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Country Information on Kazakhstan PDF Print E-mail
The Kazakhs, a Turkic people, are the second largest Muslim group of Central Asia, and in the past, they were perhaps the most influential of the various Central Asian ethnic groups. They are a proud people who have held firmly to their own cultural distinctions. While most of the Kazakhs now live in Kazakhstan, they make up only 52% of the country's population. There is still a large population of Russians in Kazakhstan (over 35%). Other peoples include Ukrainians, Koreans, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Uyghur and the other Turkic peoples.

Kazak identityThe Kazakhs developed a distinct ethnic identity in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Prior to that, they were unified with a people group from which other Central Asian people groups would eventually be derived. The Kazakhs incorporated Islam into their shamanistic religion during the sixteenth century and consider themselves Muslim today. Very little remains of the shamanistic ways, though it is a uniquely Kazakh form of Islam. During the 19th century, the Russians acquired Central Asia through a steady process of annexation, eventually claiming the entire territory of Kazakhstan. Tragically, about half of the Kazakh population was killed during the Russian Civil War of the 1920's and 1930's. During this time, many fled to China and Mongolia to escape Joseph Stalin's rule, and famine claimed hundreds of thousands. Many ethnic peoples living along boarder regions with the former USSR (Germans, Poles, and Koreans), were forcibly resettled to Kazakhstan during the 71-year reign of the USSR. Many Russians were encouraged to settle in Kazakhstan to russify Kazakhstan.

After the revolution there was a steady increase in development of the country by the Soviet central government. Kazakhs were transitioned out of their Nomadic way of life and onto collective farms and villages, or into newly developed cities to work for the Soviet industrial machine.

In December 16, 1991 Kazakhstan gained its independence from the Soviet Union by peaceful cessation during a time when many other former Soviet republics were doing the same. After the independence, Kazakhs were hit hard again due to their reorganization of the government and the economy. For about ten years infrastructure decayed as money was not available for public works projects, corruption was rampant, and unemployment exceeded 50%. Slowly, the economy is recovering, but still, village Kazakhs have only a small part in this new prosperity.

Most recently, the Kazakh government has worked to align its national identity with that of the Kazakh culture, language and history. Most government positions are occupied by ethnic Kazakhs and the Kazakh language has been declared the national language. Advertising campaigns encourage Kazakhs to speak their ethnic language and observe their traditional customs.
 

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