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Some have depicted the recent unrest as an attempt to destabilize the political status quo ahead of next month’s elections, but Ms. Gevorgyan said that dissatisfaction over social conditions among common Kazakhs should be far more worrying for Mr. Nazarbayev.

“The opposition parties did try to capitalize on the protests, but the oil workers were hesitant to get into wider political discourse,” she said. “The action was simply about their woes, rights and their demand for more fair distribution of the wealth from energy resources that belongs to the land of Kazakhstan.

“This is a simple argument and appealing to many ordinary Kazakhs, and this is why it is [a] very dangerous development for the government. If this was a politically or religiously motivated protest, the government would have better arguments in fighting against them.”

Still, some local analysts say that the protests were engineered to destabilize the region.

“The events are initiated by a group of armed people who came to Zhanaozen from other places, who triggered the police to use weapons,” said Aleksandr Knyazev, a senior fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, based in Moscow and Almaty. “Real events in western Kazakhstan are very different from the image that is created in the mass media, and especially in social networks, and in international public opinion.”

While the recent violence is a new development and so far limited to Mangistau, where most of the country’s oil infrastructure is located, many expect the protests to continue.

With the end of Mr. Nazarbayev’s 20-year rule being anticipated, the government’s response is being watched closely.

“It will be interesting to see whether the government will engage actively with the protesters and seek to defuse the situation, or if they continue with this crackdown using of violence and basically ignore the underlying socio-economic reasons why the protest happened in the first place,” Ms. Taggart said.

• T. Umaraliev reported from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.