The Republic of Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world. It borders Russia to the north, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south and the People’s Republic of China to the east, and it shares the Aral Sea with Uzbekistan. One third of the country is dry steppe, and as such was a major transit route for nomadic peoples throughout history.

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Occupied from an early period by nomadic populations using its vast steppes for pastoralism, the Kazakhs and many of the Turkic minorities still present in Kazakhstan (Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Uighur, Turkmen) emerged as distinct ethnic groups after the Mongolian invasion of the 13th Century.

The country’s ethnic mosaic – especially the significant presence of those of non-Turkic background such as the Slavs, Germans, Volga Tatars – is for the most part intrinsically linked to the incorporation of most of this region into the Russian Empire in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Slavic and Cossack settlers came to Kazakhstan from this period onwards, especially after the abolition of serfdom which saw a large number of Ukrainian and Russian settlers arrive, attracted by the possibility of receiving land from Tsarist authorities. During Soviet times, they came to participate in various development undertakings, beside those resettled from labour camps. So-called ‘punished peoples’ were deported to Kazakhstan before and during the Second World War. These groups include Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Koreans, Poles, Greeks, Chechens, Ingush and others believed at the time to be unreliable or accused of collaboration with the enemy. Some, such as Chechens and Ingush, returned in large numbers to their homelands at the earliest opportunity, in the late 1950s. Among these were also some 500,000 Poles deported to Kazakhstan in 1939-1941, mainly because of Stalin’s fear of their opposition to the Soviet take-over of eastern Poland. The second wave of deportation started in 1944 and finished with Stalin’s death. Poles deported at that time were suspected of participating in the anti-communist Polish resistance. Their ethnic identity was nationalistic and Roman Catholic, which made them unreliable in the eyes of the Soviet authorities.

A campaign against Greeks in the Soviet Union began in 1937-1939, and Pontic (or Black Sea) Greeks were deported to Kazakhstan from border zones in Georgia and Ukraine. A second wave of deportations came in 1944, after the liberation of Crimea from Nazi occupation, when the entire Crimean Greek population was transferred to Kazakhstan. In 1949 Greeks from Ukraine, southern Russia and the Caucasus were sent to Central Asia and Siberia as a part of Stalin’s anti-Tito drive. Later that year about 10,000 members of the Democratic Army of Greece, the Greek Communist Party and their supporters became political refugees in the Soviet Union. They were initially settled in Odessa but soon were sent to Central Asia. After 1956 Greeks who wished to return to the Black Sea coast, with the exception of Crimean Greeks, were allowed to do so. The right to return was later granted to Crimean Greeks. After 1956 Greeks were allowed to emigrate to Greece in limited numbers, especially political refugees and their families. The desire to return to Greece was widespread among the civil war refugees and their descendants. Greece recognized the right of all people of Greek descent to return. Not all of the influx of European settlers in more recent years to Kazakhstan occurred as a form of exile: under Nikita Khruschev’s ‘Virgin Lands Campaign’ of 1954-56, more than 600,000 Slavic and Baltic settlers migrated into Kazakhstan to increase agricultural production.

For their part Meskhetian Turks underwent a deportation from Uzbekistan in June 1989, when they became the victims of pogroms in the Ferghana valley. Up to 6,000 were resettled in Kazakhstan, where they were unwelcome. Many Meskhetians sought to emigrate to Georgia and Turkey.

Many of these European minorities were to increasingly leave Kazakhstan as the Soviet Union started to disintegrate. Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991 and has remained firmly under the control of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had initially come to power in 1989 as the head of the Kazakh Communist Party. While large numbers of minorities such as the Germans, Greeks and others have left the country since independence, the relatively high economic growth rates since 2000 due to its large oil, gas and mineral reserves and the long-standing presence of some of the Slavic and Turkic minorities – especially the Russian minority who are a majority in the northern part of the country – suggests that there are factors which might lead many to remain.

At the same time, minorities have not always felt welcome. The government of Kazakhstan has since 1991-1992 embarked on a programme of ‘Kazakhization’ of the country which highlights the prominence of the Kazakh language and increasing the presence and even domination of ethnic Kazakhs in the government bureaucracy. In addition to language laws which have been seen as disadvantaging and even discriminating against minorities (and in particular the Russian-speakers), another government policy to reverse the previous domination of ethnic Slavs has been a transmigration programme of Kazakhs into Slav-dominated territories.

While the influence and pre-eminence of the Russian language in the business and political fields have not been supplanted by the initial language laws (naming Kazakh as the state language and Russian as an ‘official’ language), more recent legislative moves may exacerbate the fears and grievances which have in the last decade continued to be raised, mainly though not exclusively by members of the Russian and other Slavic minorities, especially those who consider themselves ‘indigenous’, as their families have lived in Kazakhstan for generations. It is for this reason that some amongst the Russian minority have demanded autonomy for the parts of the country where they constitute a relatively large majority, with some elements even proposing outright reunification with Russia – and the government claiming to have uncovered a plot by Russian groups to seize power in 2001.

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Main languages: Kazakh, Russian, Uzbek

Main religions: Sunni Islam, Orthodox Christianity

Minority groups include Russians (4,479,618; 30%), Ukrainians (547,052; 3.7%), Uzbeks (370,663; 2.5%), Germans (353,441; 2.4%), Tatars (248,952; 1.7%), Uighurs (210,339; 1.4%), Belarusians (111,926; 0.7%), Koreans (99,657; 0.7%). (Source: Kazakhstan National Census, 1999)

Kazakhstan’s unusually diverse ethnic makeup (there are according to some official documents 106 ‘nationalities’) was partially due to it being a historical transit point for Central Asian groups moving west. More recently it was used by Tsarist Russia and then by the Soviet Union as an area of Russian colonisation, but also as a kind of ‘dumping ground’ for dissidents and ethnic groups, especially though not exclusively on orders by Stalin which saw huge population transfers in the Soviet Union from the 1930s until the 1950s.

The impact of these policies means that though they are now the largest ethnic group within Kazakhstan, the Kazakhs were a minority at the time of independence in 1991. They now constitute a majority after millions, mainly Russians and other minorities, left after independence.

There are unfortunately no reliable figures after 1999 for Kazakhstan’s population or for a breakdown of its ethnic composition. The census in that year saw Kazakhs attain a majority with 53.4 percent of the population, with the Russian minority falling to 29.9 percent. While some estimates suggest as many as 2 million Russians may have left between 1989 and 2005, most observers are of the view that they remain the largest minority group in the country with a population of perhaps 4 million, mainly concentrated in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The numbers of other Slavs, as well as Germans, Jews and other minorities have also shrunk dramatically. Though unverifiable, more recent figures suggest that while this out-migration movement has not stopped, it has slowed down, with 16,000 Russians and other Slavs returning to Kazakhstan in 2003-2004, ostensibly attracted among others by the country’s relative economic prosperity (Source: Kazakhstan Migration Agency, 2005).

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Though nominally a democracy, Kazakhstan is generally perceived as having increasingly moved towards a more authoritarian regime in recent years under the full control of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. In elections in August 2007, Mr Nazarbayev’s party won 88% of the vote and all the seats in parliament. Serious concerns continue to be expressed in regards to weak human rights compliance and the rule of law in the country.

While it appears that President Nazarbayev was seen by many minority group members as a guarantor of inter-ethnic harmony in the early stages of his rule after 1991 at a time where non-Kazakhs were an overall majority in the country, this support may have become more lukewarm as Kazakh emigration (from other parts of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia, Turkey and China) in combination with the emigration of non-Kazakhs not only led to a Kazakh majority in the 1996 elections to Parliament, but also laws and policies which have increasingly disadvantaged minorities in terms of language and employment opportunities. This in a sense was confirmed by President Nazarbayev himself in 2000 when, despite still referring to Kazakhstan as the home to Slavic and European ethnic groups, he stated that it was a ‘Turkophone state’.

However, President Nazarbayev’s tight control over the manifestation of opposition and the growing identification of the Kazakh cultural identity with the apparatus of the state has in practice meant an increase in the restrictions of non-Kazakh identity in a number of areas of public life, with even in some cases the wearing of traditional Cossack dress (which is a form of military uniform) as an offence of ‘disturbing the peace’ in 1996. The protection of rights under the Constitution and legislation is deeply flawed in Kazakhstan in the absence of an independent judiciary (judges are appointed and dismissed by the President). On a positive side, a consultative ‘Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan’ was established by the President in 1995 to represent the interests of the country’s various minorities.

Language and other requirements have created public and political institutions where there remain relatively few members of ethnic minorities in elected office and civil service (with Russians, for example, only occupying in 2000 perhaps 8% of all civil service jobs). While by no means actively encouraging emigration of the non-Kazakh population, the legal and political systems of governance clearly favour ethnic Kazakhs over other ethnic groups, including in granting special privileges and in some cases land to ethnic Kazakhs living outside the country. Even the establishment of a new capital, Astana, in a region with a majority of Russian-speakers, has been perceived as a step towards the authorities asserting greater control over this part of the country by eventually bringing in more and more ethnic Kazakhs and therefore weaken the presence of the Slav minorities in this part of the country.

Legislation requiring that at least 50% of all media broadcasts, including by independent private media, be in Kazakh has resulted in fines that have been heavy and, in some cases, even to some media being shut down for not complying with this language requirement. In addition, it is reported that state authorities consistently provide state subsidies, but to Kazakh-language media only. Despite this, Russian remains the dominant lingua franca in most day to day aspects, particularly in the country’s cities.

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Minority based and advocacy organisations

General

Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia (US)
Tel: +1-202-898-2500
Email: ncsj@ncsj.org
Website: www.ncsj.org

Almaty Helsinki Committee
Tel: +7-3272-695 061
Email: ahc@nursat.kz
Website: www.humanrights.kz

Center for Conflict Management
Tel: +7-3272-53-93-84
E-mail: ccm@online.ru

Kazakh International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
Tel: +7-3172-63-9461
Email: omaz@omaz.almaty.kz
Website: www.bureau.kz

Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians

Russian Community of Republic of Kazakhstan
Tel: +7-3272-62-92-35

Russian Union of Republic of Kazakhstan
Tel: +7-3272-63-16-29

Germans

German Cultural Center
Tel: +7-3272-91-42-25, 91-15-13

Wiedergeburt, Association of Kazakhstani Germans “Revival”
Tel: +7-3272-54-37-03
Fax: +7-3272-54-37-19
Email: dederer@satsun.sci.kz
Website: rusdeu.narod.ru

Uzbeks

Dialogue
Tel: +7-3252-54 97 35
E-mail: ethnodialog@mail.kz
Website: www.ethnodialog.org

Tatars

Tatar-Bashkir Social and Cultural Center
Tel: +7-3272-22-07-90

Uighurs

Eastern Turkestan Information Center (Germany)
Tel: +49-179 -966-21-45
Email: etic@uygur.com
Website: www.uygur.org

International Uyghur Human Rights & Democracy Foundation (IUHRDF), (US)
Tel: 202-349-4192
E-mail: info@iuhrdf.org
Website: www.iuhrdf.org

Society Union of Uyghur National Association
Tel: +7-3272-799552
Email: nau02@freemail.ru

Uyghur Human Rights Project (US)
Tel: +1-202-349-1496
Email: info@uhrp.org
Website: www.uhrp.org

Koreans

Almaty City Korean Cultural Center
Tel: +7-3272-631433

Sources and further reading

General

Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, http://www.ncsj.org/Kazakhstan.shtml

Akiner, S., Central Asia, London, MRG report, 1997.

Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief, ‘Analysis of proposed amendments to the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations’, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2 March 2001, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2001/03/1538_en.pdf

Bhavna, D., Minorities and Participation in Public Life: Kazakhstan, 5 May 2003, UN; Commission on Human Rights, 12-16 May 2005, UN Document E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.5/2003/WP.9, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/e06a5300f90fa0238025668700518ca4/a674fbe49b8ee1c5c1256d27002cfd36/$FILE/G0314155.pdf

Blandy, C.W., Instabilities in Post-Communist Europe: Central Asia, Sandhurst, Conflict Studies Research Centre, January 1994.

Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Kazakhstan. 20 August 2004, UN; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 10 December 2004, UN Document CERD/C/65/CO/3, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/CERD.C.65.CO.3.En?Opendocument

Country of Origin Research, ‘Kazakhstan: Political Developments and the Situation of Minorities’, February 1997, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/research/publications/index_e.htm?docid=197&cid=0&sec=CH04

Dixon, A., Kazakhstan: Political Reform and EconomicDevelopment, London, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1994.

Hanks, R., ‘Directions in the ethnic politics of Kazakhstan: Concession, compromise, or catastrophe?’, Spring 1998, Journal of Third World Studies, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3821/is_199804/ai_n8785068

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights in Kazakhstan: The Almaty Helsinki Committee Annual Report, Almaty, 1994.

Kolstoe, P., Russians in the Former Soviet Republics, London, Hurst, 1995.

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, ‘Ethnic Minorities’, 20 November 2003, Stop Violence against Women, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.stopvaw.org/Ethnic_Minorities.html

Patnaik, A., Nations, Minorities and States in Central Asia, MAKAIAS, 2003.

Sheehy, A. and Nahaylo, B., The Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and Meskhetians: Soviet Treatment of Some National Minorities, London, MRG report, 1980.

Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians

Commercio, M.E., Exit and voice in the near abroad: The Russian minority in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Latvia, Doctoral Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2004.

Kuzio, T., Kazakhstan grapples with Cultural Revival Dilemmas, 17 January 2002, EurasiaNet commentary, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/culture/articles/eav011702.shtml

Laitin, D., Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the near Abroad, Cornell UP, 1998.

Zardykhan, Z., ‘Russians in Kazakhstan and demographic change: imperial legacy and the Kazakh way of nation building’, Asian Ethnicity, Volume 5, Number 1, February 2004, pp. 61-79.

Germans

Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung: http://www.deutsche-allgemeine-zeitung.de/index.php

Integrated Regional Information Networks, ‘Kazakhstan: Special report on ethnic Germans’, 1 February 2005, IRINnews, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.irinnews.org/S_report.asp?ReportID=45321&SelectRegion=Central_Asia

Wiesener, C., Exodus or Integration: A review of the human rights situation and the prospects of Ethnic Germans in the Republic of Kazakhstan, October 2005, Almaty Helsinki Committee, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.humanrights.kz/problems_05-1.php

Wolf, M. and Frank, A., ‘No Future for the Ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan?’, in Gerhard Wettig (ed.) Aussenpolitik, Bonn, Volume 44/2, 1993, pp. 153-62, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://people.freenet.de/Wolf/1993aengl.html

Uzbeks

Savin, I., ‘Titular Population has the Edge in Kazakhstan’, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://www.eawarn.ru/pub/Pubs/MultiEthnicEnglish/LGI_Savin.htm

Support of minority’s education in Kazakhstan: http://www.natminedukz.org/eng/about.htm

Tatars

Lazzerini, E., Volga Tatars in Central Asia, 18th-20th Centuries: From Diaspora to Hegemony, Central Asia in historical perspective, Westview Press, 1994.

Rorlich, A., The Volga Tatars, a Profile in National Resilience, Stanford University Press, 1986.

Tatar Gazette: http://tatar.yuldash.com/eng_index.html

Uighurs

Oka, N., The ‘Triadic Nexus’ in Kazakhstan: A Comparative Study of Russians, Uighurs, and Koreans, 2006, Slavic Eurasian Studies, Hokkaido University, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/coe21/publish/no9_ses/19_oka.pdf

Oka, N., Study of minority group policies and the activities of ethnic associations in Kazakhstan, focused on the Uighurs, 2003, Chuo University, Tokyo, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://c-faculty.chuo-u.ac.jp/~shinmen/project/english/report/2003/oka.htm

Rudelson, J., Oasis identities: Uyghur nationalism along China’s Silk Road, Columbia University Press, New York, 1997.

‘Turks and Uyghurs’, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://uyghur1.com//index.php?option=content&task=view&id=57

Koreans

Jin Oh, Chong, ‘Diaspora nationalism: The case of ethnic Korean minority in Kazakhstan and its lessons from the Crimean Tatars in Turkey’, Nationalities Papers, Volume 34, No. 2, May 2006.

Kim, German, ‘The Deportation of 1937 as a Logical Continuation of Tsarist and Soviet Nationality Policy in the Russian Far East’, Korean and Korean American Studies Bulletin, 12:2–3 (2001), pp. 19–44.

Oka, N., The ‘Triadic Nexus’ in Kazakhstan: A Comparative Study of Russians, Uighurs, and Koreans, 2006, Slavic Eurasian Studies, Hokkaido University, retrieved 16 January 2007, http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/coe21/publish/no9_ses/19_oka.pdf

Lee, Kwang-kyu, ‘Overseas Koreans’, Jimoondang International, Seoul, 2000.


Minorities and indigenous peoples in
Kazakhstan: