By Dr. Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov
Special to Islamabad Telegraph
A little over three weeks ago, the Kazakh people revolted against the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Nazarbayev and his successor President Tokayev. Both presidents are illegitimate because none of the elections during the 30 years of independence were recognized as fair and democratic. They both seized the power through massive electoral falsifications, the assassination of popular civil leaders, systemic intimidation, and repressions.
A few weeks ago, it was unthinkable that Nazarbayev statues could be toppled, that the “Leader of the Nation” could be disrespected in this way. The many long-promoted mythologies have evaporated virtually overnight.
The 2022 public action was not just minor unrest. It was a long-anticipated and broad-based public reaction to an increasingly corrupt ruling regime. The trigger was a radical 100% price increase for a fuel type that poor and working-class people relied on. Such a dramatic price increase catalyzed an intense reaction amplified by the long-suppressed dissatisfaction for the country’s corrupt political system, resulting in demands for the regime of Nazarbayev and his cronies to once and for all come to an end.
After police and army officials in some cities refused to follow President Tokayev’s inhumane shoot to kill order, the former Soviet-era diplomat called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops. The Kremlin immediately agreed, and those troops swiftly arrived in Kazakhstan and started shooting people. At the same time, KGB provocateurs engaged in violence to discredit the demonstrators and delegitimize their just cause. Suddenly, those demonstrating justice were labeled as looters, hooligans, and terrorists. This same technic has been routinely used by the authoritarian regimes of Putin, Lukashenko, and Nazarbayev in the past.
As the violence spiraled out of control, Tokayev, who never properly learnt his own native Kazakh language because his formative years were spent in Russia and China, has staked his future in the military support of the Kremlin through the Russian lead Collective Treaty Security Organization. But, no political support of this magnitude comes for free, and the Kremlin will expect something in return. Additionally, ethnic Kazakhs harbor decades of resentment toward Russia, and many average Kazakhs already view Tokayev’s embrace of the Kremlin as a treacherous betrayal of the highest order. Tokayev has already announced that his government will support the building of the Russian nuclear power station in Kazakhstan. He has also committed to revising the government funding of scholarships for young students to prioritize those who will choose the Russian universities. He instructed his government to bring up to four affiliates of major Russian universities to Kazakhstan. To make things even worse, two days ago Tokayev gave his first after the tragic events TV interview in Russian, not the state language of Kazakhstan thereby clearly signaling his geopolitical preference and showing his disrespect towards the revolted nation.
Today, there are more than 10,000 people who have been detained, brutally beaten, and tortured. For example, Kuat Naiman, a famous Kazakh sports figure and world MMA champion was arrested and tortured, leaving him with brain damage and broken ribs, simply for expressing solidarity and support for the demonstrators. Children as young as five years old, nursing mothers, and aging grandparents are all numbered with the slain. Officially, the death toll is around 250, but anecdotally, our estimates place the death toll somewhere closer to 1,000. The Tokayev administration ignored our multiple demands to publish the names of all the victims. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Radio Liberty, and other organizations have countless videos and photo evidence confirming the shocking fact that in the 21st Century, in Kazakhstan, the police and their Russian military overseers have brutalized people for seeking a better life and political representation.
As of today, civil society leaders are still being arrested, and many have been killed, their bodies being discovered only days later by their families, in local morgues, where they face intimidation at the hands of officials. There is no due process. No legal aid. No medical assistance. Even those wounded and in hospitals are routinely handcuffed and dragged to jail by the police. This is a gross violation of all the legal commitments by the Kazakhstani regime under international humanitarian law. Kazakhstan is experiencing the worst possible form of barbaric state terrorism. It is all done to break the spirit of the Kazakh people for standing up against Putin’s occupation and the pro-Putin regime.
The European Parliament has passed a resolution conveying a strong message to the Tokayev regime and showing moral support for the Kazakh people, whose peaceful demonstrations were subverted and used as a pretext for a blood bath at the hands of Vladimir Putin through his puppets Lukashenko, Tokayev, and Nazarbayev.
Leaders of the Kazakh civil movement are calling on the Organisation for security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE), U.S. Congress and other parliaments of the major democracies to take an urgent and firm public stance against Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime. We are also urging the U.S. Congress and the European national parliaments to impose personal sanctions against Tokayev, Nazarbayev, their families, and other officials who have directed and executed gross human rights violations over the past 30 years, especially during the past few weeks.
We are grateful to the British Parliament which is already taking steps to sanction Nazarbayev, Tokayev, their families, and cronies under the Magnitsky Act, freezing their foreign assets. We strongly urge the U.S. Congress to initiate these same accountability measures. Despotic and corrupt officials in the former Soviet Union should not be able to abuse their people and then freely move themselves and their ill-gotten gains around the western world.
The Tokayev-Nazarbayev regime must be ostracized and isolated to prevent it from further serving the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy interests and to stop the resurrection of the USSR by Putin, whose hands are stained by the blood of the Syrian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Kazakh, people. The era of Western leaders shaking hands with undemocratic Kazakh Presidents has ended. Tokayev should be placed on trial for crimes against humanity at the Hague.
One concluding essential point.
Kazakhstan and Ukraine are about to fall in Putin’s order after Russia and Belarus. The world’s dictators are closely watching. If the western alliance fails to defend democracy in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, it fails anywhere else on the planet.
Sadly, Ukraine and Kazakhstan still stand alone because world leaders are too slow in forging a united front against the undemocratic regimes of Putin, Lukashenko, and Tokayev. They should not forget President Putin’s record of military intervention. Putin has fought the Second Chechen War in 1999, the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, the invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea in 2014, the Syrian Civil War in 2015, and Kazakhstan in January 2022.
As much as President Putin wants to destroy Ukraine and Kazakhstan as sovereign states, he also wants to destroy the credibility of the U.S.-led world order. Western democracies have failed to demonstrate unanimous support for Ukraine and Kazakhstan until this present day. Therefore, sadly, without firing a shot Vladimir Putin has succeeded in exposing the divisions within the NATO alliance and the EU beyond his wildest dreams.
If left alone, amidst counterproductive discussions and inner quarrels among the western allies, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are about to become the burial ground for the western values and the existing global order which will take years and great effort to restore.
2022 must become a year of decisive action by the world democracies against the brutal constellation of the Putin-led evil regimes of the former Soviet Union.
Time is of the essence.
Professor Dr. Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov was a fellow at Oxford University since 1999. He was deputy ambassador of Kazakhstan to Germany, co-leader of the National Union of Entrepreneurs and a founding chairman of the Atameken opposition party denied registration by the Nazarbayev regime. He presently resides in Great Britain