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Kazakh: Желтоқсан көтерілісі
Jeltoqsan scene.jpg
A depiction of the Jeltoqsan events on Republic Square in Almaty
Date December 16-19, 1986
Location Alma-Ata, Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union
Result Massacre of civilians
Kazakh protesters

 Soviet Union

Commanders and leaders
? Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev
Soviet Union Gennady Kolbin
Casualties and losses
168-200 civilians killed
More than 200 injured

The Jeltoqsan (Kazakh: Желтоқсан көтерілісі) or "December" of 1986 were riots that took place in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, in response to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's dismissal of Dinmukhamed Konayev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and an ethnic Kazakh, and his appointment of Gennady Kolbin, an outsider from the Russian SFSR.[1][2] Some sources cite Kolbin's ethnicity as Russian, others as Chuvash.

The events lasted from 16 December until 19 December 1986. The protests began in the morning of 17 December, as a student demonstration attracted thousands of participants as they marched through Brezhnev Square across to the CPK Central Committee building. As internal troops and OMON forces entered the city,[3] violence erupted throughout the city, capital of Kazakhstan until 1997.[2][3][4][5][6] In the following days, protests spread to Shymkent, Taldykorgan, and Karaganda, demonstrating a deep desire for independence among the people.


The dismissal of the long-serving First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Dinmukhamed Kunayev (1964-1986), an ethnic Kazakh, on 16 December and the appointment of an outsider, Gennady Kolbin (1986-1989) as the First Secretary was the primary reason for the peaceful student demonstrations that started in the early morning of 17 December.[7]

According to Gorbachev's memoir, after the 27th Party Congress of December 1986, he met with Kunayev and discussed Kunayev's resignation. Kunayev expressed his desire to retire and proposed the appointment of a Russian in his place to stop advancement of Nursultan Nazarbayev (later President of Kazakhstan) in the party ranks.[8] Kunayev, in his own book, said that Gorbachev never asked him about his replacement and only said "a good comrade will be 'sent' ".[9]

Demonstrations started in the morning of 17 December 1986 as 200–300 students gathered in front of the Central Committee building on Brezhnev Square to protest the decision of the CPSU to appoint Kolbin rather than an ethnic Kazakh. The number of protesters increased to 1,000–5,000 as students from universities and institutes joined the crowd on Brezhnev Square.

Tass reported, "A group of students, incited by nationalistic elements, last evening and today took to the streets of Alma Ata expressing disapproval of the decisions of the recent plenary meeting. Hooligans, parasites and other antisocial persons made use of this situation and resorted to unlawful actions against representatives of law and order. They set fire to a food store and to private cars and insulted townspeople". Meetings were held at factories, schools, and other institutions to condemn these actions.[10]

Witnesses reported that the rioters were given vodka, narcotics and leaflets, indicating that the riots were not spontaneous. They disagreed with the characterization of the riot as related to nationalism or independence; they said it was a protest over Gorbachev appointing an outsider to head the state.[11]

As a response, the CPK Central Committee ordered troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, druzhiniki (volunteers), cadets, policemen, and the KGB to cordon the square and videotape the participants. The situation escalated around 5 p.m., as troops were ordered to disperse the protesters. Clashes between the security forces and the demonstrators continued throughout the night in the square and in different parts of Almaty.

The second day, protests turned into civil unrest as clashes in the streets, universities and dormitories between troops, volunteers and militia units and Kazakh students turned into a wide-scale armed confrontation. The clashes were not controlled until the third day. The Almaty events were followed by smaller protests and demonstrations in Shymkent, Pavlodar, Karaganda and Taldykorgan.

Estimates of protesters[edit]

The number of estimates of protesters vary.

Initial reports from Moscow said that about 200 people were involved in the riots. Later reports from Kazakh SSR authorities estimated that the riots drew 3,000 people.[12]

Other estimates are of at least 30,000 to 40,000 protesters, with 5,000 arrested and jailed, and an unknown number of casualties.[13] Jeltoqsan leaders say over 60,000 Kazakhs participated in the protests nationwide.[14][13]

In Karaganda, 54 students were excluded from the universities, and five students were prosecuted.

Loss of life[edit]

According to the Kazakh SSR government, there were two deaths during the riots, including a volunteer police worker and a student. Both of them had died from blows to the head. About 100 others were detained and several others were sentenced to terms in labor camps.[15]

Sources cited by the US Library of Congress claim that at least 200 people died or were summarily executed soon after. Some accounts estimate casualties at more than 1,000.[16]

The writer Mukhtar Shakhanov claimed that a KGB officer testified that 168 protesters were killed.[17] That figure remains unconfirmed as most material about Jeltoksan is in Moscow, kept in private Communist Party of the Soviet Union and KGB archives. The Jeltoqsan events formed the basis of the main platforms of the Azat and Alash political parties and the Jeltoqsan movement that developed in independent Kazakhstan.

Kazakh students Qayrat Rısqulbekov and Lazat Asanova were among the victims.[16][17]

Separation from USSR[edit]

In the March 1991 referendum, the population of Kazakhstan overwhelmingly voted to preserve the Soviet system. 89.2% of the population participated in the vote, of which 94.1% voted in favor.[18]

The Dawn of Liberty monument in Almaty.

The Soviet government in Kazakhstan declared independence on 16 December 1991.

On 18 September 2006, the Dawn of Liberty monument, dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Jeltoqsan, was opened with a solemn ceremony in Almaty. In the 21st century, Jeltoqsan has come to be regarded as the symbol of Kazakhstan's struggle for independence. The monument has three-parts: two pylons of intricate shapes symbolize ing the breach and conflict of past and future, the explosion of the nation's consciousness and downfall of ideological canons, and the triumph of liberty and independence of the state.[19][20]

Dinmukhamed Konayev died in 1993 at the age of 82. An avenue and an institute in Almaty were named for him, as well as an avenue in downtown Astana, designated as the capital in 1997.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nationalist riots in Kazakhstan: Violent nationalist riots erupted in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, on 17 and 18 December 1986", Informaworld
  2. ^ a b "Reform and Nationalist Conflict", U.S. Library of Congress
  3. ^ a b Soviet Troops Enforce Kazakh City Curfew”, New York Times
  4. ^ Soviet Nationalities: Russians Rule, Others Fume”, New York Times.
  5. ^ Origins of Kazakhstan Rioting Are Described”, New York Times.
  6. ^ 1986 "December events showed people’s striving for independence" KAZINFORM
  7. ^ Mikhael Gorbachev, Memoirs, New York: Doubleday, 1996, p.330
  8. ^ Mikhael Gorbachev, Memoirs, New York: Doubleday, 1996, p. 330
  9. ^ Dinmukhamed Kunayev, O Moem Vremeni, Almaty: Dauir, 1992, p. 8
  10. ^ Los Angeles Times
  11. ^ ' 'San Francisco Chronicle, Retrieved March 27, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand, December 23, 1986.
  12. ^ "Soviet Riots Worse Than First Reported", San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 1987. p. 22
  13. ^ a b "Kazakhstan: Jeltoqsan Protest Marked 20 Years Later", RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty
  14. ^ ""Jeltoqsan" Movement blames leader of Kazakh Communists", EurasiaNet
  15. ^ San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 27, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand.
  16. ^ a b "Reform and Nationalist Conflict", U.S. Library of Congress
  17. ^ a b "Kazakhs remembering uprising of 1986", Associated Press, 2006
  18. ^ Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Volume 4| publisher= Europa Publications Limited
  19. ^ "The Head of the State unveiled a monument in Almaty", KAZINFORM
  20. ^ "1986 December events showed people's striving for independence", KAZINFORM

External links[edit]