At least three were killed and scores injured in clashes between Chechens and Kazakhs outside Kazakhstan’s chief city of Almaty this week. The violence apparently began with an alcohol-fueled brawl in the town of Kazatkom in Almaty Region. Akhmed Muradov, spokesman of the Chechen community in Kazakhstan, said a crowd of Kazakh youths took to the streets, burning cars, beating Chechens and throwing Molotov cocktails into Chechen homes. Violence spread to nearby villages, with several homes burnt down in Malovodnoe. Special police forces are now maintaining order in the area.
Authorities deny any ethnic motives in the violence, accusing opposition forces are trying to portray it as an ethnic conflict. Officials underscore that the violence coinicded with a visit by President Nursultan Nazarbaev to Russia.
Muradov emphasized that the Chechens have no intensions of leaving the country. “About 30,000 Chechens live in Kazakhstan. All of them are Kazakh citizens enjoying full rights,” he told the Russian news servcve Kommersant. (Kommersant, March 23)
Officials have set up a council of both Kazakh and Chechen elders to reconcile the opposing sides. But local Kazakhs are insisting on the expulsion of Chechen families from the district, and have blocked the Almaty-Zharkent highway. The crowd was finally persuaded to disperse, but authoriti to press their demand.
Curiously, the government-controlled media largely ignored the violence, which ironically occurred on the eve of the Nauryz (Nowruz) festivities, an important political event symbolizing the unity of the peoples of Kazakhstan.
Thousands of Chechens deported to Kazakhstan from the Caucasus in World War II were largely assimilated with Kazakhs, adopting their language and culture. But the war in Caucasus, and the growing exodus of Chechens from the conflict zone, have aggravated tensions in Kazakhstan. Eurasia Daily, published by the conservative Jamestown Foundation think-tank, writes that “some pro-Russian media sources tend to depict the Chechen population as criminal elements, pointing their fingers at Caucasians whenever a crime takes place.” It also notes similar conflicts between Kazakhs and Uighurs in the Shelek district of Almaty region. (Eurasia Daily, March 23)
Similar ugly episodes have been witnessed in Russia recently.