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Tensions erupt violently in Kazakhstan due to social injustice

By Breanna Lu

Feb. 16, 2022


Dana Lim Art



Initially sparked by a rise in fuel prices, a series of violent protests have recently erupted in Kazakhstan against government corruption, poverty and a lack of democracy. The uprisings were met with prompt police retaliation, which involved the arrest of 8,000 citizens and the use of violent methods of riot control.

Frustrations began on Jan. 2 after the government lifted the price cap on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)—a common source of fuel for vehicles—nearly doubling its cost, per BBC. Although this event was the breaking point, NPR notes that the unrest in Kazakhstan is deeply rooted in the nation’s widespread inequality—of which the rising gas costs were just a symptom.

Although Kazakhstan has a successful oil industry worth billions of dollars, little of this prosperity belongs to the common people. Many protestors see the rise in gas prices as disrespectful towards oil workers, who are responsible for generating most of the nation’s wealth.


The issues of the protests’ focus have been present since the reign of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the previous president of Kazakhstan. When he was in office, Kazakhstan appeared to be an emblem of stability and economic prosperity, but this apparent success cost citizens many freedoms. For example, the Nazarbayev administration criminalized public protests without permits, jailed journalists who criticized the president and masked corrupt elections. Although Nazarbeyev passed his title onto his hand-picked successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019, NPR describes that he still holds a great amount of economic and political authority. Subsequently, according to the New York Times, protestors also demanded political reforms, including the removal of Nazarbayev from his position as the head of the National Security Council.


Some of the protestors’ demands, such as Nazarbayev’s dismissal, were accepted by the government, Reuters states. Kazakhstan’s Cabinet resigned on Jan. 5, unable to quell the protests. In an attempt to create an illusion of a stable country, Tokayev announced that the chaos was largely neutralized on Jan. 7 and ordered the acting Cabinet to reinstate price caps on LPG.


Nonetheless, Tokayev’s claims were disproved when the protests, beginning peacefully in the town of Zhanaozen, quickly spread to the city of Almaty, where extensive violence has since destroyed the Almaty City Hall, police vehicles and various other buildings. On Jan. 7, Tokayev authorized police to “kill without warning,” resulting in 44 deaths and about 1,000 injuries that same day, BBC estimates. Aside from violent repression, the government has also blocked social networking apps and shut down Almaty’s internet for five days in an attempt to slow the protestors.


“Both the government and the protestors are at fault for the casualties in Kazakhstan. The citizens have the right to protest, but only peacefully,” Junior Maya Chivakula said.


Amidst the turmoil, Tokayev summoned mostly Russian troops from member countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization—an allied group of former Soviet territories—to help stabilize the country. A political ally of Tokayev, Russia now has various military and business installments in Kazakhstan and may have been motivated to intervene to protect its economic interests.


“While it is critical for the government to respond to the protests, the standard should be using more peaceful methods such as lowering prices of common goods to calm the crowd. The harsh use of force is unnecessary,” Sophomore Karl Xing said.

Kazakh citizens are not Tokayev’s only targets—he also arrested intelligence chief Karim Massimov and fired his deputies on suspicion of treason. Tokayev has blamed foreign terrorists for the situation in Almaty, although there has been no evidence to support this allegation.


As the protests in Kazakhstan intensify, the government will likely take further suppressive measures. Although it has harmed many, the situation in Kazakhstan could be another step in the global march toward increased rights.

 

About the Contributors

Breanna Lu

Staff Writer/Page Editor


Breanna Lu is a sophomore at Leland High School and the Investigative Report and Last Word page editor. She loves to binge Netflix shows, try out new foods, explore the outdoors, and stargaze.










Dana Lim

Artist


Dana Lim is currently a freshman at Leland High School and is serving as an artist for The Charger Account. Some of her interests are listening to music, watching thriller shows/movies and of course sleeping.

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