RIYADH: Kazakhstan has experienced a period of unprecedented violence and unrest that had a dramatic effect on the population and threatened to undermine the constitutional order, according to Berik Aryn, the country’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. It “is considered as an assault on our statehood,” he said, but added that the situation is now under control.
“The situation in all regions of the country has stabilized and people are returning to normal life,” Aryn said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “Law enforcement forces have released all previously seized government facilities. The main task today is the defense of our country and its citizens.”
The unrest this month in the country is the worst it has seen in the 30 years since it gained independence.
“On Jan. 2, 2022, peaceful demonstrations started in western regions of Kazakhstan, triggered by a spike in the price of liquefied petroleum gas,” Aryn said.
“Addressing public grievances over the inflation, and social and economic problems, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has decided to control petroleum prices and essential products and services. At the same time, the president urged people not to succumb to internal and external provocations.”
Despite these efforts the protests escalated into violence across the country, he said, including riots, attacks against administrative buildings, military bases and civil facilities, and the seizure of Almaty airport and local and foreign airplanes.
“Regretfully, peaceful demonstrations in Almaty and some other regions were hijacked by perpetrators and both local and foreign terrorist groups,” Aryn said. “Their criminal activities caused riots, looting and mass violence.
“No protest or demonstration in a democratic society can justify attacks and killings of law enforcement officers. These terrorist gangs are fundamentally international, having received severe training abroad, and their attacks should be considered as an act of aggression.”
Saudi Arabia is one of our essential partners in the Middle East. Our countries have built up a trusting political dialogue at a high level, established cultural and humanitarian ties, and are developing trade, economic and investment cooperation.
Berik Aryn, Kazakhstan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
According to preliminary data, 225 people died during the riots. Some of them are armed bandits who participated in terrorist attacks. Among the dead were 19 police and military personnel. Unfortunately, civilians also became victims of acts of terrorism. 4,578 people were injured, 3,393 of them were law enforcement officers.
Authorities are investigating crimes committed during the unrest and a number of people have been arrested, Aryn said, and among the detainees are foreign citizens whose identities are being established.
The envoy said that destructive forces had tried to take advantage of the situation to destabilize the country. They set fire to and tried to destroy administrative buildings, police stations, hospitals and other social facilities, he added.
Armed with military weapons and equipment, they attempted to seize control of strategic facilities in the south of the country such as Almaty airport, the National Security Committee building in Almaty, the offices of TV stations, and other important facilities, Aryn said.
“In doing so, they killed and used force against civilians,” he added. “They cannot be called insurgents since their actions are considered terrorist and extremist acts. Indeed, the investigation and the court will determine the degree of guilt of each detainee and the innocents will be released. Call centers were opened throughout Kazakhstan to provide legal assistance to citizens affected by the terrorist attack.
“Kazakhstan will continue to ensure the rights and interests of all representatives of our multiethnic and multireligious people and the safety of foreign citizens in the country, including the diplomatic corps and journalists. The government guarantees the protection of foreign investment and foreign companies’ business.”
The attempted coup d’etat and the efforts to damage the country’s integrity failed because the vast majority of Kazakhstan’s people displayed patriotism and unity in the fight against the extremists during the tragic events, the envoy said.
On Jan. 11, the president addressed parliament and outlined the priorities for building a bright future for Kazakhstan, which included enhancing people’s welfare, reforming the political, social, economic and law enforcement systems, and strengthening national security, according to Aryn.
He also introduced the new prime minister, Alikhan Smailov, who assumed office on Jan. 5. Smailov said that his government will endeavor to fulfill the tasks set by the President to improve the quality of life of the people of Kazakhstan.
Responding to the support for stability that his country has received from the international community, Aryn said: “The president addressed the heads of state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization to provide military assistance for the counterterrorist operation.”
The CSTO is an intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia that consists of select post-Soviet states. Aryn said that during a speech in Parliament, President Tokayev announced that CSTO peacekeepers sent to assist efforts to restore order had completed their mission, and on Jan. 14 they started a gradual withdrawal from the country.
“Many countries and leaders of the world community supported the people of Kazakhstan and President Tokayev,” Aryn added. “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states and Arab leaders were among the first to condemn the terrorist acts in Kazakhstan and express their support.
“On Jan. 13, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, during a telephone conversation with Mukhtar Tileuberdi, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Kazakhstan, expressed support and solidarity of the government of Saudi Arabia to the people of Kazakhstan.
“We received a massive number of letters from our Saudi friends, who decided to support the people of Kazakhstan at this challenging time, and we express our gratitude for this support.”
Arynb said that Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia have close ties and their humanitarian cooperation includes active collaboration through the work of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).
In 2017, financial assistance from the Kingdom worth $7 million helped fund construction of a regional tuberculosis clinic in Semeyr with 80 beds. Earlier, a medical center for mothers and children in Nur-Sultan received equipment worth more $3.5 million.
“Saudi Arabia is one of our essential partners in the Middle East,” Aryn said. “Our countries have built up a trusting political dialogue at a high level, established cultural and humanitarian ties, and are developing trade, economic and investment cooperation.
“We attach great importance to further comprehensive development and expansion of bilateral relations.”
In December 1991, Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence, Aryn said, and diplomatic relations were established in 1994. In the years since then, the relationship has developed rapidly.