Sputnik Kazakhstan Journo Points to Main Error in West’s Media Coverage of Situation in Her Country
18:06 GMT 09.01.2022 (Updated: 18:41 GMT 09.01.2022)
Kazakhstan was thrust into the centre of global media attention in the first week of the new year amid protests, riots, and mass unrest across the country. Rising fuel prices and dissatisfaction with the government are believed to have sparked the crisis but the speedy rise of well-organised, coordinated rioters has left many questions unanswered.
Kazakhstan’s journalistic community is continuing its examination of the events that have unfolded in the Central Asian nation in recent days, and there are some “elementary” facts, which media from other countries need to understand before rushing to conclusions on the types of harsh measures being taken by authorities to put down unrest, Sputnik Kazakhstan producer Aizhan Nurgazinova says.
A particularly hot topic for discussion in the Western press has included Friday’s notice by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev that lethal force would be applied without warning against violent demonstrators. The Wall Street Journal called the order a signal of a “broader crackdown against opponents…backed by Russian troops.”
The Washington Post, meanwhile, lamented
that the order appeared to signal that there would be no negotiations with protesters. CNN, meanwhile, went with the macabre headline “Kazakhstan leader gives ‘kill without warning’ order, as bodies lie in the streets”
to describe events.
“Whether the decision of the authorities is harsh or not is something that one can debate. And while they are debating and no measures are taken, our lives and the lives of our people are in danger simply because armed people are running around in the streets, smashing and destroying everything,” Nurgazinova said in an interview. “How can one speak to a person who does not understand anything, but runs around with a gun in his hands and plundering?”
“People want this lawlessness to end as quickly as possible, for these sleepless nights to end, because we all worry about our country, about security in our country, and want to return to a normal life – the ordinary peaceful life that we knew all these past decades. Basically, everyone we communicate with from other regions is worried – everyone is worried and wants peace to be restored in our country. Nobody wants to see what has been happening these last days to continue,” she stressed.
Peaceful Meetings Yes, Armed Mobs No
According to Nurgazinova, the peaceful protests which began on 2 January, when demonstrators took to the streets to protest a two-fold jump in fuel prices and other social problems were quickly commandeered by mysterious armed and highly organised groups of young men who began attacking law enforcement.
“Everyone understands that the peaceful rallies that began after the New Year came to an end long ago…The authorities heard them. Measures have been taken to reduce the price of gas, the government’s resignation has been accepted. It seemed that the main socio-economic demands of the peaceful protesters were agreed upon and everything would end there. But suddenly completely different strata appeared from somewhere and, hiding behind peaceful protesters at first, began to provoke aggression, and then began to act openly and violently,” the journalist said.
“Therefore, it’s very necessary to understand this…that the peaceful protesters and those who committed these acts of violence, this terror, are completely different groups,” Nurgazinova stressed, noting that the government’s move to cut off access to the internet across much of the country seems to have added to the confusion.
“I also wanted to add that, as our correspondents have reported, yesterday and today in other regions where peaceful gatherings continue in the squares, hundreds of people are gathering, and no one is using any force against them…Yes, the authorities are urging them to disperse in light of the curfew that’s been declared, but even at night they are there and no one touches them. They talk, eat, someone sings songs. In general, when things are calm there they themselves sit calmly and continue their meetings,” Nurgazinova said.
Commenting on the situation in Almaty – the former capital and Kazakhstan’s largest city, which has seen some of the biggest violence anywhere in the country, Nurgazinova said that there are still many questions left unanswered.
“Yesterday, of course, people were in a panic, they feared going out in the street, and watched all these events from their windows – the shooting, terror and looting, and the strange young people who caused it, as residents say – it’s not clear where they came from. There were cases, for example, when eyewitnesses said that aggressively-set people were speaking not Russian or Kazak [the two major languages used in the country] but an incomprehensible language, and said they felt the smell of alcohol on the breaths of some. Therefore people in general and we journalists have a question: ‘who arranged all this and who is behind it?’” she noted.
Nurgazinova stressed that throughout the violence and unrest, and notwithstanding problems with internet and phone communications, Sputnik Kazakhstan’s journalists in Almaty and other regions have continued to do their work, to cover the situation – to provide stories and videos or even become witnesses to events themselves as they unfolded.
“Many residents of Almaty and in other regions impatiently await the end of the anti-terrorist operations and are calling for calm – not to give in to panic. We communicate on social networks about restoring our city in the near future. In [other] regions and cities restoration work has already begun – cities are slowly being cleared of garbage, of all the consequences of the riots that have taken place, and in the capital, for example, squads of volunteers are being created. They include athletes, businesspeople and volunteers who want to help out of their own personal motives, to keep order in the streets and protect ordinary citizens from the lawless conduct of incomprehensible aggressive people. This is the situation,” Nurgazinova concluded.
At least 164 people, including 16 members of law enforcement have been killed, and over 1,300 police, army, and national guard troops injured over the past week of violence, according to Kazakh authorities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs estimates that over 100 stores and banks have suffered 87 billion tenge (about $200 million) in damage, and over 5,100 have been arrested – 134 on suspicion of major offences.
In response to the protests, President Tokayev fired the government, took former longtime president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s post as head of the Security Council, and called on Kazakhstan’s allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization to help overcome the “terrorist threat” posed to his country by organized rioters and terrorists with suspected foreign backing. Around 3,000 Russian troops and additional forces from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan arrived in the country beginning 6 January, with their mission said to be to guard major government and military facilities, but not engage protesters and rioters directly.
have expressed concerns that the events in Kazakhstan may constitute an attempted colour revolution by Western powers or some other unknown forces.