Kazakhstan Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Kazakhstan is a nation in Central Asia with unique ideas about ethnic identity. In this lesson, we'll look at the ethnic groups of Kazakhstan and see what this means in the nation today.


One of the great challenges faced by many empires across history was uniting the people of Central Asia. Just a word of caution to those of you with imperial aspirations. Genghis Khan managed it, and various Russians attempted it from time to time, but this is a vast expanse of land with a diverse range of people. Yet, it's extremely important. Central Asia has been a global crossroads of people, ideas, and goods for millennia, giving the nations of this region unique histories. The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is a perfect example. As the most urbanized nation of Central Asia, as well as one of the wealthiest due to abundant natural resources, Kazakhstan is one of those places that has a much greater impact on your life than you may realize. So, let's give Central Asia the love it deserves, and get to know its people a little better.


The Kazakh People

Kazakhstan literally means 'Land of the Kazakhs', so it's probably not surprising to learn that Kazakhs make up the largest ethnic component of the nation. In fact, about 63% of Kazakhstani people identify as ethnically Kazakh. Okay, so what's that mean? It's actually an interesting question. Kazakh ethnicity is based on a compilation of Turkic and Mongol tribes that settled in the region around the 13th century. However, this was still a rather diverse group, and they didn't really consider themselves to be one people. At least, not until the region was conquered by Russia in the 18th century, and later the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Russia's attempts to ethnically categorize the people of Central Asia helped standardize a single Kazakh identity, as well as language. Today, Kazakhs practice many shared customs of both Turkic and Mongol origins, a creating unique society within the borders of their nation.

Kazakhs make up the majority of the population

Ethnic Minorities of Kazakhstan

If the Kazakh ethnicity isn't fascinating enough, check out the 37% of Kazakhstanis who identify with a minority ethnicity. Due largely to its location in the middle of Central Asia, Kazakhstan has been the crossroads for a great number of refugees fleeing ethnic conflicts in other parts of the world. A number of these populations stuck around, finding Kazakhstan to be a welcoming place. The largest ethnic minority of Kazakhstan are the Russians, mostly a legacy of people who fled the USSR under the rule of Josef Stalin. Roughly 24% of Kazakhstanis identify as ethnically Russian, and this community has had a large impact. In fact, Russian is upheld in Kazakhstan as the official language of 'interethnic communication', as many ethnic minorities in the nation were once conquered by Russia or the USSR. For the most part, Kazakhstan prides itself on being a place of almost no social unrest and very little ethnic conflict. However, some of this may be changing. As a result of Russia's increasingly aggressive policies towards Crimea and Central Asia, Russian populations in Kazakhstan and neighboring nations have come under increased scrutiny.

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