The People of Kazakhstan
A New Gospel Frontiers Background Paper
Per the 1999 census, Kazakhstan’s population of 16.7 million people includes the following ethnic groups: Kazakh 53%, Russian 30%, Ukrainian 4%, Uzbek 3%, German 2%, Uighur 1%, other 7%. Thus, the native Kazakhs and the immigrant Russians are the two main ethnic groups, and are distinct from each other in physical appearance, in religious beliefs, and in cultural traditions; this contributes to a moderate level of social tension in the country.
Native Kazakhs comprise the majority of the population in Kazakhstan. They have black hair, dark brown skin, are generally smaller in stature, and would be commonly described as appearing to be a mix of the Asian and Arabic peoples. Native Kazakhs are descendents of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated into the region in the 13th century. Their historic language and the language that they speak in the home is Kazakh, which is a Turkic based language, but their international business language and the everyday language spoken outside the home is Russian.
Kazakhs were originally tribal nomads who loved freedom and owned tremendous livestock herds. The native Kazakhs’ historic tribal divisions - the Great Horde in the south, the Middle Horde in the center and north-east, and the Little Horde in the west – remain today as important social and ethnic identifiers.
The second most populous ethnic division is the Russians, who make up 30% of the population. The Russians living in Kazakhstan today are the progeny of immigrants who moved into the region during the Russian expansion of the 18th century and through the era of the Soviet Union. Since national independence in 1991, some Russians have emigrated back to their homeland, but many are maintaining their lives in Kazakhstan. In appearance they are light skinned Caucasians who are generally taller in stature. Their everyday language in the home as well as their business language is Russian.
Native Kazakh is the official national language in Kazakhstan, and is spoken by 64% of the population. Russian, the official business language, is spoken by 95% of the population. The literacy rate is also quite high, with 98.4% of the population over age 15 being able to both read and write.
The Republic of Kazakhstan is categorized as a lower-middle income or transitional economy, and 32% of the population lives below the national poverty line. However, Kazakhstan has the highest average income of the Central Asian countries, and its aggressive privatization program has resulted in economic growth such that the living standards in the country have improved considerably since independence in 1991.