Will the murder of Altynbek Sarsenbayev have changed anything in Kazakhstan?
In February, when I first heard about the murder of Kazakhstan opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbayev, many of my friends suggested that the murder would be mostly forgotten by the people of Kazakhstan within two weeks. It was assumed that, just like the mysterious death of Zamanbek Nurkidilov, this murder would briefly cause alarm only to disappear into the past with little notice (especially by the media). That was not what happened. Those who have been following the political machinations that have surrounded the investigation and court proceedings know that the murder of Altynbek Sarsenbayev has had significant impact on Kazakhstan over the last six months. It appears to have kicked up a storm of political intrigue that has resulted in the liquidation of Dariga Nazarbayeva's political party and in what appears to be the ongoing dismantling of her media empire. Various parties have publicly accused high ranking officials of being involved in the murder, including the president's son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, the former head of the KNB, Nurtai Dutbayev, and the present speaker of the senate, Nurtai Abykayev. Even through the summer months, which are notorious lulls in political activity, public attention has remained at least somewhat fixated on the murder trial of the former politician.
As the court case against the men accused of the murder winds down, however, it seems like that attention is in danger of waning. The accused this week refused to acknowledge their guilt. With various versions of what might have happened continuing to float around cyberspace, most people following the case (and especially the victim's family) are unsatisfied with the official story that is still being presented by the government. In general, it seems that there is something missing, and probably something being covered up. Furthermore, given the widespread uncertainty about who was behind this killing among highly connected individuals, it would seem that the cover-up must be at a very high level.
So, the question is--next week, when the court announces its final decision, what will be the reaction of people in Kazakhstan? Regardless of whether the accused are sentenced or not, one would expect that there should be an outcry that justice has not been completed served—every stone has not been overturn, and every motive has not been sufficiently examined. If history is any indication, that is not likely to happen. Perhaps people will accept whatever is the final decision of the court, or at least they will learn to live with it. Even a deathly silence from the public, however, will not mean that Kazakhstan has not changed as a result of this murder. It has changed, but we probably will not completely understand the impact it has had for sometime to come—at least until the next election.