QARAGHANDY, Kazakhstan (RFE/RL) — Some 200 protesters have rallied in the central Kazakh city of Qaraghandy, demanding “justice” after a Kazakh man was killed in a brawl in a local restaurant in the early hours of 2019.
The young man was stabbed to death in the clash between two groups of youths during celebrations of New Year on January 1. Three other men were hospitalized with stab wounds.
The incident has raised ethnic tensions, after some of the protesters blamed the killing on ethnic Armenians.
In a January 3 statement carried by state media outlets, Qaraghandy police said three suspects — identified as Torgom Malkhasian, Sokhak Malkhasian, and Qaiyr Nadyrbekov — had been arrested.
The main suspect in the case, 21-year-old Narek Gururian, remained at large.
In a video posted on Telegram and YouTube on January 7, a man identifying himself as Narek Gururian, born on March 30, 1997, acknowledged that he took part in the brawl but insisted that he did not kill anyone.
“I am ready to give myself in to the authorities of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and ask the authorities to provide me with security and carry out a transparent investigation. I am ready to bear responsibility for what I did but will not take somebody’s sin on myself. I am not a murderer,” the suspect said.
The demonstrators gathered in front of the regional police department in Qaraghandy on January 6 and demanded thorough investigations into the killing, some saying that Armenians must be deported from the country.
Some demonstrators said that “the killers will escape punishment because they have money.”
The Qaraghandy regional governor Erlan Qoshanov met with the protesters and said that “all those responsible for the death will be prosecuted.”
“This case is being monitored by the authorities at the highest level. We will investigate it until all those responsible are punished. I promise you, as the region’s governor and the president’s representative here, that the main suspect, who remains at large, will be detained in two-three days,” Qoshanov said, adding that if the suspect’s relatives were trying to hide him, they would be prosecuted too.
The protesters then left the site.
According to a January 6 statement on the governor’s website, murder and hooliganism investigations have been launched.
“At this point, nine participants [in the deadly brawl] have been established, of whom eight were apprehended, while one was placed on an international wanted list. We want to stress that the brawl took place between two groups and was not ethnically motivated,” the statement said, warning that people who tried to incite ethnic hatred might face criminal prosecution as well.
Kazakhstan is a diverse country that houses dozens of ethnic groups and official propaganda frequently praises long-ruling President Nursultan Nazarbaev for preserving ethnic concord in the Central Asian state of 18 million.