Staunton, November 19 – Kazakhstan was one of the first republics to promote the return of ethnic Kazakhs from abroad. It launched a program to attract them in November 1991 even before independence in order to change the ethnic balance in Kazakhstan and to compensate for the flight of loss of skilled personnel with the flight of ethnic Russians.
Initially, there was widespread support for the program. Kazakhs were barely a majority in their own country, and ethnic Russians dominated many cities and entire regions. Having their co-ethnics return was seen by the government and most Kazakhs as an essential step to promote national security.
But in recent years, support for the program has ebbed. On the one hand, Kazakhstan’s ethnic balance is now very much in Kazakhs’ favor, given the higher birthrates among the Kazakhs than among Russians, the departure of three million Russian speakers, and the return of a million ethnic Kazakhs from abroad.
And on the other, as Gaziz Abishev points out, the government of Kazakhstan has spent enormous sums to get Kazakhs to return (ia-centr.ru/experts/gaziz-abishev/dolzhny-li-kazakhstantsy-repatriantam/). (Sometimes as well, these returnees have created problems for the government and for society (cf. jamestown.org/program/chinese-repression-of-muslims-in-xinjiang-echoes-across-central-asia/).)
As a result, the Kazakh commentator says, opinion about the desirability of continuing to seek the return of ethnic Kazakhs from abroad is divided. “Some passionately support it, others are neutral, and a third is skeptical” about the value of doing especially given that most are relatively low-skilled and some a burden on society.
They disagree with the supports who continue to argue that “’Kazakhs must be concerned about their brothers.’” They are not opposed to allowing them to come back but don’t believe the government should be spending enormous sums encouraging them to do so and supporting them when they arrive.
The opponents raise two even more significant issues: Why, they ask, should Kazakhstan, “which has been proclaiming that it is building a political nation in which all ethnic groups are equal, so clearly declare that it is inviting back ethnic Kazakhs” rather than all people who may at some point have lived in Kazakh territory?
And why, they continue, should Kazakhstan be trying to have them come back rather than using its diplomatic muscle to defend the rights of Kazakhs wherever they live – and right now in the first instance in China’s Xinjiang where they are suffering abuse?
Behind both of these questions is another: “who for Kazakhstan is the more important – citizens regardless of ethnicity or Kazakhs regardless of citizenship?”