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Zhanaozen oil strike and massacre 2011, Kazakhstan


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.

In May 2011, thousands of workers from Kazakhstan's oil and gas sector started three separate labor strikes at companies operating in the petroleum sector in the Western part of Kazakhstan.

They were asking for recognition of new unions and other issues. The strikes were directed against the three big government-owned companies operating in the area - Ersai Caspian Contractor LLC, KarazhanbasMunai JSC and OzenMunaiGas. Strikers were mainly demanding for higher wages. The companies declined to examine the workers' demands in mediation procedures or through other processes. Local courts even declared all three strikes illegal because of the workers' alleged failure to comply with national legislation defining the requirements to conduct legal strikes (e.g. Labor code provisions).

Throughout the months of the strikes, altogether more than 2,000 workers were fired. At the same time in Zhanaozen, next to the strikes, around two dozen of UzenMunaiGas' workers also started individual hunger strikes demanding for higher pay. The company refused those claims as “unfounded”.

Later that year, UzenMunaiGas brought the strike to an end on 16 and 17 December 2011, when clashes broke out between striking workers and police on the central square of Zhanaozen. Shops were looted and several buildings were set on fire. When the police opened fire, there were at least 12 confirmed deaths, whereas dozens of other were wounded. The state of emergency was declared in the city by President Nursultan Nazarbaev and an investigation ordered.

During the months following the violence outbreak, oil workers and other supporters that allegedly participated in the unrest were persecuted and targeted through criminal charges by governmental forces. In total, by March 2012, 37 oil workers had been tried for charges of organizing or participating in the protests. In June 2012, 34 of the defendants were convicted, of whom 13 were sentenced to prison terms.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Zhanaozen oil strike and massacre 2011, Kazakhstan
State or province:Mangystau Region
Location of conflict:Zhanaozen
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 commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

UzenMunaiGas 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:Approx. 28,000 hectares
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:>2000 (at least 12 people killed; 2,000 fired workers; at least 50 oil workers prosecuted)
Start of the conflict:01/05/2011
End of the conflict:01/06/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Kaz Munai Gas from Kazakhstan
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:• Union Solidarity International,
• Human Rights Watch,
• Unregistered opposition party Alga!

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Informal workers
International ejos
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
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-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Other socio-economic impactsThis was a labour conflict more than an environmental conflict


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:After the riots that occurred in May 2011 and the death of at least 12 strikers, the activists were criminalized and repressed.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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

• Kazakhstan Labor Code

• Law On Professional Unions

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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,

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

Full report in English, "Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression", in People and Nature

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

Kazah Zhanaozen oil unrest spreads to regional capital, BBC News Asia, 18 December 2011,

KazMunaiGas homepage, Oil and gas sector,

Kazakhstan: Investigate Violence in Oil-Rich Western Region, Human Rights Watch, 17 December 2011,

Deadlock in Kazakhstan as oil workers strike, BBC News Asia-Pacific, 25 October 2011,

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

Kazah police are jailed over Zhanaozen violence, BBC News Asia, 28 May 2012,

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

Kazakhstan, ENERGY,,

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

Daughter of Kazakh strike leader found dead, by Christopher Pala, MarketWatch, 27 August 2011,

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Zhanaozen protest descending into violence on December 16, Video posted to Youtube by kanat88ast,

Meta information

Last update18/08/2019



Women supporting Zanhaozen oil strike