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How a humble display of Kazakh fuel turned into a deadly power struggle

Zhanaozen: Where Almaty Looks Like a Galaxy

Perhaps informed by state media that discredited the protests, the half-dozen other people The Telegraph interviewed in Zhanaozen also expressed concerned indifference to the unrest. It was an accidental trigger for an ultimately failed people’s revolution.

Zhanaozen is part of the Mangistau region of Kazakhstan. The main city, Aktau, was built on the Caspian Sea by the Soviet Union in 1963 to house workers sent there to mine uranium. There is no potable fresh water, a nuclear-powered desalination plant recycles water for its 200,000 residents, and there are no street names. Each street, tower, and microregion is numbered instead.

To reach Zhanaozen from Aktau is another two-hour drive through the washed-out gray, white and yellow frozen steppe that shimmers with timeless promise and stretches to the horizon. Semi-wild horses and double-humped camels break the horizon as they graze on clumps of grass growing through the uneven snow.

East of Zhanaozen are acres of nodding donkeys, those monotonous instruments of the energy industry that dutifully pump oil from the ground.

For the residents of Zhanaozen, the charms of central Almaty with its middle class centered on fashion, gastronomy and democracy, seem like a galaxy.

People here may also despise the Kazakh elite, accused of corruption, but their fight is daily and crude. Despite being at the center of Kazakhstan’s wealth production, locals feel cheated.

“It’s our gas. We pump it from the ground,” said Zhannagul, who was leaving an office in Zhanaozen for his lunch break. “Why is it so expensive? »

On the first day of 2022, residents of Zhanaozen woke up to find that a liter of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is used by people to fuel their cars, had doubled in price to 120 tenge (20p) per liter.