The oil workers were shocked to see that the city would try to hold a party just yards from the spot they had occupied for months in the hope of negotiating higher salaries. The day was December 16, 2011, and authorities in the city of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, disregarding the strikers, were intent on celebrating Independence Day in a cacophonous way.
Event organizers had installed large speakers on a stage for musical acts. Enraged by what they viewed as a provocation, groups of angry men bulled their way past thin lines of police, rushed the stage, toppled the speakers and remonstrated with organizers.
After months of a peaceful sit-in, tempers had reached a crescendo on Zhanaozen’s main Yntymak (Accord) Square. Before long, police started spraying bullets at the protesters. “I wanted to hide behind that enclosure,” recalled Roza Tuletayeva, an oil worker who served a jail sentence over the unrest, gesturing at a low wall on the square enclosing some trees.
“But it was pointless. The bullets were coming in all directions,” said Tuletayeva, speaking to EurasiaNet.org this fall, ahead of the anniversary of the violence.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.