otorbaev10_Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty Images_kazakhstanprotest Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

Chaos and Opportunism in Kazakhstan

In the space of less than a week, mass protests over a fuel-price increase have escalated into a chaotic battle involving both regional and domestic political forces – some well known, others operating from the shadows. Though the situation remains uncertain, it is hard to see how it could end well.

BISHKEK – The protests that erupted across Kazakhstan on January 2 quickly turned into riots in all of the country’s major cities. What do the protesters want, and what will be the outcome of the country’s most severe civil unrest since independence in 1991?

Although the initial trigger was a doubling of fuel prices, the protesters soon demanded the dissolution of parliament and new elections. Moreover, they want former President Nursultan Nazarbayev to exit the political scene for good.

Nazarbayev, the country’s ruler for the first 30 years of independence, gave up the presidency in 2019, but not before having himself named “leader of the nation” and thus ensuring that he would maintain a tight grip on the country’s politics. Protesters toppled a statue of him in Taldykorgan, the capital of the Almaty region, with chants of “Shal ket!” (“Old man, go away!”).

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