Kazakhstan's Oralman Project: A Remedy for Ambiguous Identity?

Kuşçu Bonnenfant I.

Other, pp.1-252, 2008

  • Publication Type: Other Publication / Other
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-252


This dissertation analyzes the public debate in Kazakhstan on the government’s ethnic return

migration policy. Ethnic return migrations are prone to create public debates because they privilege one

ethnic group over another or others. The implications of ethnic migration policies are particularly important

during periods of political and social transformation, when new elites attempt to redefine the identity of

their states. This dissertation traces the discourse concerning the return of Kazakh oralmans, which

paralleled debates on language and demography; it demonstrates that discussion of these issues provided a

forum for the expression of divergent views on the nature of the identity that should be fostered in

Kazakhstan. As the discourse on language and demography, the debate on ethnic migration served as an

arena for public debate about whether Kazakhstan’s identity should be ethnic or civic. The analysis of the

public debate in Kazakhstan is based primarily on an analysis of print media. Over the 16 years since the

initiation of the ethnic migration policy, both Kazakh- and Russian- language publications have devoted

space to the issues pertinent to the oralman policy. The examination of the debate is also informed by five

months of field work in Kazakhstan that included expert interviews and informal discussions with return

migrants as well as long-time residents in the country. The different perspectives on the return migration

policy reflect deeper divisions between the “nation-state” and “civic-state” visions of Kazakhstan’s future.

“Nation-statists,” seeking to make Kazakhstan the Kazakh homeland, vigorously support ethnic return

migration; “civic-statists,” envisioning a multi-ethnic country, oppose it. The ethnic return policy has

demographic, cultural, and economic implications that would profoundly affect every citizen living in

Kazakhstan. This explains the contentious nature of the debate over the oralman project. And over the time

economic and social concerns may lead the homeland states’ to adopt a more realistic policy tilting towards

civic statists’ position.