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Up to 70 Oil Workers Massacred in Kazakhstan, Martial Law Declared

Morning, Firedogs and Kgbloggers,

Mark Ames has this tragic story up at Naked Capitalism this morning, and I thought you’d want to know about it.   It’s apparently been off the radar screens of the media, but it’s further indication that more and more oppressed workers are pushing back against ruling elites all over the globe, and many are paying for it with their lives.

Here’s the gist of recent events with a bit of background:

This past Friday, December 15, disenfranchised oil workers in Zhanaozen may have destroyed (depending on which reports are true) the newly-constructed stage on which their US-supported autocratic leader-for-life, Nursultan Nazarbaev was about to hold a celebration marking the nation’s twentieth anniversary of its ‘Independence Day’.  In December 1991 Kazakhstan and fourteen other Soviet republics broke away and declared themselves sovereign nations.

Video equipment on the stage was smashed by men dressed as oil workers, and the police opened fire on the crowd.  Workers reported that nearly 70 were shot by police in the ensuing  melee, and between 500 and 800 were wounded.  Some witnesses maintain that police threw small fireworks into the crowd, causing any ‘mob unruliness’ that the government then painted as justification for the murders.  State versions of the event are being called highly prejudicial by many striking workers and their families.

Shortly after the massacre, cell phone service was shut down, martial law imposed, and journalists essentially barred from the area.  Over 70 were arrested.  Several videos made it out before the shutdown, and some smaller wire services got the story.  By this morning more have it, but the coverage seems to reflect the bias of the reporting agencies, and a quick Bing Search brings up mainly socialist news site coverage.

Two Russian reporters from respected dailies have been arrested since the brutal crackdown, and massive numbers of “SpetzNaz” special security forces have been brought in to quell the protests which are now spreading to other cities.   Ames asks you to notice that they are sporting helmets and riot shields that say “Police” in English in the photo below.

Oil workers have been striking since last summer for the right to organize unions, and hundreds have been fired, a striking worker and the daughter of an organizer murdered, and a labor attorney sentenced to jail for six years.  The stresses of the government’s brutal  reactions to the strike have caused attrition in the numbers of strikers willing or able to protest recently.  Some apparently are weak with hunger for lack of pay for so long, according to information Ames got.

A strike at a rail yard on Saturday in protest of the Friday violence brought death to one worker; eleven others were shot and wounded.  The State blamed the police response on workers throwing molotov cocktails at the train.

Ames writes:

“Keep in mind, the oil company whose workers are striking for better pay and union recognition, KazMunaiGaz, is “owned” by the billionaire son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s Western-backed president-for-life.   Among Kazakhstan’s leading American partners are Chevron, whose website boasts, “Chevron is Kazakhstan’s largest private oil producer”–adding this bit of unintentional black humor:

“In Kazakhstan, as in any country where Chevron does business, we are a strong supporter of programs that help the community.””

A government-managed tour was given to a handful of reporters, and the WaPo has some news here; and it’s grisly, even if low-balled by government claims:

“Rights activists will likely also be concerned by what appeared to heavy-handed treatment of detainees at Zhanaozen’s main police station Sunday evening. Journalists at the station reported hearing screams coming from what appeared to be interrogation rooms, while a number of men with bloodied faces were lined up in a row in the corridors with their faces against the wall.

Reporters visiting the town under close supervision were not freely permitted to speak with detainees or residents.”

This coverage by David Firestone at adds more history:

“Last January, workers at KarazhanbasMunai attempted to replace trade union leader Yerbosyn Kosarkhanov, who had been collaborating with the employer by agreeing to wage concessions behind the backs of the union membership. The company responded by sending hired thugs to beat several workers. Police have refused to investigate the incident.

In April, workers successfully voted out Kosarkhanov, but the company refused to hand over official documents and the trade union seal (necessary for official recognition of the union) to the union’s new leadership. Although this effectively constitutes theft, police have refused to investigate this issue as well.

The strike began in May at KarazhanbasMunai in Aktau. It soon spread to UzenMunayGas in Zhanaozen.

Since June, as many as 18,000 workers have been on strike, with up to 8,000 demonstrating in Zhanaozen on peak days. Local authorities have declared the strike illegal. The companies have fired hundreds of striking workers in violation of labor law.”

Ames has been following the evolving story for years, and tells yet another grim story with Dick ‘Neo-con Energy Policy’ Cheney at ground zero.  He lays out his own narrative of the evolution of the New Cold War with Russia, Putin’s rise and fall in the Western press, and especially interesting to me: the other version of the small war over South Ossetia’s attempts to break away from Georgia, and Putin’s military response.   Remember John McCain’s: “Today we are all Georgians!”?

It’s tempting to read the piece almost as ‘you couldn’t make this hit up’ entertainment, as we might chuckle grimly over Matt Taibbi’s fine piece on the history of Goldman Sachs, Gadaffi and Libya  as background to the West’s decision to help the revolutionaries there.  But in the end, it’s serious business, because this is all about American Empire as dictated by multinational oil corporations, and we collectively need to stop them.  Somehow.

Yes, it is all about oil and pipelines and…oil and pipelines…but I digress; sorry.  It’s just all of a package with these oil workers wanting better pay, better working conditions, and here we have a waning number of would-be unionists standing up to the power, and risking their lives, as more are willing to do in this Great Awakening.

It’s Cheney and Condi Rice and Chevron and Exxon and the Vampire Squid and Cheney’s oil buddies, and this administration is the same as the Bush administration on energy (not) policy.  And it will not hold, and they know it will not hold, and these folks are playing for keeps.

I tried doing an impossible mini crash course on Kazakhstan this morning since what I know about any of this is so minimal as to be embarrassing.  What I may have gotten wrong here is down to my errors or Mark Ames’ errors; you can add or correct at will…    But do get the word out as you can; this worker massacre should not be invisible.

You may find yourself curious about the Kazakh people and their origins given their slightly Mongolian faces;  here is info on mtDNA and origins.  I’ve been fascinated all my life hearing about the Russian steppes, now the Kazakh steppes.

Nor should the hideous events happening in Tahrir Square all over Egypt be sidelined.  It was nice to hear SoS Clinton  speak to “the systematic degradation of women’.

(cross-posted at

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