Eyewitness in Almaty: “Many are afraid for their lives”

Status: 12.01.2022 12:06 p.m.

Kazakhstan’s internet connection has since become more stable – and eyewitnesses report what happened during the protests and the military operation. An activist from Almaty describes his experiences.

By Andrea Beer, ARD Studio Moscow

Alimshan Isbasarov sits pale and sleepy in an interview via Skype. The young family man lives in Almaty. He witnessed the bloody events of the past few days first hand. Now it is quieter, but it is not really peaceful.

Andrea Beer
ARD studio Moscow

“Of course, many are now very afraid for their lives, because people were afraid to just go out on the street and still cannot get out, even though it is relatively peaceful,” he says. It seems that the so-called anti-terrorist operation is almost over and has been relocated to the outskirts – shots can still be heard there.

When the city administration of Almaty was stormed on one of the first days of January and the presidential residence burned, it was one of the dramatic climaxes of the protests that paid for many people with their lives. It all began with outrage over the sharp rise in gas prices, which first sparked peaceful demonstrations that swept across the country within a few days.

Who were the violent participants?

Izbasarov emphasizes that he can only tell what he saw in Almaty himself – according to this, the 26-year-old was there when the 100 people gathered there grew to 200, then 300; in the end there were around 20,000, if not more, who were traveling together in the direction of Akimat – in the direction of the city administration. Nobody wants to loot, destroy or even kill, he emphasizes again and again. After all, which citizens have weapons?

“90 percent of the people were peaceful, that is, they stood there and watched. And some young guys, I don’t know, maybe they were just hotheads, poor people, were angry about low wages, low living standards and so on,” said Izbasarov. “Perhaps it was also the secret service provocateurs.” He could not judge who was behind the riots – but observed how there was fighting with the army and police. He heard something like explosions and then smelled tear gas for the first time in his life, which the military was using to drive away the demonstrators.

“The shots came after the security forces apparently decided that there was nothing else to do and that people wouldn’t let themselves be distracted,” he says. Their most important demand was the resignation of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. “What matters is that it was not the police and the military who started shooting, but the military special forces. When they arrived, they just started shooting – not with rubber bullets, but with live cartridges.”

“Pretext to fight terrorism”

“I saw it” – Isabarov repeats it again and again, almost imploringly. Because the state counter-narrative is getting more and more overwhelming: The president identified a terrorist attack on the state, it is said – with this Tokayev justified the fact that he brought foreign troops into the country and even issued an order to shoot. About 10,000 people have been arrested so far.

“There are many arrested activists. We don’t even know where many of them are now,” says Izbasarov. Those arrested across Kazakhstan are now suspected of terrorism and extremism. “Many civilians have been killed. In addition, we have no data on how many people have died. There is no information. Neither the authorities nor the police say anything.”

The internet is unstable, the line is bad and the sleepy Alimshan Isabarow looks awake and gloomy at the same time. Everything has turned for the worse, he says – and will continue to do so: “Many people will be arrested. Activists who were like a bone in the throat for the authorities. And under the pretext of fighting terrorism, they can now do what they want want.”


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