Monday, December 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: To the Changing of Names, There is No End in Kyrgyzstan

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 15 – During the first decade of independence, many people in Kyrgyzstan like those in other Central Asian countries nationalized their names by dropping the Russian “-ov” or “-ev” ending. Now, some are going back to the Russian spelling, while others are choosing to move toward Arabic rather than Kyrgy names.


            Because names are among the most personal and sensitive aspects of life, these changes reflect some tectonic shifts in this most unstable of countries, and it seems likely that those who change their names in one direction now may be forced to change it in another if the reasons they had are vitiated by social and political developments.


            Some Kyrgyz apparently have decided to go back to the Russian spelling because they either hope to become gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation or because they feel such spellings are “more prestigious” and will help them to get into better educational establishments and jobs or when they travel abroad (


            Others are continuing to move away from the Russian spellings and substituting Kyrgyz endings for the Russian ones. At the same time, an increasing number for religious reasons are using Arabic sources to come up with a new name, although that appears to involve first rather than last names.   


            According to official statistics, more than 38,000 Kyrgyz changed their names over the past year, up from fewer than 2,000 a year ago, although given the instability in that Central Asian country, the actual numbers in both cases are almost certainly larger not counting those who may be using a new spelling without registering that fact.


            Under Kyrgyzstan law, every citizen has the right to change his or her first name, last name or patronymic. And according to Gulmira Omoshova, the head of the country’s registration office, ever more are choosing to move toward Russian endings, a shift she links with the tightening of controls over gastarbeiters by Russia’s Federal Migration Service.


            In one oblast alone, she said, 3325 Kyrgyzstan citizens had submitted documents for a change in name in that direction. When asked why they were doing so, Omoshova said, they responded that they “want to go to Russia but have landed on an [FMS] ‘black list’” and are changing their names to get around it.


            Sometimes that may work, but at other times, it can lead to a finding by Russian officials of immigration fraud followed by expulsion and exclusion from Russia for up to five years, a fate that apparently is hitting ever more Kyrgyzstan residents.





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