Thursday, May 4, 2023

Ethnic Kazakhs Now Form Over 70 Percent of Country’s Population, and Tokayev Wants All Residents to Identify as Kazakhs Not Kazakhstantsy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 1 – Kazakhstan officials have announced that ethnic Kazakhs now form 70.6 percent of the republic’s population, while Russians have fallen to 15.1 percent and all others to just under 15 percent. At the same time, President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev now wants all residents to identify as Kazakhs.

            Fifty years ago, during the discussion of the Brezhnev constitution, Kazakhstan officials took the lead in promoting the idea that everyone in Kazakhstan should identify as a Kazakhstanets, an idea that gained popularity at a time when ethnic Russians had a plurality of the population. (Only in the late 1980s, did Kazakhs come to outnumber Russians there.)

            Now, Tokayev has made two important declarations. On the one hand, he says that he wants to ensure that everyone in Kazakhstan speaks the language of the titular people; and on the other, and for the first time, he says a civic nation is taking shape and that all residents of Kazakhstan should identify as Kazakhs, not Kazakhstantsy.

            Following his speech last week, the Kazakhstan parliament has moved to make that a legal requirement and to eliminate the line nationality from passports residents of Kazakhstan use to travel abroad, likely a first step to the elimination of nationality lines from other official documents.

            Many are skeptical that Tokayev will be able to achieve either of his goals. Many ethnic Kazakhs use Russian more often than they do Kazakh; and many ethnic minorities – and especially the Russian – see the ability to identify as members of another nation as key to their survival.

            But Tokayev has made clear that he intends a thoroughgoing modernization of Kazakh life and these two steps will contribute to that, even if along the way there is certain to be resistance (, and

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