Central Asia   KAZAKHSTAN




by Michael Pettibone


Kazakstan is located in the very heart of Central Asia, having direct borders with both Russia and China. The Middle East was also not very far away, and hence influence from that region is very strong, even during the time when the Soviets ruled the region. The Kazakhs have always found themselves to be culturally confused since they did not know exactly in which religious light to hold their identity. Although a generally small part of population actively practiced Islam, the ideas of that religion were widely believed.

A study by T. Saidbayev in 1978, showed that approximately fifty percent of the population practiced Muslim rituals, and that only ten percent practiced the Islam doctrine. (Hiro p. 110). Despite the dominance of Soviet influence in the government, the Kazakhs needed to a feeling of their own identity, and even secular elites in the country pushed ideas of cultural values partly in terms of Islam. (Hiro p. 111). Therefore, the number of those who believed fully in Islam is misleading. Evidence since the study has also shown that many young Kazakhs were beginning to convert to Islam, mainly because of the moral emptiness that was left in society generated by the lack of morality demonstrated by their government.

Oppression was one of the main tools late in the Soviet regime that led people more and more towards Islam. Religious oppression of Islam was present, and even Kazakh leaders strongly opposed any form of conversion to Islam. In late 1986, an uprising in Kazakhstan spurred by the removal from office of Dinmuhammad Ahmedovich Kunayev, a prominent Kazakh leader, by the Kremlin. Both Russians and Kazakhs stood side by stand in the uprising, which later launched the Decembrist party. The Decembrists formed into a Kazakh national democratic party, which grew quick in popularity. In August of 1991, Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev, leader of the Decembrist party, became the leader of the largest republic aside from Russia. (Hiro p. 117).

Less than four months later the Soviet Union completely collapsed, and talks between the republics about forming the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) began. Because of the large Slavic presence in Kazakhstan, approximately forty-three percent (Hiro p. 121), Nazarbayev made the decision to include Kazakhstan in the CIS. Kazakhstan was in effect torn between its identity with Russia and Central Asia.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was relatively weak, because of the massive transition that was taking place. He realized that once Russia retain some of its former strength, it would want to lay claims on parts of Northern Kazakhstan that was rich in natural resources and Slavic people. Therefore, he leaned more and more away from the demands of the Slavic people in Kazakhstan, and more towards the Islamic-Kazakh identity. Kazakh was declared the official language of Kazakhstan much to the demise of the Slavic people who wanted at least to Russian and Kazakh as the two official languages. Furthermore, the Slavs also pushed for the allowance of dual citizenship, Kazakh or Russian. In order for Kazakhstan to move forwards economically and culturally, Nazarbayev needed to push his country further and further away from the towering menace known as Russia on the northern borders. The newly independent republics in Central Asia found it vital to find an identity of their own. Many of the people in that region identified strongly with Islam. So long as the Russians pose a threat to the region, whether militarily, economically, or culturally, the people of Kazakhstan will push the Slavic culture further and further away. The Slavic presence is merely artificial, while the Pan-Turkic presence is deep rooted in a long history.




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