Toqaev’s press service published the order on February 10 after 10 people were killed in violence that erupted between local Kazakhs and ethnic Dungans, a Muslim group of Chinese origin, in the villages of Masanchi, Auqatty, and Bulan-Batyr.
Dozens were also injured, including two police officers, while more than 30 houses, 15 commercial buildings, and 23 vehicles were destroyed or damaged in the battles.
“Due to the events in the Qordai district of the Zhambyl region that led to the loss of human life, the destruction of houses and property, [President] Toqaev has ordered the governor of the region, [Asqar] Myrzakhmetov, to relieve from their duties the deputy governor for social issues, Slushash Qurmanbekova, and the governor of the Qordai district, [Bolatbek] Baitole,” the statement said, adding that Interior Minister Erlan Turghymbaev had been ordered to fire regional police chief, Arman Orazaliev, and the Qordai district police chief, Azamat Aiqymbekov.
Kazakh Deputy Interior Minister Aleksei Kalaichidi said on February 9 that the violence was sparked by a conflict on a highway after men in two cars brawled following a traffic disagreement.
Kalaichidi added that the brawl was recorded and placed on social media networks which led to the wider clashes in which firearms were used. Kalaichidi also said that police detained a man suspected of placing the video on the Internet and adding “misleading” statements that sparked the ethnic conflict.
Thousands of people fled villages where the violence erupted, ending up in the neighboring Kyrgyz Chui region, where the majority of ethnic Dungans in Central Asia traditionally reside.
On February 8, groups of mainly ethnic Dungans could be seen lining up along the Kyrgyz side of the border, while on the other side of the border, Dungan people handed out food and offered medical assistance to those arriving.
Kyrgyz officials told RFE/RL that some 4,500 Kazakh citizens, mainly Dungans, entered the country in the wake of the clashes last week.
Kazakh officials said on February 9 that over 1,000 of them had returned to Kazakhstan following a call from the Kazakh government.
Deputy Finance Minister Alikhan Smailov said on February 10 that the government will provide the families of those killed in the clashes with financial support and fully restore destroyed and damaged houses.
Police have launched probes into the murders and the organization of the groups who clashed. A specially created government commission led by Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev is working in the Qordai district on the case.
The Kazakh government has been positioning the country as an example of interethnic civility for years, though local ethnic conflicts have been reported in the country since it gained independence following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
However, it is the first ethnic clash of such scale in Kazakhstan that involves ethnic Dungans.
Dungans, also known as Hui, are Sunni Muslims who speak a dialect of Mandarin with many words and phrases borrowed from Arabic, Persian, and Turkic. Their ancestors came to Central Asia, which was then part of the Russian empire, in the late-19th century after the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on the Dungan Revolt of 1862–1877.
The number of Dungans living in the former Soviet Union is about 120,000, most of whom reside in Kyrgyzstan’s northern region of Chui and the neighboring Kazakh region of Zhambyl.