Anti-Armenian Tension Rising in Kazakhstan after New Year’s Eve Murder

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Armenia’s foreign minister, national police chief and human rights ombudsman have spoken with their Kazakh counterparts by phone on Monday, January 7, following anti-Armenian protests sparked by the murder of a young man in Kazakhstan.

The Kazakh man was stabbed to death in a clash between two groups of youths, one of which consisted of ethnic Armenians, during celebrations of New Year on January 1. Three other men were hospitalized with stab wounds.

The brawl broke out in a restaurant in the central Kazakh city of Qaraghandy in the early hours of 2019.

Local police said they arrested two ethnic Armenian men and are hunting for another in connection with the violence.

On Sunday, some 200 protesters gathered in front of Qaraghandy’s regional police department and demanded thorough investigations into the killing. Some of them demanded that Armenians be deported from the country.

The Qaraghandy regional governor, Erlan Qoshanov, met with the protesters and said that “all those responsible for the death will be prosecuted.” “I promise you … that the main suspect, who remains at large, will be detained in two-three days,” Qoshanov said.

A statement posted on the governor’s website stressed that the brawl “was not ethnically motivated.” It warned that people trying to incite ethnic hatred might face criminal prosecution as well.

Participants at the Karaganda rally were ostensibly there to demand that the authorities inform them about the progress of their investigation and to punish those responsible. But RFE/RL’s Kazakh service reported that organizers needed to calm the crowd and ask them to refrain from addressing the ethnic angle. The broadcaster said the police presence was intensified and that officers had deployed equipment for crowd control.

The Armenian Embassy in Kazakhstan issued a statement on January 3 offering condolences to the family of the murdered man and urging media not to spread “unverified information” about the deadly fight.

In Armenia, meanwhile, the angry protests fanned by some social media users raised fears of anti-Armenian violence in Qaraghandy and other parts of Kazakhstan.

Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and his Kazakh counterpart Beybut Atamkulov discussed the fallout from the incident in a phone call on Monday. According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, they both denounced “attempts to give ethnic overtones to the tragedy.”

Kazakhstan’s Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kassymov briefed the chief of the Armenian police, Valeri Osipian, on murder and hooliganism investigations launched by Kazakh law-enforcement agencies. A police statement said Kassymov downplayed the angry protests in Qaraghandy and assured Osipian that “Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry controls the situation.”

The Armenian human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, claimed to have received similar assurances from his Kazakh opposite number, Askar Shakirov. In a Facebook post, Tatoyan said Shakirov ruled out any “ethnically motivated discrimination against ethnic Armenians” following the Qaraghandy violence.

Kazakhstan is a diverse country that houses dozens of ethnic groups. Official propaganda frequently praises long-ruling President Nursultan Nazarbayev for preserving ethnic concord in the Central Asian state of 18 million.

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