Staunton, July 23 – Many Russian officials hope and many non-Russians fear that diasporas from the former union republics living in the Russian Federation will assimilate; but a new study of Kazakhs there finds that while some of them are acculturating, changing their language or certain behaviors almost none are assimilating and reidentifying as Russians.
Yelena Larina, an ethnographer at Moscow State University, says that Kazakhs living in Russia today are retaining their identity as Kazakhs even though linguistically and behaviorally they are becoming different from Kazakhs in Kazakhstan in general and especially Kazakhs in the south of that country (ia-centr.ru/experts/iats-mgu/traditsii-i-svobodolyubie-chto-otlichaet-kazakhov-rossii-/).
In many places, the Kazakhs of Russia live in largely mono-ethnic villages and neighborhoods in which their traditions remain strong; but even where they lived in ethnically mixed areas, the councils of aksakals (elders by deference if not by age) and of women work hard to maintain Kazakh family and clan identities and ethnic traditions.
These bodies play a key role in deciding whether someone should return to Kazakhstan, whom he or she should marry, and even how such people should relate to other ethnic groups. And that is the case even those most Kazakhs in Russia now speak Russian, a shift that means less than it does for other non-Russians given Russian speaking among Kazakhs in Kazakhstan.
As a result, Larina continues, there is little or no danger of assimilation. Kazakhs interact mostly with themselves and marry within their national community. “The identity ‘I am a Kazakh and a Kazakh I will remain’” predominates. In part this is because of communal institutions; in part, it is because of the existence of a Kazakh state, Kazakhstan.
According to the ethnographer, Kazakhs in Russia do not forget their family and clan ties and therefore continue to be rooted in the Kazakh nation. They may behave somewhat differently than Kazakhs, especially those in the southern part of Kazakhstan, but they aren’t about to change their national identification.
Indeed, Larina concludes, “the Kazakhs of Russia are in no way different from the Kazakhs of Pavlodar, Karaganda, or Uralsk,” although their views on gender and language are different from the more traditional Kazakhs of southern Kazakhstan where archaic values and Islam are far stronger.