MNursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s “Yelbassy” (leader of the nation) for life, returned on Tuesday with a nearly three-minute video message to his “expensive compatriots”. The 81-year-old “first president”, as he is commonly known, has not appeared in public since the end of December and has not spoken out about the protests and unrest at the beginning of January. Rumors circulated that Nazarbayev, who had handed over the presidency to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019, had died or had fled abroad, like members of his family, according to media reports.
Now he said in front of national flags that the “events” at the beginning of the month had shaken the country. “The aim of the organized unrest and attacks on Kazakhstan was to destroy the integrity of the country and the pillars of the state,” Nazarbayev said in the Russian-language address published on his website.
You have to keep your independence “like the apple of your eye”. Investigations would show who “organized all the pogroms and murders”. President Tokayev has blamed the violence on “terrorists” who were “directed from outside” but has not provided any evidence. According to the latest information, 227 people are said to have died in the unrest.
Some observers suspect members of Nazarbayev’s family to have sent out the aggressive groups that turned the protests into violence, particularly in the two-million city of Almaty. The demonstrations were sparked by an increase in liquid gas prices, but culminated in political demands, particularly for Nazarbayev to withdraw.
Many believe Tokayev used the situation to get rid of the “dual power” in which he was Nazarbayev’s junior partner. Nazarbayev did not clarify whether he voluntarily handed over the chairmanship of the National Security Council to Tokayev, which the current president took over on January 5. He only emphasized that there was “no conflict and no dispute in the elite”.
Recently, members of Nazarbayev’s family have lost posts in state companies and the KNB secret service; about his eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, who was once considered the “heir to the throne”, it was said that she had to recover from a Covid 19 illness and could not exercise her mandate in parliament. Nazarbayev’s message may indicate that he has successfully negotiated a behind-the-scenes solution with Tokayev that leaves his family at least part of the vast fortune and preserves his memory.
This was also indicated on Tuesday by praise for Nazarbayev from the power party “Nur Otan” (Radiant Fatherland), whose chairmanship Tokayev is to take over. He himself stated that he had worked “for thirty years without a break in the name of our homeland” and asserted that Tokayev had “full power”. He, Nazarbayev, has been a “pensioner” since 2019 and is currently “on a well-deserved vacation in the capital of Kazakhstan and has not left anywhere”. In his first official act, Tokaev renamed the capital Nur-Sultan (roughly: Light Ruler) in honor of Nazarbayev.