Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Changing Ethnic Face of Kazakhstan’s North – Russians Out, Uzbeks In

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 25 – Ethnic Russians are again departing from Kazakhstan’s North in increasing numbers both because they face more hostility from the local population and because the Russian government has improved its program for handling the return of compatriots.

            And ethnic Uzbeks are being encouraged by the Kazakhstan government to replace them both to reduce overcrowding in Uzbek regions in the south of the country that could lead to problems and to ensure that the North remains populated and thus more secure than might otherwise be the case.

            As a result of these twin flows, one driven primarily by popular attitudes in Kazakhstan and the other primarily by Kazakhstan government policies, the ethnic face of Kazakhstan’s North is changing, becoming less ethnic Russian and more ethnic Uzbek – but perhaps significantly not becoming more ethnically Kazakh. 

            After the massive outflows of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers from Kazakhstan once independence was achieved, that exodus had slowed in recent years, Asel Omirbek says, largely because those remaining were older or felt they had better economic opportunities in Kazakhstan (

            But over the last four years, the numbers of those leaving have ticked up; and this year are on track to be the highest in more than a decade, with approximately 40,000 likely to leave, many from the still largely ethnic Russian north, the Kazakh analyst continues. In most cases, they appear to be departing less because of positive expectations than negative experiences.

            If Russian flight from former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan has long attracted attention, efforts by the governments of these countries to move other ethnic minorities from one part of their territory to another have not. But since 2014, the Kazakhstan government has been trying to get ethnic Uzbeks from the south to move north (

                In the southern portions of the country, population growth has been so large that the amount of land available for agriculture has fallen and the level of unemployment has gone up, Kazakhstan commentator Bagdat Asylbek says.  Areas with large Uzbek populations like Turkestan oblast have been particularly hard hit in both regards.
            To address these problems, the government has developed programs to help Uzbeks relocate to the north. Many Uzbeks have, but a large share of them have returned because of the severe climate there that they are not accustomed to.  But enough have remained to encourage the regime to keep the programs going (

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