The “Laboratory of Peoples’ Friendship”: Identity Formation and Interest Representation among National Minorities in Kazakhstan

Project Coordinator: Dr. Beate Eschment

The Republic of Kazakhstan is a multiethnic state. Although large numbers of non-Kazakhs have left the country in the past 25 years, minority nationalities – of which there are more than 100 – still make up around 30 per cent of the population. Many have established their own associations or cultural centres. The Assembly of People of Kazakhstan (Assambleya Naroda Kazakhstana – ANK) is the state institution that deals with nationalities policy at the highest level. There is a widespread view among observers that the ANK and its regional assemblies – despite having constitutional status – are simply a mouthpiece for the President and lack real political significance. However, these institutions are also a forum for interaction among representatives of the various nationalities and, like the cultural centres, are a focal point for identity formation and negotiation. From that perspective, they are politically significant.

This project will investigate the role played by national interest representation in the context of interethnic relations and in identity formation among non-Kazakhs, focusing not on the much-studied Russians in Kazakhstan but on the so-called ethnic minorities.

The project will apply a combination of methods, including expert interviews, discourse analysis of publications and speeches, and participatory observation, in order to explore these and other questions: What does “national identity” mean in relation to selected minorities? What is their position towards their historical “homeland” – and towards Kazakhstan? Who is engaged in national interest representation? And what kind of relationship exists among the ethnic minorities?

The project’s objective is to gain a more accurate picture of particular minorities’ current mood and aims, to trace the dynamics of identity transformation, and to ascertain to what extent national interest representation is important for interethnic stability in Kazakhstan.