Why don't Kazakhs like Uzbeks

Pointless and reckless - Kazakhstan's homemade nationalism

Triggered by a trivial reason, an inter-ethnic conflict between Kazakhs and Dungans claimed 11 lives at the beginning of February. Jeńis Baıhoja sets up an opinion piece with the special form of Kazakh nationalism and its senselessness Central Asia Monitor apart. We have copied the article in a shortened version with the kind permission of the editors.

Kazakh nationalism has finally discredited itself by showing its true colors. We are not even talking about the events in the Qordai district but the reactions to them. The wave of xenophobia has reached dire proportions, engulfing not only notorious "opinion makers" who are the driving force behind open national populism, but also apparently intelligent, sensible people.

A transition from quantity to "quality"

The radical nationalism of the Uyghurs (in China), the Basques (in Spain) and the Kurds (in Turkey) can, if not, at least be explained. These peoples represent an ethnic minority in their countries. They wage a long struggle for their independence and face tough resistance from the central power. But in our case it is the titular nation that makes up 70 percent of the country's population, holds state-building status, holds almost all key positions and the lion's share of all positions in administration and security authorities - that is, it determines the fate of the country and everyone who live in it. The fact that a not insignificant part of this ethnic group is still living a national liberation struggle today, almost three decades after achieving their own independent state, seems quite strange.

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By the way, all the while trying to convince us that Kazakh nationalism is constructive and moderate in character, does not threaten other ethnic groups living in the country and does not curtail their minority rights. But while its "ideologues" made reassuring claims while state power was flirting with them and using them for their own interests, radical nationalism has subliminally matured. This is quite natural, because the more supporters of an ideology, the higher the likelihood of radicals among them. A kind of transition from quantity to "quality".

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The former resentment and the resulting thirst for historical vengeance fueled nationalism. These moods have been cultivated over the last few years, including by many writers and scholars and by a not insignificant part of the political elite. You, who have settled down well in the Soviet era, now present it as the darkest period in the history of the Kazaks, who were oppressed and disenfranchised and were second class people. And today's reality also provides many reasons to feel humiliated and offended. The state power that could assert claims is distant and deaf. And in the vicinity there are various diaspores who have adapted better to “capitalism with the Kazakh face”, who were more enterprising and more fortunate. Injustice ...

Can you force respect?

Any nationalism is dangerous when it becomes radical. If, however, he assumes representatives of the numerically strongest (and incidentally endowed with a “constitutional majority”) ethnic group, then the danger increases many times over. The 20th century alone is teeming with examples of this kind: anti-Jewish pogroms and punitive measures against Kazakhs in tsarist Russia, the expulsion of the Armenians from Turkey, the mass slaughter in Rwanda ... Then there is the Holocaust, the excesses of the racists from the Ku-Klux -Klan against dark-skinned citizens of the USA ... I do not want to equate the interethnic conflicts in modern Kazakhstan with it. With us they still have a local character. But if you continue to divide the citizens of the country into “home owners” and “newcomers” and follow the principle “All ethnicities are the same, but one is the same”, then the consequences can be terrible.

Nationalism emanating from representatives of the titular nation is based on the following promise: We and only we are the masters of this country, and therefore all others are obliged to respect us, to take our interests into account and to a certain extent also to subordinate themselves to us. It is no coincidence that today it has become popular to appeal to ethnic minorities: “Shańyraqqa qara!” - don't forget whose country you live in. Another sentence often heard by nationalists is “All diaspores must learn a lesson from what happened” (not a word about the lesson for the Kazakhs). It can also be interpreted as follows: "Whatever happens, we are right because we live on our land and everyone else has to think."

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One of the most important criticisms of the Dungans was that they did not learn the Kazakh language and therefore did not respect it. This accusation came from the mouth of a journalist on a state television channel during the first meeting of members of the government commission with residents of the village of Masanchi (himself the chairman of the commission Berdibek Saparbaev, who lived in a Kazakh auditorium.Village settlement of the Turkic peoples, note d. Red.] grew up, grimaced at the TV man's words). A number of MPs accepted this accusation, not to mention the nationalist concerned social media users. But can't these people understand the simple truth that every language is learned not out of respect for them but out of personal need? Uzbek and Tajiks do not strive to master Russian because they adore Russian culture, but because they need the language to survive when they go to work in Russia and maybe even stay there. Of course it would be great if everyone in our country could speak the state language, but it really has to be needed for that. This is what the Kazakhs should deal with and use their intellectual powers and at least some enthusiasm for it.

In general, it has often been heard recently that the representatives of the diaspores should respect the Kazakh language and the Kazakh people. But, dear ones, you don't ask for respect and you don't force it - you strive to deserve it. And after such pogroms and a wave of xenophobia, we Kazakhs will not gain the respect of the ethnic minorities. It is a different matter to demand compliance with the laws that apply in this country. But that affects everyone, regardless of nationality.

The “call for blood” and double standards

Pay attention: the titular nation is involved in all loud interethnic conflicts in our country. Have you heard that a dispute - even one with a tragic outcome - between Koreans and Uzbek or between Russians and Uyghurs has escalated into an ethnic conflict? Hardly likely. But if we Kazakhs clash with representatives of a minority and someone stabs someone with the knife, this almost inevitably leads to the cry “Our people are being beaten!” And mass demonstrations or riots follow. Do you remember the events in Malovodnoe [a Kazakh-Chechen conflict in 2007 with 9 dead, editor's note], Qaraģandy [on New Year's Eve 2019, note d. Red.] and so on - and now in the Qordai district. One of our national patriots even tried to give an ethnic look to an argument with a fatal outcome that occurred in the “Chukotka” bar in Almaty.

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Another specialty. If a young Kazakh insults or even beats an aksakal, we will of course reprimand him, but no one, except perhaps the old man's relatives, will demand a “vendetta”. But if the act is committed by a representative of another nationality, one does not have to wait long for accusations of disrespect for the Kazakh people and calls for revenge. Another example: everyone remembers the story of the Kazakh boy from the southern Kazakhstan region who was raped by Kazakh youths. Who among the national patriots demanded that the parents or relatives of these young people, who had destroyed the life of a child, be held accountable or even driven out of the village? Nobody. Ten years earlier, a similar incident occurred in Maıatas village in southern Kazakhstan. A Kurdish teenager was suspected of mocking a Kazakh boy, which led to pogroms and the flight of almost all Kurdish families from the Aul. In addition, representatives of this diaspora have also suffered in the neighboring areas. Many such cases can be cited.

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That is, we show a certain leniency towards the “tribesmen”, while we even ascribe collective guilt to “strangers” for crimes committed by individuals. This is called double standards. This is exactly the case when one demands that the young Dungane, who raised his hand against the Aksakal, be punished with full severity of the law, and at the same time those who went out to kill innocent villagers and devastate their homes , does not see the responsibility. The “you started first” argument cannot be called anything other than childish - this is how toddlers behave.

A nationalism driven only by the “call for blood” based on double standards and legal nihilism cannot a priori be enlightened, civilized and constructive. I hope that we Kazakhs who understand this are much more than those who have consciously or unconsciously driven themselves into a nationalist rage.

Everńis Baıhoja for Central Asia Monitor

Translated from the Russian by Robin Roth

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