained by the
OMON on December 16. He was beaten up and taken to a police station.
Since then she hasn’t heard news of him. “We’re getting reports that
the detainees are being tortured in the basements and forced to
confess their guilt for what’s happened,” the woman said. She asked us
to help rescue her husband.

We went into courtyards [of residential blocks] – there was no one
around. In one of them we found a shotgun cartridge, and some local
women confirmed there had been shooting there.

We were taken to the town’s police station. We went up to the fourth
floor and saw men lined up against a wall, their hands behind their
heads. There were about 20 of them aged 30 to 40. Half of them had
been beaten up.

We managed to talk to one of them – he said he worked for a mobile
phone company and wasn’t involved in the protests. He said they were
rounding up men indiscriminately.

When we asked Kasymov why these people had been detained, he said they
had been gathering in groups of two or three and walking in the
streets, many of them with no ID on them even though a state of
emergency was in place. That was why they were all being taken to the
police station.

The women we spoke to in Janaozen were crying and complaining that
they’d had no bread or milk for four days, and nothing to feed their

Food prices have shot up. Eggs now cost 300 tenge, about two US
dollars, each. But anyway, there’s no food in the shops. People are
going hungry.

People in Janaozen are very angry. Local residents don’t blame the oil
workers as they don’t believe it was they who mounted an attack.

Janar Kasymbekova is a correspondent for the Respublika news site in Kazakstan.



At least 14 die as police fire on demonstrators while Central Asian
state celebrates two decades of independence.

By Dina Tokbaeva

The unprecedented use of force to suppress demonstrators in western
Kazakstan should serve as a warning to President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s
administration that continued stability depends on substantive
political reforms, a leading analyst says.

IWPR asked opposition politician and political analyst Pyotr Svoik to
explain why the violence unfolded and what its wider implications are
for Kazakstan.

The trouble began in the town of Janaozen on December 16, the day
Kazakstan marked the 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet
Union. Oil workers in the town have been protesting since May over pay
and conditions and the right to form their own trade union independent
of the authorities. Police opened fire using live rounds, and 14
people died.

Kazakstan’s interior minister Kalmuhambet Kazymov said police were not
ordered to open fire, but did so in self-defence against rioters who
threw stones at them and set fire to vehicles.

Another man died the following day in Shetpe, a rail junction in
Mangystau region, when police went in to disperse local residents who
had blocked the railway line in protest at the Janaozen shootings. In
the regional capital Aktau, oil workers began a rally in solidarity
with their colleagues in Janaozen, starting on December 16 and
continuing through December 18.

Kasymov warned that if unrest similar to that in Janaozen developed in
Aktau, he would give the order to shoot at the crowd.

For more on the background to the strikes, see Kazakstan's Unhappy Oil
Workers and Reprisals Merely Anger Protesting Kazak Oil Workers.

IWPR: How should we read what happened on Janaozen on December 16?

Pyotr Svoik: Events in Janaozen are a watershed moment that makes it
imperative that the country’s political leadership review its actions
and accept the need for major political reforms. Janaozen is both a
turning point and a point of no return.

It is no coincidence that the gunfire in Janaozen coincided with
festive fireworks at the Ak Orda presidential palace in Astana. There
is a seven-month history behind this escalation of a labour dispute
into the shooting of civilians. It’s as much part of the reckoning for
20 years of independence as all the ceremonial events are.

If this country had properly functioning trade unions, if Aktau and
Janaozen had effective local government, if the government officials
responsible for pay and for law and order were independent actors
rather than appendages of the presidential administration, if the
governor of Mangystau province was at all independent, if the country
had a half-way effective parliament, then this situation would never
have arisen. In short, there were no mechanisms by which the Janaozen
dispute could have been defused by gentler means.

On the one hand, local officials had no real powers to resolve this
matter, yet on the other, they regard themselves as very powerful
figures who would not deign to negotiate with a bunch of
troublemakers. The president himself was never going to go and talk to
the oil workers.

There’s a huge danger that now that the authorities have fired shots,
they won’t be able to stop and will carrying on shooting till it’s
over. This is dangerous for the regime itself and for the whole

IWPR: Why did this violence erupt?

Svoik: There may be some truth to the authorities’ assertion that
riotous elements planned to make trouble in advance. But it came to a
head thanks to the government’s own mishandling of the dispute –
because it was unable to apply well-tried dispute resolution methods,
because it chose the path of force right from the outset, and because
it jailed trade union lawyer Natalya Sokolova. Month after month, it
failed to address the concerns of demonstrators.

But this is not only an industrial dispute; there are many other
elements to it as well. For instance, it’s safe to assume that one of
the factors involved is the struggle between clan groupings within the
president’s entourage, which is made up of various warring factions.

These are clans in the modern sense – people bound together through
their official posts and business interests and who., once in power,
will defend their positions and economic assets – including from
others who are in power. They may smile and embrace one another in
public, but there’s a ferocious struggle going on between them. The
issue of who is to succeed President Nazarbaev is becoming more
pressing, so the struggle has heated up massively, and is also playing
out at local level.

Initially, the situation in Janaozen developed purely for economic
reasons. One could have a long discussion about whether the strikers
were demanding too much, since some people believed they were already
doing quite well. In any case, this was a social conflict that was
never resolved. It’s patently obvious that social provision in that
region is lacking.

The economic situation in Kazakstan is still favourable, but soon
there will be a second wave of financial crisis, when the situation
will get worse not just in Janaozen but in the whole of Kazakstan. If
our trade balance goes into the red and if we experience budgetary
problems, this will have very significant effects on the authorities’
scope for manoeuvre and on the public mood.

Some analysts predicted that after Independence Day, Kazakstan would
start being influenced by outside events, specifically by the recent
protest movement in Russia. Yet Kazakstan has been blithely busying
itself with the anniversary celebrations and orchestrating the January
15 parliamentary election. Janaozen has shown that this protest wave
has already arrived.

IWPR: What will happen now?

Svoik: It appears that the regime isn’t going to learn the lessons
from developments in Janaozen. It will conclude it needs to act even
more severely, use its resources to orchestrate the election in
advance, and create a malleable parliament.

If it does so, however, it will be making a mistake that has harmful
consequences for itself. Now is the time to stop maintaining
parliament as an ineffectual, decorative form of democracy, and
instead assign it some power and responsibility.

Janaozen is an alarm bell, but not a tipping point. So before it is
too late, the regime would do well to allow other political forces
into parliament . Perhaps the president should leave the Nur Otan
party, and instruct his regional governors to do the same. Let the
executive maintain public order and do all the other things it is
supposed to do. The executive should not be involved in politics.

The oil workers’ case is not political, but politicians have to
understand what is going on there. If their problems are left
unaddressed, only the opposition will gain from it. The oil workers
are like the tinder that has inflamed the political situation.

Everything in Kazakstan is a lot more fragile than in Russia. It’s all
dependent on President Nazarbaev, and the succession issue remains
entirely uncertain. I believe the weakened hierarchy of presidential
power needs to be augmented by the element of choice, in the shape of
a strong parliament. If that doesn’t happen, we have troubled times
ahead of us.

If the administration pretends that it’s on top of everything, if it
somehow resolves the Janaozen dispute and finds jobs for sacked
workers, but then goes on to allow only its chosen parties and
candidates into parliament, then the succession question will remain
unanswered and parliament will remain a useless appendage. We risk
ending up with a faltering presidential regime and an ineffective

There’s plenty more dry tinder around the country, and anyone
considering igniting it will have been encouraged by events in
Janaozen. All oil industry workers are in roughly the same position,
as are miners and metals industry employees. There are many people
without jobs or housing in this country. So far they have been quiet.

The conflagration can spread. The tinder won’t set itself on fire, but
all it needs is a match and it will go up in flames.

IWPR: How will the international community and foreign investors react?

Svoik: There will be official expressions of condolences, calls for
the rule of law to be upheld and so on. The informal response will be
more significant. All the political and economic forces that have
interests in Kazakstan will conclude that the regime is less
sustainable than was the case before Janaozen. There’s also more scope
for fomenting instability, though it’s unclear who would take
advantage of that. Power has weakened after Janaozen, and power means
the president in Kazakstan.

It may affect investments, as well. Work on the Kashagan oil project
is just finishing at a location fairly close to Janaozen. That’s a 1.5
billion US dollar investment to date. It’s understandable that the
investor and major states behind the Kashagan project are going to be
extremely worried. They won’t stop putting money into Kashagan but
they’ll inevitably be on their guard after this.

Pyotr Svoik sits on the governing board of the National Social
Democratic Party of Kazakstan, and head of the non-government Anti-
Monopoly Commission for Almaty. Interview conducted by Dina Tokbaeva,
IWPR editor for Central Asia based in Bishkek.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
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The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty,
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