Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Central Asian glossy launched

Just heard today about a brand new photojournal magazine, covering all of Central Asia (including the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China, home to some million or so ethnic Kazakhs). Steppe magazine comes from the UK, and will be published twice a year (October and April). The premiere issue includes an article about the Arasan Public Baths in Almaty, and one about the Akhol Teke, a Turkomen horse breed once exclusively ridden by the Kazakhstani national equestrian team.

The magazine's
website has information about the all the articles in the premiere issue, as well as subscription information. I couldn't resist, and have subscribed. I hope I don't regret the impulse-- at approximately $43USD for two issues, if I weren't me I'd wait for a first-hand review. I'll post one as soon as mine arrives.

Update 11/6/2006 -- Steppe has the official stamp of approval from the Embassy of Kazakhstan; the magazine's press release was forwarded to Embassy newsletter subscribers by Roman Vassilenko, Embassy Press Secretary. According to the release, the first issue also includes a feature on how to cook plov, and the top ski spots in Central Asia. Shell Oil is one of the sponsors of this issue. It's coming out with a big splash - keep your fingers crossed that it's going to be a source of real cultural information, and not just an expensive, pretty hotel-room publication.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Who Lives in Kazakhstan?

While other sources (including US government estimates) have stated the population to be just over 16 million, according to Kazakhstan’s Statistics Agency, the population was just over 15 million people as of January 2006, and represented over 120 different “nationalities” (ethnic and language groups).

At the time of independence in 1991, four-fifths of all Kazakhstanis were either Kazakh (42%) or Russian (37%). This demographic has shifted substantially in 15 years, primarily through immigration and emigration, and the overall population figure has decreased. Large numbers of European Kazakhstanis emigrated to the coutries of their forebears, especially the Russians and Volga Germans, while the government has encouraged expatriated ethnic Kazakhs in other countries to return (900,000 lived in Uzbekistan alone; 1 million Kazakhs live in Xinxiang in Western China, and another million or so in other Central Asian countries & Russia). This movement, combined with a higher birthrate among the Kazakh population, has dramatically changed the ethnic balance over the past 15 years and given Kazakhs a clear majority. In 2006, the population is 58.6% Kazakh (almost 9 million people) while the percentage of Russians has dropped to 26.1% (just under 4 million).

A list of ethnic groups making up the remaining 15.3% of the population includes Ukranians, Uzbeks, Germans, Poles, Uighurs, Tatars, Koreans, Chechens, Turks, Jews, Azeris, Ingush, Kyrgiz, & Karakalpaks, just for starters. Given Stalin’s penchant for shipping annoying people to party exile and/or gulags on the steppe, pretty much any nationality that was ever under Soviet rule can still be found in Kazakhstan.

Who Lives Where?

Concentrations of nationalities are where you might expect them to be. Russians/Europeans/Slavs live mostly in northeastern Kazakhstan, in East Kazakhstan, Karaganda, Pavlodar, Kostanai, and Akmola, nearer Russia. More Kazakhs live in the south (and more Kazakhs who speak Kazakh); Uzbeks live in South Kazakhstan & Zambyl regions (bordering Uzbekistan). Every nationality is found in Almaty and its surrounds. In the official report (at least as published by Kazinform in May), there is no mention of any nationalities in the northwest or west. Everybody in Uralsk, Aktau & Atyrau, not to mention the thousands of foreign oil company managers and workers in the regions, must commute from Astana!

Semantics; or, Citizen of Kazakhstan ≠ Kazakh

In the United States, there is an understanding of the “hyphenated American,” as in Japanese-American, Afghan-American, Irish-American (as well as Native American), to describe the ethnic or national heritage of a United States citizen. The citizenship itself is simply “American.”

In Kazakhstan, the citizenship is “Kazakhstani” (Kazaxstanski), no matter the nationality/ethnicity. You’ve got Tatar-Kazakhstanis, Russian-Kazakhstanis and Kazakh-Kazakhstanis, but not the hyphenated system; it’s just Tatars, Russians and Kazakhs, all of whom are Kazakhstanis.

We English-speakers love to abbreviate, but “Kazakh” isn’t a short way of saying “citizen of Kazakhstan” -- and it’s not nearly as funny as the time President Kennedy declared he was a pastry (by mispronouncing “Berliner” in Berlin).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Asyl Azhem

This is one of my favorite of the Kazakh/Kazakhstani music videos that have been uploaded to YouTube. It's just gorgeous (and look at all that amazing jewelry). The artist is Qaraqat (or Karakat).

Check YouTube for the video for Ayaulim, another Qaraqat song (with a modern setting).