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Chronology for Russians in Kazakhstan

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Russians in Kazakhstan, 2004, available at: [accessed 19 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Date(s) Item
Dec 1986 Some 3,000 people took part in protests in Almaty, after Gennadi Kolbin, an ethnic Russian, was appointed First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, replacing the Dinmukhamed Kunayev, an ethnic Kazakh. Although regarded as corrupt, he was a popular Kazakh politician. Four people died and 200 were injured in the violent demonstrations. Despite the protests, Kolbin remained in office.
Jun 1989 A gang of Kazakh youths rioted in Novy Uzen, in south-western Kazakhstan, demanding that immigrant Lezghins and other Caucasian settlers in the area be expelled, and their jobs given to locals. Five people were killed, and 118 injured during several days of rioting, and some 3,500 people fled the region. Kolbin was transferred to Moscow, and Nursultan Nazarbayev, an ethnic Kazakh who had been the Chairman of Council of Ministers since March 1984 was appointed First Secretary of the CPK.
Sep 1989 The Kazakh Supreme Soviet adopted legislation establishing Kazakh as the official language, while Russian remained a language of interethnic communication. The language initiative was opposed by many non-Kazakh residents. A local branch of the Russian nationalist organization, "Yedinstvo," was established, and some members campaigned for annexation of Kazakhstan's northern regions by the Russian Federation.
Sep 1990 The publication of the Russian author and ex-dissident A. Solzhenitsyn's proposal for the transfer of northern Kazakh territory to Russia led to demonstrations by ethnic Kazakhs demanding the preservation of Kazakhstan's boundaries.
Oct 1990 A declaration of sovereignty was adopted by the Kazakh Supreme Soviet, asserting republican control over natural resources and the economy, while emphasizing equality of all nationalities. There were protests against the legislation in the predominantly Slav city of Ust-Kamenogorsk; Kazakh nationalists, considering the declaration too weak, also expressed their disapproval.
Mar 1991 Kazakhstan took part in the referendum on the future of the USSR, which took place in nine Soviet republics. Of the 88.2% of the electorate who voted, 94.1% endorsed the proposal to preserve the USSR as a "union of sovereign states with equal rights."
Dec 1991 Kazakhstan became the last of the republics to declare its independence from the USSR. The country's name was changed to the Republic of Kazakhstan. This tardiness in declaring independence was attributed to Nazarbayev's concern to preserve the delicate inter-ethnic balance between Russians and Kazakhs in the republic and also to prevent further discussion of the cession of northern territories to the Russian Federation. Nazarbayev was the only candidate in elections to the republican presidency, in which he won 98.8% of the votes cast.
Jun 1992 Some 5,000 opposition supporters demonstrated in Almaty against continued communist predominance, demanding the government's resignation and the formation of a new, coalition Council of Ministers. It may be mentioned that the CPK was dominated by ethnic Russians, who naturally preferred to continue their rule through the old apparat.
Jan 1993 The new Constitution guaranteed secularism as a pillar of the Republic. It also invoked the 1989 language law and required that the President of the Republic be a fluent speaker of Kazakh.
Feb 1993 Russian Foreign Minister A. Kozyrev paid an official visit to Almaty to discuss Russia-Kazakh relations. "Many government jobs will be reserved for people who speak Kazakh," complained Yuri Bukanov, head of the Russian Society of the Republic of Kazakhstan, one of several Russian activist groups that have sprung up in the past few years (Chicago Tribune, 02/14/94). Because of such concerns, Russians have been reluctant to become Kazakhstan citizens. Fewer than 5,000 have applied for citizenship, according to diplomats at the Russian Embassy in Almaty. At the same time, an estimated 500,000 Russians have left Kazakhstan in the two years since independence. By law, Russians who remain in Kazakhstan automatically become citizens in March 1995, but Bukanov and other activists demand that dual Russian and Kazakhstan citizenship be an option. Russia is supporting the dual citizenship concept, as Foreign Minister made clear in talks with Nazarbayev recently. But Kazakh President is adamantly opposed: "Imagine what would happen if we agreed. If Russians get double citizenship, 1 million Germans will need it, 1 million Ukrainians will need it, 500,000 Uzbeks will demand it, 250,000 Tatars will need it, 200,000 Koreans will need it... And then everyone with a foreign passport in his pocket will be looked upon as a stranger in Kazakhstan, as an alien. These people will put themselves outside the law by this move. What kind of state will it be?" (Ibid). Bukanov believes it will be a war-torn state unless Kazakhstan's government makes Russians feel more welcome and secure: "Sometimes I compare the Russians to the Serbs in Bosnia. the Kazakhs will try to force us out, and many will leave. But then those who are left will feel desperate and take up arms. They will have no alternative" (Ibid). Ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan have been pressing the Kazakh government to grant them autonomy. A recent 12,000-strong rally in Ust-Kamenogorsk in the republic's east, organized by the Society of Slavonic culture, appealed to the government to give "national autonomy to ethnic Russians." They also demanded the authorities grant dual citizenship and "a material and moral compensation to all those who have been forced to leave Kazakhstan since the proclamation of its independence."(Soviet Press Digest, 02/18/94). Last year a Cossack community in eastern Kazakhstan too demanded the establishment of "a national-territorial autonomy" there. These sentiments are fueled by the fact that in east and north are majority are Russians. They border on Russia with which local Russians maintain close contact.
Jun 1993 A. Dokuchayeva, a former Deputy to the Supreme Soviet and a leader of Kazakhstan's Party of Democratic Progress, whose registration was held up by the authorities, said: "Russians and other people whose origins are in Russia were called `nontitular' for the first time in August 1989, when the draft law on languages was promulgated. This document, following the example of the Baltic states and Moldova, declared a single language to be the state language... According to data compiled by sociologists in Almaty, 55% of the Russians in a poll sample have encountered nationality-based hostility on public transport, while 40% have had similar experiences in everyday contacts. Today 30% of all Kazakhs - one third - believe that the cause of their difficulties is the presence in the republic of citizens of another nationality... The younger generation of Kazakhs has absorbed an atmosphere of hatred for Russians..." (The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, 06/30/93). start here
Nov 1993 A considerable part of Russians living in Ukraine and Kazakhstan are ready to acquire their citizenship, according to Stanford University scholar Jan Bremmer. A poll of 4,700 residents said there was no difference between living standards of Russians in Kazakhstan and Ukraine and the local population. Russians are largely politically apathetic. For example, 40% of Russians in Kazakhstan do not want to leave the republic. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's rating remains high among them (Tass, 11/12/93). The President of Kazakhstan strongly reacted over recent remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev that Moscow would act tough if necessary to protect the rights of Russians in former Soviet republics. "When someone talks about the protection of Russians not in Russia but in Kazakhstan, I recall the times of Hitler, who started with protecting the Sudeten Germans," Nazarbayev was quoted as saying by Interfax (Reuter, 11/24/93).
Mar 1994 Returns in the first multi-party elections showed that President Nazarbayev is poised to win the backing of two-thirds of the 177-member new parliament, though his Union of People's Unity Party garnered only 30 seats, diplomats and Kazakh officials said (AFP, 03/10/94). K. Turesov, Chair of the Election Commission, told AFP that 60 other seats went to "independents," 20 to Nazarbayev allies in the People's Congress Party, and 42 to a "state list" made up of candidates designated by the Head of State (Financial Times, 03/25/94). Russian nationalists from the LAD movement won 4 seats, Kazakh nationalists from the AZAT party won 3 and former communists in the Socialist Party won 8 seats. A handful of smaller parties won 10 seats in all. Of the 754 candidates who could register on party lists, 75% were ethnic Kazakhs, a fact that prompted allegations of discrimination against Russians. However, the final composition of the new Kenges (parliament) was 59% Kazakh, 28% Russian and 13% other nationalities. During the visit of Nazarbayev to Moscow in late March, a package of 23 Russo-Kazakh agreements was signed by the two countries. Kazakhstan gave up the idea of setting up an international consortium on Boykanur spaceport, while Moscow dropped its demand that Almaty grant dual citizenship to Russians in Kazakhstan. Yeltsin had to reckon with Nazarbayev's position that dual citizenship may split the republic because the majority of population in North Kazakhstan would be foreign (Russian) citizens who might hold a referendum on the secession of this region from Kazakhstan and its joining Russia. The two leaders reached a compromise whereby the Kazakhs in Russia (about a million) will have Russian citizenship, while Russians in Kazakhstan Kazakh citizenship. In case of their change of residence, their citizenship will change automatically. (Russian Press Digest, 03/29/94).
Apr 1994 Reports suggest that pro-Russian local administration in the north tries to keep the region Russian. Government plans for mosque and Kazakh school construction have been stonewalled, Ethnic violence in the north is also on rise - attacks on Kazakhs by Russians seem to be routine in northern towns. Russians are regarded to having power - objections to government policies have already forced it to cancel the introduction of new registration cards and passports. The logical alternative - seceding to Russia tends to become increasingly popular (Bremmer, Ian, The New Republic, 04/11/94).
Jul 1994 Moscow Nres (07/29/94) files a report about "migration scare" of Russians: In 1992, as many as 929,000 people arrived in Russia from the near abroad(non-Russian territory of the FSU); in 1993 and 1987, the figures were 910,000 and 923,000 respectively. However, the character of the inflow of Russians has changed: a sizable portion is now made up of forced migrants and refugees. After Central Asia, the biggest net inflow into Russia must be expected from Kazakhstan. Net population inflow into Russia from Kazakhstan in 1993 was 132,600.
Aug 1994 Activists of LAD, the association of Slavic movements of Kazakhstan have urged the Russians not to leave the republic. Their appeal says the percentage of Russians in Kazakhstan went down from 44 to 37 over the past 4-5 years. If the emigration rate continues to be that high, the number of Russians in Kazakhstan will be reduced by 1.5-2 million, and they will really become a national minority there. "Everyone has the right to choose his place of residence. At the same time, one should think twice if Slavs should really leave Kazakhstan, which has become a new fatherland for them and which has been turned into a modern industrial-agrarian state through their work, as well as the work of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers," the appeal said (Tass, 08/08/94).
Sep 1994 Boris Suprunyuk, the editor of a Russian-language newspaper in the northern town of Petropavlovsk and a radical leader of the Congress of Russian Community, has been sentenced to two years' imprisonment for inciting ethnic accord, Kazakh radio reported. He was arrested in April on charges of "creating and inciting ethnic discord." The radio said the sentence would not be enforced until it had been approved by the Kazakh Supreme Court (BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 09/10/94).
Oct 1994 Although the President had given Prime Minister Tereshchenko until the end of 1995 to show results in stabilizing the economy, he prompted the Cabinet to resign on October 11, 1994, after two scandals involving corruption at ministerial level. 42-year old Akezhan Kazhegeldin, an ethnic Kazakh, was appointed the Prime Minister, who had the reputation of a staunch pro-marketeer.
Jan 1995 Russian President Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart, Nazarbayev, signed 17 documents after a closed-door meeting in the Kremlin. The documents include a declaration on bilateral cooperation, an agreement on military-technical cooperation, and another two on issues relating to citizenship, the rest were economic accords. Yeltsin said the agreements on citizenship "will calm down Russians in Kazakhstan and Kazakhs in Russia,"(XNA, 01/20/95).
Feb 1995 The Prime Ministers of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on establishing a common customs union. Under the agreement, the three former Soviet republics eventually will lift customs duties on goods traded among them, establish common duties, and remove customs controls on the borders between them. The agreement was signed by victor Chernomyrdin, Mikhail Chigir and Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the prime ministers of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan respectively. Nazarbayev said the CIS could achieve real unification by the end of 2000 if other CIS members followed the example of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Referring to the Moscow summit results, he said, "This is the Eurasian Union in action" (Int'l Trade Reporter, Vol.12, No.6, February 1995).
Apr 1995 Kazakhstan is plunged into a constitutional crisis when the President disbanded parliament on the basis of a ruling by a constitutional court that parliamentary elections a year ago were flawed and that the parliament was therefore illegal. It may be mentioned that Nazarbayev himself had defended the elections against local and foreign criticism at the time. The President raised eyebrows further by declaring that a national referendum, scheduled for April 29, would decide whether he should remain President until the year 2000, thus sidestepping presidential elections due in 1996. The Deputies, angry with their sudden dismissal, denounced the move. Seventy Deputies formed a "people's parliament" which they claimed would be an alternative assembly. Other opposition groups have also criticized the referendum. Most of these groups are small but they include LAD, the largest organization of ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan.
May 1995 At a news conference in Almaty on 30th April, Nazarbayev thanked the people for voting in the referendum in support of extending his term of office until 2000. He said the Central Asian countries must acquire democracy in their own way. He said not a single citizen of Kazakhstan has been discriminated against for not knowing Kazakh, which is the state language. It was so in the USSR, nothing has changed.. Leave it as the state language. Also we need Russian like the air they breathe, like their daily bread. Russia has official status for use in the state sphere, not an interethnic language. The requirement that state employees must know the state language comes into force in no less than 15 years (BBC, 05/02/95).
Jun 17, 1995 The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksii II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, made his first ever visit to Kazakhstan for a round of talks with the President Nursultan Nazarbayev. They agreed that the two principle peoples and religions of the country must preserve peace between the ethnic groups of Kazakhstan. (Source: Deutsche Presse- gentur, 7/17/95)
Nov 2, 1995 Ethnic Russians are protesting against what they say was the illegal arrest of a nationalist Russian leader, Nikolai Gunkin, head of Cossack paramilitary forces in southeastern Kazkhstan, by Kazakh police. In Moscow, the Union of Russian Cossacks issued a statement to the Kazakh ambassador demanding the immediate release of Gunkin, who was arrested in the Kazakh capital Almaty. Gunkin was accused of disturbing the peace by holding a meeting of Russian nationalists without government permission. Ethnic Russians believe that Gunin was arrested because he is a Russian activist and Kazakh authorities want to prevent him from running for parliament. Kazakh Foreign Minister Kazymzhomart Tokaev denies any discrimination. (Source: United Press International, 11/2/95)
Dec 27, 1995 The Russian Institute of Strategic Studies has conducted a study of the complex processes that are taking place in the former Asian Republics of the USSR. The results of surveys given to both ethnic Russians, and ethnic Kazakhs show that both groups feel that the second most threatening problem facing Kazakhstan is that of a possible conflict between Kazakhs and Russians. According to the study, the only issue that Russians and Kazakhs in Kazakhstan feel is more threatening than the aforementioned threat of ethnic conflict is the unhealthy status of Kazkhstan's economy. Other data gathered indicates that the percentage of Russians who are anxiously expecting an escalation of the conflict between Kazakhs and Russians (74.4%) is nearly three times as high as the figure for Kazakhs (25.5%). (Source: The Current Digest of The Post-Soviet Press, 12/27/95)
Jan 25, 1996 Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, met in Almaty to discuss efforts to intensify bilateral military cooperation. In particular they negotiated on joint air defences, the use of military testing grounds in Kazakhstan, and Russian support for a Kazakh naval base to be built on the Caspian Sea. (Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 1/25/96)
Feb 27, 1996 The leader of the Semirechye Cossacks in southern Kazakhstan, Nikolay Gunkin, said that the Kazakh leadership is actively pursuing anti-Russian policies and is also helping Dzhokhar Dudayev's rebel Chechen fighters. Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Gunkin said that Kazakh leaders were pursuing a policy of "genocide against ethnic Russians". He said half a million Russians were leaving the republic every year. Gunkin claims that many active members of the Russian national movement and ordinary Russians are persecuted and fall victim to violence on the part of the Kazakhstan law-enforcement bodies. (Source: The British Broadcasting Corporation, 2/28/96)
Mar 29, 1996 Four members of the Commonwealth of Independent States - Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan - signed an agreement in Moscow Friday on closer cooperation. The presidents of the four countries agreed on a customs union and a closely coordinated economic policy. The union of the four countries also calls for supranational institutions to be established. By contrast, the Commonwealth of Independent States, founded in 1991 after the demise of the former Soviet Union, has no supranational institutions. (Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 3/29/96)
Jun 14, 1996 Community leaders told AFP that many ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan feel their interests have been neglected by President Boris Yeltsin and hope Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov will win the upcoming presidential elections. Russians remaining in Kazakhstan consist of mostly elderly, poor and unskilled Russians the traditional bedrock of support for the Communists. (Source: Agence France Presse, 6/14/96)
Aug 1996 The Kazakh Embassy in Moscow was picketed four times this month. Protestors are upset about what they consider unfair treatment of the Russian people in Kazakhstan. Specifically, protestors are upset about last year's arrest of Nikolai Gunkin, head of Cossack paramilitary forces in southeastern Kazkhstan. (Source: The Current Digest of The Post-Soviet Press, 10/2/96)
Sep 5, 1996 After a press conference at the Kazakh embassy in Moscow, at which Embassy officials repudiated claims of ethnic discrimination in Kazakhstan, calling them "laughable at best" people began to gather in front of the Embassy building to begin what is the fifth picket of the Embassy building in just over a month. At 3 p.m., the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, headed by Mr. Zhirinovsky, joined the picket. (Source: The Current Digest of The Post-Soviet Press, 10/2/96)
Sep 18, 1996 A Russian parliamentary committee issued a statement expressing concern at the treatment of the Russian-speaking population in Kazakhstan. It also described the recent arrest of the ethnic Russian activist Nina Sidorova, the leader of the Russian Center in Kazakhstan, as a continuation of preventative arrests and intimidation of dissidents, primarily Cossack leaders.
Apr 18, 1997 The Kazakh Foreign Ministry's press service has issued a statement declaring the recent decision by the Russian Border Guards Service to assign Cossack formations to guard the Russian-Kazakh border a serious violation of the Russian-Kazakh treaty on the border regime. (Source: What the Papers Say, 4/18/97)
Oct 6, 1997 A court in the Kazakh capital, Almaty, fined prominent ethnic-Russian activist Nina Sidorova 50,000 tenge for insulting a politician and a police colonel, Kazakh Khabar. The court also recommended that the city prosecutor bring criminal charges against her for "inciting inter-ethnic dissension" under Article 60 of the new Criminal Code. (Source: The British Broadcasting Corporation, 10/7/97)
Apr 7, 1998 In a press release, the Russian Community of Kazakhstan announced that it is not going the join the opposition Popular Front, an association of public movements set up in February this year, because the organization "lacks real direction" The Russian Community believes that they were only invited to join the Popular Front in order that the latter's leaders could use its authority, structure and people to further their own personal political careers. Among other reasons stated by the Russian Community for not joining the popular front, are the organization's past actions which served to discredit itself, and its lack of a clear inter-ethnic policy regarding the role of the two biggest ethnic groups, Kazakh and Russian, in state building. (Source: BBC Worldwide Monitoring 4/7/98)
Nov 6, 1998 An attempt was made on the life of the chairman of the Lad Slavic movement (Russian Nationalist), Viktor Mikhaylov. A press release issued by the Lad information service, which was circulated at the news conference, stated that Mikhaylov has become yet another victim of the confrontation with democratic reforms as opposition is becoming more vocal. It said that Mikhaylov had spoken out against the policy of President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a joint conference of Russian, Slavic and Cossack Associations.
Mar 18, 1999 The association of Russian Slav and Cossack organizations has been registered in the republic of Kazakhstan. The head of the Russkaya Obshchina of Kazakhstan, Yuri Bunakov, said that the tasks of the association include solving political, social and economic issues, preserving Russian culture, taking part in elections and establishing contacts with the government of Russia, through which to set up commercial enterprises.
Oct 5, 1999 The representative office of the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Central Asia held a round table at the German Club in Almaty regarding the unification of ethnic groups of Kazakhstan in political election programs. Candidates for seats in parliament, representatives of the Labour, Republican People's, Communist, Otan Fatherland and Azamat Citizen parties, the Orleu Progress and Tabigat Nature public associations, the Officer's Alliance, the association of Russian, Cossack and Slav organizations, and also sociologists and political scientists took part in the discussion of inter-ethnic problems in society and possible problems of separatism in the republic. Most speakers noted that the spread of the ideas of Wahhabism represented a serious threat the to integrity and independence of the republic. (Source: BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 10/6/99)
Nov 22, 1999 Twenty-two people were arrested in the north-eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the local government. Nazarbayev was quick to describe the incident as "criminal" and not political. Top Kazakh and Russian officials are downplaying the alleged Russian plot to establish an independent state in Eastern Kazakhstan, saying it will not affect bilateral ties. Nevertheless the two countries seem to be already having an increasingly uneasy relationship, largely because of the considerable Russian population still living in Kazakhstan. (Source: Inter Press Service, 11/30/99)

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