30 september 2020

Central Asia news

The Tengiz Carnage: some details of the scuffle in Kazakhstan

10.11.2006 18:11 msk

Konstantin Tumanov


Colloquially known as the Tengiz Carnage, disturbances in the Atyrau region of Kazakhstan took place almost a month ago but the general public is no wiser with regard to what happened, why, and what it resulted in. About 140 were injured in a mass scuffle between Kazakh and Turkish workers at Tengiz Field in the Jylyoi district on October 20. All workers were employees of Tengizshevroil, and the incident itself took place at one of its construction sites.

The prosecutor's office maintains that one of the Kazakhs tried to get his noon meal out of turn and that his behavior enraged the Turks. Some harsh words were apparently exchanged. The Kazakh departed and returned in company of approximately 400 others, fetched from the hostel nearby. A scuffle followed. Several vehicles and a container with overalls were torched and went up in flames.

Atyrau Akim (Governor) B. Ryskaliyev claims that a special team of detectives was set up to investigate the incident. "The situation was localized within 1.5 hours. Workers were evacuated," he said. According to Ryskaliyev, 25 additional police posts were established in the area after the incident, measures were taken to beef up foreigners' security.

The necessity to identify and prosecute the instigators was admitted - actually demanded - more than once. Whether it has been accomplished or not is anybody's guess because official information on the incident is extremely scarce. The site where the scuffle took place is located at a goodly distance from major Kazakh cities, and keeping society in the dark proved an easy task for the authorities. And yet the blackout is not complete. Thousands work at the site, in and out in a couple of weeks. Workers return to their homes in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the world and tell shocking stories that are amazingly different from the official hypothesis.

Official hypothesis

The Kazakh authorities claim that everything began with a dispute over whose turn it was in the diner. Blows were exchanged and the scuffle promptly grew out of proportion. Several employees were wounded, 13 needed medical treatment that couldn't be provided in Tengiz. "One hundred and thirty-six Turkish workers applied for medical assistance. One was operated on, six hospitalized in the town of Kulsary," Ryskaliyev said. No casualties were reported. Several men were medevac'ed to Atyrau, several more to Istanbul.

Office buildings, vehicles, and other objects and assets at the construction site were damaged. Construction was briefly suspended in the wake of the incident.

"Interaction between state structures, Tengizshevroil, and contractors resulted in deployment of additional police details. Employees are perfectly safe now. All damage was repaired. These days, 6,400 workers involved in the Second Generation Project are back in business," Tengizshevroil General Director Todd Levy stated in a classified documents several days after the incident.

The information is scarce. Like description of a playground conflict between naughty kids who will be fast friends again tomorrow. Not a word on the problems that fomented the Tengiz Carnage.

Eyewitness reports are more emotional and, what is important, they are firsthand accounts of what happened.

Eyewitness reports

The people who saw everything with their own eyes say that everything began when a Kazakh (either from the accident prevention service or firefighting department) approached several Turkish workers and asked them to sign work permits or some other documents. According to Habibolla Kasymov, deputy prosecutor from Atyrau, the Turks refused and insulted the Kazakh into the bargain. Words gave way to blows, and three Turks wielding wrenches and a fire-extinguisher assaulted the Kazakh.

The Kazakh barely made it to the diner where his compatriots were taking their meal and said before collapsing, "That's Turks that did it..."

Here is the story of what happened then as told by an eyewitness (with particularly gory scenes omitted). "What we had seen in movies was nothing compared to it... The Turks were trying to hide somewhere, anywhere, but we were after them. One Turk was dragged out from under the container where he had been hiding. He was immediately kicked in the face with a metal boot... I'd say 100 or so men passed him by and each delivered a kick. No way the guy could have survived it... We saw another Turk soon, hiding on the lifting crane. He was dragged down too and dealt with... What Turks had failed to escape were crawling in the mud and screaming. That was all I could endure... my heart, you know. And yes, I saw a girl stretched supine on the ground. She must have tried to speak in someone's defense and got it too... I've seen a lot in my life but aggression of such ferocity was really something."

Turkish workers returned home where they were immediately interviewed. Their stories made prime time on all TV stations and appeared in the Internet, with photos and films taken with cell phones. The worst episodes were erased from the Internet soon enough, but the news couldn't be contained all the same. Even the photos taken after the carnage, the ones depicting puddles of blood and offices in shambles, were sufficient to shock the viewer.

Let us, however, get back to what caused the Tengiz Carnage. Kazakh lawmakers and state officials ascribed the incident to inequality of local and Turkish employees who were getting different pay and social benefits for absolutely analogous work. "Why act surprised?" political scientist Bolathan Taijan told Zona.kz. "It was only logical for the Kazakhs to protest. First and foremost, they protested against inequality. Foreigners are very arrogant which is also understandable because they are better off than then the locals. And that is, of course wrong... Sure, one may say that it was a petty quarrel that deteriorated into a mass scuffle, but whatever it was, however, it was certainly rooted in social inequality. I mean, foreign workers disdain the laws of the host country. Besides, the financial documents I've seen with my own eyes plainly indicate that foreign workers are paid 15-20 times better than what the regulations specify. Where is logic? Of course, it is possible for certain kind of specialists to be overpaid but not for menial workers en masse, right? The authorities had better take another look at the problem and its roots."

Workers themselves also blame the foreigners' arrogance. Here is an excerpt from a letter from a Kazakh worker to his family, "This is not the first such episode at the site, it's just that they are normally kept under the lid. The Turks constantly insult us by saying things like "You've got great girls here. They are so competent..." The Kazakhs take it as an insult because woman has always been held in high respect in this country as a symbol of purity... Consider Mangistau where foreigners know their place and would never even think of doing what is done in Atyrau and Tengiz... I feel so sorry for the people who were sacked and who are getting all the blame now."

Eyewitness reports give different figures of the wounded as well. Exact figures are impossible to calculate of course, but workers themselves say that there were many more wounded than one could believe listening to the authorities. As a matter of fact, all eyewitness reports indicate that there were casualties - more than a dozen. Most claims that either 15 or 17 Turks were killed. Residents of Atyrau and Tengizshevroil employees agree that there have been casualties, the bodies allegedly retrieved by security and buried somewhere. The prosecutor's office denounces the rumors, of course. The rumors persist.

Unofficial reports indicate in the meantime that 4,000 workers from India, Turkey, and Philippines abandoned the project and went home. The site is grossly undermanned now, completion of construction will be at least half a year behind the schedule.

It was not the first mass scuffle in Tengiz by a long shot as everybody knows. Petty quarrels and fights occur even more frequently but remain mostly unknown to general public. Whenever measures are taken afterwards, they only cope with the effect, not cause and leave the existing problems themselves unsolved. It does not take a genius to guess that we will hear of new Tengiz Carnages yet unless measures are taken to solve the existing problems.

Ferghana.Ru news agency