Zhanaozen oil strike and massacre 2011, Kazakhstan

In May 2011, thousands of workers from Kazakhstan's oil and gas sector started three separate labor strikes.


The oil fields of western Kazakhstan, where the 2011 strike wave erupted, are the most significant source of the Kazakh elite’s wealth, and an important source of supplies for the international oil market. Kazakhstan is the second-largest oil producer after Russia among former Soviet countries: its output is nearly twice that of Azerbaijan’s, and not much less than Norway’s. The state oil company Kazmunaigaz operates the largest oilfield, Tengiz, together with American and Russian companies (Chevron, ExxonMobil and Lukoil). The huge Kashagan field, offshore in the North Caspian sea, is being developed jointly by Kazmunaingaz and big European and American companies. Chinese oil corporations play a significant part in onshore projects, and their influence has grown since an oil pipeline to China was completed in 2006.

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Basic Data
NameZhanaozen oil strike and massacre 2011, Kazakhstan
ProvinceMangystau Region
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Oil and gas refining
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsUzenMunaiGas is wholly state-owned subsidiary of KazMunaiGas Exploration and Production located in Zhanaozen.

In the territory of Mangystau province alone, more than 70 fields with commercially recoverable reserves of 725 million tonnes and 5.6 million tonnes of condensate have been discovered. Less than half of these fields are in operation.

One of the largest fields in Mangystau, Uzen, is located around 20 km north-east from Zhanaozen. The reserves of the Uzen oil field are around 1.5 billion barrels, production is around 100,000 barrels per day. The Uzen oil and gas field is an older field operated by Uzenmunaigas.
Project Area (in hectares)Approx. 28,000 hectares
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population>2000 (at least 12 people killed; 2,000 fired workers; at least 50 oil workers prosecuted)
Start Date01/05/2011
End Date01/06/2012
Company Names or State EnterprisesKaz Munai Gas from Kazakhstan
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters• Union Solidarity International, https://usilive.org/

• Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/

• Unregistered opposition party Alga!
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndustrial workers
Informal workers
International ejos
Trade unions
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Oil spills
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
OtherThis was a labour conflict more than an environmental conflict
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.After the riots that occurred in May 2011 and the death of at least 12 strikers, the activists were criminalized and repressed.
Sources and Materials

• Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, August 20, 1995, with additions and amendments of February 2, 2011

• Kazakhstan Labor Code

• Law On Professional Unions


Human Rights Watch (HRW) (2012), Striking Oil, Striking Workers. Violations of Labor Rights in Kazakhstan's Oil Sector, Human Rights Watch, September 2012,
[click to view]

AGRA Earth & Environmental Limited, UZEN Environmental Assessment of Rehabilitation Streategies, UZEN Oil Field Project, Prepared for: The Government of Kazakhstan, Prepared by: AGRA Earth & Environmental Limited, Calgary, Alberta, September 1994, CEO1465.300,
[click to view]

Full report in English, "Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression", in People and Nature
[click to view]


Kazah Zhanaozen oil unrest spreads to regional capital, BBC News Asia, 18 December 2011,
[click to view]

Police shootings caught on camera in besieged Kazah town, by Aizhanul Amirova, France 24, The Observers, 22 December 2011,
[click to view]

Deadlock in Kazakhstan as oil workers strike, BBC News Asia-Pacific, 25 October 2011,
[click to view]

KazMunaiGas homepage, Oil and gas sector,
[click to view]

Kazakhstan: Investigate Violence in Oil-Rich Western Region, Human Rights Watch, 17 December 2011,
[click to view]

Daughter of Kazakh strike leader found dead, by Christopher Pala, MarketWatch, 27 August 2011,
[click to view]

A Year After Deadly Riots, Zhanaozen Is Quiet But Angry, by Daisly Sindelar and Sania Toiken, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, 16 December 2012,
[click to view]

Clashes between police and sacked oil workers in Kazakhstan leave 10 dead, Associated Press, The Guardian, 16 December 2011,
[click to view]

Kazah police are jailed over Zhanaozen violence, BBC News Asia, 28 May 2012,
[click to view]

Kazakhstan, ENERGY, GlobalSecurity.org,
[click to view]

Kazah Activist Convicted Over Zhanaozen Protest Freed From Prison, by RFE/RL's Kazah Service, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, 19 November 2014,
[click to view]

Media Links

Zhanaozen protest descending into violence on December 16, Video posted to Youtube by kanat88ast,
[click to view]

Other Documents

Women supporting Zanhaozen oil strike
[click to view]

Meta Information
Last update13/10/2015