My brother has lived in Kazakhstan for 25 years. He lives in the centre of Almaty, just 500 meters from where the riots were happening. Her could hear it all unfold from his apartment. There are now bullet holes in the other side of his apartment building. This is what he told me last night is the true story of what happened there in the last fortnight.
Initially the riots were over the doubling of fuel prices. However, once the prices were reversed the riots got worse. Machine guns appeared, dozens of police and security were murdered. The Almaty airport was taken. The mayor’s offices in most cities were attacked, some burnt. Infrastructure centers such as TV stations and government buildings in Almaty were attacked. Numbers of police stations were attacked and over-run. This wasn’t your ordinary protest about fuel prices.
The story we were not told in the west is that the thuggish dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ran Kazakhstan for 30 years finally resigned in 2019 and handed over the presidency to a seasoned diplomat, Kassam-Jomart Tokayev, who speaks several languages fluently and has an extensive understanding of how the outside world works. Tokayev was in the process of liberalizing the country and weaning it off the old system of patronage, cronyism and intimidation. He even wants to eventually create a democracy. However, Nazarbayev still held many positions of power behind the scenes including head of security. He was not happy.
Nazarbayev and his family have economically raped Kazakhstan for decades. They have amassed billions of dollars in illicit wealth at the expense of the ordinary people. One grandson, Aisultan Rakhat, spoke out against this corruption in 2017 and was found dead in his London apartment in 2020. The new President was also making them uncomfortable. The Nazarbayev family and their cronies had many loyalties inside the security system and when the riots started, their goons swung into action.
My brother’s friends who were involved in the early protests told him they could hear many Arabic voices in the crowds, which worried them. Radical Muslim outsiders were clearly on the ground stirring up trouble for the new president. Somehow, they and their local brothers in arms were given automatic weapons and unleashed a wave of assaults on critical infrastructure. My brother’s employee’s cousin was the personal secretary for one of the mayors of a regional city. She escaped death by one minute, but her security guard was riddled with bullets straight after she escaped the mayor’s office. He was the father of five small children. These were not ordinary protestors. This was a coup attempt.
In response Tokayev initially sacked the head of national security and now several of his deputies. The government also resigned. He ordered shoot to kill orders. Tokayev then waved in the Russians to secure all infrastructure in Almaty and Astana such as government offices, TV stations, Telecom installations, the airports, water and power supplies and the Russian space centre. Thousands were quickly arrested. Those ordinary Kazakhs who were detained in the first wave of protests are currently being released. The real troublemakers will never see the light of day again.
The word on the street is that all Nazarbayev family members are now outside the country except one brother, Bolat Nazarbayev, remains in the country. The capital city of Astana, recently renamed after Nazarbayev’s first name, Nursultan, has not been mentioned in any media by that name for over a week. His statues have also been taken down. My brother says everyone is thrilled to be rid of the Nazarbayev family at last.
This month’s Kazakhstan coup attempt reminds me of two similar reactionary coup attempts after the early stages of political liberalization. In the 1970s, as king Carlos of Spain began to dismantle Franco’s fascist system of government, there was also a coup attempt by Colonel Antonio Tiggero and members of the civil guard which failed after 18 hours. After Mikhail Gorbachev began his process of winding back Communism in the USSR in the late 1980’s, there was a coup attempt in 1991 by a group of hardline generals which also quickly failed. Both of those coup attempts simply sped up the process of liberalization in those countries. People used to absolute power never go seem quietly into the night.
Now that Nazarbayev and his cronies are out of the picture and the Russian peacekeepers are heading home I expect a lot of good news will soon come out of Kazakhstan. I also expect the Kazakh government to start chasing down the billions in stolen wealth hidden in London and London offshore bank accounts by the Nazarbayev family.