A brawl between Kazakh workers and their Arab colleagues in one of Kazakhstan’s largest oil fields has left 30 people wounded and led to an outcry in Lebanon and Jordan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported Sunday,
Videos of the attacks on Arab engineers and workers at the Tengiz oil field were widely circulated on social media in Arab countries. The scenes showed them being kicked and punched by large numbers of local workers. Some of those attacked were covered in blood and badly bruised.
Interfax-Kazakhstan said Saturday’s brawl erupted after a Lebanese contractor reportedly posted a photo on WhatsApp featuring a Kazakh female colleague that the Kazakh workers saw as insulting.
It reported Sunday that the field is managed by Tengizchevroil, or TCO, a joint venture that includes Chevron and ExxonMobil. RFE/RL reported that many of the workers involved appeared to be affiliated with Consolidated Contracting Engineering and Procurement S.A.L Offshore (CCEP), a subcontractor at the site.
Nurlan Nogayev, the governor of Atyrau region, said during a meeting with company management that the brawl resulted from disparities in working conditions between foreign contractors and local Kazakh employees. Complaints about inequality — in payment and working conditions — between local and foreign workers are common in Central Asia, no less so at Kazakhstan’s oil fields.
According to Lebanese and Jordanian officials, the wounded engineers and workers include Lebanese, Jordanians, and Palestinians.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri ordered officials to follow the case. Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab also called his counterpart in Kazakhstan to discuss protecting the Lebanese workers.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir, head of a government agency charged with rescue and relief operations, told the local MTV television that the situation is under control. He said a total of 17 Arabs, including one Lebanese and six Palestinians using Lebanese travel documents, were among those wounded.
Lebanon’s ambassador to Kazakhstan, Jescar Khoury, told local media that all Lebanese citizens who worked at the oil field are now under police protection in a hotel in a nearby city.
In Jordan, Crown Prince Hussein asked the country’s prime minister and foreign minister to follow the case.
In September 2017, a brawl erupted between Kazakh and Indian construction workers in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, formerly known as Astana. The fight was sparked when a Kazakh guard attempted to prevent an allegedly intoxicated Indian contractor from leaving the construction site.
Official figures say that just 30 people were involved in the brawl. But independent outlets reported up to 700 engaged in the fight, which led to road closures in the capital. In the end, 61 Indian nationals were expelled from Kazakhstan for disciplinary violations.
In 2011, workers went on a strike at another oil field in western Kazakhstan. The December 2011 protests demanded better wages and working conditions. When police arrived to oust the protesters from the square they’d been occupying in Zhanaozen to make way for independence celebrations, a violent clash erupted and more than a dozen people were killed.
By the Associated Press with additional reporting by The Diplomat.