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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightDeep Readchevron_rightMassacre in

Massacre in Kazakhstan

Massacre in Kazakhstan

President Tokayev said that 20 000 armed terrorists had attacked Almaty. He claims his security forces killed 26 and arrested 5 000. What happened to the other 15 000? How come he boasts that things are getting back to normal with 15, 000 armed terrorists on the loose in his nation's largest city? He has been telling blatant lies.

Tokayev said that these terrorists were trained abroad. He did not say where. The dearth of corroboratory particulars makes his statements dubious, to say the least. What are the names of the terrorist organisations? What is their ideology? How did 20,000 of them suddenly materialise in Almaty? Kazakhstan is a police state. Tokayev runs a very tight ship. It is not remotely credible that huge quantities or arms could have been shipped in without the authorities noticing.

It is true that during the disturbances, some public buildings were set afire. But who were the arsonists? It could be that rioters were the inflammators. However, it was possibly a false flag operation. In 2011, in Zhanaozen, the Kazakh Police set fire to buildings behind their own security cordon. That provided a pretext to shoot 100 unarmed demonstrators. The government said 16 of those were shot died. A 16% fatality rate from being shot is not remotely credible. These were not rubber bullets that were used. More likely, 100 were killed and more wounded.

The Kazakh regime will use tactics from the Soviet playbook. Destroy buildings yourself, blame the peaceful protesters, call them armed terrorists, accusing them of being fascists or religious maniacs, shoot them, then destroy any images that prove what you are saying is false and finally announce a death toll that is far lower than the true figure. This is what happened at the Zheltoksan Massacre in 1986, the Uzbekistan Massacre in 2006 and the Novocherkask Massacre in 1962, and on numerous other occasions.

No photos or footage of terrorist fighting have been released. No images of captured weapons have been published. No images of dead police officers or names of them have been published. Have any been killed at all? Perhaps the regime is falsely claiming this so it can defend its decision to slaughter its own people.

Kazakh TV showed images of its troops firing down streets. Would terrorists really cluster on a group in the middle of the street?

It is surprising that the regime has not so far said that the victims are ISIS or Al Qa'eda affiliates. They strove to de-legitimise peaceful protesters by saying it was a foreign conspiracy. That is an absolutely bog-standard strategy a government uses to smear dissidents and demonstrators.

In Kazakhstan, elections are farcical. These charades have the incumbent winning far more votes than all the other candidates put together. Real opposition parties are not allowed. Groups as outlawed as 'extremist' if they criticise the regime. Strikes are banned. Trade unions are neutered. The media is severely censored. The courts are entirely pliant. There are no peaceable means to attain justice.

The regime tried conciliation over gas prices. When that failed, it responded with mass murder.

Much of the demonstrators' fury was directed at Nazarbayev. Crowds shouted, ''old man out'' and tore down a statue of him. Nazarbayev has ruled the country under various titles since 1989.

Tokayev seems to have used violence to consolidate his power. Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as President of Kazakhstan in 2019. He handed over to Tokayev. Tokayev is a grey man. Bland, obsequious, deferential, conformist and acutely lacking in charisma, he seemed the perfect heir. Tokayev's robotic obedience ensured that Nazarbayev would remain in control despite being no longer formally president. Nazarbayev had awarded himself the title 'Leader of the Nation' several years before he stepped down from the presidency. He holds that title for life. Nazarbayev was also Chairman of the Kazakh Security Council. This gave him the final word over foreign affairs, the police, and the military. Nazarbayev would rule the country without having to make tedious public appearances. He was 79 and rumoured to be suffering from prostate cancer.

It appeared that Nazarbayev was the real ruler of the country despite retiring as president in 2019. Some dismissed Tokayev as his puppet. There is a rumour that Nazarbayev has left the country. His office has strenuously denied this. The 81-year-old has not been seen in public nor released any statements since December 2020. Nazarbayev was dismissed as Chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan on January 5. Tokayev has now assumed this role himself. A statement issued on behalf of Nazarbayev professed his allegiance to Tokayev.

On January 8 Karim Massimov was taken into custody and accused of being a traitor. He was once Prime Minister and head of the internal intelligence agency (NBK) since 2016. On January 5 he was fired as chairman of the NBK by President Tokayev. Several years ago, it had even been rumoured that Massimov would be president. It is hard to feel any sympathy for Massimov. Instead, schadenfreude is the apposite sentiment. Massimov is being hoisted on his own petard. He is meeting the fate he designed for so many others. He spent years arresting human rights activists and religious dissenters. They were tortured, tried before kangaroo courts and sentenced to years and years in fetid, dark dungeons. Massimov is seen as a protege of Nursultan Nazarbayev. The situation is grave for Massimov. The acquittal rate is under 1%. He faces decades in jail. Is he really suspected, or is it an excuse to remove him? China never liked the 57-year-old because he is an Uyghur.

The purging of Massimov could be a sign of intra-elite warfare. Is Massimov really a traitor? Or is Tokayev taking down Nazarbayev's retainers so that Tokayev himself is finally fully in charge? The Soviet-style is to remove a man's acolytes first before purging the rival himself. Nazarbayev's nephew Samat Abish has also been removed from his post in the NBK.

For decades, Kazakhs have had it dinned into them that they must reverence Nazarbayev. This is so deeply ingrained that it is unlikely that Tokayev will attack Nazarbayev directly. He might just make Nazarbayev irrelevant and powerless. Nazarbayev is probably going to die in the new few years anyway.

Tokayev told the public that security forces have been ordered to shoot to kill any suspected terrorists without warning.

Almaty is tranquil now, but people are generally not allowed onto the streets. There is a heavy military presence. They fire warning shots if people venture too close.

Almaty Airport has been closed to civilian flights until January 14, at least. Russia and other Collective Security Treaty Organization countries airlifted 2 500 troops on January 7. Tokayev has been speaking Russian on TV lately. He usually speaks his native Kazakh. His reversion to Russian pleases Moscow.

Putin is said to be mulling retirement in 2024. He thought about inventing a 'Leader of the Nation' title for himself. Then he could be the power behind the throne, even if he handed the presidency to one of his minions. Les evenements in Kazakhstan will have given him pause for thought. He will see what pans out for Nazarbayev.

China has vociferated in support of Tokayev's response. It is Kazakhstan's main trade partner.

Western countries have not inveighed much against the Kazakh regime. They have largely lost interest in the region. But it is still not wise to queer the pitch for mineral purchases.

The regime has perpetrated another atrocity against its own people and gotten away with it. We live in a very cruel and unjust world.

The author is a political analyst based in the UK

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