Staunton, September 15 – Most people believe that there are only two choices people in the post-Soviet states have as far as identity is concerned: a civic identity based on their citizenship in this or that country or an ethnic one based on their nationality. But the situation is far more complicated than that at least in some places.
That reality is highlighted by a Kazakhstan legal specialist’s proposal to give citizens of that country the chance to declare in their passports not only their ethnicity but also their clans, a measure of how important such sub-national identities remain there (zakon.kz/4742267-v-kazakhstane-predlagajut-po-zhelaniju.html and kazpravda.kz/rubric/obshchestvo/kazahstantsam-predlagaut-ukazivat-rodovuu-prinadlezhnost-v-pasportah/).
Zhangeldy Suleymanov says that his proposal simply reflects reality: “We all value, respect and are proud of our clans. Therefore, it should surely be possible IF ONE WANTS TO to indicate one’s clan in the national passport.” Such a possibility, he says, would truly reflect “the wealth of our people” and its “unique system.”
If such a system were in place, he continues, his “nationality” would be “Kazakh,” and his clan would be “Nayman.” But he acknowledges that “there is little chance that [his] proposal will be realized,” although it should be because for many people, “the clan means even more than nationality does.”
Kazakhs, Suleymanov says, in some ways resemble Americans. That is, they are parts of communities or clans that came together to form a new nation. “We are Kazakhs,” he continues, “but this is more a union of tribes and clans which was created in the 14th and 15th centuries” and which has been in place “no more than 550 years.”
There is no reason his proposal couldn’t be adopted, the legal specialist says. After all, Astana has established special rules for “persons of Kazakh nationality” to change their patronymics or family names to reflect the older national and clan traditions of using “uly” or “kyzy” rather than the Russian “-ich” and “-ova.”
It will be interesting to see whether Suleymanov’s proposal gains any traction in Kazakhstan, but it may be even more instructive to track whether it is taken up elsewhere. At least one site in Buryatia where clan traditions are strong has already given it prominent coverage, and more may follow (asiarussia.ru/news/9128/).
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