On the evening of January 2nd, 2022, the unrest in Kazakhstan began leaving a lot of people in and outside Kazakhstan clueless of what is to come shortly. Kazakhstan is best known for its abundance of oil and other natural resources. The prices for gas/oil are relatively low in this country compared to many others. Transportation is cheap by taxis and even public transports due to the low gas prices and therefore a lot of people make a living out of driving part-time taxis and depend heavily on transport for their day-to-day activity. The riots on 2nd January started because the government announced that the gas price would be going up which riled up the population to the core. While this is what started the riots, one can only call it a push due to years of oppression, corrupt government, and years of human rights violations that the Kazakh people had faced.
I had the opportunity to interview a friend of mine from Kazakhstan, Aiya (Name changed for the safety of the interviewee). She had been living outside Kazakhstan for some time now due to her parent’s job. Many of her family members still reside there. She visits her country from time to time.
Aiya had stayed in Kazakhstan for 11 years before she moved out and traveled the world with her parents. When asked about any problematic experience she might have encountered as a kid she replied, “I did not experience anything problematic, at least I don’t have memories of anything like that. I do have to mention that I recognize that I grew up with several privileges though, thanks to which I never really faced such serious issues.” When Aiya reached her teenage years, she realized the kind of oppression her people were facing. She says that once she started to hear about all the oppression, she “hit a big cognitive dissonance.”
As mentioned before, the increase in gas prices was a push for the people to start rioting and by the time this new rule came to be, people were already tired. Aiya called it “The last straw, which then led to the protests because, at that point, regular people could not afford the necessities for normal living.” According to her what slowly pushed the people of Kazakhstan to take this route was “low wages, a highly corrupt government, ongoing authoritarianism, human rights violations like lack of freedom of speech and peaceful protesting, frequent police brutality, invalid and unfair elections and more.”
If someone were to protest the government or even post anything on social media against the government, they would be arrested and would get prison time. When asked if Aiya wanted to keep her identity anonymous she said she would prefer that. Aiya stated, “I would receive threats, I would be followed and stalked, and I could easily be arrested, if not even worse.” On 6th June 2020, a peaceful protest in Almaty resulted in hundreds of people being arrested. On 22 June 2020, Alnur Ilyashev a Kazakh human rights activist was charged and arrested for posting 3 social media posts criticizing the government. Even according to Aiya “The lack of freedom of speech is one of the main issues in Kazakhstan.” These are just some cases that came to light about the injustice happening in Kazakhstan.
Since the start of riots on 2nd January 2020, the country has been in extreme unrest. On 5th January 2022, president Tokayev declared a state of emergency in Kazakhstan, and internet services were suspended. This means that a lot of people living outside Kazakhstan had now lost contact with their families back in their country. This means that a lot of things that are happening in the country go unreported and are not able to get international support because people don’t even know what is happening on-ground. Aiya and her family abroad have devised a way to have some communication with her family to know if they are okay but even that fails constantly.
Kazakhstan asked for Russian help to control the population and even that has received a lot of hate from people all around the world. While Aiya strongly opposes this she does not have enough information on the topic to make a statement about this intervention.
Till now 164 people have already died due to these riots, while protesting and fighting for one’s rights is the correct thing to do, the Kazakh riots have taken a violent turn. When asked if violent protests are the way to go Aiya replied “It is important to note the fact that initially, the protests began very peacefully, with people coming together to express their concerns and needs. But unfortunately, other figures like provocateurs, marauders, and even terrorists have used this situation and completely turned it around, creating violent riots and leading to ongoing unrest.” She continued “However, I still want to have a positive mindset and I pray that this pain our country is going through means that the next chapter is a truly brighter future. It might sound cheesy, but I hope these are - so to say - growing pains that will lead to better development and will result in the people’s needs to finally be heard and answered.” These violent protests, tortures, and brutality from all sides have resulted in so many innocent people dying but one can only think that this is a storm before the calm and Kazakhstan can get the justice they deserve.
One can only imagine the kind of anxiety that the people living in and outside of Kazakhstan are going through at this point and time. Not knowing if your loved ones are safe or if they will be safe when you sleep. When I asked Aiya what she felt at this point, she replied “Countries are involved, the former head of the National Security Committee is detained and accused of treason, and children are dying on the streets. It hurts to see all this happen. I am still trying to process it. I am genuinely afraid, and I honestly don’t know how else to explain what I feel. All we can do now is pray and hope for things to be resolved soon.” The people of Kazakhstan deserve the justice that they have been snatched away from for years. One can only hope the outpour on social media is not a one-week thing and lasts till the riots are over. It is the duty of international organizations and the youth to help spread awareness about this issue. Only if we stand united can we help the people of Kazakhstan.
Imgae: Nazym Serikpekova @twitter
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