Dozens of people died and hundreds were injured in Kazakhstan when peaceful protests against rising fuel prices turned violent from January 2-9. Videos of the aftermath show shops looted and buildings set on fire. During the clashes, most residents of the former capital Almaty remained barricaded in their homes, without internet access. We were finally able to contact a woman who told us of her experience during the week of chaos and terror in a city plagued by violence.
After a week of protests, riots and brutal repression, the citizens of Almaty emerged from behind locked gates to find their city in upheaval. Amateur footage shows scenes of devastation on the streets – cars set on fire, shops looted.
Security forces initially seemed overwhelmed by protesters who attacked City Hall on January 4. But that evening, they began a violent crackdown.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called on Russia and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization to help restore order. On January 7, the president authorized the police to “shoot without warning” and “shoot to kill” on protesters. Nearly 8,000 people were arrested.
“Groups of strangers started to provoke the crowd and loot all over the city” After several days of internet blackouts, residents of Almaty were finally able to get a stable connection. When she finally managed to connect, Lyazzat, who lives in Almaty, replied to a message from the AXADLETM Observers team. She told us how it felt in the city, now that a certain calm had come back.
We are still in shock. How could such a thing happen in our city?
It’s painful to see my favorite shops in ruins. And to see the pride of our city, the buildings in the Soviet architectural style, completely destroyed. It is also horrible to see the losses suffered by small businesses. It was their livelihood and the rioters destroyed everything.
When protests against rising fuel prices began peacefully in the capital on January 4, few imagined they would end in violence.
The president agreed to cut the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) on the evening of January 4, and Lyazzat thought that would be the end of the protests.
But the movement took a different, deadly turn.
In an instant, everything turned into complete chaos, which shocked everyone. Groups of strangers began to provoke the crowd and loot all over town.
They attacked police officers and destroyed buildings and shops in the city. They weren’t just average civilians. Most normal people had cleared out by then.
>> Read more from The Observers: Protesters storm public buildings in Kazakhstan: ‘Many people have nothing to lose’
Security forces used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters. Several amateur videos showed protesters armed with clubs and shields. Another video, posted on January 5, shows protesters pulling guns out of the trunk of a car.
According to Amnesty International, the police also used firearms.
Подвоз оружияАлматы Казахстан / Almaty Kazakhstan pic.twitter.com/fVCQ2ZeGoX
— BashKarma (@KarmaBash) January 5, 2022 This video posted on January 5, 2022 shows protesters with guns.
You can hear gunfire in this video of civilians, which was posted on Telegram on January 5. There is a body on the ground.
Like many other people, Lyzzat did not leave her house once between January 5 and 9. Text messages and announcements broadcast over loudspeakers told residents to stay at home during the “anti-terrorist” operation. Several independent news sites were blocked. Lyazzat tried to stay informed, despite the internet blackout:
The only way to get information is by phone, from friends and family, or if we watch TV. […]A shoe store near us was robbed and we heard the noise [from our home]. We live downtown and have heard gunshots all night long for several days in a row. It scared us very much. We were afraid it would never end.
“Some people helped clean up, others made food and collected warm clothes for the soldiers.” Later in the day, however, he withdrew the statement, citing a “technical error” without releasing new figures.
A day of national mourning was organized on January 10 to commemorate the victims, civilians and members of the security forces.
Life is returning to some semblance of normalcy in Almaty, Lyazzat says:
Calm is slowly returning to Almaty. Internet has been working fine for two days. Public transport is working again and people are going to work. Markets and shops have reopened. At first there were shortages of bread and vegetables, but now things are back to normal and store shelves are filling up again.
Volunteers gather to help struggling businesses, as well as the soldiers guarding the city. Some people try to help clean things up. Others prepare food and collect warm clothes and socks for the soldiers.
@alaty_kris_p В Такое непростое время сплоченность людей и помощь друг Другу показывает, что все будет хорошо! Спасибо тем, кто неравнодушен к своим ближним.🙏 # Алматы #almaty # Рекомендации ♬ These days – Nico This video, published on tiktok on January 12, shows someone who needs food that he gives food this.
Besides stopping the rise in gasoline prices, protesters also called for the departure of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled the country for 28 years. Although he ceded his presidency to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019, Nazarbayev remains the head of the country’s Security Council.
President Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from this post on January 5. The former intelligence chief has been arrested on suspicion of treason. During a videoconference on January 10, the Kazakh president accused foreign fighters of having participated in the riots, which he described as “terrorist attacks” and an “attempted coup”.
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