In Masanchi, nothing will ever be the same again

The “capital” of Kazakhstan’s Dungan population suffered destruction unprecedented in its 150-year history
The road into Masanch. Photo by Bagdat Asylbek, Fergana

On the night of the 8 February 2020, the settlement of Masanchi in Kazakhstan’s Jambyl region became the target of a shocking outburst of mob violence – stores were vandalized and local residents’ homes set on fire. The pogrom continued for several hours and spread to a number of neighbouring villages, before the security forces, and later the military, finally arrived. In the end, 10 people were killed and more than 100 were injured. Many local residents left their homes and fled to Kyrgyzstan to await the restoration of order.

The authorities gave the cause of the disturbances as an “everyday dispute”. According to the Kazakh internal affairs ministry, it all started with a roadside squabble which developed into a fight. “The scope of the conflict grew following posts on social media calling to destructive acts,” Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Alexey Kalaychidi stated on 9 February.

In turn, Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wrote on Twitter that “the bloodshed was the fault of provocateurs, aided by the acquiescence of state employees, and they will be punished”. The authorities are currently calling on residents of Masanchi to return to their homes, many of which have been totally destroyed.

The small town of Masanchi, situated 60 kilometres from the administrative centre of Korday district, is the district’s largest settlement. 18,000 people live there, 94% of them being members of the country’s Dungan minority (which has a total population of just over 60,000 in Kazakhstan). The overwhelming majority of them are employed in agriculture.

More peaceful times in Masanchi. A video clip of celebrations to mark 140 years since the Dungan community’s arrival in Kazakhstan

The settlement is named in honour of Magazy Masanchi, a soldier who fought for the Soviet side in the Russian Civil War. In May 1938, he was shot for being an “enemy of the people”. In 1956, he was rehabilitated, and several years later, the Dungan settlement was named in his honour and a statue of him erected there.

Local residents are proud of their town, with its asphalted roads and pavements just like a larger town or city, its well-maintained houses and its sports grounds. Now the town’s inhabitants will have to start again: clear the rubble, rebuild their homes, repair and re-open their stores. The government commission charged with overseeing a return to normality in the area has promised to compensate local residents for the costs of all reconstruction and repairs.

A vandalised store. Photo by Bagdat Asylbek, Fergana

“There is no doubt that a conflict that has led to such heavy losses has rather deeper roots than a simple everyday dispute,” representatives of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law said of the events in Masanchi. The human rights advocates argue that a failure to address social issues, unemployment, social inequalities and a lack of faith in state authorities provide a fertile ground “for aggressive radicalism and brazen provocation”.

“Unfortunately, these events also demonstrate the inability or unwillingness of law enforcement agencies, especially the organs of national security and internal affairs, to identify such pockets of tension in advance and prevent these kind of conflicts and mass disturbances before they occur. Although the situation was brought more or less under control within 24 hours, the severity of the damage and the loss of life call for a serious investigation into law enforcement agencies’ response and a review of the strategies and tactics currently in place for the prevention of similar situations in the future,” the organisation declared.

Photos by Bagdat Asylbek, Fergana

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