Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Kazakhstan has No Official Claims Against Russian Territories but Some Kazakhs Consider Parts of That Country Theirs

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Moscow makes much of the fact that, unlike itself, the governments of the other former Soviet republics, make territorial claims against it. Kazakhstan is no exception. But if Nur-Sultan doesn’t, it is nonetheless true that many Kazakhs do include such territories in their mental maps of what the borders of their country should be.

            For obvious reasons, neither Russian nor Kazakh media talk much about that: it is too potentially destabilizing. But in a rare exception, Zen.Yandex’s Central Asia page has explored precisely “which territories of Russia, the Kazakhs consider to be their own” (

            Russians and Kazakhs live on both sides of the international border between them, the page says, but because there are many more ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan than ethnic Kazakhs in Russia, “our southern neighbors have fewer causes to advance any demands.” But despite that, “some Kazakhs consider part of their motherland” lands within Russia. 

            For most of their history, Kazakhs were a nomadic people and did not have the kind of fixed borders that sedentary populations have. Moreover, until the beginning of the 18th century, Russia acquired territory there “indirectly” not through conquest but by promoting vassal relations.

            “But in the 1730s,” the Central Asia page continues, “the construction of the Siberian tract began” and after several decades passed through territories that had been dominated by Kazakh nomads. That opened the way for Russian penetration into Central Asia and beyond.

            Among the territories Russia absorbed that had been part of the nomadic routes of the Kazakhs were Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Orenburg, Tyumen and the Altay. Many Kazakhs who lived there were thus included within the Russian Empire and in the case of those in Orenburg participated in the Pugachev uprising.

            After 1917, the Bolsheviks established the Autonomous Kyrgyz (that is, Kazakh) Socialist Republic within the RSFSR. Orenburg was critical in Bolshevik planning because it divided Central Asian republics like Kazakhstan from the Middle Volga Turkic Muslim republics of Idel Ural.

            (On the continuing sensitivity of what some call “the Orenburg corridor,” see, and

            Some Kazakhs still view this and other regions now within the Russian Federation as properly part of their historical patrimony, but the Central Asia page says that “even the most rabid Kazakh nationalists” don’t suggest that they should absorb more distant areas like those in the Nogay and Kalmyk areas in the North Caucasus where they were once present.


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