Kazakhstan: Second anniversary of Zhanaozen marked by hearing in European Parliament

European business connives at suppression of democratic rights.

The anniversary of the massacre by armed police of oil workers and their supporters in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan was marked on the second anniversary, 16th December, by pickets across Europe and in several cities in Russia and the Ukraine. To further commemorate the event, a Hearing was organised in the European Parliament by Paul Murphy on behalf of the United Left/Nordic Green group. The hearing was attended by left and green party MEPs, representatives of human rights groups and members of the Parliament’s human rights committee. A representative of the European commission, who herself participates in the negotiations between the European Union and Kazakhstan, was there to present the official position.

From Kazakhstan itself, Mukhtar Umbetov and Kinzhigali Suyeuov of the independent trade union “Aktau” representing oil-workers in the Mangystau region were accompanied by Ainur Kurmanov, deputy president of the republican trade union “Zhanartu” and co-president of the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan. Bulat Atabayev, the well-known theatre director and civic activist, joined them from his place of exile in Germany. Also participating was Pedro Luis Rubio Teresa, who until recently had been working for the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Kazakhstan until he protested at the way in which this body, which is supposed to promote democratic rights in Central Europe, had failed to take up the issue of Zhanaozen in any meaningful way.

In opening the hearing, Paul Murphy reminded the participants of the crimes of the Nazarbayev regime, whose police forces had opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of strikers and their supporters following their seven-month long strike. Unfortunately, Paul explained, two resolutions passed by the European Parliament which are critical of the actions of the Nazarbayev government have not been implemented. They condemned the shootings in Zhanaozen, the subsequent mass arrests and the use of torture and demanded the release of the imprisoned workers’ leaders and other political prisoners.

A large part of the blame for untying the hands of the regime lies at the feet of European big business and the political elite. In exchange for the right to exploit the oil and other natural resources found in Kazakhstan they give, in practice, their full support to the dictatorship in its actions against the workers’ movement and other opposition forces. The “democratic values” supposedly promoted by the EU have been undermined by the economic interests of the European states and multi-national companies. For this reason all honest MEPs and the European trade unions need to step up their campaign to expose the crimes of the Kazakhstan elite and argue for real measures to be taken against the government in Astana.

This conclusion was supported by the documentary film “Zhanaozen, the unknown tragedy” produced by Yulia Mazurova, part of which was shown at the start of the hearing. In his speech, the former OSCE staff member Pedro Teres explained how the European institutions, in actual fact, actively support the dictatorial regimes in the Central Asian countries and have shown no interest in investigating what actually happened in Zhanaozen. On the contrary, the leadership of the OSCE in Kazakhstan had actively blocked Pedro’s own investigations, during which he had uncovered numerous facts about torture, harassment and breaches of human rights. These demonstrated that the massacre had been carefully prepared by the police and KNB (Security Police) forces.

Pedro went on to point out that the number of victims of the shootings in Zhanaozen and Shetpe was significantly more than that accepted by the government. He himself, during his visit to Zhanaozen, had visited the graveyards and morgues and seen a significant number of unmarked graves. He had compiled a list of dead and missing. He intends to publish this list in the near future and to fight for justice by revealing the names of all those who are guilty of participating in the mass murder and torture.

Mukhtar Umbetov and Kinzhigali Suiyelov, in their speeches, outlined how the strike had developed and the repression that had been heaped on the leaders of the strike. They called for the release of all those imprisoned as a result of the strike including the leaders Roza Tuletaeva, Maksat Dosmagambetov, Naryn Dzarilgasinov, Kanat Zhusilbaev, Shabdal Utilov and others. Kinzhigali spoke of his experience as head of the Civic Commission to investigate the shootings of 16-17 December. He read out the statements of several of those who had been tortured, including women and children. This brought tears to the eyes of many of those present.

They underlined the fact that trade union rights are under serious attack. The lawyer for the oil-workers, Natalia Sokolova, had been arrested and imprisoned, although she was later released. The Kazakhstan trade union “Zhanartu” has been refused registration.

It was the unbearable situation for workers in the oil sector in the Mangystau region – the low wages, super-exploitation and the strangling of independent trade union organisation – which had pushed them into the unprecedented mass strike. Once started, it had taken on a political character. It was crushed but the situation remains unchanged and the movement must be rebuilt.

Ainur Kurmanov noted that the shootings in Zhanaozen should be seen as an historical turning point, which has lead to a huge change in the consciousness of the workers and many others in the country and can be compared to the events of Bloody Sunday on the 8th January 1905, which led to the start of the first Russian revolution. Then as now, notwithstanding the vicious dictatorship, the revolutionary process was initiated and could not be stopped indefinitely by further repression. It is the working class that will play the role of the radical political opposition within the country. Therefore we see the fear of the authorities at the growth of the independent workers’ movement and its attempts to force it underground using the new law “On trade unions” and the criminalisation of trade union activities through the new Criminal code.

Mukhtar Umbetov described how, in November 2011 at the meeting of all the workforces involved in the dispute, a workers’ committee had been formed which was campaigning for the unity of the trade unions and the establishment of a workers’ party based on socialist ideas. The rally planned on the 16th December 2011 was to hear a call for a general strike. He said that they believed that the authorities consciously planned the shootings to end the strike that they feared would develop into a nationwide workers’ protest.

Bolat Atabaev in his emotional speech named the person he believed was directly responsible for the murders and bloody repression – Nursultan Nazarbayev. He bitterly complained that it appeared to have been done with conscious support from the European ruling elite. He said that the task of liberating the Kazakhstan people could only be achieved through self-organisation and unity. Only the people themselves could break the back of this regime.

Representatives of “Campaign Kazakhstan”, Robert Jones and Eric Byl, reminded the hearing that it was necessary to fight for the release of all political prisoners including Vadim Kuramshin, Aron Atabek, all the imprisoned oil-workers and Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the liberal “Alga” opposition party. They explained about the important role of solidarity between trade unions, workers’ organisations and the socialist movement internationally.

In a lively intervention, Nicole Kiil-Nielson from the French Green Party and Deputy President of the European Parliament’s Commission on Cooperation with the Countries of Central Asia commented on all the speeches. She announced that, as a result of requests from the United Left and Green fractions in the Euro-parliament, a delegation is to visit Kazakhstan in March this year. It will be headed by the Chair of the Commission for Human Rights of the European Parliament and will meet not only representatives of government structures but also representatives of the trade unions, opposition and independent media, relatives of the victims of the massacre and the imprisoned leaders. She promised that Mukhtar Umbetov and Kinzhigali Suiyelov would be invited to meet the delegation.

Concluding the hearing, Paul Murphy declared that he would do all possible to get a third and more critical resolution against the activities of the Kazakhstan government passed by the European Parliament and to step up the campaign for the release of the leaders of the oil-workers and all political prisoners.

Post-Script:

In the lead up to the hearing, pressure had been put on workers from Zhanaozen who wanted to participate. Threats were used against them that the provision of health care to the injured would cease if they were to speak out against the government. For this reason, it was decided that just elected officers of the trade union should visit Brussels.

During the hearing, representatives of the Kazakhstan Embassy in Belgium attended, leaving however after about an hour. Having come under such criticism during the hearing, the authorities felt unsure about taking further action against Mukhtar and Kinzhigali. However, they put pressure on the friends and family of the trade union leaders. On 29th December it became known that Irina Umbetova, Mukhtar’s wife had been sacked from her job as a direct result of his attendance at the hearing in Brussels.

The order sacking her was issued on the 13th December – the day that Mukhtar flew to Belgium – and was kept secret until the New Year holiday. As if to confirm the allegations raised during the hearing, about European businesses supporting the Kazakhstan regime, it was a Dutch shipping and oil support company “Wagenborg” which removed her from her job with them as head of accounts!

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