Around 200 protesters descended on one of Kazakhstan’s top museums in Almaty, the former capital, as widespread protests swept the country last week. According to Kazakh media reports, the group ordered staff, who had stayed to guard the museum, to direct them to ancient armour.
The protests, which were triggered by discontent over fuel prices, were put down by police when they turned violent with support from several former Soviet countries led by Russia.
Kazakhstan’s ministry of culture said in a statement posted on its website that it is “analysing the damage caused to sites of culture, archives, sports and tourism.”
The statement continued: “In Almaty, the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan were attacked by terrorists”. According to the statement, glass showcases and the entrance area were damaged, doors were broken, but the archives were left intact. “Thanks to the courage of the employees, the looting of the main property of these objects was avoided,” it stated.
The museum is one of the most important in Central Asia, known for its collection of golden artefacts, Scythian bronze and ancient weaponry. An intricate replica of the “Golden Man,” also known as the “Golden Warrior,” or “Kazakhstan’s Tutankhamun,” discovered in 1969 at a burial site near Almaty, is a centerpiece of the museum.
Bibigul Dandygarayeva, the museum’s deputy director for management and marketing, told the Tengrinews.kz site and Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that the protestors came to the museum after staff had sheltered wounded police officers and young cadets there who were under attack at the height of protests. She said she instructed staff to hide the servicemen in the basement.
The museum is located near the city administration and the presidential residence.
Some analysts have suggested that the street clashes were fueled by a power-struggle among Kazakh elites who have allegedly amassed huge fortunes through widespread corruption. Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s autocratic leader of nearly three decades, was removed from a key post by his hand-picked successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.