What started as peaceful protests in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan have turned violent.
The unrest began when people in Almaty, the country’s largest city, staged demonstrations after the government lifted price caps on liquefied petroleum. Most Kazakhs use that fuel to power their vehicles, and the price spiked overnight after the caps were lifted.
Dozens of people have been killed in those protests, which have grown into a larger referendum on the state apparatus. Officials shut off internet access, making it almost impossible for Kazakhs abroad to check in on family and friends.
Assem Kassymova is a graduate student in Austin originally from Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital. She spoke to the Texas Standard about watching the turbulence in her home country from afar.s
Texas Standard: Do you have a sense of what’s currently happening in Kazakhstan other than what you see on the news? Has the situation stabilized at all?
Assem Kassymova: I feel like the government is getting a grip on the current situation at this time with help from joint forces from the [Collective Security Treaty Organization].
That’s the Russian-led, NATO-like organization in that region. Kazakhstan asked for its guidance, is that right?
Yes, that’s my understanding.
When were you last able to get in touch with anyone back home in Kazakhstan?
Luckily, I was able to talk to my family back in Kazakhstan just last night. The internet was recovered for a short period of time and they said that it’s, from now on it’s only going to be short periods of time every day that the internet would be available. But before that, I wasn’t able to get hold of anybody for days straight.
Can you place a telephone call or anything like that? Are there other ways people outside the country can get a message into Kazakhstan, or vice versa?
We have been trying all means that we can find, different applications, web-browser programs and, to some extent, some people are able to get ahold of their relatives if they have landlines in Kazakhstan. But unfortunately my family doesn’t, and so I wasn’t able to do so.
You’re part of a fairly large community of Kazakhs here in Texas. Is there a consulate that you’ve been able to speak with about the situation?
No, not at this point. We were just trying whatever we could do ourselves.
How have you been supporting one another through this?
We’ve just been talking on this chat that we have – Kazakhstan, Austin, in particular. I’m part of that and just supporting each other, sharing news. When we see that internet is restored, we immediately text to that chat so that everybody can try and get hold of the family. Otherwise, you know, just supporting and understanding that we’re all in the same boat and it’s very nerve-wracking.
This situation escalated so quickly, and now Russian security forces been invited into the country, and certainly there has been concern at the international level about what that means for Kazakhstan’s independence. Is that something that you’ve given much thought to?
Well, this is something that I feel like a lot of people in Kazakhstan are currently concerned about. But for me personally, I think at this point the safety and security of everybody in Kazakhstan is the foremost most important thing.
What are you hearing about your friends and family? Are they safe, or how are they doing?
Luckily my all, my family is in Astana (Nur-Sultan), which is the the capital city, and things are relatively quiet there as compared to Almaty and some other cities. So I was able to talk to my family and they said everything is quiet there, but I still have, like I said, friends and ex-colleagues and Almaty and I have not been able to talk to them at all.
When you look at possible outcomes for this recent unrest, what are you hoping for?
I think this should be, this should serve as a wake-up call to the government that, you know, after 30 years of pretty much the same person being in power, I think it’s time for the Kazakhstan government to finally hear what the people have to say, what their needs are, what their pains are. So all I’m hoping for is dialogue on behalf of the people that are in Kazakhstan.