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Small victory for squatters in Bakai community, Almaty, Kazakhstan

zhanara | 18.05.2006 17:24 | Migration | Repression | Social Struggles

Bakai squatter evictions and home demolition successfully beaten back for today. Court orders 120 homes to be destroyed in Shanyrak communities nearby. A general assembly at Bakai votes to send support to Shanyrak.

Russian original for this translation w/ more photos here:

Small victory for squatters Bakai community, Almaty, Kazakhstan

On 12 May, 2006 a street battle took place in Bakai, a squatters' community just outside what's known as the "southern capital," Almaty. The confrontation over the scheduled demolition of "unlawful buildings" was between Bakai residents and police details, reinforced by OPON[1] detachments. At 11am a specially selected group of police personnel totalling around 100 people (gathered from various city RUVD[2] offices) stormed this neighborhood, escorting Aisha Askarova, the top court executive of the Turksibski city district.

Inititally, the situation with the first house seems to have ended peacefully. A group of 40 residents first attempted to physically resist, as the police began attacking the residents of the small building, while the court executive's assistants started breaking down the fence. Nonetheless, regardless of various isolated scuffles, a group of negotiators headed by Salim Orazalinov was able to negotiate the following: the residents would file a petition asking for a postponement of the court order, while the police would end the seige. This time things ended with a war of words and the arrival of an ambulance to help an elderly woman who felt ill as a result of this experience.

At 12 noon, the police cordon together with 40 OPON troops moved on towards another home scheduled for demolition, located on the other side of this shanty town community. According to the court officers, 8 homes were scheduled for destruction on this day and they had to finish off at least one in order to keep up appearances. This time, upto 100 Bakai residents crowded around the hut, lots of young men, teenagers, women holding small children. Several mothers and their kids barricaded themselves inside this house, as desperate young men took positions on the roof, holding sticks, bottles and gasoline canisters, ready for active resistance.

By 12.05pm the cops gave a half-hearted and unsuccessful attempt to force the residents away from this house. They were waiting for heavy equipment vehicles which were stuck on Bakai outskirts because of road ditches, barricades and burning tires. Another reason the vehicles were not there was that some of the residents successfully negotiated with the workers and drivers of the bulldozers and tracktors, who eventually refused to destroy any of the shacks and left. Meanwhile, the women of Bakai spent about an hour and a half pleading with the individual police officers, trying to explain the overall destructive role of the current regime. The women even treated them to ice cold water from the local well, as the police troops sat in scarce shade behind certain shacks, looking tired and demoralized, as they hid from the scorching sun. The firefighters were busy putting out burning barricades nearby. I'd say, the scene was absolutely similar to something from the Gaza Strip.

Later on, it turned out that the grannies and women may have been wasting their time, trying to reason with the "guardians of social order." They stormed the home exactly at 2:30pm. The cops formed a firm chain and began to push people away from the shack. Local men tried to resist, throwing stones and pushing cops in the opposite direction. However, due to their superior numbers (around 200 police were there by then) and the use of nightsticks the cops accomplished their task. Some of the residents were wounded at this point. More than 10 people, including what are said to have been some bloodied Bakayevzci, were grabbed and loaded into a police bus.

Around 2:45pm a group of OPON troops in full gear began climbing up to the roof of the ill-fated home, attempting to grab and push the young men down to the ground. Their attempts failed for about the first five minutes, as the kids from the roof spilled gasoline and hit their helmets with sticks, while various groups of teenagers and young women threw stones and (so far empty) bottles at the cops. It really did look like a medieval battle. At 2:50pm squads of police and OPON troops moved toward the crowd yelling, trying to disperse the groups of aggitated young people. Nightsticks landed on the heads and backs teenagers and women. Even the author of this article almost came under attack from the "people in black." In the end, the OPON troops were able to pacify the dare-devils, using force to drag them away into a nearby ditch they dug up.

In the interest of keeping up appearances, the police turned to one remaining bastion, this one with kids locked inside. Salim Orazalinov claims that while he tried to negotiate, pleading with the authorities to spare the children and not to storm this home, Aisha Askarova stated that, "since the parents didn't spare their own offspring, then why should we." While the defenders of law and order are quite serious in their determination to carry out task, this time they found themselves short of a critical resource - the labor force, which would be doing the actual work of leveling this building to the ground. After having been herded here from Seifulin for this specific occassion, the workers categorically refused to do the work.

Another 30-40 minutes passed as protesters and police took aim at each other from afar, gauging the possibility of further attacks. The children prepared stones, while women and grannies vented their anger and grief by yelling at the police, calling them "fascists." "Land to the people!" and "Land is not for sale!" were some of the slongans shouted by the crowd of protesters as some counted the wounded. Five people were found to have been seriously injured, not counting those who were already detained by the police. Here are the names of the 5:

* Asanova, Zoya. 30 yrs old - a large bruise on the left side of her face
* Musayev, Chingizkhan. 27 yrs old - broken nose
* Tashbekova, Gulya. 27 yrs old - large bruises on the head and neck, nausea, potentially a concussion
* Asanov, Marat. 34 yrs old - torn-open wounds on the left hand
* Aron, Atabek - large bruise on the left knee, potentially broken bone

These are only the ones who asked for medical assistance. About 10 more refused any bandages and were anxious to get back to the fight.

No data is available on wounded police personnel. Aisha Askaraova, the lead court executive, suffered an injury to her leg from a stone thrown from the crowd. It's worth mentioning that she was the first one to be hospitalized and not the bakayevzci who've been beaten with nightsticks and for whom the ambulance took a long time to arrive.

Around 4pm Salim Orazalinov announced that the siege of this particular home is over and that it's no longer scheduled to be demolished on that day. After this statement, several people lifted this Zher Ann activist above their shoulders and went on to toss him up and down in celebration. The overall jubilation was hard to describe. More than 200 locals were yelling, clapping, whistling, hooting and hollering at the retreating police detachments. Small children threw sand and stones at the cops as they left the scene.

As soon as the police disappear, residents and supporters hold a general assembly. Various speakers talk of unity and discuss the logistics of being prepared for the next assualt on Bakai. Afterwards, some activists reveal a document, signed by court executive Z. Arstanova and addressed to the officer in charnge of the Auezovski RUVD[2]. The letter announces the scheduled demolition of 120 homes for May 22-24, 2006 in the shanty town communities of Shanyrak-1 and Shanyrak-2 along with a request for 200 police personnel. Following this announcement the assembly adopts a unanimous decision to send a Bakai support group, made up of the more determined and physically stronger men, to aid the residents of the Shanyrak communities. Some gutsy women volunteer to join this Shanyrak support group as well.

While many Bakai residents and supporters view the final outcome of this particular day as a victory, some call for the need to remain alert. Socialist Resistance activists who joined the Bakai residents in their fight are now having much success distributing hundreds of leaflets and pamphlets that aggitate for the nationalization of land and natural resources. The young activists are in good spirits, despite the wounds and muddy clothing.

For now it appears as though Almaty city authorities with their court executives and police details have gotten themselves into a longterm quagmire on the outskirts of the country's "southern capital." Their attempt at demolishing such a large number of homes in Shanyrak alone is quite likely to result in rebellion on a scale not previously seen. Astonishly but not surprisingly, the beaurocrats don't yet seem to understand exactly what kind of fire they're toying with. By sowing wind, they're likely to reap a storm!

1. OPON - militarized police troops, riot cop types
2. RUVD - district police center, Rayonnoye Upravleniye Vnutrnnikh Del