Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kazak Clans Fall Out

Clans rivalries and power struggles are an increasing source of instability in Kazakstan
By Sharip Kurakbaev

The Kazak press is alive with speculation about the possible resignation of Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev and his possible successor.


Tokaev, a former foreign minister and career diplomat, was seen as a caretaker prime minister when he took up the post at the end of 1999.


His ability to seek compromise gained him a reputation as a weak politician and his position was further undermined by the appointment of the combative Imangali Tasmagambetov as his deputy at the end of last year.


"He (Tokaev) is not a man of action and in his efforts to accommodate the interests of various ministeries or business groups he fails to follow the policies the government has announced," an Almaty analyst said.


If Tokaev goes, one of the main things Kazaks will want to know is which clan or juz his successor comes from.


Kazakstan is divided into three juz. The Senior juz - associated with the aristocracy - is concentrated in the south of the country; the Middle juz - noted for its writers and the intellectuals - occupies central north and east Kazakstan; while the Junior juz - characterised by martial tradition - is located in the west.


The division of Kazaks into juz began in the 15th century, when the Kazak khanship was formed.


During their history, the Kazaks have lost wars with the Jungars, Chinese and Russians because of internal squabbling between the clans. At other times, when the juz were united, they achieved great victories.


During the Communist period, when many Slavs and other ethnic groups arrived in Kazakstan, the divisions between the clans became less important as a result of the Soviet policy and the growth of inter-juz marriages, not encouraged before the revolution.


As a result, the former capital Almaty became a patchwork of juz. The new capital Astana could go the same way.


But the juz and family clan divisions are still important in the sparsely-populated countryside, where just less than 15 million people live in a territory five times the size of France.


The clans have always sought to ensure that they are equally represented in government. In the first years of independence, the balance was maintained, with Akezhan Kazhegeldin (Middle juz) prime minister and Abish Kekelbaev (Junior juz) as parliamentary speaker.


But now it has been cast aside and Kazakstan's three top officials, the president, the premier and parliamentary speaker are all members of the Senior juz.


"This is why the protest vote is growing in the western regions of the


country, " said a member of the opposition." In the 1999 presidential elections, the biggest number of votes against the re-election of Nazarbaev came from this area."


Analysts agree that the Junior juz is the least well represented in the administration. People here also complain that a member of the Middle juz, Serikbek Daukeev, has been appointed akim of their oil-rich region.


"More than 90 per cent of the oil and gas are located in the western part of the country and oil is the main wealth of Kazakstan, " said one local in western Kazakstan. " It brings the biggest amount of cash into the treasury, but the living standards of the people are far from what it should be."


The increasing number of representatives of the Senior juz in government is a subject of amusement. "It's not difficult to see this - one has only to look in 'Who's Who in Kazakstan'," said political scientist Nurbolat Masanov.


Although there is no official ban on discussion of clan disputes, the authorities do not want to see it in the press, since it could spark confrontation between the regions and the center.


But the problem has not disappeared. Speaking on state television at the end of last year, Nazarbaev hit out at Seidakhmet Kuttykadam, leader of the opposition Orleu movement, for his criticism of the increasing influence of Senior juz.


"Those who divide Kazaks into juz are setting people against each other - this is a policy of Imperial Russia," Nazarbaev said. Since then, the topic has become taboo.


Two years ago, independent journalist Nuri Muftakh was accused of tribalism on state television after he reported in the newspaper XXI century that in western Kazakstan many top law-enforcement and judicial positions were held by people originally from the south.


Some observers believe there is a growing regional inter-juz struggle at all levels of government with the Senior juz being increasingly challenged by officials from the Junior juz who are concentrating finances in their hands and trying to ensure the support of the media. Neither side promises stability for Kazakstan.


Sharip Kurakbaev is a regular IWPR contributor


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