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Class War For Idiots / Russia / December 19, 2011

With violence and government crackdowns making headlines from so many familiar parts of the world, there’s hardly been a peep in the media about the biggest and ugliest massacre of all: Last Friday in Kazakhstan, riot police slaughtered up 70 striking oil workers, wounding somewhere between 500 and 800, and arresting scores. Almost as soon as the massacre went down in the western regional city of Zhanaozen, the Kazakh authorities cut off access to twitter and cell phone coverage–effectively cutting the region off from the rest of the world, relegating the massacre into the small news wire print.

But not before someone was able to get a video out to YouTube last Friday, showing the moment when the striking oil workers rushed the barricades. They’ve had to have put up with inhuman, medieval abuse for months now, culminating with the murders a few months back of a striking oil worker and the 18-year-old-daughter of another union organizer, as well as the jailing of a labor lawyer working with the striking oil workers.

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.”

Indeed. First, here is a video showing striking oil workers last Friday breaking up the totalitarian-state’s official celebration of its “Independence Day” (Kazakhstan was one of the 15 Soviet republics that declared independence in 1991; the republic’s Communist Party leader, Nursultan Nazarbaev, stayed on as the “democratic” ruler ever since). At about the 3:30 mark you’ll hear and see gunfire as the massacre is in full-swing:

Here is another video, the one that first went around last Friday that is more dramatic, showing the moment when the striking oil workers stormed the barricades and tore down their hated autocrat’s Independence Day stage…ending with gunfire and riot police moving into the square:

That went down on Friday. We know very little even today because the government clamped down on all communication with the outside world, cutting off cell phone communications and Twitter, imposing martial law, and bringing in special forces and riot police to terrorize Zhanaozen and other cities in the oil-rich west where sympathy strikes and protests have broken out. Journalists have been barred, and two reporters from reputable Russian online media outlets have been arrested. The government claims 15 dead; strikers, who have proven far more reliable, say at least 70 are dead and 500 wounded.

Even the brief and highly controlled “tour” arranged by the authorities for a handful of reporters in the aftermath produced this gruesome account:

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.

Oil workers have been striking since the beginning of summer for the right to unionize, and for better pay. In response, the state-run oil company has already fired hundreds of workers for “violating labor laws,” while dividing up communities and the workforce. By September, workers who held out with the strike were on the verge of starvation; marriages were breaking up, and tensions were growing hotter. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch came out criticizing the Kazakh authorities for their harsh treatment of the strikers and labor organizers. (Read this excellent English-language account here.)

While the brutality translates into living Hell or violent death for locals, keeping those labor costs down has worked wonders for Chevron’s profits, as Forbes recently reported:

Chevron Rises To $104 As Kazakhstan Kicks Up Production

10/13/2011

Chevron, the second largest vertically integrated oil major, has been expanding its operational foothold in the oil rich state of Kazakhstan over the past few years.

The nation’s vast unexplored resources of oil and gas have become a attractive destination for companies such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips seeking new frontiers for oil and gas exploration.

Chevron has taken the early lead in establishing operations in the former Soviet republic with two major upstream projects as well as a manufacturing facility. The future expansion of operations in Kazakhstan is expected to add greatly to Chevron’s overall production output.

We have a $104 price estimate for Chevron which is a 6% premium over its current market price.

The oil majors’ fondness for Kazakhstan’s highly profitable oil may also explain photographs like this, showing Kazakh “SpetzNaz” or special forces troops sent in to crush protests–wearing helmets and brandishing shields that read, in English, “Police”:

Here is a video of the Kazakh SpetzNaz sent in to quash sympathy protests in the nearby city of Aktau:

Reports of torture are filtering in…and of roaming undercover police death squads in white jeeps hunting the streets for working-age males to pick up and intern.

Meanwhile, the protests are still going on throughout the country, the police crackdown is getting more vicious, and almost no one outside of Kazakhstan knows a thing about what’s going on there, because there are too many uprisings going on all around the world, uprisings that are twittered and cell-phone-cammed and YouTubed…and if your massacre and your oppression doesn’t make it to Twitter or isn’t uploaded onto YouTube, then it doesn’t exist, and you are all alone.

UPDATE: Kazakhstan is represented by the lobbying firm founded by former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, which today goes by the name “BGR Gabara.” Among other things, the lobbying firm was busted working on a plan to smear Sting after he canceled a concert in Kazakhstan recently due to human rights abuses. Christ, he’s crap as it is, why smear the one half-way decent thing Sting ever tried doing? Lovely buncha guys, the Barbour Griffith & Rogers folks are.

UPDATE 2: Since this article was published, a longtime defense industry propaganda flak in DC, Joshua Foust, waged a campaign to discredit my article’s death toll figures and defend the Kazakh regime’s own figures for how many it massacred. Foust also characterized as a “lie” Chevron’s partnership deals with the state oil company involved in the massacre — if so, that would make Chevron liars to their own shareholders and to the public. I thoroughly debunked Joshua Foust here. One of Foust’s blogger pals then tried discrediting the heroic Russian journalist I used as a source, Elena Kostyuchenko of the same Russian muckraking newspaper where Anna Politkovskaya worked. I responded here.

Would you like to know more? Read the follow-up to this article: “Failing Up With Joshua Foust: Meet The Evil Genius Massacre-Denier Who Shills For War Profiteers” and “Joshua Foust & Friends Smear Crusading Lesbian Russian Reporter Elena Kostyuchenko As ‘Dumb Hag’…”

Mark Ames’ “How Dick Cheney Got His Cold War On.”

Buy The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia co-authored by Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi (Grove Press).

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32 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Soj  |  December 19th, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    The only reason Sting canceled was because he got so much shit for playing in Uzbekistan, home to an equally lovely president for life. Either Sting is desperate for money or else he’s got the worst agent in the world.

    Thanks for reporting this, as I damn sure didn’t hear about it elsewhere (the massacre, not the Sting concert crap).

  • 2. dominic  |  December 19th, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    yeah its on the BBC, but what I love is that THIS kind of thing is what the US was celebrating when the wall fell. Human rights abuses in the name of American private profits…its not worth noticing when we’re involved, but the Soviets are the most evil maniacs in history when the money goes into their pockets.

  • 3. Kazakh Girl  |  December 19th, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Hi, this is Haley Barbour’s trollbot speaking. I’d send in a comment here but I heard that your Almighty eXiled Censor can be a bitch to deal with. So hold on while I consult with Mr. Barbour’s PR maggots…

  • 4. matt  |  December 19th, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    I liked fields of gold.

  • 5. G.A.  |  December 19th, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Hey Ames, how about the tens of thousands killed in Russia supported coup in Kyrgizstan a coupla years back? Think the media will mention it someday?

  • 6. Tommo  |  December 19th, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Here are some more photos
    http://englishrussia.com/2011/12/18/zhanaozen-disturbance-aftermath/

  • 7. Derp  |  December 20th, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Ah shit! That’s where Borat’s from! Borat is mah motherfuckin’ nigger! He even met my uncle once!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmJuf2NO23Y&feature=related

    Hope that dude don’t get shot or nothin’, derp!

  • 8. Vendetta  |  December 20th, 2011 at 1:23 am

    You don’t say.

  • 9. Nestorius  |  December 20th, 2011 at 6:53 am

    What’s the relation between Nursultan and Chevron? Any information about that?

  • 10. T.B.  |  December 20th, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Looks like the Kazakhstan government has a good reason to stop the protests and get those men back to work…

    http://www.4-traders.com/CHEVRON-CORPORATION-12064/news/CHEVRON-CORPORATION-Government-of-Kazakhstan-to-Become-Partner-in-Karachaganak-Project-13933070/

  • 11. Edmund Dorkey and Gustavo Millibrand  |  December 20th, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Dear eXholes,

    Dirty deeds done dirt cheap: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2011/02/07/patton-boggs-accuses-chevron-lawyers-of-conspiracy/

    Cheers (& Chemtrails),

    Edmund Dorkey and Gustavo Millibrand, Turks & Caicos Islands

  • 12. Charliechew  |  December 20th, 2011 at 10:22 am

    And so it goes. When it comes to greedy oil profiteers, as the saying goes “There Will Be Blood.”

  • 13. Fissile  |  December 20th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    This sure is fascinating….I mean how the “free market” 1% love doing business with hardcore communists operating gulags. Here’s another example, Vice Guide’s documentary on North Korean work camps. http://www.vice.com/vice-news/north-korean-labor-camps-part-1 The lumber from these camps ends up in the Vinyl clad McMansions in lovely Particle Board Estates, USA as well as that new computer desk you bought from Ikea. Yay, Stalinism,…I mean capitalism…er, I mean…oh, fuck it.

    BTW, Cohen’s Borat character was originally suppose to be Albanian, until someone pointed out to Cohen that Albanians lack a sense of humor.

  • 14. proletariat  |  December 20th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    reminds me of the union wars in west virginia. the question now is if these kazakh workers are going to give the army a taste of it’s own medicine like the rednecks did.

    sad thing is, most people are going to miss that reference because they don’t know the origin of the word redneck. during the virginia labor wars (specifically the battle of blair mountain), union workers tied red bandannas to their necks to tell friend from foe. that’s where the word redneck comes from, yet now it’s used as a slur on the same working class that had the balls to fight back.

  • 15. ladyGG  |  December 20th, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    It is so nice that I moved to US from such barbaric contry!

  • 16. M J  |  December 20th, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    It didn’t stop the Economist to publish a an article in the last issue glorifying Kazakhstan as the leader of the region, and giving credit to both the butcher president and his son-in-law (patron of the official opposition party). Let’s also not forget that the butcher president recently recruited Tony Blair to help his PR.

  • 17. God  |  December 20th, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    How quaint. They switched to English “Police” labels on their shields. No Cyrillic anymore.

    “Hey Ames, how about the tens of thousands killed in Russia supported coup in Kyrgizstan a coupla years back? Think the media will mention it someday?”

    The dictator’s son, Maksim Bakiyev, was clearly behind the ethnic clashes, and his family was installed by the Tulip Revolution. The provisional government backed by Russia (which has vowed to restore the power of the parliament) was not responsible for that.

  • 18. dominic  |  December 21st, 2011 at 5:07 am

    ha! not surprised to read in the comments that The Economist recently praised Kazakhstan! They will probably have an article on this massacre, but downplay it or spin it in some way

  • 19. Trevor  |  December 21st, 2011 at 6:39 am

    @14

    I know about Blair Mountain. That was way back in the strange and dangerous time when Americans actually had balls. And I have no problem using “redneck” as an insult because the descendents of that movement have since happily traded in the old righteous fury for slavery and stagnation.

  • 20. Adolf  |  December 21st, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Check the new update on youtube: police brutality exposed

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELEyLn8lacw

  • 21. adam  |  December 21st, 2011 at 9:17 am

    It’s about fucking time!

    Having lived in northern Kazakhstan – Pavlodar, they love Limonov out there – for over 2 years, I can say this was going to happen some time or other. Let’s be clear, Central Asia’s most “stable” state has absolutely no political freedom whatsoever. I have had it on first hand accounts from friends that across almost all workplaces the vote for Nazerbayev is enforced. These people stand to lose their jobs if they don’t vote for him. The intimidation is real.

    Also, what happened in west Kazakhstan is very significant because protests just don’t happen in this country – that is, they’re not supposed to. All protests must be registered and approved by the government; a very rare occurance. One of my buddies was in a small village just outside of the northern economic hub, Pavlodar. They had raised the cost of riding the shuttle from the village to the city – where most of the residents work – by 50 cents. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a big deal to them. My buddy who, like me, was a peace corps volunteer, had a coworker who got involved in a very small-scale but focused protest to bring the shuttle bus fare back down to its original price. After some minor publicity, the police caught wind and started investigating. They infiltrated the protesters and brought it to a close. That’s business as usual over there.

    A couple other things to keep in mind:

    All men in Kazakhstan, with a few exceptions, are required to serve in the country’s conscript army for two years. The hazing is violent: beat or get beaten. My wife’s younger brother is trying to find any excuse, including finding money to go back to college, to not have to go; he’s just the kind of wiry, easy-going kid that would get turned into farsh (ground meat) after a few hours in that hell.

    Almost all of these workers, I’d wager, have gone through that process. It’s an experience that is not well-reported on, however, there’s lots of literature on the hazing in the Russian military – so read on that to get an idea of what it’s like for the men of Kazakhstan.

    So, when these guys leave the military, go back to their hometowns, and find themselves working like serfs for the likes of Chevron, they don’t shove that anger deep down inside, like us Americans do, only to have it explode in bursts of office gunfire – they organize and they act. I’m almost certain they knew what the consequences would be, but fear did not stop them; they’ve already had the worst life can throw at them – serving in Kazakhstan’s conscript army.

    Another important piece of info: the largest media conglomerate in Kazakhstan is owned and run by one of Nazerbayev’s daughters – she is also head of the main sock-puppet opposition party, Asar. There was an “independent” media organization owned by the the mogul, Rakhat Aliyev. And if you want some of the best drama banana republics can offer, google that name and find out what’s going on with him – it involves dead bodies planted in Aliyev’s father’s backyard, a military tribunal trumping up charges made on him in absentia involving a grand insurrection plot with Israeli trained Kazakh militias in Egypt, uncountable stores of weapons and ammunition, and exile to Austria where he is currently resisting extradition. Although, I don’t want to make Aliyev out to be another Assange; he was the little king-maker that couldn’t get along with the local oligarchy, and got burned badly.

    One more thing: Kaztelecom, the state monopoly on internet access, also controls it in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Which means when Twitter shuts down in KZ, it does in KG as well. Pretty fucked up, right?

  • 22. Edmund Dorkey and Gustavo Millibrand  |  December 21st, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Dear eXholes,

    Meet the Foggy Bottom’s current ambassador to Borat-stan:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_E._Hoagland (ref: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5487.htm)

    Hoagland raised the ire of controversy when he was ambassador to Armenia (appointed by Shrub, Jr.)

    Armeniapedia may be a bit biased, but you’d think with the New Agers in the Obama White House, you’d have someone who would spread a bit more peace, love, & understanding — http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Richard_Hoagland

    Sheesh! Who’d a thunk it?

    Cheers,

    Edmund Dorkey and Gustavo Millebrand, Buffalo, NY, USA

  • 23. Edmund Dorkey and Gustavo Millibrand  |  December 21st, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    More goodness re: Hoagland ===> http://www.anca.org/press_releases/press_releases.php?prid=976

  • 24. Edmund Dorkey and Gustavo Millibrand  |  December 21st, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    [ UPDATE: there have been some shake-ups in the diplomatic core recently, it seems; as of November 25, 2011 (Hoagland left November 11, 2011), there is a new guy, career FSO: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/176591.htm ]

    And here they are, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kenneth_J._Fairfax,_Nursultan_Nazarbayev_and_Nyetta_Yarkin.jpg

  • 25. proletariat  |  December 21st, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    actually @19, west virginia still has one of the highest rates of unionization in the world and is still struggling with mine management. even back in the 70s there was another armed uprising. that one got so bad that the president of the united mine workers was assassinated.

    west virginia might appear backwoods, but those rednecks still have more balls than any OWS brat.

  • 26. Joel Kaza  |  December 21st, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I bet Altria Group (parent company for Philip Morris USA,)
    is happy with this news. They treat people who they subcontract to in Kazakhstan, like shit. No complaining now!

    Thanks Mark Ames and Adam for this report and info.

  • 27. Steven  |  December 21st, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    @21

    good insight, would love to hear any more you would like to add.

  • 28. moscow  |  December 23rd, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Well, I understand that Ames and Co. are always looking for the bloody hand of the US imperialism… But those Russian bloggers who wrote about the incident overwhelmingly believed that the entire strike was US-instigated, in order to undermine Russian and/or Chinese influence in Kazakhstan.

  • 29. Red Bastard  |  December 27th, 2011 at 2:55 am

    Hello,
    I really do not care if this is posted but I am trying to find some copies of Eduard Limonov’s works in English. Thanks feel free to post here or just delete this or send it to my email address which you have now.
    I have been googling but any help would be appreciated.

  • 30. Ed  |  December 29th, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I miss seeing you on Ratigan. Keep fighting the good fight.

  • 31. Phil  |  February 18th, 2013 at 7:51 am

    @29

    Seven Limonov writings translated into English: http://www.e-reading.org.ua/bookbyauthor.php?author=22136

    Some years ago, John Dolan translated Limonov’s “The Young Scoundrel” in the pages of Deep South.

    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol3no3/dolan-xlator-note.html
    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol2no1/dolan.html
    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol2no2/limonov.html
    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol3no1/dolan.html
    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol3no2/dolan.html
    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol3no3/dolan.html
    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/0498/0498tran.htm

  • 32. YorkshireSocialist  |  April 30th, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you Mark, I shall never forget the Zhanazoen Massacre thanks to your complete coverage of the whole gruesome affair.

    Tommorow is the 1st of May, International Workers’ Day, and I think it still pertinent to point out that people, like these in Zhanazoen whose massacre “didn’t make Twitter”, are still being killed by their thousands across the world for their belief in a kind of occupational or class unity.

    This bloody affair shan’t leave me because it’s close to home, British and American companies and these governments are entirely complicit in the actions of Nazarbayev, they have been sanctioned by their silence. Tony Blair must have had some part in it.


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