Central Asia   KAZAKHSTAN


"Kazakhstan Under Siege:

The Effects of Russian Immigration

from 1930 - Present"

Nicholas Lee


Much like how America is the "melting pot" of North America, Kazakhstan plays the same role in Central Asia. Known as the "...republic of a hundred nationalities... [and] a laboratory of the friendship of peoples.."1, Kazakhstan has constructed a reputation of diversity and multi-ethnicity for itself over its nearly three hundred year history as a state. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, there are six major ethnic groups in the nation, ranging from the native Kazakhs (46%) and Russians (35%) to Tatars (2%) and German immigrants (3%)2 While many nations would surely celebrate such a diverse ethnic population, Kazakhstan and its citizens have had to do so with much enmity in their hearts and minds towards each other and the now defunct institution of the Soviet Union. In addition to these bittersweet feelings of Kazakhstani patriotism, the search for a coherent national identity has been difficult as it seeks to incorporate all of the culture and values of its citizens.

In order to understand how this ethnic diversity occurred and the inherent difficulty of discerning what the Kazakhstani national identity truly is, the question of how this cultural mix occurred should be addressed. The primary reason why any nation will experience diversification in their populace is immigration and much the same reasoning can be applied to Kazakhstan. Even before Kazakhstan owned a portion of territory for its new state, Russian immigration into the Kazakh region had begun. Starting in the 16th century, Russian citizens and others began to stream into the Kazakhstani countryside for varying reasons; it continues to this day.

The period of immigration that will be focused upon in this paper due to the large amounts of economic and political activity found within it in addition to its effects upon the current national identity of Kazakhstan is from 1930 to the present. During this time frame, there were three major periods of Russian immigration all of which effected major changes in the composition of the population and in the national sentiments towards Russians both within the nation and the Soviet Union. The first of these periods began in the mid-1930s as, "...more than 700,000 Russians moved to Kazakhstan in connection with its industrial modernization."3 As one will see, unlike the following two periods of immigration in the time frame under consideration, Kazakhstan saw an influx of immigrants that proved to be a beneficial addition to their national economy. Gillette writes, "The new migrants were mostly qualified industrial workers, engineers, technicians, plant managers, business executives, teachers and health care personnel. Spurred on by Joseph Stalin, this period of massive industrialization brought much prosperity to Kazakhstan and resulted in the development of new industries and qualified industrial labor. However, the tide would quickly change as the reasoning for this period of massive industrialization became clear.

While the second World War began in the autumn of 1939, the Soviet preparations for war had begun much earlier. What this meant for Kazakhstan was a deluge of Russian deportations. In the early stages of the pre-war period a large number of Polish citizens and Ukranian exiles flooded into the nation. As the war began and drew on its six year course, ethnic groups ranging from those of the Baltic states to Polish deportees to German prisoners were brought into the country. This extra population burden was to be carried by Kazakhstan in addition to the burden of those Russian migrants who fled as a result of the dismal failure of Stalin's plans for Soviet collectivization. During this period of Russian-mandated migration, Kazakhstan was treated more as a penal colony than a Soviet republic.

The Russian exploitation of Kazakhstan continued when in 1954 Khrushchev initiated the Virgin Lands campaign. During this campaign the goal of cultivating 13 million hectares6 was set, even amidst much criticism from the upper levels of Russian and Kazakhstani leadership. After the removal and replacement of Kazakhstani government officials, Khrushchev set about the task of moving large amounts of capital and creating a working structure into the "virgin" hinterlands of Kazhakstan. This in turn led to two things, the sudden shift from an industrial to an agricultural base and another influx of Russian immigrants aimed at making the Virgin Lands project a success.

Though the Virgin Lands campaign eventually failed and the Soviet Union became the Republic of Russia, the scars that were wrought upon Kazakhstan during this 60 year period still largely remain today. The most obvious of these effects of Russian immigration is the composition of the population of Kazakhstan. Gillette writes, "It was not until 1989 that Kazakhs managed to reverse the ethnic balance in their favor.  While this "ethnic balance" continues to slowly swing further in favor of the native Kazakhs, a deeper problem needs to be explored.

During this period of Russian hegemony, the native Kazakhs were "...isolated from the historical, social and political movements. 8 This alone was problematic in terms of resisting Russian control however the situation grows from bad to worse. By being removed from the industrial centers (i.e. major cities) of Kazakhstan, the villagers did not receive any of the education nor skills of the Russians. In the future, not only did this mean a slower period of economic recovery during the transition from communism, but it also created a dichotomy between the Kazakhstanis of the country and those of the cities. Amrekulov writes, "The rural Kazakhs call them [urban Kazakhs] 'Russified' or 'Russian-speaking Kazakhs' mankurts (a person who has lost their cultural roots). He goes on to offer the staggering statistic that "...one  third to two-thirds of Kazakhs do not know their native language. "9 By utilizing Kazakhstan in such a fashion, the Soviets effected changes that were so divisive so as to impede the relations between the native Kazakhstanis themselves.

Furthermore, the fingerprints of Soviet control have also been left on the political institutions of now independent Kazakhstan. Even before the fall of the Soviet regime, there was vocal opposition aimed against the rule of the Russians. These tensions emerged with student demonstrations at the end of 1986 aimed at protesting the unconventional appointment of non-native First Secretary Gennadi Kolbin. However, these sentiments of Kazakh nationalism were quickly stamped out by the Soviets and did not emerge again until 1991 when Kazakhstan gained its independence. Nonetheless, the remnants of the Soviet legacy continue to plague the workings of the Kazakhstani government and result in political disharmony even today.

As Kazakhstan emerges from the shadow of Soviet rule and is left to deal with the effects of hundreds of years of various territorial occupations, it is facing an uphill battle. The numerous areas of society, economy, and government must resolve the problems created by the legacy of Russian immigration while at the same time determining what this society, economy, and government actually are. While it is rather unfortunate that the Kazakhstanis of today are left to deal with the decision of Russians of yesterday, in the long run the people of Kazakhstan will weather the effects of Russian immigration and develop a lasting national identity of their own.

1 Amrekulov (1995), pp. 1

2 Central Intelligence Agency (1999)

3 Gillette (1993), pp.4

4 Gillette (1993), pp. 4

5 Gillette (1993), pp.4-5

6 Gillette (1993), pp.5

7 Gillette (1993), pp.6

8 Amrekulov (1995), pp.1

9 Amrekulov (1995), pp.1

Works Cited:

          Amrekulov, Nurlan, "Inter-Ethnic Conflict and Resolution in Kazakhstan", Central Asia: Conflict Resolution and Change, Chp. 12, www.cpss.orWcasiabk/chapl2.txt, 1995.

        Central Intelligence Agency, The CIA World Factbook: Kazakhstan, www.odci.~ov/cia/pubIicationslfactbook~kz.html#people, 1999

          Gillette, Philip S., "Ethnic Balance and Imbalance in Kazakhstan's Regions", Central Asia Monitor, No. 3, 1993.


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