Following up our coverage of last week’s uprising in Kazakhstan, we have translated an array of perspectives on the situation from various Russian anarchist sources and interviewed two anarchists from Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan and the place where the fighting became most intense.
This text also includes previously unpublished photographs taken by our contacts in Almaty.
The following sources should serve to debunk any facile misrepresentations of the uprising from the authorities in Kazakhstan, Russia, or the United States—or their misguided supporters.
To those who spread conspiracy theories about the United States attempting to stage-manage a “color revolution” in Kazakhstan, we must point out that the protests began in response to the government canceling its subsidy on gas, which is produced under a profitable state monopoly in Kazakhstan. Those who defend the governments of Kazakhstan and Russia are defending repressive forces that are imposing neoliberal austerity measures upon exploited workers in an extraction-based economy. The honorable place for all who genuinely oppose capitalism is at the side of ordinary workers and other rebels who stand up to the ruling class, not supporting the governments who claim to represent protesters while gunning them down and imprisoning them.
This is not to say that the clashes in Kazakhstan represent a unified anti-capitalist struggle, or for that matter a labor movement. The most credible accounts of the composition of the protests acknowledge that there have been a wide range of different participants utilizing different tactics to pursue different agendas. Of course, if we are sympathetic to workers who protest against the rising cost of living, we can also understand why the unemployed and marginalized might engage in looting.
A crisis like the uprising in Kazakhstan opens up all the fault lines within a society. Every preexisting conflict is pushed to a breaking point: ethnic and religious tensions, rivalries among the ruling elite, geopolitical contests for influence and power. We saw this to a lesser degree in France during the Yellow Vest movement and in the United States during the George Floyd Uprising and its aftermath, though those crises did not proceed as far as the uprising in Kazakhstan, where, owing to the entrenched authoritarian power structure, any struggle is immediately an all-or-nothing venture.
If it is true, as we have argued, that the protesters in Kazakhstan were opposing the same forces that rest of us face all around the world, then the violent suppression of those protests by the soldiers of six nations’ armies poses questions that we all must confront. It seems that such explosions are becoming practically inevitable as economic, political, and ecological catastrophes hit one after the other all around the world. How do we prepare in advance, in order to maximize the likelihood that these ruptures will turn out well despite all the forces that are arrayed against us? In moments of revolutionary potential, how can we propose transformative questions to the others who make up this society with us, focusing the lines of conflict along the most generative and liberating axes even as we compete with a variety of factions that aim to centralize their own ideologies and interests? How do we avoid both conspiracy theories and manipulation, both defeatism and defeat?
In the following overview, composed in collaboration with Russian anarchists, we present the analysis of the uprising in Kazakhstan that has come out of the ex-Soviet region, then share an interview we conducted with anarchists in Almaty as soon as internet access was reestablished following the crackdown.
The Prison of Nations
Starting on January 1, what began as a single protest against the rising cost of living escalated to a full-scale nationwide uprising, which for now has been brutally suppressed by a combination of domestic and foreign military force.
At first, the protesters sought the resignation of government, a reduction in the price of gas, and the removal of the ex-president—Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Grey Cardinal of Kazakhstan—from the head of the National Security Council. The slogan of the whole country for these days became “Shal ket!”—”Grandpa, go away!” As the protests gained momentum, people quickly came to the point of not wishing to agree to anything less than a complete change in the government, including the ouster of current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The regime attempted to suppress the protests. Yet the protesters managed to seize weapons from the police and fight back, looting shops and burning down or occupying municipal buildings. President Tokaev declared a state of emergency and sent military against the protesters with orders to shoot on sight anyone who dared to resist. At the same time, Tokaev officially asked the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO, consisting of Russia and several neighboring countries) for support in regaining the control over the country.
According to Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry, nearly 8000 people were arrested during the demonstrations, and at least 164 people killed; since then, much higher figures have circulated. Some prominent bloggers and union leaders are reported to have disappeared. The internet was shut down for days. People were shot in the squares and on the street by snipers and other soldiers.
The military suppression of the uprising, including the intervention of the CSTO, played a key role in the outcome. As of January 10, media reports and testimonies of people in Kazakhstan show that the fighting has stopped in Almaty and mass gatherings have ceased in other cities.
1) CSTO intervention. All more or less sane sources among the Kazakhs perceive this as an intervention and an attempt of “Big Brother” on their sovereignty. Every hour of presence of these forces in the country multiplies the aversion and anger;
2) Authoritarian rule has not disappeared. President Tokayev has concentrated more power in his hands, invited foreign military, ordered his troops to “shoot without warning”… But Kazakhstanis are not used to government brutality. It does not stop them, and the dissatisfaction with the government is not going away.
3) The economic crisis will not cease without fundamental reforms towards social justice. Enforcement is essentially just a postponement of price increases. No measures to overcome poverty and reduce inequality in society are offered by the authorities. Consequently, the discontent they have created will not abate either.
“Wahhabis, Terrorists, Protesters”—Misinformation about the Uprising
The Kazakh authorities are trying very hard to save face and construct their version of reality. The punitive operation is called “counter-terrorist,” as if a “terrorist” is any person who opposes the authorities by violent means. Rebellious people, respectively, are “militants and bandits, they must be killed,” and the reason for the uprising is allegedly “free media and foreign figures,” which is literally what Tokayev said. We are witnessing the development of militant propaganda virtually live on air. The lie that black is white and war is peace, not to the point of sentimentality, and whoever doesn’t believe it—to the wall. After all, no one will feel sorry for the “terrorists,” this is a mantra that post-Soviet dictators have learned well.
From the beginning of the fighting, both Kazakh and foreign media made claims regarding the identities of the protesters. The definitions ranged from “protesters,” “aggressive youth,” and “marauders” all the way to “nationalist squads,” “20,000 bandits attacking Almaty,” and “Islamic terrorists.” It is true that a variety of groups and factions participated in the uprising. But that is not itself a problem—an entire society was represented in the uprising, with all its differences and contradictions. It is safe to assume that different people participated in different actions against the regime, including fighting and looting.
From Anarchist Fighter:
The journalist Maksim Kurnikov said some very interesting things on Ekho Moskvy’s morning broadcast. He remarked that the scheme “to take weapons from gun stores and then attack security forces” is not new in Kazakhstan.
Exactly the same thing happened in the city of Aktobe in June 2016: several dozen young men, divided into groups, took weapons from two gun stores, seized vehicles, and attacked a part of the National Guard, where they were defeated. The authorities of Kazakhstan have been much muddled about the case: It is still not very clear what the basis is for their claims of an “Islamist connection.”
Kurnikov also spoke of paramilitary guards at illegal oil refineries in western Kazakhstan, made up of local villagers, disparagingly called “mambets” (collective farmers) by Kazakhstani townsfolk. These groups have also at times engaged in armed confrontations with police officers.
What does all this tell us? Of course, President Tokayev’s words about “terrorist groups carefully trained abroad” are pure propaganda and most likely a gross lie. That armed cells capable of seizing security institutions and arsenals suddenly materialized from a motley crowd also sounds unlikely. That said, we have no evidence of Islamist or nationalist involvement in the Almaty events. However, as we can see, organized groups capable of active armed resistance exist in Kazakhstani society in principle. It is likely that those people who engaged in direct confrontation with the security forces were partly representatives of such groups and partly spontaneous self-organized protesters. There is an analogy with the 2014 Maidan [i.e., the protests in Kiev], where the defense was organized both spontaneously by the crowd and with the participation of radical organized groups that joined in.”
Claims about Islamic fundamentalists participating in the events may well be true to some extent. But it is also certain that the authorities will make use of any information about them to discredit all the other groups, identities, and participants involved in the uprising. Economic desperation and social and political persecution often drive people to fundamentalism as well as other forms of radicalism.
According to Anarchist Fighter:
“The question about the real balance of forces among non-state actors of the events is still urgent:
Opposition journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov, on Ekho Moskvy radio station, expressed confidence that the armed attack on the authorities in Almaty was the work of Nazarbayev’s people. The arguments for this confidence are not clear.
It is noteworthy that Akhmedyarov noticed in his native Uralsk on the square next to the protesters a group of several dozen organized people calling for an assault on the Akimat. A small group of “identically dressed instigators” was also reported from Kostanai.
What is it? Some shadowy organized rebel force, criminal groups or really provocateurs from state services? Or maybe a “non-violent” narrative, seeking to immediately label supporters of direct action as such? There are no answers.
One thing is clear: dividing protesters into “peaceful” and “terrorists” is a distortion of reality. Even before the events in Almaty, there were clips from the same Uralsk, where the demonstrators were bravely liberating the detainees from the police.
Let’s allow ourselves a truism: yes, a radical “violent” protest does not guarantee success at all, nor is it immune to provocations. But a purely “non-violent” protest in our authoritarian reality is simply doomed in advance. “You have been heard, we’ll sort it out, and we’ll put the most violent of you in jail”—that’s always the answer from the powers that be in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan…
The various rumors about internal conflicts within the power structure in Kazakhstan and the speculations about geopolitical schemes at play in the uprising could all be true. But to elevate these rumors and speculations to the central position in the narrative about what is happening in Kazakhstan is a political choice: it is a decision to deny the agency of the countless ordinary people who participated in the uprising for their own reasons. Like all conspiracy theories, this assumes that the only people who have any agency in the situation are shadowy global power players; it also serves to distract people from the obvious things that everyone knows are happening, such as the political elite of Kazakhstan profiting at the experience of everyone else.
Rumors and speculation serve to influence the events and the ways that others understand and engage with them. True or not, each of these interventions serves to focus attention on certain figures, to spread a certain set of assumptions about how the world works. If these conspiracy theories cast doubt on the participants in the uprising enough to distract people from supporting the protesters who are standing up for themselves against economic exploitation and political domination, then they will have succeeded in their purpose to keep everyone everywhere dependent on political elites.
Tokayev himself has not hesitated to propound the most outlandish stories, claiming that the international terrorists who allegedly led the revolt cannot be identified because their bodies have been stolen from the morgues. According to Anarchist Fighter,
It turns out that the terrorists can’t be shown to the public even if they are dead. Their comrades-in-arms kidnapped the dead right from morgues!
And the main thing is that Kazakhstani authorities with no shame openly state that radical demonstrators dressed up as the police and the soldiers (!!!) Now any atrocity of the punishers can be attributed to the revolutionaries themselves. Maybe the protesters were shot by those “in disguise”? And if it now turns out that the children and journalists were shot by men in uniform and with shoulder straps - then you already know: of course it was the disguised “rioters” and not the brutal executioners of the Tokayev special forces.
Beyond the question of who participated in the uprising, it is important to ask who benefits from its suppression. As one commentary put it,
Putin is not a nationalist, but a guarantor. He guarantees the security of the post-Soviet elite and the safety of their property. He used to guarantee it only in the Russian Federation, but now it seems that he guarantees it in Kazakhstan as well. After all, there is Russian capital there too.
Look at Kazakhstan’s Forbes list. The real beneficiaries of the peacekeeping operation are listed there. The list, by the way, is interestingly international. The first two lines are occupied by the Kazakhstani Koreans of Kim. The first one is the major shareholder of KAZ Minerals, a “british copper company”, as Wikipedia describes it. In 2021, his fortune increased by $600 million. The second Kim, together with Baring Vostok, owns one of the main Kazakh banks, Kaspi Bank, which is also traded in London and has shown impressive growth, despite the pandemic. In third place I was surprised to find a citizen of Georgia Lomatdze, who is also a co-owner of Kaspi Bank and its manager.
Then comes a certain Bulat Utemuratov, who in the Nazarbayev’s government of the 90’s specialized in foreign trade. He owns ForteBank, whose net income for 2020 “amounted to 53.2 billion tenge” ($121 million), as well as the major stakes in the major mobile operators, 65% of the gold mining company RG Gold and a bunch of other assets, including a Burger King franchise and “Ritz-Carlton hotels in Nur-Sultan, Vienna and Moscow”…
The fifth and sixth places are shared by Nazarbayev’s daughter and son-in-law. His son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, owns “the controlling stake in Singapore’s Steppe Capital Pte Ltd”, which owns the “Dutch” KazStroyService Infrastructure BV and Asset Minerals Holdings (Caspi Neft JSC, 50% of Kazazot JSC).
Dinara Kulibayeva, Nazarbayev’s daughter, together with her husband, owns Halyk Bank of Kazakhstan—the bank’s “market capitalization reached £3.1 billion ($4.3 billion).” In seventh place is a Russian financial speculator and founder of the “American investment company” Freedom Holding Corp. Timur Turlov. “According to the company’s financial statements, its assets tripled in 2020 to $1.47 billion ($453.5 million in 2019), equity almost doubled to $225.5 million ($131.3 million respectively), net income jumped 10-fold to $42.3 million ($4 million respectively).”
And so on.
And on the other side of the barricades are all those who either work for all this beau monde for 300 bucks a month (this is approximately how the median salary in Kazakhstan is estimated), extracting minerals for “British” and “Singaporean” corporations or serving fellow citizens in the service sector, which also belongs to all the same from the list; or those who have not found work at all in large and medium-sized business, whose earnings could only be guessed (it is believed to be even lower). Workers, concentrated around enterprises, demand social guarantees (lower utility prices, free medical care, higher wages, etc.). Those who aren’t even workers are simply trying to get their own from retail chains and banks through broken windows and looted shops.
Considering that workers are sure to be dumped as soon as the heat subsides, the actions of the latter cannot be called irrational or unjust.
A Spring that Has Been Delayed for Thirty Years
“The Kazakh authorities and President Tokayev did not trust their own policing and governmental structures in the first place. The police and the army had already begun to move to the side of the rebels, and it was obvious that any of a variety of outcomes was possible. Under these circumstances, Tokayev decided on the last extreme—to call in the punitive forces from neighboring countries. This was political suicide: in fact, he admitted that he was at war with his own people and even with his own state apparatus.”
The sitution in Kazakhstan escalated very quickly—not only the protests, but also the brutality with which they were suppressed. The fighting in the streets is a consequence of the ways that the patience of people in Kazakhstan has been tried for decades now. Kazakh society has seen fighting and shooting in the streets before—in 1986, when Mikhail Gorbachev’s government suppressed an uprising in Almaty, carrying out a massacre,1 and in 2011, when police shot striking workers in Zhanaozen, killing dozens.
When the first news of domestic military intervention came out, this did not seem to cause a major setback for the uprising. The fighting did not cease then—on the contrary, it intensified. We saw videos of disarmed soldiers in the crowd of people, welcomed for changing sides.
Then the internet was shut down. The official reason for the internet blackout was “preventing terrorists from various countries who are fighting in Almaty from coordinating with their headquarters.” That caused a crucial lack of information from the places where uprising was taking place, making it easier to represent—or misrepresent—the events. In a time when everything is filmed, photographed, uploaded, and shared, cutting off a social uprising from means of communication serves to erase it from reality, opening a space in which falsehoods can thrive.
Yet one of the most important events took place in plain sight: the intervention of the CSTO. This raised many contradictions at once. Formally designated as “peacekeeping assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO),” it includes a contingent up to 200 hundred soldiers from Armenia and Tajikistan, 500 from Belarus from dictator Lukashenko (who recently suppressed an uprising of his own), an unspecified number of Kyrgyz soldiers, and 3000 soldiers from Russia. It is significant that the Russian paratroopers who have been moved into Kazakhstan are commanded by Anatoliy Serdyukov, who is experienced in the Chechen wars, the annexation of Crimea, and the war in Syria. We can see Russia’s imperial activities on full display here.
In Kazakhstan, the regime is striving to remain in power by any means necessary, resorting to inviting neighboring dictatorships to invade. For people in Kazakhstan, this should mean the final loss of any legitimacy Tokayev might have had in their eyes. Everyone in the region can see that the CSTO represents the unity of its governments against their peoples.
According to avtonom.org:
A president who calls the people of his own country “terrorist gangs” represents a nadir even by the standards of post-Soviet authoritarian “republics.”
In fact, this is an invasion of another country by force on the side of the authorities who have lost the trust of the people. It would mean the endless reproduction of the “Russia is a prison of nations” scenario and would be on a par with the suppression of the Hungarian revolutions in 1848 and 1956, with tanks in the streets of Prague in 1968, and with the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
From Zhanaozen to Almaty: Remembering the Dead
From Anarchist Fighter:
“The current uprising in Kazakhstan began with the protests in Zhanaozen. The same city where, in December 2011, the authorities shot striking oil workers. The tragedy in Zhanaozen has left a mark on the protest culture in Kazakhstan. The people have cherished the memory of the dead. The duty of the living was to continue the work of the fallen.
And in January 2022, Zhanaozen rose again. The first city in the country, an example for all the others. The formal reason for the protests was the increase in gas prices and rising food prices. But, as noted by Mikhail Bakunin, mere dissatisfaction with the material situation is not enough for the revolution, a mobilizing idea is needed. In Kazakhstan, one such idea was the loyalty to the fighters who died in 2011. The workers who died then under the bullets will never see the world they dreamed of, but death for the sake of a dream became a testament to the living to continue their cause. And so for the rebels of Kazakhstan there is no way back now.
Kazakhstan’s rebellious culture has much to learn from. We, too, must keep the memory of the martyrs of the liberation movement in Russia and Belarus. About Michael Zhlobitsky, Andrey Zeltzer, Roman Bondarenko and other heroes. They died to make us braver and stronger, and we are indebted to them. We must tell how they lived and what they gave their lives for. As events in Kazakhstan show, fallen martyrs are capable of raising people to revolt.”
为了更深入地了解哈萨克斯坦的事件，我们联系了两位亲眼目睹了起义现场的无治女权主义者，虽然他们不在冲突的最前线，但他们是著名的活动家，多年来参与了该市的女权主义组织2。所以他们是我们能找到的对事件最接近 “中立 “立场的人。
在21世纪，我无法说出哈萨克斯坦的有任何的无治主义运动。20世纪90年代有一些地下活动，但就目前而言，没有这样的活动存在。我曾经参加过一个左翼马克思主义团体：会议、阅读小组、一些公开讲座。我不知道那些留下来的前成员现在在做什么。我在这没有听说这里有任何的 “左翼 “团体。
这里有一个叫Oyan Kazakhsta（”醒来吧，哈萨克斯坦”）的青年自由运动，现在很活跃。他们组织公众集会、表演、游行，并经常受到警察的骚扰。它始于Beibarys Tolymbekov和Asya Tulesova在2019年城市马拉松上拉了条横幅3。他们被监禁了15天，这引发了一大波关注，尤其是在社交媒体上，这在以从未发生过的。有一种阴谋论认为，所有这些活动家都是亲政府的，因为现在没有人在监狱里，但我认为这不是真的。我认识他们中的许多人。他们也支持女权主义和LGBTQ活动。而在反对的一方–主要是互联网上的仇视者和一些政府媒体–人们声称所有这些都是 “西方”（欧洲和美国）所为。
哈萨克斯坦是一个专制国家。我们的总统[努尔苏丹-纳扎尔巴耶夫（Nursultan Nazarbayev）]在位了28年，而新的总统[卡西姆-若马尔特-托卡耶夫（Kassym-Jomart Tokayev）]只是一个傀儡。但当第一任总统辞职后，人们开始考虑改变。围绕努尔苏丹-纳扎尔巴耶夫的个人崇拜并没有在他辞职后消失。首都阿斯塔纳被重新命名为 “努尔苏丹（Nur-Sultan）”，这引起了许多抗议。在过去的几年里，经济形势一直在恶化，特别是在大流行病之后，通货膨胀率非常高，腐败等等。而且，我们的土地被大量出售和出租给中国和其他国家。
情况一直如此–但十年前，甚至五年前，更多的人忠于总统，害怕 “不稳定”。当时，人们希望我们[哈萨克斯坦]只是正在 “发展”，事情会很快好起来。
以前，如果有任何抗议活动，都是由老一辈人、工人和来自各地区的人、auls（村庄）组织和支持的，通常由反对派领导人Mukhtar Qabyluly Ablyazov领导。但在过去三年里，来自城市中产阶级的年轻人开始成为政治活动家。这主要是来自阿拉木图的人，但在其他城市也有支持。
那天在回家的路上，我了解到该市不同地区的抗议活动，以及[上述青年自由运动]Oyan Kazakhstan 的活动家被逮捕。我住在离城不远的山上，在家里就已经很清楚有严重的事情发生了。晚上，所有的网络连接都断了。我不知道该去哪里，也不知道能不能回来。
人群到达共和广场（Republic Square）后大约一个小时，他们前往阿拜街（Abai Street）。在那里，他们遇到了一辆向他们驶来的装甲运兵车。一辆卡车驶过，上面载着挥舞着哈萨克旗帜的市民。其中一些人手持盾牌，似乎是从防暴警察身上抢来的。”
这座城市比平日空阔了一半。挂着哈萨克国旗的汽车在街上行驶，喊着一些欢快的口号。一切都是封闭的。门上挂着 “我们与人民在一起 “的牌子。一种兴奋的气氛。当我们越来越接近广场时，能看到更多的年轻人群。我看到一条警察的肩带躺在路上。有的人拿着棍子在开会。这变得有点吓人，但没有人有攻击性。在1986年事件（反对苏维埃政权的起义）纪念碑前，我们遇到了手持警察盾牌的抗议者。没有看到一个警察或士兵。
在哈萨克斯坦，我还没有看到任何关于 CIA [美国政府中央情报局] 的讨论。我认为这是俄罗斯的宣传。
被允许继续运作的大众媒体开始向我们讲述激进分子和伊斯兰教徒，使用来自外部的敌人形象。在此之前，在抗议活动的头几天，有一种呼吁 “与抗议者进行和平对话 “的论调–而一天后，已经有了开枪杀人的命令（在托卡耶夫总统的讲话中）。集体安全条约组织的军队进入后，两天来街头枪声不断，托卡耶夫将抗议者等同于恐怖分子，以及活动家和人权维护者，用他的话说，独立媒体成为稳定的威胁。在这个寻找敌人的过程中，国家话语不断变化：昨天这个敌人据说是来自吉尔吉斯斯坦的受贿失业者，今天已经是来自阿富汗的激进分子。我们都希望明天不会是过去三年来在哈萨克斯坦倡导政治改革并出来参加集会的活动家。
当地独立记者 Lukpan Akhmediyarov 已被捕。另一位独立记者 Makhambet Abjan 发消息称，1 月 5 日，警察来到了他的公寓；现在他失踪了。我的朋友和社交媒体上的许多其他人发文说他们的亲友也失踪了。
官员们已经确认有数百名受害者死亡，包括两名儿童。来自工会的积极分子下落不明–包括Kuspan Kosshigulov、Takhir Erdanov和Amin Eleusinov及其亲属。、
- The Uprising in Kazakhstan: An Interview and Appraisal
- “Anger, injustice and politics brought people to the streets in Kazakhstan“—A credible account of the situation from a longtime human rights advocate in Almaty
- “The people will still have the opportunity to rid the country of the dictator”—an interview with an anarchist from Kazakhstan
- “Colonialism of the twenty-first century“—A perspective from Belarusian anarchists
- Statement of Russian Anarcho-Syndicalists and Anarchists on the Situation in Kazakhstan
- Consequences of the Protests in Kazakhstan
From December 17-19, 1986, there were protests in Almaty in response to Mikhail Gorbachev, then-General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, dismissing the longstanding First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and replacing him with an official from Russia. (Gorbachev later claimed he was trying to prevent Nursultan Nazarbayev from concentrating too much power in his hands; Nazarbayev went on to rule Kazakhstan for 28 years.) In 1986, as in 2022, the protests ended in a massacre at the hands of state forces. In 1986, as in 2022, rumors spread that the protesters were bribed with vodka or led astray via leaflets. ↩
自苏联解体后第一个。 Kazfem, arguably the first feminist movement in Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union, publishes the feminist magazine Yudol’ and organizes demonstrations for March 8, International Women’s Day. ↩
悬挂了You can’t run from the truth【你不能逃避真相】。On April 21, Asya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov were jailed for 15 days, charged with violating Kazakhstan’s law regarding public assembly after hanging a banner along the marathon route in Almaty, reading “You can’t run from the truth”—a comment on the presidential elections. ↩