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How Kazakhstan became more Kazakh

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LIKE MOST autocrats Nursultan Nazarbayev, who dominated Kazakhstan for 3 a long time, thought lots about how finest to honour himself. The 81-year-old resigned as president in 2019 and took on a job pulling strings from behind the scenes, however not earlier than guaranteeing that the capital metropolis would bear his title. Firstly of January days of unrest and violence compelled Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, his successor as president, to vow wide-ranging adjustments to the regime Mr Nazarbayev had constructed. However one a part of the older man’s legacy won’t be straightforward to undo: the dramatic demographic transformation of the nation which he engineered throughout his a long time in energy.

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When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Kazakhstan was the one ex-Soviet republic the place the folks after whom it was named weren’t a majority. Ethnic Kazakhs had been just below 40% of the inhabitants. Russians had been 37%. Different minorities made up the remainder. All this was Stalin’s legacy. His famine within the 1930s killed 1 / 4 of the nation’s inhabitants, and he deported ethnic teams he didn’t belief to Kazakhstan.

By the point Kazakhstan celebrated the 30th anniversary of its independence on the finish of 2021, a brand new census revealed a distinct nation. Ethnic Kazakhs at the moment are 70% of a inhabitants of 19m. Ethnic Russians are solely 18%. Outward Russian migration and decrease delivery charges amongst Slavic minorities contributed to this shift. However a beneficiant authorities programme designed to influence foreign-born Kazakhs to maneuver to the nation performed a giant half, leading to about 1,000,000 new arrivals since independence.

Mr Nazarbayev launched the programme within the 1990s as a result of he deemed the nation’s demographic make-up a risk to its nationwide safety. Saying so brazenly would have alienated each his ethnic-Russian residents and the federal government of Russia, with which Kazakhstan shares a border stretching for 7,600 km. So he provided perks similar to money and beneficiant loans to purchase houses and companies to be able to lure the hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs scattered overseas again “residence”, the place lots of them had by no means set foot earlier than.

Overseas-born Kazakhs now make up 6% of the inhabitants. Many have settled in seamlessly, particularly these from different former Soviet states. Others have struggled with tradition, language and politics, together with some Chinese language-born Kazakhs in search of refuge from anti-Muslim repression in China’s Xinjiang area. They’ve discovered that the federal government’s ties with China trump ethnic solidarity.

Like migrants around the globe, they’ve additionally confronted hostility from these already within the nation. Some residents resent the perks foreign-born Kazakhs are provided. To allay such worries the system now encourages migration to designated areas, principally within the north alongside the border with Russia, the place giant teams of ethnic Russians stay. The official purpose is to deal with labour shortages. However the unstated intention is to make these areas more linguistically and culturally Kazakh.

That purpose has turn out to be more urgent for Kazakhstan’s authorities since Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, annexed Crimea in 2014, utilizing the supposed oppression of Russian-speakers as a pretext. Russia’s renewed sabre-rattling on the Ukrainian border has reminded Kazakhs that some Russian nationalists make territorial claims on Kazakhstan, too. Many had been anxious when Russian troops briefly received their boots on the bottom in Kazakhstan in January, after Mr Tokayev requested Mr Putin for assist restoring order.

Kazakhification frightens the 30% of Kazakhstanis from ethnic minorities. They had been terrified by lethal assaults in 2020 on villages inhabited by Dungans, Mandarin-speaking Muslims of Chinese language descent. Some worry that ethnic nationalism could also be unleashed now that Mr Nazarbayev, who at the least mixed his efforts at Kazakhification with rhetoric about nationwide concord, has all however left the scene. As legacies go, guaranteeing that residents get on could also be as onerous to make stick as the brand new title for the capital—which can quickly revert to Astana.

This text appeared within the Asia part of the print version below the headline “Kazakhifying Kazakhstan”

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