Vietnamese Overseas' Chaotic Week Amid Kazakh Protest

When gunfire raged in Almaty city, Kazakhstan, Minh Tuan's family hid in the house, telling each other not to open the door to anyone.
January 13, 2022 | 09:15
Vietnamese Overseas' Chaotic Week Amid Kazakh Protest
A store in downtown Almaty, Kazakhstan is reinforced with plywood after its glass doors were smashed. (Photo courtesy of interviewee)

Protests began in Kazakhstan on Jan. 2 against the government's decision to stop subsidizing liquefied petroleum gas, which doubled the price of the fuel in many places. The movement quickly spread to Almaty, the largest city in the country, and escalated into one of the worst Kazakh riots in decades.

"I was informed that the protest broke out on the evening of Jan. 4, when I, my wife, and children were going to a water park in Almaty on New Year," said Minh Tuan, vice president of the Vietnamese association in Kazakhstan, who has lived int he country since 1994. "When seeing many cars with number plates removed, I felt something unusual, so I immediately took my wife and children home."

Tuan was surprised at the scale and level of the violence because Kazakhstan is normally peaceful. He has witnessed many peaceful movements in nearly three decades living in the city.

Only after getting home was Tuan aware of the seriousness of the situation when he watched the news about clashes between protesters and police forces.

"We have contacted all Vietnamese in the city and advised everyone to stay at home, avoid participating in mass gatherings, strictly follow the policies of the host country. to ensure safety," he said.

Living near the city center, Tuan heard the sound of gunfire. Residents can barely contact the police or fireman forces. They were focusing on responding to the protests.

Tuan's family had to hide in the house. When being informed about the risk of looting, he warned his fellow Vietnamese not to open the door to anyone, including those who claimed to be police if they could not present legal documents.

"The night of Jan. 5 and 6 were the worst. Fortunately, the Vietnamese community in the city is still safe. I feel more secure as the situation is now mostly controlled," Tuan stated.

His phone interview was constantly interrupted due to the intermittent signal. "The unstable signal is likely because the Kazakh authorities apply some special methods to track down terrorists. For the past week, people in Almaty can only access the internet for about three hours per day," he explained.

Vietnamese Overseas' Chaotic Week Amid Kazakh Protest
Soldiers and military vehicles block a street in the city center of Almaty, Kazakhstan on January 7. Photo: AFP.

Duc Ton, a lecturer at Nazarbayev University, said the situation in the Nur-Sultan capital was not as complicated as in Almaty. However, the Vietnamese community here faced difficulties in the past week.

"After a peaceful protest on Jan. 4 in the old quarter of the capital, the police and army were deployed. The government declared a national emergency, closed shopping centers, and banned mass gatherings, but people can still travel," he said.

The internet was cut off, the bank payment systems were disrupted, so many people rushed to withdraw cash. Nur-Sultan residents could still go online for about 2-4 hours a day.

Azhar Karatayeva, a Kazakh office worker in Astana, said she was not surprised by the protests. The plan to increase gas prices was strongly opposed by the public from the beginning.

"I thought a conflict could happen, but I did not expect it to be that bad. I was worried for my loved ones and heartbroken when I read the news of the deaths," Karatayeva said, adding that her office had required staff to work from home.

"My loved ones were unable to leave the house during the state of emergency, but things now seem to be slowly improving," she said.

The protests were quelled after the peacekeeping force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization was deployed to Kazakhstan on Jan. 6 at the request of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The force was tasked with protecting key facilities in Kazakhstan, while the host country's security forces dealt with the escalating waves of violence.

Kazakh Ministry of Internal Affairs announced social order had been restored after authorities dealt with "26 armed criminals" and arrested nearly 9,000 people involved in the criminals.

At least 16 security officers and 164 Kazakhs were killed during the week. More than 100 businesses and banks were robed, more than 400 vehicles were set on fire. Property damage could reach nearly $200 million, according to VN Express.

Duc Ton said Nazarbayev University might have to postpone the spring semester due to the state of emergency, but he was optimistic that life would return to normal soon after security was restored.

Minh Tuan said that Almaty had been much more stable. Companies return to normal schedules nearly a week after the state of emergency was declared. Even in the roughest days, his family did not think about leaving Kazakhstan.

"No one wants chaos," Tuan said, "but we want to stay side by side with the people of Kazakhstan through this difficult time."

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