THE WESTERN KAZAKHSTAN CONFLICT (ZHANAOZEN, MANGYSTAU PROVINCE)
16-17 DECEMBER 2011
AND SOME ASPECTS OF THE CONFLICT DEVELOPMENT
(Research Report of the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis)
Republic of Kazakhstan – a young, fast developing state in Central Asia. This country has strategic importance to Europe. Kazakhstan is rich in hydrocarbons and other mineral resources. It is one of the crucial elements of the transport system connecting European Union with China and other dynamic Asian economies. The country is an economic development leader in the region and a major factor of stability in the region bordered directly by Afghanistan.
In December of 2011, when Kazakhstanis were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the country’s independence in one of its Western districts a resonant conflict took place. In the Zhanaozen city after a long lasting industrial action the workers of an oil-extracting company have crushed their companies’ office, the local authorities’ building and other premises in the city. The police has used firearms in order to stop the riots. 14 people have died.
This incident has uncovered a considerable number of risks and challenges that nowadays has to be coped with in this oil rich republic of Central Asia. And it is not all only about social and labor legislation concerns. The conflict between the employees and the management of the state oil company which started from demands to raise wages and ended up with mass rioting and casualties, has uncovered a whole range of unsolved problems which in many spheres concern the very roots of Kazakhstan’s existence including political, cultural, economic and social issues.
Considering that the Republic of Kazakhstan takes part in other formations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Customs Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, makes it indispensable forecasting how the conflict in the republic – even at the very local level – may impact on the sensitive areas of these organizations operating in the immediate vicinity of continental Europe.
If one takes into account that the Republic of Kazakhstan has inherited from the USSR a whole lot of complex problems ranging from defense to environmental, from international to tribal, the first alarm bells which rang in the country in December of the last year have to be meticulously examined. And it would be advisable to make it from many angles and in many aspects. Otherwise the republic as well as its neighborhood take the risk of absolutely unexpected and unpredicted results.
1. The Republic of Kazakhstan
1.1 General data
1.2 Western Kazakhstan
1.3 The region’s social and economic situation
1.4 Social and economic problems of Zhanaozen reflected in the mass-media
2. The chronology of the conflict
2.1 The development of the conflict
2.2 The outcome of the conflict
3. The analysis of the conflict’s causes
3.1 Social and economic preconditions of the conflict
3.2 Political preconditions of the conflict
3.3 Internal pressure, opposition’s activities
4. Some conclusions
1. The Republic of Kazakhstan
1.1 General data
Kazakhstan (the Republic of Kazakhstan) – a state in Central Asia and Eastern Europe bordered by China. The ninth largest country in the world by land area, with the territory of 2,727,300 square kilometres. Its terrain extends west to east from the Caspian Sea to the Altay Mountains and north to south from the plains of Western Siberia to the oases and deserts of Central Asia.
It shares borders of 6,846 kilometres with Russia, 2,203 kilometres with Uzbekistan, 1,533 kilometres with China, 1,051 kilometres with Kyrgyzstan, and 379 kilometres with Turkmenistan. The total length of its land borders amounts to 13,392,6 kilometres. Its borders are washed by two intra continental seas – the Aral and the Caspian seas. Kazakhstan is a country with no access to world oceans.
Kazakhstan is divided into 14 provinces. The provinces are subdivided into districts .
Almaty and Astana cities have the status of State importance and do not relate to any province. Economic-geographically it is also divided in Central, Western, Northern and Southern regions.
According to the Global Competitiveness Index run by the World Economic Forum (Davos) the republic as of 2009 keeps getting 4.1 points ranking from 66 to 72.
With regard to its political system Kazakhstan is a presidential republic what leads to the assumption that the head of state plays an important role in state ruling structure, placing in his hands wide competences that have an important influence on other branches of power structure, such as the judicial and legislative authorities. In many aspects the political system of Kazakhstan has been inspired by the political model of the French Fifth Republic, which assumes that the President is a head of state while the direct rule remains with the government, and the Parliament does the legislative work. Nevertheless, many political scientists note that Kazakhstan is a super-presidential republic with an almost unrestricted presidential power.
Kazakhstan’s economy is characterized by important sectoral distortions, which have been partly consolidated since its independence (1991), consisting in strong growth of such branches as gas and oil as well as of the uranium extracting industries, while such branches as metallurgy or construction have been barely growing . As to other indexes (exempting the development of means of communication which is due to the scientific and technological progress) the republic remains in stagnation which started already in the Soviet period. This trend concerns particularly the country’s industry.
Hardly perceptible is the development of the republic’s welfare, educational and healthcare system. A drop in the number of kindergartens has been noticed. The growth of the number of educational institutions is accompanied by a sharp drop in the level of education.
The country’s agriculture grievances are not lesser. A long term decrease in husbandry is due to a sharp drop in pasture supplies, the lack of breeding base and to the lack of interest of the state to make capital investments in the sector.
The only supported sector of this branch is the grain and flour-milling one. The last indexes show that the plant growing branch is suffering from durable drop and general stagnation.
1.2 Western Kazakhstan
Western Kazakhstan – the economic-geographical region, part of Republic of Kazakhstan. It includes the Aktobe, West-Kazakh, Mangystau, and Atyrau districts. The region is bordered from the north by Russian Federation, from the south by Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Its territory amounts to 736 129 square kilometres (it is, for instance, a territory which equals the size of France and the UK together). Geographical location: it is extended from the Western periphery of the Volga River delta on the West to the Turanian lowland to the south-east, from the Southern spurs of Ural and of Obshchy Syrt on the north to the Ustyurt plateau and Turkmen deserts in the south. It is washed by the intra-continental Aral and Caspian seas.
Big cities (official statistical data from 2010):
Aktobe – 357 193 inhabitants
Aktau – 256 440 inhabitants
Uralsk – 249 819 inhabitants
Atyrau – 200 640 inhabitants
Zhanaozen – 96 243 inhabitants
According to the official statistical data from 2012, the population of the region amounts to 2 363 450 inhabitants, that includes – 1 864 441 Kazakhs, 301 427 Russians. There are also some Ukrainians, Tatars, Belarusians, Germans, Koreans, Azerbaijanis and others. The Kazakh is the most widely spoken language in the region of Western Kazakhstan.
1.3 The region’s social and economic situation
To begin with, it is worth noting that Western Kazakhstan consists of mainly three districts: Atyrau, West-Kazakh and Mangystau concentrated in the western part of the republic. Some researchers include also Aktobe district into this number, but it would rather be a transit district than part of the western districts.
The region is unique due its natural resources – carbohydrogens (oil, natural gas and gas condensate), stocks of chromium, nickel, titanium, phosphorites, zinc, copper, aluminum and coal.
The Atyrau oil refining factory is enhancing its capacities to produce gas of different brands, gas oil as well as other products. In this region the machine, metal working, light and food industry are being developed as well as agriculture (husbandry, plant growing, meat and dairy industry, confectionery, cereal and fish processing industries).
One of the biggest ports at the Caspian Sea coast is the Aktau International Sea Commercial Port which works along with a range of smaller river and sea ports such as the Atyrau, Bautino and Kuryk. A road and railway network is available, as well as international airports (Atyrau, Aktau, Uralsk), There are also networks of oil and gas pipelines KazTransOil Ltd., KazTransGas Ltd., the Caspian Pipeline Consortium and the Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company. Everywhere there are power stations of Mangyshlek Atomic Energy Combinate (MAEK) and gas-turbine based power-and-heating plants.
All economic ratings indicate that the following districts have a very high rank as to their share in the regional gross product:
Atyrau district: 1969,9 billion tenge
West-Kazakh district: 833 billion tenge
Mangystau district: 1108,5 billion tenge
At the same time the region can’t boast of high population density:
Atyrau district: 513 400 inhabitants
West-Kazakh district: 624 300 inhabitants
Mangystau district: 446 300 inhabitants
Looking ahead, let us make a remark, that these data have a substantial significance to the current research, since they show one of the aspects of conflict potential of the region: important distortions in the budgetary policy.
In order to visualize it better we shall show data concerning the most densely populated South Kazakh region, where the Gross Regional Product (925,5 billion tenge) is relatively low with regard to size of the population of 2 429 100 inhabitants. This means that the Western part of Kazakhstan shows a rather high efficiency level.
Some different factors contribute to it. The first and most important is oil. In this region as well as on the shelf of the Caspian Sea an overwhelming majority oil and natural gas resources as well as uranium deposits of the whole country are concentrated. From among 102 oil and natural gas deposits of strategic importance to the republic, only 17 are located outside the three districts mentioned above. In that way the hydrocarbons’ stock of the country is concentrated in this region. Accordingly, if taking into account prospective indicators these districts embrace together about 70% of the hydrocarbons of the Kazakhstan Republic.
The best reconnoitered oil deposits are those of the Atyrau district, where more than 75 deposits of industrialized stocks have been discovered i.e. 930 million tons. The biggest deposit of the district is Tengyz (original ready to extract resources – 781,1 million tons).
At the Mangystau district territory over 70 deposits of commercially exploitable reserves of oil of industrial category have been discovered – 725 million tons, 5,6 million tons of gas oil. Only less than half of the deposits are being exploited, most of them at late stages of exploitation. The largest part of the residual deposits are those which are hard to extract. The biggest deposits are: Uzen, Zhetibay, Kalamkaz, Karazhanbas.
Over 15 deposits of hydrocarbons are in the West-Kazakh district. The unconditional leader among them is Karachaganak deposit with 320 million tons of raw liquid hydrocarbon as well as 450 billion cubic meters of oil gas. In September 2005 it was announced about the discovery at the adjoining Fedorovskij block of oil and oil gas stock, estimated to contain as much as 200 million tons.
The above mentioned feature of the region turn it into a leader in industrial output in the country, which means automatically that West Kazakhstan generates most of the budget income and is the basic revenue source of the republic.
Volume of industrial output, billions, tenge
Besides, with regard to many indicators of social and economic development the region can hardly compete with many heavily subsidized districts. For instance the accessibility indicators which comprise of road system density, the district shows to be at the bottom of the scale. Another relevant indicator of the population well-being is the number of available cars. Here Western Kazakhstan is also very poor equipped, especially the Atyrau district which is very scarcely populated ranks last as to the number of cars per capita.
1.4 Social and economic problems of Zhanaozen reflected in the mass-media
Analytic journalism has for instance used some of issues and arguments mentioned below. In particular, the journal “Kazakhstan Expert” appeals to take a closer look at the social and economic background which has been developed in the Western regions of the republic.
“In Western districts of Kazakhstan a paradoxical situation has aroused. Statistical data show that in those oil and gas extracting districts a huge part of the country’s GDP is generated. Here is where the population earns most, both in nominal and real terms. But it is these districts where researchers note the biggest radicalization of the people while the law and order institutions – a surge of organized crime and religious extremism. Paradoxically the workers of the most important part of the country keep striking for the last three years despite constant wages’ increase. Up to now the situation is a complete dead end: the striking Kazakhstan workers occupying Uzen and Karazhanbaz deposits, are demanding so much that the state oil enterprise RD KMG is not able to comply with these demands. The discontent with the wages is accompanied by animosity towards foreigners, who are taking from them the best, most profitable jobs.” .
It is remarkable, that journalists have understood so well the situation before the dramatic events of 16th December 2011. To this or other extent the topic was discussed by other mainstream media. Nevertheless in the middle of the Summer of 2011, the media have split accurately into three camps. The opposition media, close to the banker Muhtar Abliazov (the newspapers “Republic”, “Opinion”, the website “Republic”, as well as the video website Stan.tv along with the satellite TV company “K+”) took a very radical and distinctive attitude of confrontation with the authorities. The majority of the media close to the governmental circles have hastily taken the opposite stance. And only few media kept trying to understand the situation in a more or less impartial way.
2. The chronology of the conflict
2.1 The key events of the industrial action
According to the data of Kazakh mass media, the oil workers’ protest at “Karazhanbasmunay” has begun on the 16th May 2011, and in the PF “Ozenmunaygaz” on 26th May 2011. A group of activists near the 5th section has announced a termless hunger strike.
On 27th May the Zhanoazen city court takes on the case and rules that the strike is illegal.
This verdict has enabled the employer and the local authorities, as well as law and order forces, to treat the workers in a categorical way. For instance, when on June 5th 2011 a group of 500 workers has attempted to make a protest demanding the release from jail of the lawyer Natalia Sokolova (who initiated the protest, pointing at some wrong, in her opinion, extra regional and branch charges) the police has stopped the action in a very brutal way. The following day 30 participants of the protest have been judged and fined.
On 23rd June 2011 police agents have curtailed the action of striking workers of TOO “Ersay Caspian Contractor”, and the next day – a protest of mothers and wives of the striking workers, who tried to express their solidarity with the demands of the workers on strike, began.
On 8th June the special forces – OMON nearby the “Ozenmunaigas” enterprise, with 200 people in there has attempted to disperse the strikers. But they had to stop when the hunger strikers have poured gas on themselves threatening with an act of mass self-burning. Nonetheless, at night of 10th June the police has dismantled the strikers’ camp.
On 13th June 2011 the court of Aktau has sentenced the leader of the striking workers of the “Kazhambazmunay” Kuanysh Sisenbayev to work 200 hours of community service. He was punished for having organized a peaceful protest on 5th of June.
On 8th August the court of Aktau has sentenced the lawyer of the trade union Natalia Sokolova to six months in prison for having organized and led meetings and instigating social conflicts.
On 17th August of 2011 the leader of the trade union at the “Ozenmunaigas” Akzhanat Aminov was sentenced to one year in prison conditionally suspended for 2 years for having organized and led a meeting.
The 8th of September 2011 an activist of the striking oil workers of “Ozenmunaygaz” was detained.
2.2 The development of the conflict
The first day – 16th December (official information) 
“On 16th December 2011 mass disorders have taken place in the city of Zhanaozen in the Mangystau district, caused by a group of people behaving unlawfully. At the main square of the city independence festivities have been disturbed, yurtas and the portable stage have been destroyed and police aides have suffered injuries. “
As a result of mass disorders in Zhanaozen 14 people died. Buildings of Akimat (local authorities), a hotel, and the office of “Ozenmunaigas”, total 46 buildings have been burnt.
A group of rioting persons started to beat peaceful citizens and to smash cars parked along the square. When called by the law and order forces to stop unlawful behavior, the rioting group has attacked police officers aiming to capture their arms.
According to preliminary data, the riots have caused death of 10 people, some people were injured, including police officers. Judicial proceedings have been initiated against the rioters.
The head of state has commissioned an investigation and operational group led by the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, K. Kasymov which has flown to the city of Zhanaozen to undertake all actions essential to stop unlawful acts, find those guilty of rioting and punish them as well as to restore security in the city.
“The riots in Zhanaozen have caused the death of 14 and 86 people were injured. Just recently it was learned that at the crime site another body of a dead man was found, who died while TD “Sulpak” (electronic devices shop) was burnt and robbed. Preliminary examination indicates that the man had no visible injuries and has died of burns. According to information provided by the General Attorney, Zhanaozen riots of 16th December have caused injuries of 86 people, including six policemen, while four people are still in reanimation.”
The data facilitated by the General Attorney’s office of the Republic of Kazakhstan indicate that due to mass disorders 46 facilities have been robbed and burnt. Among them: 8 bank facilities (cash machines and banks), i.a. the office of the National Bank was robbed as well as the branch of “Alliance Bank”; 20 shops (a shopping mall “Sulpak” and “Atlant” were robbed); one notary office; 2 pawn shops; 2 akimats (city halls) (one of the city and another of the Tenge village); 1 photo salon; 2 police stations; the “AruAna” hotel; “Ozenmunaigas” company office; 3 private houses; more than 20 cars have been burnt and damaged; the stage, the yurtas and music equipment have been destroyed.
“The crowd have been using parts of scaffolding, cold weapons and firearms against those who made attempts to extinguish the fire and help injured people. The crowd went crazy, many of them were drunk”, said deputy director of the Internal Affairs Department of the Mangystau District Talgat Musakanov.
Timur Alkuatov, chief physician of the first aid station in Zhanaozen has told: “We have been threatened. They wanted to smash or burn the car. They have raised barriers on all the streets. The cars couldn’t get through. That is why we have refused to treat them after twelve o’clock.”
According to recent data 86 people were injured and 14 died due to the riots. Some of them died as a result of the unlawful behavior of the rioters. So, to the law enforcement bodies has addressed a father of one of the victims, Dusenkenov Atabergen Hasanul, born in 1987, who turned out to be a local technical school teacher and died only because he brought his pupils to the city square to take part in the festivities.
There are people affected with tiny bullet wounds and body injuries which had nothing to do with the police action. Since the law enforcement bodies didn’t use shotguns, neither approached the attackers close enough to inflict direct injuries, the possibility that the above mentioned injuries have been caused by the police is excluded.
“In the last days’ attempts to take over the building of the administrative court of Zhanaozen were brought tonaught as well as that of murdering and assaulting law enforcement officers. At the same time all rumors about mass bloodshed are completely ungrounded, amount to pure misinformation and are spread to provoke more violence. In the last days in the city of Zhanaozen not a single use of weapons by the law enforcement bodies was allowed.”
A meeting of the Security Council of the country took place in Astana headed by the president of Kazakhstan. A decree declaring state of emergency in Zhanaozen was signed.
A statement of the president of Kakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev (excerpts)
“I would like to note that policemen have accurately fulfilled their duty and acted according to their powers and to the law. Everybody who has died or suffered injury has family, relatives. I express my sincere condolences. The families of the victims will receive assistance. All the law offences will be investigated. At present the situation is under control of the law enforcement institutions. Those guilty of crimes will be severely punished. At the same time I would rather not connect the strike of the oil workers to the actions of bandits, who have taken the opportunity to pursue their criminal goals.
We won’t allow any attempts to disturb peace and stability of our home, to destroy the achievements of our independence. That is why the public has no reason for anxiety. The situation is under control. The law is the law. Everyone must be treated equally under the law. The law will be applied to assure security and peace for the community of the city. The state will use the law with all severity in case of any attempt to put into jeopardy the peace and security of our citizens.
I recommend to the Attorney General and other law enforcement agencies to hold a careful investigation of what happened, assure full access of the public to all the findings, tell the nation what has been found out and invite independent experts to take part in the investigation.
I call all Kazakhstanis to condemn this incident which is alien to our nation and to stay calm. I ask the citizens of Zhanaozen for wisdom and composure. We shall solve all these problems. In order to rebuild the Zhanaozen economy and the burnt facilities, and first of all to assure security for the citizens, I issue a decree which introduces a state of emergency over the town of Zhanaozen in compliance with the Constitution and with the state of emergency law. It will stand for the next 20 days as of today. As soon as we solve our problems and re-establish peace, we can lift it anytime.”
Second day – 17th December (official information) 
“On December 17th 2011 at 1:24 p.m. (local time) a group of people blocked a passenger train at Shetpe railway station in Mangistau district. The passenger train Number 309 was heading from Mangyshlak to Aktobe, carrying more than 300 passengers.The group of people blocking the rails called to support mass disorders in Zhanaozen city. Transport flow was disrupted, 7 passenger trains and 3 freight trains were delayed.The protesters ignored calls of the police officers to disperse and abide to the law and refused to leave the rails.
At about 8 p.m. local time the police attempted to free the railways and put a stop to the abusive actions. However, about 50 hooligans resisted the police, set a cargo train’s locomotive on fire, threw bottles with flammable liquids at the rails cars. The group of aggressors then took off to Shetpe village, set a Christmas tree on fire, broke shop windows and car windows. Police officers who were trying to stop the violence also came under attack: the hooligans threw bottles with flammable liquids and stones at them.
Actions of the hooligans posed a real threat to lives and health of civilians and police officers and the police officers had to resort to the use of firearms.
At the same time 150-200 people came from the settlement, surrounded the police, and started to throw them with stones and Molotov cocktails. Buses that brought police officers were also attacked with Molotov cocktails and stones. In addition, a UAZ car without license plates several times drove up to the square and unknown persons which were inside it fired from firearms at security forces. As a result of the attacks five law enforcement officers get various wounds and burns. given that the actions of hooligans were dangerous to lives and health of civilians and police officers themselves, the police, after repeatedly firing warning shots was forced to use weapons. The shots were made mainly to the air and at the legs of hooligans. 8 out of 12 injured hooligans got wounds of legs, five men were sent home after receiving medical aid, six were hospitalized, one died.
Criminal cases followed these facts. The situation in Shetpe stabilized, law and order on the streets of this settlement is restored, as well as the traffic of trains through the station. At the same time, security forces are taking all necessary measures to suppress criminal activity, maintain law and order, protect the rights and freedoms of citizens".
3. The analysis of the conflict causes
3.1 Social and economic preconditions of the conflict
Among the social and economic preconditions of the conflicts the authors of this report attribute:
- Weak development of the transport infrastructure of the region
- Dependency mentality
- The habit to get expected results through strikes, previous experiences of “successfully” blackmailing the management of the company in the past
- Economic passivity of the local population
As we have already mentioned, until the beginning of the conflict, the population of the region was convinced, that the system of redistribution is unfair, thus the needs of those three districts of Western Kazakhstan were being ignored by the authorities of the republic. With regard to many relevant social indices – such as the length of railways, access to aircraft service, the road system and number of cars – the Mangystau district has been consistently one of the worst ranked. Another factor is also worth mentioning – the water scarcity in the region. The situation in Western Kazakhstan is in this respect the worst in the country – as of 2005 there is a steady drop in rainfall level. In the past year the rainfall of Ural, Sagyz, Uyl and Emba amounted to about 10% of the long-term average.
According to the study “The self-identification of the Mangystau district population” (“Strategy” Fund 2007), an important peculiarity of the region is the isolation of this remote district, far away from the center, with lack of a developed transport system: “there is one dead-end track, thus the trains are scarce while the roads are of poor quality.”
Experts say, it is the less populated region of the republic. According to statistical data, the Mangystau district amounts to 3% of the whole country’s population. The population density is that of 2.1 person per square kilometer.
In experts’ opinion another factor of local people’s mentality has to be considered, namely the specific situation of the region in the Soviet times.
In those times the region has been attracting the attention of conflictologists, as well. Especially well known have become the events in Novoy Uzen (former name of Zhanaozen) – the inter-ethnic clashes of 17-18th June 1989 between groups of Kazakh youth and immigrants from the Caucasus. The rebellion comprised elements of social discontent, youth delinquency, anti– Soviet propaganda, intercommunal collisions directed against newcomers. There is no knowledge about the exact number of casualties (estimations ranking from 4 to 200 people). The files concerning the revolt were destroyed or classified. The rebellion was suppressed by the Specnaz (The Soviet Union's Special Operations Forces), however all non-Kazakh population (about 25 000 people) have hastily left the city or were evacuated.
This historical fact highlights the conflict vulnerability of the region. Even as those events have clearly a different historical background, it still confirms the existence of peculiar social relations in the region.
A more important legacy of the Soviet epoch is the deeply rooted dependant attitude.
“People who lived here in Aktau, not in the whole Mangystau, they lived in a peculiar reserve. There were high wages, apartments were given at once, the supplies were magnificent, there was everything in the shops and they have got used to it”. As a result an expecting and dependant attitude has been shaped.
“Here in Uzen 4 years ago a paradoxical situation has emerged, when 80% of the population have failed to pay for communal services. Why? Because in the Soviet Union the oilmen paid for everything”.
It is remarkable that the sensation of being privileged in Soviet times has turned into “exaggerate ambitions of the local people because they live in a rich region…” and refusal to take low wage jobs .
The result of such outlook is well known – the industrial workers’ strikes in the region took place with bigger or lesser intensity in 1989 and 1992 and as of 2008 they last almost continuously. At the same time it would not be just to blame only the management of the “Kazmunaigaz” ( Kazakhstan's National Oil and Gas Company) – until the strike oil-workers and drivers received the highest remunerations in the country. Their wages are higher than those of industrial workers in other regions of the country – metallurgists, miners, without mentioning employees of the public institutions. The “Kazmunaigaz” workers enjoy a social welfare package much better than other industrial workers while their working conditions are comparable, including the accident rate . At the same time it is important to say that each wage hike provoke a chain reaction in whole Kazakhstan: everybody is looking at the Western Region; employees of other companies are demanding higher salaries.
A circumstance which is essential for the growth of the region’s potential of industrial workers’ protests is that the company management has been always making significant concessions to the strikers in the past. This success story of “economic blackmail” has made strikes regular. From Autumn 2008 on, strikes have been taking place each Spring and Autumn. However in 2011 the strikers’ demands were legally ungrounded and financially the enterprise could not cope with them. This caused the rigid position of the company’s management, which was supported by the local authorities.
Before the strike the strikers’ wages were as follows:
1. Extraction operator at oil and oil gas extraction site: 207, 000 tenge (this is the minimum rate).
2. Driver of the transport column of 5th category: 278, 000 – 306, 000 tenge ($1 = 150,25 KZT).
3. Technician to repairing holes: 239, 000 326, 000 tenge per month.
The above are amounts after taxation and after deduction of all branch and regional coefficients. As can be seen, the wages are substantially higher than the national average. Just for the comparison: in 2011 public sector employees have been earning slightly more than 84 116 tenge (i.e. $560) . Meanwhile the local manufactured products and food prices were more or less the same as at the national level.
Because of the above mentioned, we are not inclined to state that the social factor was the only cause of the conflict. Besides, it is obvious that the region suffers from a set of social and economic problems which can not be solved in the near future.
But the authors of the report are convinced of a great negative role played by the notorious mentality of the local people, who feel to be a privileged part of the society, which should be supplied by the state with high paid jobs.
This mood of the local community has contributed to a weak development of small and medium business, which would have supplied the region with cheap elementary goods and foodstuffs. Even the level of local market development (according to an important indicator – number of registered private businesses made the district rank 15 among 17) shows that local people, overwhelmed by the expecting, dependant attitude, have preferred to escalate wage raise demands instead of developing local production, trade and services.
Perhaps the best description of this situation was given by the journalists of the “Kazakhstan Expert”: “Everybody, who knows the situation, understands that this is rather a mentality and not an industrial conflict. In this contradictory circumstances not those who show documents are right, but those who are full of conviction and ready for sacrifice, to prove that “we are in the right”. The strikers are consolidating their credibility and righteousness by the fact that they are sitting on the heat for two months, and some of them are even on hunger strike. The management of PD KMG has sought credibility showing all documents to the public and even allowing journalists to be present at the talks with the strikers. Nobody has won in this battle between righteousness and toughness, and neither party knows what is to happen next. Meanwhile we can watch a social and cultural phenomenon which is shaped by the unique adayan mentality, the hot desert, big oil money and the general discomfort of the region. The industrial protest is for this people – an original test of collectivism: you belong to us, or already to them. These several hundreds of people sincerely believe that they are resisting domestic venal officials and unscrupulous capitalists, as well as internal and pervert enemy – the Chinese. A stranger who watches this has to admit that the conduct, as well as the demands of the strikers are illogical. But is it logical that with all that oil money that the state takes out of Zhanaozen, in the city there are no fountains, boulevards, neither good entertainment centers, where people would have a chance to rest and amuse themselves after having worked under the burning sun of the desert?” 
3.2 Political preconditions of the conflict
The authors of the report would like to point to the following political preconditions of the conflict:
- A noncompetitive and therefore un-flexible political system, unable to answer and swiftly react to challenges and risks
- Economic separatism of the local elites
- Uncontrolled migration and obvious ideological failures
Before analyzing the political preconditions of the conflict, we would like to point to one very important aspect: the political system of Kazakhstan is in some respects rather non-transparent. Accordingly, it is very hard to range and systemize the facts without taking into account the peculiarities of the Kazakhstani political process. This is why the statements of this report have no references to other publications and amount to observations of its authors.
The main peculiarity of the Kazakhstani model is that the cooperation with the regions is an important asset. It is the participation of persons who enjoy respect in the regions in ranks of national power structure. If we consider the economic importance of the region to the whole nation, the representation of its local elites should have correspondingly significant share in the central authorities. Otherwise, the local elites’ policy will differ from that of the political center.
How many officials of the Kazakhstani central power come from the Western Region, which gives such a big income to the budget of the republic? Among the powerful political and economic figures there relatively few from the Mangystau district .
1. Abysh Kiekylbaev – former state secretary, a famous writer
2. Lyazzat Kyynov – board director and president of “Kazmunaigaz” Company
3. Baktybay Chelpekov – a senator
4. Zenulla Alshymbaev – member of Mazhilis (Parliament)
5. Orak Kudayberdy – president of the Geological and Mineral Resources Committee
6. Timur Bimagambetov – deputy president of “Kazmunaigaz” board
7. Abzal Mendibayev – chief director of “Ozenmunaigaz” Ltd.
Such an intra-elite distortion has led to “separatist tendencies” in the ranks of Western elites. For instance, the conflict in Zhanaozen has started with demands which are uncharacteristic to an economic strike. It was especially noticed by the Russian news agency REGNUM. The agency has pointed to the initial demands of the strikers:
1. Dismissal of K. Eshmanov, the manager of “Ozenmaigaz”
2. Re-deployment of the “Razvedka Dobycha” Ltd. office to Aktau
3. Making “Ozenmunaigaz” a joint-stock company again
4. Nationalization of the previously privatized enterprises which made part of “Ozemunaigaz”: “Burylau”, ”KazGPZ”, “Kruz”, “Zhondeu” and others.
It seems to be rather strange for demands by drivers of a transport column? Much more likely to be demands of the local business leaders. It has to be also noticed how picky were the rioters – they have burned only the house of K. Eshmanov and other houses belonging to “Ozenmunaigaz” management, to the deputy manager, chiefs of boards etc. remained untouched.
Besides, in the same article it is noted that in the West Kazakhstan there were always separatist feelings. They are based on the following arguments: city of Astana gets money from other regions. For instance one Astana inhabitant gets 288 000 tenge in subsidies from the federal budget annually, while a statistical Mangistau inhabitant gets 52 000 and inhabitant Alma Ata – 49 000. At the same time Astana budget is subsidized in 80%, while the Mangystau district is a net contributor to the budget of the republic. The Gross Regional Product of Mangystau is almost the size of the GRP of South Kazakh district, but how many people in the government were born in South and how many in Aktau? (a strong distortion in favor of southern regions of the republic can be seen – as the REGNUM agency has shown) .
As another proof of the rigidity of the political system, one may see that during many months of strikes the President’s administration has been passionlessly watching the events. In Astana the opinion has prevailed, that it was just an economic strike. Therefore only representatives of the Labor and Welfare Ministry along with those from the Attorney General’s office visited the region. No wonder, why the President Nursultan Nazarbaev has admitted, he was not accurately informed about the Zhanaozen conflict.
According to rumors, which have been circulated then, the former governor of the Mangystau district Krymbek Kusherbaev was unable to prove that the protests had political background and communicate his position to the head of state. Finally K. Kusherbaev has resigned from his post, but was declared not guilty of what happened. The President N. Nazarbaev has declared Krymbek Kusherbaev can not be blamed for what happened in Zhanaozen . This confirms that only at the republican power level it is possible to deal with displays of local separatism.
There is also a conspiracy theory which explains the idleness of the central power during the Zhanaozen strike as a reflection of internal struggle for power of different groupings and intrigues. But what is certain, is that in the course of these fights those who have lost the most are the local and branch authorities who have been trying very hard to solve the conflict without having enough power and resources.
It was quite obvious that local authorities as well as the company’s management, despite their efforts, were unable to stop the workers’ protest. The initiators of the strike have been raising the demands above the powers of local and corporate structures, demanding to hold talks with republican authorities, including the participation of the head of state.
It is necessary to note the weakness of local authorities, who have turned out to be unable to respond efficiently to the situation, as well as to take care of the interests of the people. The local elected authorities had no input in the conflict’s solution. The local councilors, members of Parliament, including those elected in Mangystau constituency, have failed to deal with the strikers.
Equally significant factor contributing to the conflict has been the uncontrolled migration and the oralman factor (what literally means in Kazakh “repatriates”), ethnic Kazakhs who have immigrated to Kazakhstan after its independence in 1991. Oralman have come from the neighbouring countries like China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and also from countries with notable Kazakh minorities: Iran (Iranian Kazakhs), Afghanistan, and Pakistan. After the declaration of independence a total number of repatriates was about 750 000 people, but including their children and those who have come without the official help of the Kazakhstani government, there would be more than 1 million of them (10% of all Kazakh population).
The oralman have strenghtened the traditional among the local population expecting and dependant attitudes. It has made obvious the local authorities negligence in organizing and ideologically attending the process of return of ethnic Kazakhs to their homeland. And if up to date the authorities did not pay much attention to the way the repatriates have been territorially split, now an even distribution of repatriates should become a key question .
Broadly speaking, political causes have played crucial role in shaping the model of behavior adopted by the strikers. Especially the oilmen have transmitted the political irritation of the local elites, when they received with embitterment officials of law enforcement agencies coming from “other cities” who were thrown to Zhanaozen to stop the disorders.
On the other hand the degree of embitterment of the local elite might have been lowered, if the recruitment to central power agencies would have been more in compliance with the regional interests and more efficient. Separatist feelings have caused a kind of legal nihilism expressed in refusal to comply with the law, with the court verdicts and to obey the authorities.
3.3 Internal pressure, opposition doings
Analyzing the behavior of “internal” and “foreign” participants of the conflict it is essential to consider two aspects:
- Support given by the law enforcement officers to the strikers
- The activity of the opposition who was directly interested in escalating the conflict.
It is essential to point out, judging the outcome of the Zhanaozen conflict that up to now strong social and civic institutions have not been created.
First of all, it is necessary to note the weakness and lack of authority of the trade unions. This institution is developing in Kazakhstan so weakly that it may play only a decorative role. Founding the union from “below” did not prepare it to solve the conflict, on one hand, while the educational and judicial level of workers was extremely low, and on the other hand it made it easy for the political opposition to take control over them. In these circumstances the leaders of the strike did not seek a possibility of reaching a compromise, even when the authorities were ready to make concessions. On the contrary, they have been raising new impracticable demands, pushing the conflict towards a dead end.
As a whole, until 16-17th December 2011 a set of journalists who have visited Zhanaozen expressed a conviction that the strikers are guided from abroad. However, there were no specific opinions who was operating from behind the stage.
A lot of assumptions were presented, but none of them was substantiated. Suppositions have been expressed that some people “speaking magnificent English” are related to the strike, and some authors maintained that the disorders in Zhanaozen were preceded by a visit of a delegation of the US Embassy, which had held talks with the strikers. It was affirmed that in case of disorders in Zhanaozen the whole thing has nothing to do with oil workers, but with creating chaos which would provoke “the creation of armed groups coming from the South”. Internet users observing the situation have noted that in “the city there are a lot of newcomers and immigrants” .
However, the confirmation of some of these news came at the judicial proceedings stage. Especially the activity of two organizations was confirmed – Human Rights Watch and National Democratic Institute. While in the case of HRW – the proofs were tapes of mobile phones conversations , which seems to be an indirect proof since the sentences might have been taken out of the context, in the case of the NDI  the full record of the participation of human rights activists in Zhanaozen conflict does not leave any illusions, as to the intentions of the foreign “investors”. However, HRW according to testimony had a small part in the situation, too. Even its office took part in organizing the disorders .
There is another fact which is also interesting: one of the strike organizers had relations with USAID in the past .
But one of the main agents of influence has turned up to be the Member of European Parliament Paul Murphy who has fully collaborated in preparing the oil workers’ strike, helped the strikers to get political support in the country and during the disorders has contributed to the disinformation of the public .
Paul Murphy, MEP, Socialist Party, Ireland:
“According to my knowledge: 70 protesters have been killed, 500 injured. The International Workers Committee informed, that the shooting of the protesters has started at 11:40 am. The workers have been occupying some buildings in the city, some of them were burnt. 1500 marines and tanks have been introduced to the city. At 12:30 the oil extraction in the region was stopped. Tomorrow there will be a meeting of the protesters in the city of Aktau – in solidarity of the Zhanaozen victims. Now I am trying to arrange my trip to Zhanaozen. Last week I have been talking to the leaders of the Zhanaozen strike and I don’t know whether they are still alive. These horrible events should be fully revealed by the international mass media, the information blockade should be broken.”
The oppositional support to the strikers was assured by the banker Muhtar Ablyazov  and mass media he owns: newspapers “Respublika” and “Vzglyad”, video website Stan.tv as well as strictly linked to him mobile company “K+”. They called workers to get to the streets , and informed the local public about the events giving full support to the strikers inside the country, as well as abroad. The most radical part of the opposition, financed by M. Ablyazov, was consciously trying to escalate and politicize the conflict which started as an economic strike. It succeed to get on its side young radicals and a far left organization “Socialist Resistance”.
The reaction of American authorities to trial  of one of organizers of the disorders – a leader of an unregistered party “Alga” (financed by M. Ablyazov) Vladimir Kozlov was rather strange. Deputy Secretary of State of the US Robert Blake has announced that the USA will closely watch Kozlov’s case .
Summing up what was said above one can tell that Kazakhstanian opposition has been acting according to an pattern prepared previously by social engineering specialists. Nevertheless, it is rather difficult to prove the existence of a link between the radical opposition and foreign agents of influence.
It is more likely, that both sides have been working separately, sharing goals but preserving some differences on the strategic lines. But it is extremely important to realize, that both have provided the oil workers in Zhanaozen with a false notion on the strike’s significance and its international support. To a certain degree, these factors together with many others mentioned above, have contributed to the situation of 16-17th December 2011.
4. Some conclusions
We would like to underline some important details that come out of most of the statements of this study.
1. The problem of mono-cities and mono-regions has not been solved yet in Kazakhstan. This factor has contributed in many ways to the Zhnaozen conflict and perhaps could cause further conflicts and incidents in the region, as well as in other regions with similar or identical traits. After almost a year changes in these regions are very small, there is a latent discontent which in some time may increase.
2. The Kazakhstani political system has limited faculties to solve the West Kazakhstan problem. The discontent of the local elites may turn into more radical forms of economic separatism. At the same time there is a branch imbalance – the priority of the oil and other branches above the rest of the economy – increases the split between subsidized and “donor” regions.
3. The budgetary policy of Kazakhstan remains unbalanced. There are substantial regional disproportions, an important part of incomes is taken by the republican budget and back payments don’t comply with the local interests. At the same time the spending of budgetary assets controlled by the state administration is not very efficient.
4. The mutual communication between the authorities and the society of Kazakhstan does not work efficiently. The Zhanaozen conflict has uncovered the low efficiency of all branches of power. The sources of information are not impartial and in most of the cases they play the role of information fighting units. Subsequently the objective information channels are unable to inform the central power bodies on latent, as well as on current risks. Besides the information sent the other way from authorities to the public, the ideological and information policy messages are neither properly transmitted. These messages are either torn away or get through distorted.
5. 11 months after the Zhanaozen conflict there are no grounds sufficient to say, that its causes have been successfully and irreversibly overcome. On the contrary, there are strong preconditions of further social and political tensions in the region. The restitution of the “Ozenmunaigaz” branch as a joint-stock company did not cause the restoration of oil extracting level (what puts a limit to social capabilities of the company), the management quality improvement and neither lowered the corruption rate. No measures have been taken to diminish the demographical imbalance in the city. The government program (aiming at the Zhanaozen development and solving the mono-city problem) is a long term one and fails to lift the current tensions.
6. The Zhanaozen events have shown that inside Kazakh elites a number of contradictions have been accumulated. And the quarrelling camps do not acknowledge that the stability and steady development of the country should be a priority. The elites which are in power are focused on protecting their economic privileges and to protect their interests manipulating legislation, as well as state institutions. At the same time the opposition, cut off from the main economic assets, is ready to undertake radical actions in order to make a new distribution of property.
7. To what was already said, one may only add one thing: while the conflict took place in relatively privileged region with regard to the existing infrastructure (the oil workers have received their wages on time, there was a social infrastructure in the working place), the attention of the authorities and researchers should be directed to the cities with worse conditions. But in Kazakhstan there are cities which have already passed the critical point, due to fact that the natural resources are about to be exhausted and whole cities were built upon one enterprise.
Such cities like Temyrtau or Dzhezkazgan22 could any time share the Zhanaozen’s fate – and possibly in a more dangerous way, since they are multi-ethnic. That is why a vast majority of state programs concerning social and economic issues as well as regional policy programs need rethinking.
ECGA Expert Group for Kazakhstan
- Anna Čurdova (Czech Republic)
- prof. Bruno Drweski (France)
- prof. Vladimir Caller (Belgium)
- Mateusz Piskorski (Poland)
8. МонографияД.Ашимбаева и В.Хлюпина «Казахстан: историявласти. Опытреконструкции»
16. http: http //www.express-k.kz/show_article.php?art_id=53734