“The Organization of Turkic States can play an active role in peace”

“The Organization of Turkic States can play an active role in peace”

Kazakhstan’s president Tokayev has announced that the normalization process has started, and the peacekeeping forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have begun handing over protected facilities to law enforcement agencies.

Kazakhstan was rocked by days of violent protests sparked by a fuel price hike. However, Kazakhstan is still being subjected to armed aggression by “well-coordinated terrorist groups trained abroad,” said Tokayev.

We talked to Rassul Rysmambetov, an economist from Kazakhstan, about the latest situation in the country, the background of the protests and possible next steps.

Normalization process

What is the last situation now in the country? Are the actions and protests still going on? Can you describe the current situation for us?

As of January 13, the situation is slowly getting back to normal. The police are now hunting down looters and trying to seize stolen goods.

The situation shifted extremely fast – from a peaceful rally on January 3-4 to violent actions from both sides in the evening of January 5. In two days, the situation had calmed down in all regions of Kazakhstan aside from the largest city of Almaty. On January 10, many restaurants and coffee shops opened their doors, even in Almaty.

What happened? What were the demands of the protestors? What steps have been taken and will be taken to meet the demands of the people?

The protests were provoked by the sudden massive price increases for LPG in the Mangystau region of Kazakhstan (Caspian province of Kazakhstan). Hundreds and later thousands of people made it to the central square of a small city of Zhanaozen and later protests started in Aktau, the capital.

On the evening of January 3, the central government decided to send a commission to investigate the reasons for the price hike. In the evening of January 4, the commission promised to reduce the price from 120 KZT per 1 liter to 50 KZT per 1 liter.

The president of Kazakhstan also ordered a freeze on prices for fuel for 180 days. The government plans to investigate the details of the fuel pricing and decide on the market-driven mechanism after investigation’s conclusion.

On January 4, several activists called for a peaceful rally to support people of Mangystau region. However, there were provocateurs among them, who attacked police officers and started fights.

On January 5, the protests continued and immediately started with violence. The provocateurs led people to assault the administrative buildings, city hall, presidential palace, buildings of the police, Kazakh security service, public prosecutor’s office, and also shops, restaurants. The police were ordered not to use lethal weapons against protesters. Firearms were used only to protect administrative buildings.

On the same evening, the president of Kazakhstan invited peacekeeping troops of the Collective security treaty organization.

How do you see these events? Is this only a civil uprising against the government or something more than that?

There are two scenarios being discussed in the public:

  1.  Treason in the special service. Even the chair of KNB (Kazakh special service) was detained on accusation of a coup attempt. The president said that even foreign mercenaries were brought to Kazakhstan.
  2. A clash of two power groups supporting the previous and current president respectively. At the same time, neither president was directly involved in the conflict. This scenario does not rule out the first one.

We can certainly exclude the idea that it was a purely civilian uprising. The Mangystau region demonstrated an advanced culture of peaceful rallies. The protesters sang songs, cleaned litter from the central square – and were non-violent. Meanwhile, Almaty city saw violence: the looters carried guns that they had taken from the hunting shops. The rallies in Almaty were peaceful only on the first day.

How do you evaluate the attitude and decisions of the government?

The government was quick to fix its mistakes with the LPG price increase. The police, special service and army were taken aback and it took them at least two days to regroup. The president assumed the main role and full responsibility and showed himself as a determined anti-crisis manager.

We are receiving information about the actions of the government only now and therefore, it is very hard to assess them.

The role of the CSTO

What is the role of the peacekeeping forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Kazakhstan? Do you know when they will leave the country completely?

The troops of CSTO were invited to protect and secure infrastructure, facilities of strategic importance, and administrative buildings. They are also in some public places to prevent terrorist attacks.

CSTO troops are not involved in hunting down terrorists and their main function is to free hands of the Kazakh police, army, special service to seize criminals and terrorists.

How do you evaluate the statements of powerful actors such as the US, China and Russia?

The United States’ embassy issued a statement of condolences to the people of Kazakhstan, China condemned unlawful violence of the gangs in the street, and Russia sent troops.

I think that the powerful actors are waiting until Kazakhstan discloses the details of the investigation.

The role of the Organization of Turkic States

Do you think the Organization of Turkic States can contribute to the restoration of peace in Kazakhstan?

Definitely, we in Kazakhstan would love to see the Organization of Turkic States playing an important role in bringing back total stability to the country in peaceful ways – through economic cooperation.

I think OTS could hold a special meeting to discuss lessons from this short but violent crisis in our country. Perhaps we could bring together police and other forces to discuss cooperation and information. It is not a big secret that there are many Kazakh citizens residing in Turkey and some of them might be linked to the illegal activity in Kazakhstan.

Economic prosperity for stable peace

How do you think peace can be restored in the country? What steps will be taken next?

True and stable peace can be brought about only through economic prosperity. The last 7-8 years were not good for Kazakhstan. Our governments were helpless to develop the economy and improve the wellbeing of the people.

It is my deepest conviction that Turkey can play a very good economic example for Kazakhstan – how to diversify the economy, improve education, enhance healthcare, and develop many other spheres.

Elif İlhamoğlu

Elif İlhamoğlu is political scientist and  journalist (Turkey). She is studying for PHD on the political science and international relations department at Istanbul University. She visited Middle East countries, Syria, Lebanon, Iran several times and did interviews with the leaders as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hilal al-Hilal Secretary General of the Syrian Ba'ath Party.

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February 2024