MIGRATION OF RUSSIANS IN AND OUT CENTRAL ASIA

EARLY RUSSIAN MIGRANTS TO CENTRAL ASIA

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “The presence of Russian colonists in Central Asia framed, followed, and often preceded the military and political conquest of this space. The first Russian populations settled in Central Asia in the 18th century. As was also the case with Russian expansion into Siberia, Cossacks, soldier-peasants integrated into the tsarist army, established the first fortifications and announced the establishment of colonial power in these new territories. Peasants fleeing serfdom and the central authorities followed, along with persecuted religious communities, mainly Protestants and members of the antireform Russian Orthodox sect known as the Old Believers. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“In the 18th century, Russians occupied lands extending to the border of present-day Kazakhstan: the basin of the Ural River, the regions of the Altai Mountains, and the banks of the Ishim, Tobol, and Upper Irtysh rivers. Thus, rural colonization ran parallel with military conquest, and was perceived to be under the control of the political authorities. Tightly controlled by the tsarist administration (the Commission of the Steppes), colonization accelerated in the latter half of the 19th century in tandem with the pace of political and social events in Russia: the abolition of serfdom in 1861, the land exhaustion of the 1880s, the great famine of 1891–1892, and the launch of the agrarian policies of Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin in 1906. In 1896, the number of Russian colonists legally settled in Central Asia was estimated at 400,000. This number grew to 1.5 million in 1916, representing a third of the registered departures toward the Asian part of the Russian Empire.” ^^

See Separate Articles RUSSIANS MOVE INTO CENTRAL ASIA and RUSSIAN PERIOD IN CENTRAL ASIA under History.

Russian Migration to Central Asia in the Soviet Period

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “After this first pre-revolutionary migratory flow, several others followed, extending into the1950s. In 1926, the census listed 241,000 Russians in Uzbekistan, 5.4 percent of the population. A vast majority of them settled in urban areas, particularly in Tashkent, where they accounted for 13 percent of the inhabitants. This trend accelerated in subsequent decades, encouraged by Soviet economic programs, industrialization, and the extensive developmentof cotton farming. Many petroleum engineers and semiskilled workers arrived to organize the socialist economy in the 1930s. Between 1926 and 1939, 1.7 million men left European Russia to live in Central Asia, and numerous kulaks were deported there as well. Forty-seven new cities and 230 workers’ colonies emerged. In Uzbekistan, the number of Russians grew to 727,000 in 1939, or 13 percent of the population. Two-thirds of them were concentrated in cities, and more than 42 percent of those in Tashkent. Russians constituted 35 percent of the urban population of the republic. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“During World War II, the displacement of factories and industrial centers from the front lines to the Urals and Central Asia accentuated the tendency toward Russification. In order to be secure from Nazi forces, more than 1,500 factories moved east in 1941, of which a fifth went to Central Asia. More than 100 settled in Kazakhstan, bringing the number of industrial production sites built in the republic during the war to 500. The European presence intensified during the Virgin Lands Campaign: beginning in 1954, Nikita Khrushchev launched a gigantic program of land development that caused a surge of two million mainly Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian “volunteers” to Kazakhstan. Large kolkhozy (collective farms) were built, dominated by Russians from central Russia and western Siberia. Between 1939 and 1959, the population of Kazakhstan increased considerably due to this Slavic influx. The proportion of Russians in the total population of the republic jumped from 20.6 percent in 1926 to 42.7 percent in 1959. In that year’s census, Kazakhs accounted for no more than one-third of the population; there were three million Kazakhs, but four million Russians. The latter were especially numerous in the north of the country, their numbers growing to 80 percent of the population in cities such as Petropavlovsk and Ust-Kamenogorsk.^^

“Although many soldiers and civil servants were sent to Central Asia, pre-revolutionary immigration consisted principally of peasants. During the Soviet period, the Russians who relocated to the area mainly went to live in cities, though some settled in agricultural areas in northern Kazakhstan and along the shores of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan. The Central Asian republics were in need of specialists in the industrial and service sectors, and they attracted professionals such as teachers, engineers, technicians, and doctors. Soviet development programs summoned young, educated people to the region to occupy positions of political, administrative, and economic decision making. In spite of this massive surge of Slavs in each Central Asian republic, the demographic balance began to tilt in favor of the indigenous population because of their high birthrates as early as the 1959 census. Consequently, the Russian proportion of the population in Central Asia decreased in the 1960s and 1970s, but migratory flows remained important.^^

Russian Migrants in Central Asia: A Sociological Sketch

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “A large portion of the Russians in Central Asia, or their parents, came to the region during the multiple waves of immigration that occurred in the 20th century within the context of Soviet development programs. These immigrants occupied administrative or technical roles; thus, many of Central Asia’s Russians have an educational level higher than that of the average population of their republic, and of Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the likelihood of departure appeared to be related to occupational qualifications. For instance, the proportion of Russians with an average or above-average specialized education who left Kazakhstan increased from 39 percent in 1994 to 44 percent in 1997. Most of the individuals who left the country were working age (64 percent) or younger (22 percent). This caused a very perceptible aging of the minority in each republic, since the youngest and most educated Russians left in huge numbers. In Kazakhstan, the average age of Russians is now 45 to 47 years, while that of Kazakhs is 23 to 25 years. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“Those Russians who had arrived for the Virgin Land Campaign or in the final years of the Soviet regime left first. Their roots in the republics were young and they still maintained strong family links with Russia. Those with the possibility of resettling in Russia’s large cities, particularly Moscow, or who occupied indemand professional positions, also left. Those Russians who remain often come from low social classes or are of advanced age. The situation is particularly difficult for Russians whose families have been settled in Central Asia for many generations, specifically the descendants of the peasants who came to the steppes at the beginning of the 20th century. Thirty percent of the Russians of Kyrgyzstan and 28 percent of those of Kazakhstan live in rural areas, but the proportion is less than or equal to 6 percent in the other republics. For these rural residents, the family bonds to Russia have been broken for several decades, and many do not know where they could emigrate.^^

“Although the Russians who emigrate are overwhelmingly urban, few can obtain a residence permit [ propiska] for the large cities of the Russian Federation. They often live in small localities, the countryside, or in the depopulated zones of Siberia—not in European Russia, to which internal migrants from Siberia and the Far East already move. Loss of social status is the main consequence, as the occupations available in rural areas do not correspond to the education they received in Central Asia. For many, emigration is synonymous with a return to the earth. In their predeparture discourse, Russians from Central Asia present Russia as a depopulated country in need of agricultural labor. This return to the earth is thus, from their point of view, regeneration, making it possible to build a new life after the failures of independence in Central Asia. This myth of the pioneer, exalted in the speeches of potential migrants, very often runs up against reality. All these former engineers and teachers do not succeed in living off the land. In addition, they settle in areas of Russia already in full social crisis. These immigrants must face hostile reactions from villagers and often find themselves ghettoized in villages full of other Russians from Central Asia.^^

Russians Begin Migrating Out of Central Asia in the 1970s

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “Though the massive departure of the Russians of Central Asia for Russia is often presented as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the inversion of migratory flows began well before 1991. One can even observe it in the 1979 census. In the 1970s, Central Asia was no longerregarded as a region of priority development, and the Virgin Lands Campaign was abandoned. The launch of important projects in Russia, in particular the new railroad between Baikal and Amur (the BAM), demanded a labor force of several hundred thousand people. Leonid Brezhnev’s policy of indigenization, also launched in the 1970s, made it possible for the eponymous populations to attain positions of power. It reduced the need for the presence of Russians in the administrative, cultural, and political structures of the republics. Additionally, it accelerated the urbanization of the eponymous populations, who were invited to leave rural areas. Thus, in Uzbekistan, the portion of the population living in cities increased 70 percent between 1970 and 1979. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“One therefore observes the first movement of Russians returning to Russia in the 1970s, precociously and involuntarily signaling the beginning of “decolonization.” Migratory flows toward Central Asia slowed, like those to the rest of the southern republics. Whereas some 117,000 individuals from Russia arrived in Central Asia in 1971, this figure dropped to 80,200 in 1977 and to 75,900 in 1980. During the 1970s, Kazakhstan experienced a net loss of almost a half-million people through migration, while Kyrgyzstan lost approximately 100,000.^^

“For the other three republics, the balance was also negative, by a combined total of 200,000 people between 1976 and 1980. The pace of population decline quickened in the 1980s, when Kazakhstan lost an additional 784,000 people (between 60,000 and 85,000 each year) and 850,000 people left the area’s other republics. Russians continued to dominate these outward flows. In 1980, for every 1,000 Russians who settled in Central Asia, 1,256 left. Their overall representation relative to the total population declined not only because of these negative migratory balances but due to the high birthrate of the autochthonous population.”^^

Russian Migration Out Picks Up in Post-Soviet Central Asia

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “ Despite the upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s, Central Asia still counted 9.5 million Russians in the 1989 census. But the unexpected disappearance of the Soviet Union caused many questions and concerns that considerably hastened migratory flows. The movements originating in Central Asia were significantly larger than those from other republics. The five states accounted for more than half of the migrants heading to Russia, compared to just 17 percent from the Caucasus, 20 percent from Ukraine, and 3 percent from the Baltic states. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“People emigrated from the republics of Central Asia in particularly high numbers in the first half of the 1990s. Emigration from Kazakhstan reached a peak in 1994, with nearly 500,000 people leaving the country, including some 300,000 Russians. In Kyrgyzstan, 100,000 Russians left in 1993 alone. In Uzbekistan, the principal Russian outflows were most concentrated during 1992–93 and 1993–94, with 170,000 and 200,000 departures, respectively. The pace of migration subsided in the second half of the 1990s and the following decade, for several reasons. For one thing, the vast majority of people who wished to emigrate succeeded in leaving during the first years following independence. Also, until 2006, new laws complicated the emigration process, especially with regard to obtaining citizenship in the Russian Federation. Finally, Russia’s difficult economic situation in the 1990s and accounts of integration failures weakened the will to return of some Russians still present in Central Asia, who were not sure they would find improved living conditions in Russia. The repatriation program launched by Putin in June 2006 anticipates the return of about 300,000 people by 2009, mostly from Central Asia and the Caucasus. The number of volunteers seems to be more important especially in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but the authorities have not yet released any official data for 2007.^^

Motivations for Russian Departure from Central Asia

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “The motivations for departure are multiple, and pose at the same time economic, social, and political concerns. The collapse of the standard of living that followed the disappearance of the Soviet Union was common to all Central Asian republics. Kazakhstan represents a notable exception to this trend, as it has experienced strong growth rates since the beginning of 2000. The policies of nationalization carried out by the republics also triggered emigration. While they began well before independence through Soviet strategies of indigenization, they increased after 1991. Though Central Asian authorities were justified in supporting their eponymous nationalities, the ethnicization of public administration particularly touched the Russian population, which had benefited from symbolic privileges and status under the Soviet system. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“The linguistic nationalization carried out in each republic provided a strong impetus to emigrate. During Soviet times, Russians in Central Asia had little command of the national language of the republic in which they lived. The situation improved very little in the 1990s. Even if schools systematically introduce children to the official language today, the states have established no programs to train adults. Added to this absence of official support are the strong feelings Russians harbor toward Central Asian languages, which they perceive as useless.^^

“It seems that the principal cause of emigration remains the absence of a future, or the perception of such, for the younger generations. The degradation of the education system and the presence of a structure of ethnic preferences in employment have created incentives for Russians to send their children abroad, mainly to Russia, for school. Departures are thus spread over two generations: parents wish to leave but remain, and children emigrate at the encouragement of their parents. Surveys conducted in the 1990s on the reasons for emigration primarily cite the lack of opportunities for the younger generations, linguistic policy, and a mediocre standard of living. According to a 1994 study, 41 percent of Russians in Uzbekistan and 39 percent of those in Kyrgyzstan wished to emigrate, mainly to provide a future for their children.^^

“Worries concerning the stability of the new states were particularly strong immediately following independence. The proportion of individuals who wanted to emigrate was much higher—43 percent in Uzbekistan, 36 percent in Kyrgyzstan, 66 percent in Tajikistan—than that of individuals who wished to stay—18 percent in Uzbekistan, 25 percent in Kyrgyzstan, 6 percent in Tajikistan. In Tajikistan, those who remained after the civil war of the mid-1990s cited economic reasons above all others. More than 75 percent claimed to live in difficult or very difficult conditions, and just 18 percent considered their situation satisfactory. In this republic, the desire to leave appeared to transcend generations: 88 percent of Russians under24 years of age and 77 percent of elderly Russians wished to emigrate.^^

“Among the minority nationalities of Central Asia, Russians dominate in terms of candidates for emigration, though one can note a similarly based desire to leave in other groups such as the Germans, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Tatars. Along with the war zones in the Caucasus, the republics of Central Asia hold the unfortunate record of having the highest numbers of wouldbe Russian emigrants. Sociological studies of the whole former Soviet Union reveal that the proportion of Russians who plan to emigrate from Ukraine and the Baltic states is much lower. The republics of Central Asia thus combine several negative criteria that accentuate the will of Russian minorities to leave: low levels of coeducation with the autochthonous populations, poor knowledge of the national languages, dire economic situations, a negative outlook on the future, unstable geopolitical environments, and fear of Islamist movements.^^

Real Versus Imagined Departure of Russians from Central Asia

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “The stated will of a majority of Russians to leave Central Asia does not mean the actual achievement of this departure. Several studies of potential migrants show that for those who have not systematically taken the steps necessary for departure, declaration of intent is key. A 1998–99 study found that 60 percent of Central Asia’s Russians said they wanted to leave their country of residence, but only 10 percent considered this departure certain. Large proportions of the Russian populations in Kyrgyzstan (38 percent) and Uzbekistan (34 percent) expressed a hope to leave, but only 8 percent and 4 percent, respectively, had made an irrevocable decision. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“During 1994–95, the period of greatest emigration, between 80 percent and 90 percent of the Russians who volunteered to leave had not yet settled questions of housing and employment in their destination country, while approximately 10 percent of them had set the necessary legal procedures into motion and had begun to sell their belongings. For many potential migrants, the issue of financing their departure remains crucial. According to a 1999 report, in Kazakhstan 43 percent of the Russians who wished to leave faced major financial obstacles that blocked their plans, while 24 percent were not certain of their ability to settle in their new country. Conversely, in Tajikistan, where the political and economic situations were particularly dire, nearly 80 percent of potential migrants had a fixed departure date. These proportions do not seem to have decreased over time: according to a 2004 study completed in Kazakhstan, 9 percent of Russians questioned were on the verge of leaving the republic and 31 percent desired to leave.^^

“Whatever the republic or year of investigation, all sociological studies undertaken in Central Asia show that only a small minority of Russians declare their firm intention to stay in the region no matter what (5 percent each in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and 13 percent in Uzbekistan). A significant number of Russians think it is more likely they will stay than emigrate: 24 percent in Kazakhstan, 39 percent in Kyrgyzstan, and 41 percent in Uzbekistan. In the mid-1990s, more than half of potential migrants, whatever their nationality, stated that they would remain if the living situation in their current country of residence improved: 78 percent in Kazakhstan, 70 percent in Kyrgyzstan, and 53 percent in Uzbekistan. At the time of a specific study of Russians in Kazakhstan, half of them affirmed that they would stay in the republic if the state gave them assurances concerning the future of their children. Only 3.2 percent of them claimed that their will to leave was irreversible.^^

“In republics with particularly difficult social conditions, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Russians’ stated requirements before emigration are fewer than in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, where they are more reticent to leave prior to securing housing and work in Russia. For a number of Central Asia’s Russians, one way to slow emigration and guarantee their own rights would be the creation of a common political and economic space with Russia based on the union between Belarus and Russia, which was created in 1996. Those who favor such a solution include 92 percent of the Russians in Kazakhstan, 89 percent of those in Kyrgyzstan, and 86 percent in Tajikistan. They remain skeptical, however, regarding the realization of such a project. More than half of the residents of the aforementioned three republics, the most positively disposed toward Russia in the region, consider rapprochement between their state and Russia unlikely, while a quarter consider it impossible. It seems that the statement of desire to emigrate and, in part, the declaration of intent have developed as the rhetoric through which Russians of Central Asia express anguish over their future. Some will remain in the area, either because they will find integration sufficient or because the material conditions to achieve the dream of departure will not be met.^^

Russian Dual Citizenship in Central Asia

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “After their accession to independence, the new states of Central Asia chose a relatively broad definition of citizenship. All those born in the republic or with family bonds to it can request citizenship, without any official linguistic or ethnic discrimination. Civic rights are equal for all. Though the authorities maintained the mention of nationality in the “fifth line” of the passport, titular nationalities do not officially benefit from greater rights than minorities. However, certain legal texts are more complex, and indicate that ethnicization is in progress. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“The recognition of the right to dual citizenship quickly became one of the major objectives of the Russian communities of Central Asia, especially as the 1993 constitution of the Russian Federation distinguished this right. The psychological “comfort” that dual citizenship offers largely explains the focus on this question. Many Russians do not want to leave Central Asia, but wish to have the ability to immigrate quickly to Russia in the event of a deteriorating political situation. Yet this principle of dual citizenship does not have unanimous support among local political authorities, as it would represent a loss of the new states’ power over some of their citizens and would offer to Moscow the right to interfere in their domestic affairs.^^

“Initially Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan firmly refused to recognize dual citizenship. Until 1995, the Russian associations of Kazakhstan protested, arguing that the state had granted this right to the Kazakh diaspora, based especially in Mongolia. The right to dual citizenship for members of the Kazakh diaspora was revoked in the 1995 Constitution, however. In the second half of the 1990s, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan established good relations with Russia. The two Central Asian republics’ participation in various economic and customs union treaties permitted the signing of accords that simplified the administrative procedures necessary to change one’s citizenship. Russia signed such an accord with Kazakhstan in 1996 and with Kyrgyzstan in 1997. As for Uzbekistan, it never reconsidered its original decision. In Kyrgyzstan, the situation has recently evolved in favor of dual citizenship. After many debates, a provision for dual citizenship was included in the new constitution, which took effect in December 2006, though restrictions were placed on members of the government. Through this measure, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev aims to facilitate migration toward the former Russian center. About half a million Kyrgyz regularly go to Russia in search of seasonal employment, and Moscow has declared itself ready to facilitate the administrative processing of these migrants.^^

Central Asian Russians Versus Russian Russians

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “The specificities of the Soviet system do not make it possible to regard it as a colonial system like that of Western countries in the 19th century and first part of the 20th century. Among the elements of differentiation, the question of the “autochthonism” of the Russians of Central Asia seems fundamental. According to a study done shortly before the breakdown of the Soviet Union, nearly half of the Russians living in Central Asia had been born there (the range among the five republics is 43 percent to 48 percent). [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“A significant share of those not born in Central Asia had lived in the region for more than 20 years: 37 percent in Kazakhstan and 41 percent, on average, in the other republics. Overall, of the 9.5 million Russians counted in the five republics of Central Asia in 1989, more than 8 million had built their lives in the region and were not temporary migrants. In addition, the feeling that the Russians of Central Asia are“different” from those of Russia is widespread among the concerned populations. In Uzbekistan, 80 percent of Russians in a 1997 survey said they worked harder, acted friendlier, studied more, and drank less than their counterparts in Russia. The idea of having “orientalized” oneself through contact with local people is common, and can paradoxically go along with contempt for the culture of the eponymous populations.^^

“A study conducted in the 1990s found that only about one-quarter of the Russians in Kazakhstan and about one-third of those in Uzbekistan thought that to be Russian meant to live in Russia. They presented the Russian language and culture as more important elements of identification. More than half affirmed Russia as the land of their ancestors, otechestvo, but only a quarter defined it as their motherland, rodina. The Russians of Central Asia often employ the dual terminology otechestvo-rodina to clarify their identity. Russia is certainly the country of their fathers, to which one does not cease belonging even if one does not emigrate there, while the motherland remains the republic in which one was born. This idea benefits from emotional links and memories, which, in spite of post1991 disillusionment, cannot be erased.”^^

Central Asian Russians: Unwanted in Russia

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “The migrants’ accounts of the difficulties of settling in Russia, and for some the impossibility of successfully integrating into their new homeland, contribute to a strong resentment of Russia. They often portray it as a country unconcerned with its “compatriots,” which prefers to get along with the Central Asian political regimes rather than defend the rights of Russian minorities or help them return. Thus, 23 percent of the Russians in Tajikistan and only 4 percent of those in Kazakhstan express hope for Russia’s support in their daily difficulties. In Turkmenistan, Moscow barely protested the state’s abolition in 2003 of dual citizenship and subsequent discrimination against Russians who refused to take Turkmen passports. This confirmed the sentiment of the Russian “diasporas” regarding abandonment by Moscow. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“The sense of having neither the ability to integrate into the new republics nor a good chance of being received by Russia creates complex identity references. In the first years following the disappearance of the Soviet Union, numerous Russians in the near abroad—between 52 percent and 78 percent—self-identified as Soviet citizens. In 1997, only 35 percent of Russians in Kyrgyzstan, 28 percent in Uzbekistan, and 20 percent in Kazakhstan identified with the new, post-Soviet states. In Kazakhstan, according to data from the Moscow institute INDEM, 24 percent of Russians questioned still regarded themselves as citizens of the Soviet Union in 1998. Even at the end of the 1990s, 23 percent of the Russians in Uzbekistan continued to see themselves as either Soviet or stateless.^^

“The motivation to emigrate therefore depends only little upon the will to join a Russia that is not considered, by the majority of the Russians of Central Asia, to be their natural “motherland.”... Thus, in proposing a binary interpretation of the situation—either a mass repatriation to Russia or complete assimilation in a hostile and culturally foreign state—the official statements of the associations for the defense of Russians in the near abroad often overlook reality, the continuum of identity, and the multiplicity of definitions of self.” ^^

Impact of Russian Migration on Russians in Central Asia

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “Since 1991, more than 80 percent of the Russians in Tajikistan, two-thirds of those in Turkmenistan, half in Uzbekistan, and onethird in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have left for another country. Such migratory flows stand without precedent in the history of the region, and have had important consequences for the states of Central Asia. In one decade, the population of Kazakhstan declined by more than 1.5 million people, from 16.4 million in 1989 to million in 1999. Kyrgyzstan lost more than 500,000 people in the same period, that is to say, 10 percent of its population. These flows have accentuated the process of “nationalization” of the republics, though they are still far from being monoethnic. These massive migrations have also facilitated the social advancement of the titular nationalities, which can now occupy vacant posts and gain power in the public administration. Out-migration has accelerated the process of urbanization and profoundly changed the landscapes of the capitals and large cities of Central Asia. In spite of this rural-tourban shift, the population of the cities shrank with the departure of the ethnic minorities. Thus, in Kazakhstan, though the number of Kazakhs in the republic increased, particularly in the cities (45 percent), the urban population decreased by 8 percent in the 1990s. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

”The Russians of Central Asia did not become “symbolic” minorities when the new states gained independence in 1991, but rather during the final decades of the Soviet Union. In the 1970s, the policies of the Brezhnev regime supported the indigenization process ( korenizatsiia), which was particularly visible within the administrative and cultural elites in each of the republics. Professional and cultural competition between nationalities spread, and several interethnic incidents occurred between Russians and Uzbeks, and between Russians and Kazakhs. Russians started to feel marginalized because of their lack of knowledge of local languages and the introduction of public administration and university quotas favoring the titular nationalities. ^^

“The massive departures of the 1990s deeply affected the Russian communities of the various republics. The migrations separated families, weakened social networks, and left the remaining Russians feeling disaffected and discomforted. In addition, the Russians of Central Asia lacked strong community leaders in comparison to their counterparts in Ukraine or Latvia.” With the exception of Kazakhstan, “community associations for the Russian minority remain isolated and marginalized.” ^^

“ In the long run, the departure of the Russians will probably have as important an impact on Central Asia as Moscow’s disengagement from the region. The independence of the states of Central Asia is being realized through the process of monoethnicization, which leaves only the main eponymous population in a state. Yet the migratory flow of the Russians of Central Asia toward Russia should not mask other equally fundamental shifts in population. Though the departure of Russians occupied the forefront of the migratory scene in the 1990s, Central Asians themselves now dominate it. Estimates place the number of Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks working seasonally or illegally in Russia at more than two million. Central Asia thus seems to remain one of the principal zones of emigration in the post-Soviet space, taking part in geopolitical and demographic recompositions that show that the bonds between Russia and Central Asia will not be erased as quickly as some observers estimated after the demise of the Soviet Union.^^

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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