Kazakhstan: Village Murder Spirals into Ethnic Clashes
Calm has returned to a village in southern Kazakhstan following clashes between ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Tajiks after a Kazakh man was murdered in an argument over a greenhouse.
Enraged friends and relatives of the murder victim, 30-year-old Bakytzhan Artykov, set fire to cars, damaged buildings, and attacked a Tajik-language school (no children were inside) in the village of Bostandyk, local resident Behruz (not his real name) told EurasiaNet.org by telephone.
“They set fire to buildings and cars,” the eyewitness said. “My own car was set on fire.”
He described how some 300 Kazakhs arrived in Bostandyk from the neighboring village of Yntymak on February 5 following the funeral of Artykov (whom police suspect was murdered by Navmidin Narmetov, a Tajik man now on the run). They rampaged through the streets from around 6 p.m. to midnight on February 5, despite the presence of riot police who arrived in response, Behruz said.
Grainy cellphone footage posted on YouTube said to be from Bostandyk (its authenticity could not be verified), a village mainly inhabited by ethnic Tajiks and located in the southern Saryagash District near the border with Uzbekistan, showed scenes of angry locals, some wielding sticks, and a burning car.
The administration of Nursultan Nazarbayev touts Kazakhstan as a model of tolerance because of the level of harmony among its 140 different ethnic groups. This unrest reveals how arguments can quickly escalate and split locals along ethnic lines.
Some of the attackers were shouting that Tajiks should leave for Tajikistan, Behruz said, “as if we were foreigners in our own country.”
Police said on February 6 that the situation was calm and that no injuries had been reported. Another local resident told EurasiaNet.org by telephone that evening, on condition of anonymity, that it was “quiet” and “everything’s fine.”
But some inhabitants remained nervous, and some Tajik families had sent women and children to stay with relatives in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, some 30 kilometers away, in case of further violence, Behruz said.
News of the clashes reached the Uzbek capital quickly and angered many in the Tajik community, a Tashkent-based Tajik told EurasiaNet.org. Kazakhstani cellphones and Internet were temporarily cut off in Bostandyk, but many inhabitants have Uzbekistani cellphone numbers that remained operational throughout.
Ethnic-based clashes are rare in Kazakhstan, but they have erupted occasionally in the past, usually sparked by local arguments. In 2007, Chechens fought a pitched battle with Kazakhs in the village of Malovodnoye outside Almaty that began over a game of billiards.