by Sam Tilley

It is believed that up to ten people were killed and scores more wounded after a deadly brawl broke out between the Dungan ethnic group and Kazakh police forces in Zhambyl district, Kazakhstan.

The violence is believed to have started after police pulled over two Dungans following a traffic violation; this then escalated into further violence when the two individuals refused to pay either a fine or a bribe or even assaulted an elderly Kazakh driver; these multiple explanations only further muddy the waters as to what caused the incident. Following this confrontation, the police returned to the residence of the two Dungans with reinforcements and the conflict escalated from there. Following the fight, hundreds of people fled across the border into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

The response from the Kazakh authorities has been mixed. Officials from the capital Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, were quick to blame local authorities for letting the violence get out of control. Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, only the second President of the country since its independence in 1990, acted swiftly by sacking Asqar Myrzakhmetov, the Governor of Zhambyl district. Toqaev also gave instructions for the removal of the deputy-governor and the governor of the Qordai subdistrict, where most of the violence took place. The local police chief has also been removed.

Overtures have been made to the Dungan refugees in Kyrgyzstan, with the government promising to help rebuild damaged buildings and homes and to provide the families of the deceased with financial support. Around a thousand of these refugees have chosen to return to Kazakhstan. The government takes pride in the fact that, nominally, Kazakhstan is an example of a peaceful, multiethnic country although regional cases of violence have been continually reported over the past few decades.

The southeastern part of the country faced clashes between Kazakhs and Chechens whilst along the country’s border with Tajikistan, conflict broke out between Kazakhs and Tajiks. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990, the formation of the central Asian states was largely based on which regions enjoyed the more coveted resources, with little thought given to the ethnic groups that resided within them. Kazakhstan itself has 131 different ethnic groups and the Kazakhs, by far the biggest, only makeup 65% of the total population. This is, however, the first ethnic clash that has involved the Dungan community.

The Dungan ethnic group usually refers to a group of Muslim people of Hui origin and can be found across the diaspora of former-Soviet central Asian countries. They are not to be confused

First published on