Deadly Brawl in Kazakhstan Sparks Anti-Armenian Unrest

Two Armenians, One Kazakh arrested. A third Armenian suspect is still at large.

Protesters outside the Karaganda police station on January 6. (Photo: RFE/RL)

Ethnic tensions have flared up in Kazakhstan following a deadly New Year’s Eve brawl involving Armenians. According to reports, an alcohol-fueled fight broke out at the Ancient Rome restaurant in Kazakhstan’s central town of Karaganda. Officials say a 23 year-old Kazakh man was stabbed to death. Four others were also injured.

Kazakhstani police announced the arrests of two ethnic Armenians and one Kazakh in connection with the incident. A third Armenian suspect, Narek Gururyan, is apparently still at large.

Anti-Armenian sentiments have been flaring as details of the alleged involvement of three Armenians emerged. In a rare instance of public protest in the authoritarian country, some 200 people demonstrated outside the city’s police station on the 6th of January. They managed to get an audience with the Province’s governor, Yerlan Koshanov who promised that he would personally insure that justice was served.

According to Kazakh media sources, the spread of sensational news on social media has fueled Armenophobia, with some users calling for reprisals against the Armenian community. In response, Karaganda’s prosecutor Marat Seksembaev issued an official statement warning against the online dissemination of racist messages and misleading information about the case and threatened criminal prosecution. Kazakh police have strongly denied that the New Year’s Eve incident was ethnically-motivated.

Despite attempts by authorities to calm the situation, anti-Armenian unrest has spread to other cities across the country. In a bizarre turn of events, a mob attacked a coffee shop named Cafe Baku in the northeastern city of Semey, apparently confusing Armenia with Azerbaijan.

Up to 25,000 Armenians live in Kazakhstan; most arrived during Soviet era population transfers, while others have been attracted by economic opportunities provided by the country’s oil boom. Armenian communities in neighboring central Asian republics have been targeted by Armenophobic violence in the past.  

In an effort to ease ethnic tensions, leaders of Kazakhstan’s Armenian community met with the family of the deceased, offering their condolences. They had earlier issued a formal apology on behalf of the community for the murder.

News of the unrest has been met with concern in Yerevan. Authorities say they are closely monitoring the developing situation. Armenian Security chief, Armen Grigoryan, spoke with his Kazakhstani counterpart, Gabit Bayzhanov by telephone on Monday. They agreed to avoid turning a domestic dispute into an ethnic conflict.

This sentiment was echoed by Kazakhstani Foreign Minister, Beybut Atamkulov who denounced “attempts to give ethnic overtones to the tragedy” in a phone call with Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has also commented on the incident. The Prime Minister ruled out any ethnic dimension to the brawl saying, “From what I’ve been told, the two groups involved in the bar fight were not divided along ethnic lines. In fact, one of those arrested for the stabbing was an ethnic-Kazakh.” He further called on Armenian media outlets to fact-check reports to avoid spreading sensational stories and further fan the flames.

In a video posted to YouTube on Monday, Narek Gururyan, the third suspect, shared his condolences with the family of the victim and expressed readiness to turn himself in. He added that he would take responsibility for his actions but that he did not stab anyone. Kazakh authorities responded that same day, promising him an objective investigation if he turned himself in.

Armenian authorities say they are closely monitoring the developing situation.

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Raffi Elliott

Weekly Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.

8 Comments

  1. Why they doing that so easy??? They not feeling response and panishment
    By power of Moskow they can do anything there They knew Kazakhstan under Russia Because

  2. Instead of closely monitoring the situation, they should look at this as an opportunity to encourage repatriation. This is what Israel has been doing now for decades. Use security concerns to convince people that the only place where they will feel safe and avoid potential ethnic clashes and violence is your historical homeland. I understand that the oil windfall has brought some degree of prosperity to Kazakhstan but judging by numbers and the level of corruption in the country, I doubt those Armenians are living in perfect conditions. There should be certain programs targeting certain diaspora Armenian communities in countries like Kazakhstan or Ukraine where the economic situation is far from perfect to repatriate.

  3. This is a terrible tragedy but it is not clear what started it and led to the fight. Unfortunately such things can happen anywhere and do happen when the youth are involved and surely alcohol could play a major role in it because people are incapable of thinking straight. What’s interesting and very suspicious is that this isolated incident has created such a tension between the groups involved. I have no doubt other non-Kazakh groups hostile to Armenians are behind the tension between the two and are trying to exploit the situation against the Armenians there. They should let the law take care of this, like they would in any other similar case, and those responsible for instigating such hatred between the two should be identified and prosecuted for hate crimes to the full extent of the law. Those behind creating these tensions, who I am sure are not native Kazakhs, and trying to turn this isolated incident into an ethnic conflict are criminals and should be penalized for their clandestine racist criminal actions. I have never known Armenians and Kazakhs having any problems and this is the dirty work of others who want to take advantage of this tragedy to create problems there between the two groups.

  4. I have to agree with GB on this one. Most likely the hand of “Mother Russia” is somehow involved here, not surprisingly coinciding with Russia raising gas prices, instead of, you know, lowering them based on “centuries of Russian-Armenian friendship”. Let’s remember that these Turkic central Asian quasi-states are basically also all extensions of Russia. The criminals of Armenia calling themselves “the government of Armenia” for the past three decades have also been busy turning Armenia into a pseudo-state extension of Russia. I would actually say that they have somewhat succeeded.

    • I have to disagree on this. This has the fingerprints of the homeless Tatar Azerbaijanis all over it. Think about it. Who is the most active in trying to portray the Armenians in bad light every chance they get? Who is always trying to win the sympathy of Muslims worldwide against the Armenians? Who is trying to exploit the Artsakh conflict as an attack not just on artificial Azerbaijan but an attack on entire Turkic nations? Who is always busy trying to spread misinformation about Armenians worldwide? Who was it that recently declared all Armenians, regardless of origin, are the enemies of Azerbaijan? None other than unscrupulous, scheming charlatan, and coward Azerbaijanis and their racist leaders. Visit some of the Azeri online news sites and you will see over half the news is about denigrating the Armenians and portraying them as criminals. Additionally, I remember reading on one of their racist sites many years ago that their government has a special department dedicated to spewing lies and nonsense about Armenians called the Department of Misinformation! I have NO doubt whatsoever the Azeri hyenas are behind this.

    • Something else that I wanted to mention, which should be taken into account, is the fact that Armenians in Central Asian Turkic nations have always had high levels of respect from their populations and known for their business savvy and peaceful coexistence. AND that it was the racist Azerbaijanis, at their top leadership level, that when the Armenian-Azeri conflict began traveled to these Turkic countries in attempts to create problems for Armenians there to have them uprooted and thrown out of there by trying to exploit FALSE Turkic kinship from these nations and they failed. No doubt we have multiple enemies but today these homeless Tatar Azeris are at the top of the list and we must hit them and hit them hard and put them back in their place just like we did a quarter century ago.

    • I guess you have a good point, if Azeris are targeting and harming any cause of Armenians in far places like the USA, they would have a much easier time in those central asian countries. I’m just still suspicious about Pashinyan not meeting the “standards” that Russia expects from Armenia, and they still do have a lot of influence in those counties and basically can get them to do whatever they want.

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