Friday, September 17, 2021

Afghan Kazakhs and Kazakhstan Kazakhs Not One and the Same Thing, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 16 – More than a quarter of the population of Afghanistan are ethnic Tajiks and almost one in five are ethnically Turkic who identify as Uzbeks (nine percent), Turkmens (two percent), and Kazakhs (less than one percent). But those in Afghanistan who identify in this way are not the same as their co-ethnics to the north.

            In many cases, they have lived apart for a century or more and have been subject to very different historical forces with those in Afghanistan being affected by living among the Pushtuns and those living to the north being transformed even more fundamentally by the Soviet occupation and then experience as titular nations of independent countries.

            There has been a great deal of discussion about whether the Central Asian countries will accept immigrants from Afghanistan with most attention being devoted to the issue of whether their numbers would put too much pressure on these states or allow radicals to gain a beachhead in them.

            But the issue of just how ethnically similar Tajiks, Turkmens, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Kazakhs from the two sides of the border are is very much part of the debate. It is shown most clearly in the case of the smallest potential migrant pool, the several hundred self-described Kazakhs of Afghanistan.

            Kazakhstan has long promoted the return of Kazakhs from abroad, but it has faced difficulties in integrating these communities because many of those who did return were Sinified, Uzbekicized or affected by the dominant community of another country in which they live. Now, some are asking just how Kazakh the Kazakhs of Afghanistan really are.

            Many of them do not speak Kazakh well, and most have very different traditions as far as economic activity are concerned. According to experts, they are Kazakhs but Kazakh with a difference and that makes Nur-Sultan somewhat reluctant to take them it ( and

            Similar concerns are likely in other Central Asian capitals, and those who are pressing these countries to take in refugees from their co-ethnic communities need to recognize that from the perspective of many of these states, they are being asked to absorb people who are quite different from their own population, even if they call themselves by the same name.


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