Friday, October 20, 2006

Chevron, Turkey, and Kazakh Nationalism: How will the Tengiz Riots be Used Politically?

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Kazakhs and Turks fighting at the Tengiz oilfield site

Reports from the Tengiz oilfield suggest that what started as a personal brawl between three Turks (from Turkey) and a Kazakh (all workers for Tengizchevroil) quickly developed into an inter-ethnic/international riot on Friday. While the initial Reuters report only mentions that ten people were injured in generic “riots,” Kazakhstani sources quickly provide much more detail (and numerous rumors), characterizing the resulting riot as a “pogrom” against Turks and other foreigners. Furthermore, according to the prosecutor’s office of Atyrau Oblast’, approximately 140 people were injured during the fighting and at least eight have been hospitalized with serious, but not life-threatening, injuries.

While Tengizchevroil reports that the riots are now “under control,” this incident is symptomatic of increasingly tense relations between the ethnic Kazakh population and foreign business interests in Kazakhstan. As comments to the zonakz.net story about the riots suggest, the Kazakhs’ animosity towards businessmen and workers from Turkey has been growing since Turks first began arriving in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s. Many Kazakhs have long felt that the Turks act paternalistically towards them and take advantage of them economically. While these emotions likely played an important role in the disorder at Tengiz on Friday, the incident cannot be attributed to Kazakh-Turkish relations alone. Reports from Tengiz, for example, suggest that the attacks on Turks Friday spiraled into violence against foreign workers in general. Indeed, there is growing frustration among the ethnic Kazakh working class of Kazakhstan as the standard of living in the country improves and life becomes more expensive. For the ethnic Kazakh working class, it is particularly frustrating to see foreigners living better and supervising their work in what is now proclaimed as a Kazakh nation-state. While these workers may be receiving better pay for working in Chevron’s Tengiz oilfields and Lakshmi Mittal’s steel factory in Temirtau than they did working under Russian tutelage in Soviet factories, they also expect more now that they live in an independent Kazakhstan.

In addition, the ongoing political machinations around presidential succession in Kazakhstan have been spawning new political strategies focused on populist concerns, and these strategies have inevitably begun to focus on the Kazakh working class, especially those employed by foreign companies. Already Dariga Nazarbayeva has taken on the issue of workers’ salaries and safety at Mittal’s Steel factory in Temirtau, and her latest article attacking Mittal came out in the Karavan newspaper Friday as the violence was erupting at Tengiz. In this most recent article, Ms. Nazarbayeva says that Kazakhstan must “stop acting like an obeying colony, kneeling before a foreign gentleman from the ‘Forbes’ list (of the world’s richest people).”

The incident at the Chevron worksite could obviously fit in well with this sort of populist/nationalist rhetoric. The question is who will be the target of nationalist and populist political attacks around the events that took place at Tengiz on Friday? Will it be the Turks and foreign guest workers, or will it be the Americans and other foreign companies involved in the oil industry? Furthermore, who will control the populist/nationalist message about the Tengiz riots? Will it continue to be Dariga, or will the left-wing of the opposition, Tuyakbay’s Social Democratic Party, become more prominent in supporting the rights of native Kazakh workers? Or, will the events at Tengiz be highlighted in the platform of the new party of local businessmen expected to be formed in the near future by Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, who has also showed an interest in the rights of steel workers in Temirtau? Finally, will any of the political forces in Kazakhstan carry the populist and Kazakh nationalist message further and utilize the twentieth anniversary of the Kazakh student protests in December 1986 as a rallying point for a new Kazakh nationalist political movement? Whatever the political significance of the violence at Tengiz this Friday, it is apparent that Kazakh nationalism is entering a new era of political importance, and this will cause at least some uneasiness for citizens who are not ethnically Kazakh as well as for foreign investors, businessmen, and workers in Kazakhstan into the near future.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
It is hardly likely that this brawl occurred over stepping into the queue for lunch. The situation in general in the area is one of National workers frustrated by their own government's lack of concern for their well being. This gets manifested in attacks on expats since it is less likely to result in retribution at their home in Kulsary (a town about 1 hour from the project). I worked in Tengiz at the time of the first riot at Senimdi Kurulys (Turkish company) in 2005. The known cause at the time was the company's poor treatment of national's including inadequate housing, poor treatment of staff and in particular a lack of respect for the females. Staff were not paid at the minimum wage rate established by the government and overtime hours were not compensated. The labour situation was brought under the direct purview of the local Akim (mayor)afterward with all foreign companies required to sign an accord on labour relations. Anyone who has been through the Rotational Village knows the living conditions and anyone who has been to the region is also familiar with the paltry wages paid to nationals. These start around 85 US cents per hour, however a skilled trade such as a welder can earn the princely sum of 3 to 4 US dollars per hour. The value of a barrel of oil is well known and other websites can provide the reader with the current production levels at the Tengizchevroil field, somewhere in the range of 270 thousand barrels per day. Before anyone tries to justify the wage as sufficient I suggest the he or she try to live on such earnings even in that location. As a comparator, cigarettes cost about 1 dollar per package and soda pop is about 12 dollars per case. Of course vodka is sold for less than 3 dollars per bottle. Seems to be the national pacifier. The oil wealth is certainly not being shared. Nationals are treated as second class in their own country because all of the expat companies know that the government officials will turn a blind eye to the abuses of the existing labour law as long as their personal wealth is enhanced. By the way the existing Labour Law in Kazakhstan provides for the right of workers to form unions and requires that employers recognize the unions. In practice this does not occur.Workers are summarily dismissed on a routine basis as it does make the point of who is in charge. Overall the situation reminds one of the situation that existed in the west pre-1950.
In the final analysis all parties are to blame for the situation. TCO, the government, foreign companies, foreign managers who abuse their authority. Perhaps the only innocents are the national workers and it is ironic that they are the ones being blamed.

10/22/2006 11:35 AM
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4:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's about time that such an issue comes to the front.

Many western firms are under tremendous pressure from the KZ government to provide training, comparable wages (see current wage legistlation in KZ), and equality in treatment, whether the worker is qualified for a specific job or not - in Tengiz, Aktau, Karabattan, Aksai, etc.

A real frustration of many companies in Kazakhstan - both foreign and domestic - is the deficit of specifically skilled or trainable people in the west of KZ. Take the local banks, for example: most of the managerial staff is brought in from Almaty, Astana Karaganda, or Ust to manage the branches in the oil belt. Why is that? Should the local banks be faulted for such behavior?

This situation is not singly a result of profit-only antisocial attitude of local, western or international companies; it is a result of profit-oriented firms, coupled with corrupt and lazy bureaucrats, as well as adamant people in those regions who feel entitled to extra benefits due to the oil.

The government unquestionably holds the most power and is the lead player in the interaction of the stakeholders above; the hope is that leadership will prevail and turn the situation in a long-term, constructive direction for everyone involved.

I just leave with this: would Atyrau, Tengiz, Kulsary or those other areas be better off now, or in the future without TCO? Let's put Lukoil or Gazprom in place of TCO and see the great social benefits that would accrue to the local population.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Sean R. Roberts, PhD said...

As both comments above point out, the problems in the oil producing regions of west Kazakhstan are numerous. If politics in Kazakhstan begin to really engage substantive issues, the conditions in west Kazakhstan could easily become national-level political problems in the near future. It should be noted, for example, that in Atyrau, Aktau, and Kyzyl Orda (all oil producing areas), Nazarbayev won by the slimest margin of all regions in the country during last year's presidential election. Nazarbayev still won by a significant margin in these regions, but the fact that many voted against him despite the intense political pressure to do otherwise suggests that the level of frustration in these areas is very high indeed. Without laying blame at the feet of any one party, the fact that these regions of the country (which provide the oil that fuels Kazakhstan's economy) are much more poorly developed than cities in the east of the country creates an obvious problem. It is a problem that does not go unnoticed by the local population in the west of Kazakhstan, and it is a problem that the Kazakhstan government has yet to really engage.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The picture associated with this article was not taken in Tengiz. There are no trees or grass in Tengiz.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment that there are no trees or grass in Tengiz, that is not entirely true. I just returned from the Tengiz oil field where I worked for almost a year. The area known as TCOV is the original old Hungarian housing area still used by TCO and it is where the Turks were moved before being evacuated out. That area does have trees and grass in some places and violence likely.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous The Doctor said...

I agree with the first comment on the picture was not taken in Tengiz, as there are no trees or grass IN Tengiz. I also worked there; for 10 years and while there is a tree at each building entrance that's about it. And there certainly is no embankment like in the picture with grass growing on it.

The problems of Tengiz are many, but the fundamental problem (and it has been discussed many times there) is the lack of respect for the Kazakh people working there not only by the Turks (and it's pretty easy to see) but by the TCO management and most all of their contractors. I could tell a many a story about what they say versus what they do. The training issues are a small part of it. Yes TCO does provide training to it's employee's, but it's generally only on paper and there is little or no follow up. There is certainly no OJT type training that is productive there. Promotions are not based on skill most of the time, but on who you know and who you are doing favors for. TCO has a silent policy of no fraternization, but if you go look; there is a lot of it going on (another one of the problems that led to the riots due to forced fraternization) and a large portion is actually the Chevron Expat Employee's doing it. And if you look a little closer, you will see that the people being promoted are the ones involved in the fratinization. This causes a lot of animosities there. As does the wage issue. The TCO management don't go out in the Country and see what it's really like to live there. Some do live in Atyrau in their company built multi-million dollar houses but have no idea of the real life in the country. They think it's cheep to live there. It's not by any stretch of the imagination. Well that's enough, I could write book about the place but this article is not the place to do it. I wish them all luck in their endeavor to make it better. But until someone actually listens to what is said, it will remain the same.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just seen a video clip from the riot.It's not a pretty sight.I'm going over to the Tengiz oilfield in March.. I must say am not looking forward to it.

8:48 AM  
Blogger google优化 said...

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5:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you are not looking forward to anything in Tengiz, better to reconsider ur decision on going.
i remember one phrase: if u do smth, do it from heart. if u dont have this desire, leave it. its called professionalism..

7:28 PM  
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