Southern Kazakhstan suffers inter-ethnic clashes

By bne IntelliNews February 9, 2015

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Inter-ethnic clashes were sparked in Saryagash District in the Southern Kazakh Region when a 30-year-old resident of Yntymak village was killed on February 4. During the riots between ethnic Tajiks and Kazakhs that lasted several hours, around ten cars were burnt, a few people suffered in the fighting, and several houses and retail outlets were also set on fire before being quickly put out by the fire service.

The clashes started after the relatives of the killed Kazakh man began demanding the guilty be punished during a street rally. As a result, a group of several hundred Tajiks and Kazakh nationals gathered and started rioting. The situation was eventually taken under control by personnel of the Saryagash district police department, the Abay security agency and servicemen of the military unit No 2020 of Border Services of the Kazakh National Security Committee.

On February 7, the Kazakh police informed that it had detained a 38-year-old resident of Bostandyk village on suspicion of murder. He was detained across the border in Uzbekistan and subsequently extradited to Kazakhstan. Eurasianet.org was also reporting February 7 that the Kazakhstan authorities were blocking reports of the ethnic clash, in a sign of sensitivities in Astana over friction between two of the country’s 140 ethnic groups.

Tajiks migrated to southern Kazakhstan in the 1930s. At present, according to official data, the Tajik population in Kazakhstan is estimated at 60,000 people. At least 5,000-7,000 live in the villages Bostandyk and Yntymak in Saryagash District.

The recent clash was the second such case of ethnic riots in Kazakhstan in the past half a year. During the summer, fights and scuffles broke out between Uzbek and Kazakh nationals in southern Kazakhstan. Both cases show that the decades-long Kazakh official policy of promoting inter-ethnic peace is failing. The risk of further inter-ethnic clashes is set to grow as the economic situation continues to deteriorate and the issue of who will succeed President Nursultan Nazarbayev looms. This poses a big challenge for the Kazakh government, which is afraid that any signs of internal instability might be seen as an opportunity by Russia to exert greater political pressure over Kazakhstan. 

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