“A war has broken out, tell everyone!” With these words an eyewitness phoned from Zhanaozen to inform the world of yesterday’s bloody events in Kazakhstan.
Seven months ago the oil industry workers decided to occupy the square of the western oil town of Zhanaozen, where they demanded better wages. Yesterday once more the workers who have been protesting against criminally low wages since July, gathered to celebrate Independence Day and to reiterate their just demands. But the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the independence of Kazakhstan was turned into nightmare. The police opened fire and a large number of unarmed and defenceless people have been shot down in cold blood.
The police fired directly into the crowd of unarmed demonstrators with live rounds. The exact number of dead is unclear, but it is at least seventy. The government has admitted that 10 people had died, though reporters who spoke to people there before communications were cut said there were reports of scores of fatalities as the police shot into the crowd. Some eyewitnesses report that as many as 150 people were killed. Many more have been wounded.
The Kazakhstan government clearly does not want the world to know what it is doing. The town is closed off to the outside world and is surrounded by troops and army personnel. Opposition websites have been blocked, as have YouTube and all social networking. The mobile network is suspended in the area. And the official media is spreading massive disinformation.
According to the official (state) version, the authorities planned to hold a state-sponsored New Year’s holiday party for children on the site. This kind of thing has become a common tactic by authoritarian governments in the former Soviet Union to discourage protests. But in this case it was clearly a ruse aimed at providing an excuse to clear out the workers from the town square.
The police attacked the workers, using the excuse that they wanted to protect children. Suddenly a police jeep ran into the crowd, while unidentified young people set a fire for Christmas tree and buildings around the central square. The authorities have released videos apparently showing workers setting fire to a Christmas tree and police firing in the air. These actions had a clearly provocative character, serving as an excuse for a violent police intervention against peaceful protesters.
Askhat Daulbayev, Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general, said Friday in televised remarks that “having rudely violated the public order, the protesters attacked the policemen, toppled the New Year’s tree, destroyed the yurts placed there because of the holiday, as well as the stage and set a police bus on fire.” Mr. Daulbayev said protesters attacked the police “using firearms and cold steel.”
However, all the reports from the town contradict this version. No children were on the square at any time and the alleged acts of violence were the work of plainclothes police and provocateurs. Moreover, it is hard to see how police firing into the air could have killed so many people. Zhana A. Baitelova, a reporter at Respublika, an independent newspaper in Almaty, the commercial capital, said protesters speaking on mobile phones described a scene of escalating chaos as the police tried to defend the stage and decorations for the holiday event. “Police used gas at first, then fired in the air, and then it was panic,” she said.
“They are trying to make hooligans out of the protesters, saying they attack children,” she added. But the town is small, and most residents work in the oil fields. “The children are the children of strikers. This is crazy.”
The government crackdown is spreading. Earlier this morning (17th), activists of the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan (KFOR) and the union of mortgage holders “give flats to people@ (Onge) were arrested in Almaty. Among those arrested are Dmitry Tikhonov, Larissa Boyar, Armand and Jeanne Ozhaubaeva Baytelovu).
With its customary cynicism, the western media that was so vocal in its denunciations of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi has remained silent about the monstrously repressive regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan. This former Soviet republic is strategically important to the United States for its enormous oil reserves and its geographical location in Central Asia. Western oil companies like Chevron have grown wealthier on its oil riches and so western governments saw no reason to mention its appalling human rights violations.
But the events in the Middle East are having their effect on the oppressed peoples of Central Asia, for whom the restoration of capitalism after the fall of the USSR has had disastrous consequences. The workers of Kazakhstan are tired of oppression and exploitation. The oil workers walked off their jobs last spring in a dispute about pay for dangerous work; hundreds were subsequently fired. In July, many began camping in the city square in an indefinite protest, a rare challenge to the government. The strikers shifted their focus to political demands this week, including the right to form independent parties. This has led to yesterday’s bloody assault.
The protests have spread to other towns in Kazakhstan. In a display of solidarity, the workers of other oil companies have completely stopped production in the region. By the afternoon, witnesses said, a government building and the headquarters of a state oil company were burning.
The Kazakhstan workers are under the brutal attack of the state and are calling for URGENT HELP! They can expect no help from the so-called democratic governments of the West who are complicit in the brutal oppression they are suffering. The only source of help is from the WORLD LABOUR MOVEMENT.
- We ask every worker and trade union activist to raise their voice in condemnation of these brutal actions.
- Every trade union branch, labour organization and shop stewards committee should express its solidarity and put pressure on the Kazakhstan government to halt the repression.
- Demand the immediate release of all those arrested in connection with these events.
- Send urgent emails of protest to the embassy and the government of Kazakhstan. Even better, phone the embassy and register your protest.
- Write to the press denouncing what is happening to public opinion.
- The situation is URGENT. PLEASE DO NOT DELAY. ACT NOW!!
Please send protests to Nursultan Nazarbayev 010000, Astana, Ak-Orda and to your nearest Kazakhstan embassy.
To the company:
AO "National company KazMunayGaz"
Kazakhstan, Astana 010000
Kabanbye-batur 19 (пр. Кабанбай-батыра, 19)
fax: +7 (7172) 97 60 00, 97 60 01
Office: (3172) 977429, 977617
PR: (3172) 977924, 977923
Letters of solidarity should be sent firstname.lastname@example.org
We would appreciate it if you could also send copies to email@example.com.