Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Kazakh Leaders Remain in Denial about Seriousness of Ethnic Clash in Masanchi

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 12 – The clash between ethnic Dungans and ethnic Kazakhs in Masanchi, a village in eastern Kazakhstan, continues to be dismissed by the leaders of that country as the result of non-ethnic issues or the work of outside provocateurs and can best be solved Soviet-fashion by dismissing local officials and calling for better ideological work.

            But experts surveyed by the CABAR portal say that while a nominally non-ethnic event triggered the deadly conflict, it was in fact the product of longstanding and officially neglected ethnic issues and will be repeated again and again in Kazakhstan unless the authorities stop being in denial about this problem (cabar.asia/ru/konflikt-na-yuge-kazahstana-kakie-vyvody-sdelayut-vlasti/).
            (For background on the February 7 clash, which has claimed 10 lives and led to the hospitalization of 165, as well as involving 400 people and leading to widespread destruction of cars and businesses in the district center as well as exacerbating tensions with Kyrgyzstan, see this author’s jamestown.org/program/threat-of-inter-ethnic-violence-emerges-in-kazakhstan/).

            The clash was indeed triggered by an everyday event, officials and experts say, but it took off precisely because of pent-up problems despite efforts by officials from President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on down to deny that, most of whom say ethnic relations in Kazakhstan are good and point to the world of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan as evidence.

            But this body, despite its “constitutional status and nine seats in the lower house of parliament,” hasn’t been able to address all the problems. 

            Experts like journalist Azaman Ergali also deny what some officials have suggested that this conflict was the result of “provocateurs” and outsiders.  They did not play any role, he says, and in fact couldn’t have unless there had been problems already in existence.

            Mukhtar Tayzhan, a social activist, says that “the conflict in the border villages of Korday district is the result of the failure of the authorities of the country to devote sufficient attention to inter-ethnic issues” and that up to now, “the authorities remain afraid to call things by their proper names.”

            Another activist and a lawyer, Askhat Asylbekov, doesn’t reject the possibility that outsiders were in fact involved, but like his colleagues, he insists the powers that be have brought these problems on themselves by selling land to the Chinese, failing to promote the Kazakh language and treating members of different ethnic groups differently.

            All these experts express the hope that the Kazakh government will now begin to focus on this issue because these clashes had another kind of international impact, this one on the neighboring republic of Kyrgyzstan where a lively debate has broken out about why these clashes happened in Kazakhstan and what lessons Bishkek needs to draw.

            Tolekan Ismailova, head of the Bir-Duyno-Kyrgyzstan human rights organization, says that none of the countries in Central Asia have been the object of sufficient attention by international experts on this issue, despite the fact that in each of them, there are ethnic minorities who are victims of discrimination or worse.

            “The latest tragedy in Kazakhstan showed the old wounds and the inability of the authorities to prevent such conflicts,” she continues. “Peaceful citizens, and especially ethnic minorities, are becoming the object of attack, discrimination and violence.” Forming commissions isn’t enough.

            The entire structure of government in these countries must be changed, with the central governments devoting more attention to inter-ethnic issues and local officials given more power and authority to address the situation before things get out of hand, Ismailova concludes.

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