“Kazakhstan is a land of unity and accord,” reads the billboard looming over the highway to the southern village of Bostandyk, which was hit by ethnic clashes between the Kazakh and Tajik communities last week.
Four days after the unrest the area was still under lockdown by security forces, with the Internet shut off. Though the conflict was localized and tensions quickly faded, the episode shows just how suddenly ethnic violence can grow out of control. With neighboring Russia having recently rewritten the rules for intervening to protect its ethnic kin abroad, Astana is especially sensitive about ethnic frictions. Russians, after all, make up a sizable minority in Kazakhstan.
Events on the ground in South Kazakhstan Region on February 5 are little disputed. “There were two close friends, a Tajik and a Kazakh,” Tajik community elder Umurdin Nazhmiddinov explained. “They had a fight and the Tajik pulled a knife on the other, as a result of which the other died.”
To read the full story
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.