Kazakhstan’s Mysterious Border Guard Deaths

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by Nathan Hamm on 6/1/2012 · 1 comment

Kazakhstan has now confirmed 15 deaths at the seasonal Arkankergan (also: Arkan-Kirgen) outpost near the border with China. 14 of the dead are members of the border guard service and one is a ranger from a nearby nature preserve. 12 of the dead border guards were discovered in the burned barracks and officer’s house, with two others being found nearby later. At least one recent report says that the ranger was found shot in a nearby hunting lodge. Some reports suggest that the deaths occurred on May 28, when an officer failed to check in on 28 May, and were discovered on the 30 when guards from Sary-Bukhtor reached the outpost. Arkankergan is possibly located here (or somewhere in the general vicinity of here), according to former members of the Ucharal Border Detachment.

If for no other reason, this incident is odd for having happened on the border with China. Violent incidents have not been uncommon along borders between Central Asian states or along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. The Chinese border has been fairly quiet since independence. Arkankergan is staffed seasonally by border guards normally stationed in Ucharal in order to prevent Chinese from coming into Kazakhstan for agriculture or to collect plants in the mountains.

At this point, all explanations for the deaths seem entirely speculative. President Nazarbayev said that he considers the attack a terrorist act. It seems, however, that he is not exactly saying that he thinks it is an attack by a terrorist organization. One border guard and several horses are still missing, which has led to some speculation that this one serviceman may have killed his fellow border guards as revenge for hazing. According to local media, investigators have yet to determine whether or not the border guards died in their sleep or whether weapons were fired at the barracks.

Given last year’s terrorist attacks and the lack of strong indications as to what happened, it would not be surprising to see speculation that this is the work of a terrorist group both among the Kazakh public and western terrorism analysts. A cursory scan of comments from Kazakhstanis turns up speculation and Uyghur separatists are to blame. This is a case where the Kazakh authorities investigating the incident probably have it dead right in saying that everything is being considered, but leaning away from blaming a terrorist organization because of where the incident took place.

Note: The photo for this pose is taken from here and appears to show one of the buildings at the seasonal outpost.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

Steven June 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Mysterious indeed…this last border guard has got some explaining to do! I do think that naming it a terrorist act without any clue as to what actually happened fits nicely into the Kazakh rhetoric as of late. My take – http://bit.ly/LUPhR4

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