- Current Events
Garrett McKenzie '24 discusses the facts of the violence that occurred in Kazakhstan in January, and how Angelina Strizhakova, a Perkiomen student, was affected.
Almost as soon as her plane touched down in Moscow, Russia, Perkiomen School tenth grader Angelina Strizhakova turned on her phone to realize that her home country of Kazakhstan had shut down all airports moments after her plane departed. The reason, as she soon discovered, was due to extreme violence that had broken out in the southern part of the country, as peaceful demonstrations turned into violent clashes with police and military forces. With the internet shut down, making it unable to call her family or friends, Angelina was left in disbelief. “This has never happened before,” she shared. “It was very surprising and scary.”
Part of the reason for her surprise is the fact that Kazakhstan has seen virtually no major unrest in its 30 years of independence from the former Soviet Union. The central Asian country has instead sat rather quietly, amassing billions of dollars in foreign oil investments and attracting tourists to ski on the southern slopes near Almaty. However, on January 2, this period of quiet came to an abrupt end, spurred on by a variety of incendiary factors.
The political backdrop in Kazakhstan is mainly dominated by the autocratic policies of current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who was backed by the former leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who held power for over 30 years. This type of insulated government has led to discontent among the citizens, and is only further exacerbated by the fact that reports have surfaced of federal backlash against critics and potential protests. Furthermore, the average income is between $100-$500 a month, leading to high levels of poverty in the country, despite its incredibly high levels of oil. All of these factors have independently combined to create a situation of unrest.
This tension came to a head early in the new year, a day after a steep rise in fuel prices, when protesters in Almaty, the country’s largest city, took to the streets to voice their disapproval of the price change and overall unhappiness with living conditions. The protests quickly turned violent, with cars and buildings, including the mayor’s office, being set aflame. As a result, the government mobilized the national guard to try and halt the riots, with a controversial “shoot to kill” order being placed by President Tokayev himself in a televised address. In addition, the internet was shut down and a curfew imposed, in further attempts to quell the chaos. The Kazakhstan government also received backup from Russian troops through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a move that has caused some concerns for the U.S. as the diplomatic relationship with the former Soviet country tenses. Upon the voicing of these concerns, Russia indicated that they were only providing support temporarily, but troop movements along the border of Ukraine have created a sense of distrust and uneasiness.
Finally, by January 11, the upheaval was over, leaving dozens on both sides dead, many more injured, and reports of thousands of protesters detained by federal authorities. “I’m just thankful that it’s over now,” Angelina said, “though the curfew is still in place for a while.” In addition, President Tokayev promised policy reforms after the government resigned on January 5, but uncertainty still remains in the region. Tokayev stated that the violence was a coup d’etat, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Kazakhstan was targeted by international terrorist forces. Despite these dramatic claims, little evidence has been provided, making their corroboration difficult. However, political analysts and diplomats remain hopeful that more answers will surface so as to shed light on these recent events.