A Closer Look: This could’ve been an historical moment for Almaty, instead it’s turned into a tragedy

The bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics came down to Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan

An interior view shows an electronics store that was looted during mass protests triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 9, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT
An interior view shows an electronics store that was looted during mass protests triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 9, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT

The pictures and videos coming from Almaty, Kazakhstan this past week have been difficult to watch.

Anti-government protestors have turned violent and the city was previously under a state of emergency. According to the country’s health minister, over 160 people, including two children, have been killed during the protests. Most of the deaths have occurred in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital.

The interior ministry said initial estimates of property damage will exceed $200 million, and more than 100 local businesses and banks were either looted or destroyed.

The unrest began with a New Year’s Day increase in fuel prices, and the violence quickly spread from rural areas in the west, to Almaty and other larger cities. A protest against fuel prices soon escalated into anti-government demonstrations. Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued “shoot-to-kill” orders to put an end to the unrest, which he blamed on “bandits and terrorists.”

FILE PHOTO: Troops are seen at the main square where hundreds of people were protesting against the government, after authorities' decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Troops are seen at the main square where hundreds of people were protesting against the government, after authorities' decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva/File Photo

Reports on Monday say the city has appeared to return to something resembling normalcy after a week of untold violence and unrest, the worst in the young country’s history.

Under a different set of circumstances in a parallel universe, this could have been one of the greatest times in Kazakhstan’s history. Had just five more votes gone their way, it would be Almaty getting ready to host the 2022 Winter Olympics for the first time in their history, and not Beijing.

Kazakhstan hosted the 2011 Asian Winter Games and Almaty hosted the 2017 Winter Universiade. Although the choice of Almaty to host the Olympics, at first glance, might raise some eyebrows, the city had a lot to offer the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Presenting the bid in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then Prime Minster Karim Massimov gave an impassioned speech emphasizing Almaty not as a risky choice but, “a golden opportunity to prove that smaller advancing nations can successfully host the Winter Games.” He also urged the IOC to let Almaty, “showcase the real long-term power of an Olympic legacy for a region that has never hosted the Games.”

FILE PHOTO: Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Karim Massimov speaks during the Almaty 2022 Presentation at the 128th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Karim Massimov speaks during the Almaty 2022 Presentation at the 128th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

That legacy will likely be unfilled for the near future, but perhaps Almaty will pick their self up, put this ugliness behind them and bid again someday. Or perhaps the city’s “near miss” will provide the inspiration for another city to seek the Olympic spotlight for the first time.

One Olympic dream died in Kuala Lumpur in 2015, but just maybe it gave hope to many more.

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