Officials are playing down any interethnic problems as the cause of the events, but it appears ethnicity may have played a role in the violence.
It started with an argument in a billiards hall in the village of Malovodnoye and ended the next day with three people dead and many others wounded.
Baghdad Maikeev, chief of the Almaty regional police, spoke to the press about the incident.
Three Dead, Many Injured
"There were casualties," he said. "Three people are dead, of whom two are Kazakhs and one is a Chechen. Also, two more Chechens are in critical condition at the hospital."
Clashes between ethnic groups in Kazakhstan are extremely rare, especially for a country with more than 100 ethnic groups who practice a number of different religions.
Kazakh officials are warning the local media not to overly emphasis the ethnicity factor in this violence.
Malovodnoye is located just outside the former Kazakh capital, Almaty. On the night of March 17, young people gathered at the local billiards hall. A witness, who did not want to give his name, described what happened there.
One Version Of Events
"On Saturday (March 17) there was an incident at the billiard hall," he said. "A young Chechen man and a young Kazakh man got into a quarrel which ended with the beating of [a Kazakh]. He was beat and shot in the back. The police were there at the time trying to help the guy who was shot."
Later the next day more than 20 vehicles arrived at the home of the Chechen. A man who identified himself to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service as Marat explains what happened next.
"There were about 180 young Kazakh guys," he said. "I joined them and stood in front of the door. One of them, a guy from the Shelek village, loudly asked the people inside the house to come and fight one-on-one if need be. Three guys came out with rifles and shot [the man from Shelek village]. They shot him and immediately started running away. Two young Kazakhs fells down immediately. Many others were wounded, mainly in the feet. Many of those wounded ran away and avoided going to the hospital."
Not everyone ran away. Some from the group that drove there threw containers of gasoline on the home and burned it. An RFE/RL correspondent who visited the scene said the house was completely burned to the ground.
These versions differ significantly from the Chechen view of events. Akhmed Muradov is the leader of the Chechen Cultural Center in Kazakhstan. He told RFE/RL's North Caucasus service that the dispute started weeks ago.
"In the Alma-Atinsk region, about 100 kilometers from Almaty, there is the village called Kazatkom, in which live mainly Vaynakh (ethnic Chechens and Ingush)," he said. "One month ago there was a fight there between a Chechen and a Kazakh. Then, a couple of weeks ago, 300 to 400 people came over to the village, but the authorities resisted them. The police officers scared them and threw them out."
Muradov also knew about the March 17 fight in the billiard hall but again offered a different account of what happened.
"Last Saturday, there was a fight between young people again," he said. "They beat up a Chechen. Another tried to defend him, fired a shot into the air and chased away the attacking Kazakh youths."
Muradov said on March 18 that a concerted attack was launched against the home of the Chechen family in Malovodnoye that wasn't involved in the billiard hall fight.
"The next day 300 to 400 people in vehicles came to the edge of the village," Muradov said. "There, on the village outskirts, stood the home of Elsi Makhmakhanov, an old person. They lived there since the time of forced resettlement (World War II) of Chechens from the historic homeland. [They are] a large family: 15 children -- 11 sons and 4 daughters. They also [have grandchildren]. First they attacked the home."
He continued: "They burned cars, barns.... Young [ethnic Kazakhs] started firing shots. Not having any other recourse, the other side offered resistance using the weapons they had -- hunting rifles. During the exchange of fire seven or eight people were wounded, three of them Chechens and five of them Kazakhs. Two Kazakhs were killed. Also one of the Chechen guys was killed. He was one of three brothers who were [initially] wounded. The other two are in critical condition in the hospital."
Police chief Maikeev said criminal investigations have already been launched and that charges will be filed, including illegal use of weapons and manslaughter, against some of the participants in the incident.
(RFE/RL's Kazakh and North Caucasus Services contributed to this report.)
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