What Really Happened in Alma-Ata

A visit to the scene of last year's minority riots in Kazakhstan

A startling bulletin was issued from the headquarters of TASS, the official Soviet news agency, just before Christmas last year: students had rioted in Alma-Ata, the capital of the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, during the previous day and night. Cars and a food store were burned, TASS said, and townspeople had been "insulted." Never before had the Soviets, who blamed the protests on "nationalist elements," reported such violence so frankly and promptly. The revelation was seen as another sign of Mikhail Gorbachev's campaign for glasnost, or openness. Still, Western journalists have long been barred from Alma-Ata -- until last week. Flying...