Next year will be the tenth anniversary of
independent Kazakhstan when exiled ethnic Kazakhs living outside the country of their
ancestors could return home.. It is officially estimated that four million Kazakhs, mainly
descendents of those who fled Stalinist repression, the starvation of the thirties, and
collectivization, still live outside of Kazakhstan, mainly in China, Iran, Turkey, and
Mongolia. Unlike its next-door neighbor Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan the ninth largest country
in the world is not densely populated. In the face of the continuing emigration of the
Russian-speaking population from the country, the inflow of repatriates, or oralmans
to use the recently coined term, is applauded by the government.
Traditionally, Kazakhs inhabited rural areas suitable for their age-long occupation of
cattle breeding and farming, while the majority of Russians were sent to the Kazakhstan
during the virgin lands cultivation and industrialization campaign to took up jobs in
industrial sectors. As most of them moved back to Russia after the fall of the Soviet
Union, industrial enterprises were left short of qualified workers. To mend the situation,
the government has increased the quota for applicants who wish to enter the engineering
and technical departments at universities. Kazakh repatriates are offered similar
privileges to pass entrance exams. Such measures, paired with recent regulations making it
easier for repatriates to obtain Kazakh citizenship and integrate into the new
environment, are stimulating the immigration process.
The Northern Kazakhstan Regional Immigration Office states that 3,869 Kazakh
repatriates were resettled in the region during the last 10 years. In the same period, the
depopulation was glaring. In the first half of 2000, emigrants outnumbered immigrants from
other countries and regions by 4,035 people. During the first years of independence, the
Kazakh government proved to be ill prepared to provide the growing number of repatriates
with housing and jobs. This slowed immigration for some time, but recently the
resettlement of 500 Kazakh families from abroad is on the government agenda again. Not
long ago, a major government official over-optimistically declared that the population of
Kazakhstan will grow from the present total of slightly over 15 million, to 25 million by
the year 2030. This unsubstantiated prophecy provoked sarcastic remarks in the press.
Addressing the First Regional Congress of Repatriates, which convened in July, the
Governor of the Northern Kazakhstan Region announced his program aimed at improving their
social conditions. The program includes allotments of plots of land, housing, and
financial support for private business initiatives. Some delegates attending the congress
quoted a Kazakh proverb saying that "it is better to be a slave in your homeland,
than to be a ruler in a foreign country." However patriotic, sentiments alone cannot
improve the deteriorating demographic situation. During 1993-1999 over two million people
left the country.
Marat Yermukanov, Correspondent, Tribuna, Petropavlosk
city funded newspaper
Regional Correspondent, Panorama, independent weekly, Almaty, Kazakhstan.