Central Asian nations have a long history of conflict with each other over ethnic violence and territorial claims. In the current times, with Russian attempts to revive the USSR and growing US influence in Central Asia as a part of a new “Great Game” a-la the 19th century but with 21st century tools and tactics, and amid the rise of nationalism worldwide promoted by the same governments as well as others, there is a lot of concern that serious violence will return again to the world.
The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, the largest and wealthiest of the five, saw a round of ethnic violence between the Hui/Dungan Chinese Muslim minority and Kazakh police. The incident has roused fear that it could spread into neighboring Kyrgyzstan and have further consequences.
An outbreak of violence in southern Kazakhstan that saw members of a local Muslim ethnic minority of Chinese origin come under attack has raised concerns and prompted calls for changes in a country that prides itself on tolerance.
At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded after a brawl between Dungans (also known as Hui) and Kazakh police on Thursday was followed by a rampage the following day.
A group of men on Friday started torching buildings and cars in a cluster of five villages in the Zhambyl region, about 130km (81 miles) west of Almaty city, after videos were circulated on social media purportedly showing the clash between Dungans and the local police.
Thousands of people, mostly Dungans, fled across the border to Kyrgyzstan after the escalation.
Kanat Sultanaliev, the executive director of Tian Shan Policy Centre at American University of Central Asia, said, “The conflict arose from nothing.”
“It was a usual bribery scene,” he told Al Jazeera, quoting local media reports citing witnesses. “A traffic police unit stopped a car with a couple of Dungans in it. They refused to pay, ended up beating the policemen,” he said. “Later, other Kazakh police guys (officers) went to the house where the Dungans involved in the initial fight lived and the conflict escalated immediately.”
The authorities confirmed that the initial fight on Thursday involved a traffic incident, but did not mention the policemen or a bribery allegation.
Sultanaliev said the unrest has deeper roots.
“They live almost in isolation,” he said of the Dungans, who have lived in what are today southern Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan since they fled persecution in China in the 19th century.
“They live in their communities and those communities are in several villages comprised of only Dungans in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. That is why there is some disintegration between them and the local population – Kazakh and Kyrgyz people,” Sultanaliev said.
He said the Dungans often become the targets of discrimination, especially from the police and border guards.
“The Dungans have been prospering since the Soviet Union collapsed as they adapted quickly to a free market economy. When they cross the border, for example, they are charged more than [other] local people,” Sultanaliev said.
“That’s why there was already tension between the Kazakhs and the Dungans and the same can be said about the relationship between the Kyrgyz and the Dungans,” he said. (source)
It is interesting to note that Kyrgyzstan is the poorest Central Asian nation, as well as the closest US ally.
It is also known that the US has been promoting nationalism and identitarianism in the Central Asian nations for many years.
Likewise, the Jamestown Institute, which manages the Russia in Decline project, talked about this incident and said that it could lead to a revolution in Kazakhstan, which is the strongest Russian ally among the Central Asian nations, and bring about a rise of “democracy”.
It is critically important to understand just what occurred in eastern Kazakhstan three days ago. Only a clear definition of what happened and why can indicate whether this tragedy will be a one-off situation not to be repeated or, on the contrary, whether it represents a new challenge to the Kazakhstani authorities. And if the evidence does suggest a growing new threat to the country’s internal stability, a clear understanding of last week’s developments will be crucial to assessing whether the authorities have mishandled the incident. If it turns out Central Asia’s largest country is now witnessing the eruption of pogrom-like violence, this may simultaneously undermine the government as well as encourage the kinds of repressive actions that would block any moves toward further democratization or even open the way to chaos and revolutionary change. (
One can judge if this is a co-incidence or not, but it is interesting to note that “feminist art” exhibits have been appearing in Kyrgyzstan in the name of “democracy” and “freedom”, which are promoting immoral behavior and are frustrating local Muslim officials who are trying to stand against it.
This pattern has been seen before, such as in Ukraine leading up to the Euromaidan of 2014 that toppled the Ukrainian government, and in nations in the Middle East which have lead to violence and revolution, all of which were known to have been backed by the US for geopolitical purposes.
Keep a close eye on Kazakhstan, because that nation, which we have written about before and seemingly has ties to very strange and racialist ideas about superiority among some people in the West, may become, as with all of Central Asia, due to her location and history, a place of much greater global influence.