History of Kazakhstan Wayback Machine Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic
Kazakh: Желтоқсан көтерілісі
DateDecember 16–19, 1986
Alma-Ata (present-day Almaty), Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union
Result Protests suppressed; massacre of civilians
Kazakh protesters

 Soviet Union

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

The Jeltoksan (Kazakh: Желтоқсан көтерілісі, Jeltoqsan kóterilisi), also spelled Zheltoksan or "December" of 1986 were riots that took place in Alma-Ata (present-day Almaty), Kazakhstan, in response to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's dismissal of Dinmukhamed Kunaev, 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 (present-day Republic Square) across to the CPK Central Committee building. As the result, internal troops and OMON forces entered the city,[3] violence erupted throughout the city.[2][3][4][5][6] In the following days, protests spread to Shymkent, Taldykorgan, and Karaganda.


The primary reason for the peaceful student demonstrations that started in the early morning of 17 December was the dismissal of the long-serving First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Dinmukhamed Kunaev (1964–1986) on 16 December and the appointment of Gennady Kolbin (1986–1989) as the First Secretary. Kolbin was unpopular as he had not previously lived or worked in Kazakhstan.[7]

According to Gorbachev's memoir, after the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he met with Kunaev and discussed Kunaev's resignation. Kunaev expressed his desire to retire and proposed the appointment of someone without previous links to the Kazakh Communist Party in his place to stop advancement of Nursultan Nazarbayev (later and also the first President of Kazakhstan) in the party ranks.[7] Kunaev, in his own book, said that Gorbachev never asked him about his replacement and only said "a good comrade will be 'sent'".[8]

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.[9]

Meetings were held at factories, schools, and other institutions to condemn these actions.[9]

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's appointing an outsider to head the state.[10]

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

Estimates of the number of protesters vary.

Initial reports from Moscow said that about 200 people were involved in the riots. Later reports from the Kazakh SSR authorities estimated that the riots drew 3,000 people.[11]

Other estimates are of at least 30,000 to 40,000 protesters, with 5,000 arrested and jailed, and an unknown number of casualties.[12] Jeltoqsan leaders say over 60,000 Kazakhs participated in the protests nationwide.[13][12]

In Karaganda, 54 students were expelled from the universities, and five students were prosecuted.[citation needed]

Loss of life

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.[14]

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.[2]

The writer Mukhtar Shakhanov claimed that a KGB officer testified that 168 protesters were killed.[15] 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 Kayrat Ryskulbekov and Lazat Asanova were among the victims.[2][15]

Separation from the USSR

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 favour.[16]

After the aborted coup d'état in August, the Soviet government in Kazakhstan declared independence on 16 December 1991 as the last republic to declare independence. The Soviet Union itself disintegrated ten days later.[citation needed]

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 symbolizing 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.[17][18]

Dinmukhamed Kunaev died in 1993 at the age of 82. An avenue and an institute in Almaty were named after him, as well as an avenue in the city centre of Nur-Sultan, designated as the capital in 1997.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "Nationalist riots in Kazakhstan: Violent nationalist riots erupted in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, on 17 and 18 December 1986"
  2. ^ a b c d "Reform and Nationalist Conflict", U.S. Library of Congress
  3. ^ a b "Soviet Troops Enforce Kazakh City Curfew", The New York Times
  4. ^ "Soviet Nationalities: Russians Rule, Others Fume", The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Origins of Kazakhstan Rioting Are Described", The New York Times.
  6. ^ 1986 "December events showed people’s striving for independence" Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine KAZINFORM
  7. ^ a b Mikhael Gorbachev, Memoirs, New York: Doubleday, 1996, p. 330
  8. ^ Dinmukhamed Kunaev, O Moem Vremeni, Almaty: Dauir, 1992, p. 8
  9. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, 18 December 1986
  10. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1986; Retrieved March 27, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand, .
  11. ^ "Soviet Riots Worse Than First Reported", San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 1987. p. 22
  12. ^ a b "Kazakhstan: Jeltoqsan Protest Marked 20 Years Later", RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty
  13. ^ ""Jeltoqsan" Movement blames leader of Kazakh Communists Archived 2008-09-04 at the Wayback Machine", EurasiaNet
  14. ^ San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 27, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand.
  15. ^ a b "Kazakhs remembering uprising of 1986 Archived 2011-07-11 at the Wayback Machine", Associated Press, 2006
  16. ^ Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Volume 4| publisher= Europa Publications Limited
  17. ^ "The Head of the State unveiled a monument in Almaty", KAZINFORM
  18. ^ "1986 December events showed people's striving for independence Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine", KAZINFORM