Kazakshtan’s Mass Murders and the Questions that Remain

by Casey_Michel on 9/24/2012 · 2 comments

View of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border

View of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border

A few months back, I wrote up a brief post on Registan examining a mass murder along Kazakhstan’s southern slope. A bizarre one-off, I figured. Something unfortunate. Something sad.

A couple weeks later, though, a second slaughter took place in a nearby locale. And while such spates of killing in Kazakhstan are, thankfully, rare, it is that unprecedented nature that makes each slaughter that much more interesting. It is their proximity in both timing and locale that makes them seem more than mere coincidence.

The stories are as bizarre as they are atrocious — the more details emerge, the more convoluted the tales. Nonetheless, I attempted a stab at some kind of analysis. The nation’s southeastern corner was once an area of calm and respite. Here’s hoping it will return once more:

Indeed, Kazakhstan’s southeastern corner has remained a stronghold of safety in a country that markets itself as an island of stability. The borders in this corner were neither porous nor contentious; they represented, rather, some of the elusive successes in Central Asia politics.

But this summer, something changed. Something has happened along Kazakhstan’s border — or, rather, something is happening — that tosses the locked stability of the entire area into doubt. Much like the massacre in Zhanaozen served to upset Kazakhstan’s international image, a pair of mass murders have served to cast both borderland safety and governmental legitimacy into doubt. And while the search continues for murderer(s), it is increasingly clear that, despite profusions otherwise, the country’s shock has given way to more questions than anyone in Astana is willing to answer. …

And so, here we are once more: one man, fingered and missing. But that’s what we heard last time: a single attacker, maintaining no history of violent outbreak or family grudge, now snapped and fled. Another scapegoat for authorities to find, remand, remove and bury. Another case, like Chelakh, of the temporarily insane.

But now, two months in and with Chelakh still asserting his innocence, we have a second round of mass murder in a not-too-distant locale. Now both cases, even if only coupled through coincidence, carry a bit more weight.

Coincidences, however, depend largely on a matter of scale. One-offs, writ small in action and consequence, make for fine coincidence. But this? Mass murder in Kazakhstan? Mass killing where almost none existed prior? This is but pure coincidence, without any need to scour for potential link?

Before finding myself losing you to conspiracy, consider: Like Argkangerken, Ile-Alatau lies near the nation’s southern border — the first slaughter took place at a border outpost, after all. And as has been brought to renewed light recently in Tajikistan, border guards, and those settled into border areas, present capital and conduits for the region’s swelling drug trade.

These narcomen, saddled largely along the borders, help heroin and opiates surge northward from Afghanistan, flourishing the greatest drug route on the continent. And just as in Bangkok, just as in Juarez, these men have no qualms with using violence as a means of maintaining business. Should anyone get in their way — say, upstanding border police, or meddlesome park rangers — murder would seem a natural response.

(Of course, as Igor Zakharopulo remains missing, it’s only normal for Astana to pick up another long ranger, Aleksei Shkilev. The man had worked with Panayota, so, naturally, he’d want to hack those twelve and roast their remains. And yet, he was arrested for possession of illegal firearms, right? And weren’t those twelve stabbed? Does cognitive dissonance cross all borders?)

Like tuberculosis spread or political repression before it, Kazakhstan is loathe to shine light on anything that may dampen its image, on anything larger that may lie behind these purportedly isolated murders. And so that obvious line of investigation — that these killings may be related to drug transit — remains untouched. After all, we have a bloody steering wheel, a missing son, and a nation whose only issues consist of treasonous editorsand those who haven’t yet purchased the Leader of the Nation’s latest biography. There’s no room for anything else, so why bother searching?

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This post was written by...

– author of 29 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Casey Michel is a graduate student at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, focusing on Eurasian political and social development, and he has worked with both International Crisis Group (Bishkek) and as a Peace Corps Kazakhstan volunteer. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, RFE/RL, Al Jazeera, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, and Slate. You can follow him on Twitter at @cjcmichel.

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Steven October 1, 2012 at 3:47 am

My guess is no one will ever find out what happened there, Chelakh will go to jail but will be released quickly like some of those arrested in Zhanaozen.

Casey October 2, 2012 at 9:26 am

The proceedings will likely carry more opacity than Kozlov’s. Far less scrutiny — and, likely, far less impact — on both domestic and international front. FWIW, the latest updates only clutter the stories that much more:

‘Police identified the suspects as Sayan Khairov and Zaurbek Botabayev, born in 1975 and 1978 respectively. They did not identify the organization the two allegedly belong to, describing it only as an “extremist religious group.”’


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