Kazakstan is the only former Soviet republic where the indigenous ethnic group is not a majority of the population. In 1994 eight of the country's eleven provinces had Slavic (Russian and Ukrainian) population majorities. Only the three southernmost provinces were populated principally by Kazaks and other Turkic groups; the capital city, Almaty, had a European (German and Russian) majority. Overall, in 1994 the population was about 44 percent Kazak, 36 percent Russian, 5 percent Ukrainian, and 4 percent German. Tatars and Uzbeks each represented about 2 percent of the population; Azerbaijanis, Uygurs, and Belarusians each represented 1 percent; and the remaining 4 percent included approximately ninety other nationalities (see table 4, Appendix).
Kazakstan's ethnic composition is the driving force behind much of the country's political and cultural life. In most ways, the republic's two major ethnic groups, the Kazaks and the "Russian-speakers" (Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Belarusians), may as well live in different countries. To the Russians, most of whom live in northern Kazakstan within a day's drive of Russia proper, Kazakstan is an extension of the Siberian frontier and a product of Russian and Soviet development. To most Kazaks, these Russians are usurpers. Of Kazakstan's current Russian residents, 38 percent were born outside the republic, while most of the rest are second-generation Kazakstani citizens.
The Nazarbayev government has announced plans to move the capital from Almaty in the far southeast to Aqmola in the north-central region by 1998. That change would cause a shift of the Kazak population northward and accelerate the absorption of the Russian-dominated northern provinces into the Kazakstani state. Over the longer term, the role of Russians in the society of Kazakstan also is determined by a demographic factor--the average age of the Russian population is higher, and its birth rate much lower.
|Country Studies main page | Kazakstan Country Studies main page|