Published on : 13/01/2022 – 16:42
Peaceful protests against rising fuel prices escalated into violence from January 2-9 in Kazakhstan, killing dozens and injuring hundreds. Videos show shops ransacked and buildings burned down. During the violence, most of the inhabitants of the former capital Almaty remained cloistered in their homes, deprived of the Internet. We were finally able to talk to a resident, who recounts five days of chaos and a battered city.
After a week of demonstrations, riots and repression, the inhabitants of Almaty have found their city in turmoil. Burned cars, ransacked shops: amateur images show scenes of devastation in the streets.
The police seemed at first outdated by the demonstrators who stormed the town hall during the day of January 4. In the evening, they began to violently suppress the demonstrations. Kazakhstani President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called for help from Russia and its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) allies to restore order. On January 7, the president authorized the police to shoot “to kill without warning” on the protesters. Almost 8,000 people have been arrested.
“Groups of strangers started to crowd and maraud all over town”
After several days of daily cuts, the inhabitants of Almaty have regained stable access to the Internet. Lyazzat, who lives in Almaty, took the opportunity to respond to the message from the Observers editorial staff. She recounts the atmosphere in the city after the return to calm:
We are still in shock: how could such a thing happen in our city? It hurts to see the ruins of my favorite stores, the destroyed Soviet architecture buildings – that was the pride of our city! – and also to see the losses inflicted on the small businesses of the inhabitants. It was their livelihood, and the marauders destroyed everything.
Yet when the protest movement against rising gas prices began peacefully in the capital on January 4, it was difficult for him to imagine that it would end in such violence. The president agreed to cut the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) on the evening of January 4, and Lyazzat thought the dispute was over. But the movement has shifted:
At one point, everything turned into chaos, which shocked everyone. Groups of strangers began to crowd and maraud across town. They attacked police officers, destroyed administrative buildings, not to mention shopping centers. They were not just civilians. The inhabitants did not give in to their provocations and dispersed.
>>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Kazakhstan: public buildings stormed by demonstrators who “have nothing more to lose”
The police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the protesters, some of whom were armed with batons and shields taken from the police, as shown many amateur videos. Another video posted on January 5 shows protesters take guns in the trunk of a car. According to Amnesty International, the police also used firearms.
Almaty Kazakhstan pic.twitter.com/fVCQ2ZeGoX
– BashKarma (@KarmaBash) January 5, 2022
This video posted on January 5 shows protesters with guns.
In this video posted to Telegram on January 5, civilians are seen as gunfire is heard. A body is on the ground.
Like many residents, from January 5 to 9, Lyazzat did not leave her home. Messages par SMS or loudspeakers instructed locals to stay in a safe place for the duration of the “anti-terrorist operation”. Several independent news sites were blocked. Despite the Internet shutdown, Lyazzat was trying to find out:
We received information only by telephone from our relatives, or by watching television. (…). Near us, a store for hunters was broken into, we heard the noise [depuis chez nous]. We live in the center, and we would hear gunfire all night long for several days in a row. It was very scary, it felt like it was never going to end.
“Some help clean up the city, others cook food and collect warm clothes for the soldiers”
On January 9, the Ministry of Information published a report reporting 164 deaths, before withdrawing it the same day citing a “technical error”, without publishing new figures. A national day of mourning was decreed on January 10 to commemorate the many victims, on the side of civilians and the police.
Life now seems to be resuming its course in Almaty, says Lyazzat:
Today, life in Almaty is gradually returning to calm. The Internet has been working fine for two days, public transport is working again, people are going to work. Markets and shops are open. At first there were problems of shortages of products like bread and vegetables, but now everything is back to normal and the shops are gradually filling their reserves.
Many volunteers organize themselves to come to the aid of the disaster-stricken businesses, as well as the soldiers who stand guard in the city. Some help clean up the city, others prepare food and collect warm clothes and socks for the soldiers.
@almaty_kris_p In such a difficult time, the solidarity of people and helping each other shows that everything will be fine! Thanks to those who are not indifferent to their neighbors.#almaty #almaty #recommendations ♬ These Days – Nico
In this video posted to TikTok on January 12, the man in the pickup explains to a local that he is distributing packets of food for free to people in need.
In addition to the cancellation of the rise in gas prices, the protests demanded the departure of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled the country for 28 years. After giving way to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019, he nevertheless remained at the head of the Security Council.
President Tokayev dismissed him from this post on January 5, and accepted the government’s resignation. The former intelligence chief has been arrested for suspicion of treason. During a videoconference on January 10, the President of Kazakhstan accused foreign “fighters” for participating in the riots, which he described as “terrorist attacks” and “attempted coup”.