11/02/2021, 09.42
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Ethnic unrest and conflict rocks Kazakhstan

by Vladimir Rozanskij

In the most recent episode, ethnic Kazakh and Uyghur youths clashed on the border with China. The authorities down play the incident, but the division between the various nationalities is growing. Recently, there have also been fights between Kazakhs and the Dungan minority. The majority group supports the concept of "Kazakh sovereignty".


Moscow (AsiaNews) - Street clashes have agitated Pidzimè, a Kazakh town in the province of Panfilovo. The local authorities spoke of a "fight between young people" that began on the night of October 28 with verbal clashes and ended in a brawl with the use of sticks and improvised weapons. At a meeting of the municipal assembly, however, it became clear that this was a real inter-ethnic conflict.

The town meeting was broadcast by Radio Azattyk. Videos taken by those present show one of the boys collapsing on the ground, and as the police explained, the victim was transported to hospital and rushed to neurosurgery. The provincial (akym) governor, Talgat Umraliev, assured that the 16-year-old boy was stable, 'his arms and legs remained intact'. A 53-year-old man, who intervened to calm the situation, also received blows and was hospitalised with minor injuries.

The injured boy comes from a Kazakh family, which is said to have provoked a reaction from other ethnic Uyghur locals. The group of attackers soon dispersed, but during the night there were several acts of vandalism and a fire was set in a private house in Pidžim, although the police say the fire 'has nothing to do with the previous beating'.

Pidzim is located 15 kilometres from the Chinese border, and has 12,000 inhabitants: 7,000 Kazakhs and 5,000 Uyghurs, almost all of whom are farmers. The name of the village itself comes from the Uyghur language and means 'main village'. The Uyghurs settled in the area in Soviet times, and now a social transformation is underway.

During the town hall meeting, in front of the authorities and the police, the villagers said that 'the conflict did not start yesterday, the youth has long been divided between the different nationalities', calling on the local government to establish a real policy of tolerance. With the meeting, the authorities wanted to calm down, but the videos show that the situation remained very tense. Several residents called for the renaming of the town and the local schools.

The main school is named after Abdullah Rozybakiev, a Soviet-era Uyghur politician and hero of the revolution, and one of Almaty's main streets is also named after him. The village elders asked "not to punish anyone" so as not to worsen the situation, and to start really educating students in civil coexistence.

On 29 October, the People's Assembly of Kazakhstan (Apk), created and led by former president Nursultan Nazarbaev to increase 'the effectiveness of mutual relations between state and social institutions in the sphere of inter-ethnic relations', met. The APK discussed a report on the events in Pidžim, presented by a representative of the local administration. Maya Bekbaeva stated that "there was no conflict between the inhabitants of the village".  Bekbaeva made general accusations of "provocations" that would excite the spirits of some youths, who "started to throw stones, breaking the windows of some houses and cars along the road". The police are conducting investigations against unknown persons for "voluntary damage to the health of two or more persons" and for "group hooliganism", but so far no one has been arrested.

Asked by Azattyk, Kazakh sociologist Serik Bejsembaev said that 'those who hide their illness are doomed to perish'. He recalled that similar incidents to the one in Pidžim had recently occurred in the provinces of Almaty, Žamblisk and Turkestan: street brawls degenerating into inter-ethnic clashes. In his opinion, 'in Pidžim there was a clear group mobilisation between Kazakhs and Uyghurs, but we always try to ignore the problem, assigning it a neutral and trivial character. Bejsembaev explains that 'as long as we don't really get to grips with the situation and give a full and detailed assessment of these conflicts, they are bound to increase'.

Last February, 11 people died in the province of Žamblisk in a clash between Kazakhs and Dungans, another Turkic-speaking Chinese minority that is Muslim like the Uyghurs. Bejsembaev warned that 'neither the authorities nor the citizens have learnt the lesson, despite that tragedy'. Ninety per cent of the social comments on these events support the idea of 'Kazakh sovereignty', according to which 'people of different ethnicities must learn their place'.

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