Kazakhstan 2016: An Independence Milestone, Terrorist Attacks and a Nonproliferation Anniversary

By Dmitry Lee

naz-on-indi-dayThis year Kazakhstan is readying to celebrate its 25th anniversary of Independence. But that is far from being the main news this year. After a couple of years, of the struggling tenge and the situation with the national currency, as it may seem at first, was settled; but the country was appalled by events like terrorist attacks in Aktobe and Almaty and land reform mass protests.

Semipalatinsk 25 years

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Kazakhstan hosted a major anti-nuclear weapon conference on Aug. 29

Along with the projected celebration of independence, Kazakhstan also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the closure of the infamous Semipalatinsk nuclear test site this year on Aug. 29 and hosted a major anti-nuclear weapon conference titled – Building a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World.

Conference participants commemorated victims of nuclear tests, reviewed current disarmament rhetoric and made proposals to strengthen international security.

As a result, the conference also adopted The Astana Vision Declaration “From а Radioactive Haze to a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World.”

The declaration praised Kazakhstan and its President for voluntarily renouncing the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal at the time, joining the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), establishing a Central Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone and launching The ATOM Project to educate the world about the danger and long-term consequences of nuclear tests.

The latter is online petition which has amassed more than 300,000 signatures from over 100 countries.tap-logo

Its Honorary Ambassador Karipbek Kuyukov, is a renowned international anti-nuclear weapons activist and artist who was born without arms as a result of his parents exposure to Soviet era nuclear weapons testing. He has dedicated his life and art to nonproliferation and calls upon all around the globe to sign The ATOM Project petition online to put an end to all nuclear weapons and their development.

Mass Protests

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Many Kazakh citizens demonstrated over concerns about land reforms announced in 2016

2016 started quietly as the country was coming back to usual ways after New Year’s holidays. As it happens every year, the first few months the nation was mostly celebrating its various holidays starting from March 1 – Day of Gratitude, celebrated for the first time this year, March 22 – Nauryz and May 7 – the Fatherland’s Defender day to name a few major ones. As the snow was thawing away and the summer was readying to step in, the country dealt with mass protests and rallies sparked in Atyrau on April 24 and later spread to other cities like a disease.

The cause for this was the March 30 announcement of 1.7 million hectares of land to be auctioned to foreign entrepreneurships for 25 years. The protesters took to the streets to oppose the law that allowed this mechanism. Later, the masses were provoked to take to the streets in Aktobe, Semey, Zhanaozen, Uralsk and Pavlodar – all different regions of the country.

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Meeting of Kazakh government committee to address residents’ concerns about land reform

On May 21, instigators planned a major nation-wide rally, however the authorities prepared well for it and suppressed any possible provocations and demonstrated they could pacify protests without aggression.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev addressed the matter personally and later appointed a Land Commission, which after a few months of consultations put a moratorium on the law until 2017. The President also reprimanded the authorities for inability to release proper information regarding the law on Land reform, thus spreading mass misunderstandings among the population.

Aktobe Terror

The morning of June 5 started as usual for residents of the western city of Aktobe in Kazakhstan, until about lunch time when the mass media and social media started disseminating the news of six people, including two Kazakh soldiers, one gun shop assistant and three attackers, being killed and 11 wounded in multiple shootings in attempts to rob a gun shop and assault a National guard station. Soon after the authorities instituted an anti-terrorist operation in the city.

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Multiple citizens and soldiers were killed in June 5 terror attacks in Aktobe

The terrified Aktobe residents were filming the ongoing attacks and then uploaded video clips on the internet.

On June 12, Kazakh security officials announced they had killed some and arrested all the suspects involved in attacks and have lifted the red terror alert. In total, security forces killed 18 suspected terrorists, nine were arrested and 23 units of weapons were seized. Twenty-five criminal cases have been combined into one criminal case.

After attacking and stealing weapons from two Aktobe weapons shops, the terrorists planned to attack local penitentiary facilities and state bodies.

The weapons shops attacks and an attack on a National Guard station in the western Kazakh city killed three Kazakh soldiers and four civilians. Authorities have said the attacks were motivated by religious extremism.

… Almaty terror

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Terror attacks also come July 18 to Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty. Photo Credit: Kazpravda.kz

As the chitchat of the Aktobe terror was echoing in press, a new shockwave plunged the nation into terror this time in the largest by population city of Kazakhstan – Almaty.

Three police officers, one officer of the Border Guards and a civilian were killed when a single assailant attacked local police precinct and the department of National Security Committee buildings on July 18. The authorities introduced the red terror alert the same day and police appealed to citizens to help prevent further bloodshed.

The same day the Akorda Presidential Residence announced that President Nursultan Nazarbayev convened a meeting of the nation’s Security Council a few hours after the attacks.

On July 19, the suspect was captured but his actions were irreversible. The country mourned its fallen officers and the civilian.

Nazarbayev Prize for a Nuclear Weapon Free World and Global Security

As a global leader in the nuclear nonproliferation movement and a practitioner of a multi-vector foreign policy striving for peace and diplomacy among all nations, it was only fitting that this year Kazakhstan combined those long-standing ideologies and practices into a global award for peace: the Nazarbayev Prize for a Nuclear Weapon Free World and Global Security.

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President Nazarbayev announced King Abdullah II of Jordan as the recipient of the first Nazarbayev Prize for a Nuclear Weapon Free World and Global Security

“Today I would like to tell you and our people about the new initiative. I have made a decision to establish international award for contribution to nuclear disarmament and security,” Nazarbayev said Oct. 10 at the Akorda presidential residence, choosing an official ceremony of the presentation of credentials by newly appointed ambassadors to make the announcement. “This is Kazakhstan’s international prize,” announced Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The formation and announcement of the prize follows President Nazarbayev’s manifesto “The World. The 21st Century” which he presented earlier this year in Washington and is meant to serve as a roadmap to international peace.

The first prize was awarded to King Abdullah II of Jordan in part for his efforts to accept more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees into Jordan and to turn the Middle East into a zone of peace, including through the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region.

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