Thursday, June 25, 2020

Kazakhstan’s Uyghurs have Nowhere to Go and Now Face Kazakhs without Russian Mediation, Isakhanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – Some Kazakh nationalists are calling for renaming the Uyghur district near Almaty as if changing that name could solve the relations between that group and the Kazakhs. In fact, Timur Isakhanov says, the problems have deep roots and are intensifying (

            Kazakh nationalism emerged in opposition to Russians and Germans, but members of both of these groups have left, reducing their footprint in Kazakhstan. Now, Kazakh nationalists are turning their attention to other groups, including the relatively small Uyghur population. But the Uyghurs have nowhere to go given China’s repressive policies in Xinjiang.

            There have been increasing clashes between the two groups for at least three reasons: Kazakh nationalists object to their government’s kowtowing to China over the Uyghurs, the Uyghurs while Muslim are longtime sedentaries rather than nomadic like the Kazakhs and have a different culture, and Russians can no longer mediate between the two, Isakhanov says.

            Moreover, at least some of the Uyghurs in Kazakhstan have either fled China or have cooperated with the Islamic State in the Middle East and thus are prepared to engage in militant actions that frighten the Kazakhs and make the government less willing to defend them against Kazakh nationalists.

            But the overarching cause of demonstrations is that in contrast to only two decades ago, most of the districts in which Uyghurs live are now bi- rather than multi-national – Russians and Germans have left – and as a result, Isakhanov says, all social problems are seen through the lens of nationalism.

            According to Isakhanov, renaming the Uyghur district especially after the spate of conflicts between Uyghurs and Kazakhs the past several months would be like “pouring gasoline on a fire,” with the risk that these clashes could rapidly spread throughout the society and destabilize Kazakhstan as a whole.

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