Dismissal of Dinmukhamed Kunayev (ruled in 1964-1986), the 1st Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK), on 16 December by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, and appointment of a Russian outsider, Gennady Kolbin (1986-1989) in his place, was the primary reason for the peaceful student demonstrations that started in the early morning of 16 December.
The protests began in the morning of 17 December, as student demonstration attracted thousands of participants as they marched through the Brezhnev Square across to the CPK Central Committee building.
As internal troops and OMON forces entered the city, violence erupted throughout the former capital of Kazakhstan.
The events lasted from 16 December until 19 December 1986.
These demonstrations were violently suppressed by the authorities. Many young students lost their lives and even more received injuries.
Yet another event shook the country on the same day. In May 2011, workers from the Ozenmunaigas oil field went on strike over pay.
The strike was declared illegal by local courts and the state oil company sacked nearly 1000 employees.
Some of the sacked workers then occupied the town square in protest.
On 16 December 2011 police were accused of firing on them. Fifteen people were killed according to government officials and hundreds received injuries.
This year it is the 1st anniversary of the tragic events that took place in Zhanaozen.
December 16: How this date is perceived now? We performed a small poll among our townspeople.
Kairat KUSHEKENOV, 47, civil engineer: This is a great holiday for me. This is the Independence Day.
Anuar, 23: Sure, it’s a big holiday. But when I think about it, first of all, in front of my eyes there is Alma-Ata in December 1986 and the rally of thousands of brave Kazakh young men and women.
Artur MASSALIMOV, 21, sailor: Since childhood I was taught that this day is the Independence Day of Kazakhstan and, therefore, I definitely perceive it as the most important holiday of our country.
Goulfairus KAIRGALIYEVA, dean of historical-philological faculty of Atyrau State University (ASU):
This is the day when the Soviet empire collapsed and it is the day due to which Kazakhstan became known to the world as an independent state.
Talgat ALPYSBAYEV, senior teacher, Department of History of Kazakhstan, ASU:
During these days I recollect the mass heroism demonstrated by our young generation in 1986. I spent my student’s years in Almaty. Every year on this day I call my friends in Almaty, we take a walk down memory lane, we say prayers to those who are not with us.
Timur BEKTUR, a member of Kazakhstan’s Journalist Association, IT specialist:
There are no ifs in history, but, on the other hand, everything could go other way. Thank God, Kazakhstan used its historical opportunity and we are now independent. One shouldn’t stop at today’s achievements. Any of us should ask himself – what did I do for my country? Not only Nursultan Nazarbayev is responsible for Kazakhstan’s staying in a row of civilized countries, but we are as well.
Zhauken KUSHENOV, the head of Atyrau Branch of Kazakhstan People’s Communist Party:
To me this day is connected with two events. The first is the 1986 events in Almaty, when youth came out to the Republic Square. And the second is December 16, 1991, the day we gained independence that allowed us to have our own state symbols, currency and other countries started to recognize us. It was a difficult period, but now Kazakhstan is recognized by the whole world. Certainly, all these put huge responsibility on our country and its power. For independence, one should be honest. In order to fear nobody one should be clean before law. This is what our independent country should be like.
Zhumabai DOSPANOV, a public activist: First of all, to me it’s Kazakhstan’s Independence Day. It’s indeed the most important historical date for Kazakh people, who expected it for centuries. At the same time, no one can erase the memory of last year’s bloody December events in Zhanaozen. By the way, in my opinion, this is not a coincidence. When police officers in Zhanaozen asked: “Today is a holiday, perhaps, it’d be better to wait until tomorrow?” they were ordered to shoot. I am sure it was a plan with a vision to later shift the holiday. To my knowledge, starting next year we will be celebrating the Independence Day on December 1 along with the Day of the First President. Perhaps some manipulated elderly people will propose “December 16 is the day when bloodshed happened, let’s move the Independence Day to another date.” And this will be done.
Polled by Aitolkyn KOULSHAROVA