A number ethnic groups deemed untrustworthy by Stalin were sent to Central Asia — particularly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan — before, during and after World War II. These groups included Germans, Poles, Balts, Koreans, Ingush, Chechens, Meskheti Turks, Kalmyks and Tatars. Many died on the journey to Kazakhstan. Others died not long after they arrived. Some of those that survived continued to live in Kazakhstan. Others returned to their homelands when they got the chance.

In the 1930s, a number of ethnic groups, including the Greeks, Tatars, Koreans and Volga Germans were suddenly evacuated from their homes and sent into exile in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Siberia. Some were imprisoned and executed as “enemies of the people.” More than 1.5 million people were deported to Siberia and Central Asia.

During World War II, the Volga Germans and Caucasus ethnic groups such as the Chechens and Ingush were rounded up a transported in cattle cars to new "homelands" in Siberia and Central Asia. After Stalin died some were allowed to return. The mass deportation and, arguably, genocide against twenty nationalities—including the Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and the Volga Germans—during World War II is called the “war on cosmopolitans.

Fearing them as potential spies and traitors, Stalin rounded up all the ethnic Germans in 1941 and deported them to Siberia and Central Asia. Nearly 900,00 0 people were deported. They rounded up a transported in cattle cars. Some died on the way there. Thousands died in labor camps and coal mines. The mass deportation and, arguably, genocide, against twenty nationalities—including the Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and the Volga Germans—during World War II is called the “war on cosmopolitans.

The Germans were only able leave the places they were exiled to in 1955 and 1956, after Stalin died. In the meantime their homes and land were taken over by Russians. Without an autonomous region they were unable to organize politically and were unable to do much to improve there situation.

As for the Greeks, initially they prospered under Soviet rule. Greek schools, newspapers and culture flourished in places where there were large numbers of Greeks. The number of Greek schools rose from 33 in 1924 to 140 in 1938. There a was political drive to create an autonomous Greek territory. Things changed in 1930s, when Stalin included the Greeks among the groups that were persecuted and deported. Greek schools were shut down. Publications in Greek were banned and much of the Greek population was suddenly evacuated from their homes and sent into exile in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Siberia. Many were imprisoned and executed as “enemies of the people.” In 1949, Stalin exiled tens of thousands of Pontic Greeks in Crimea and the Caucasus.


The Balkars are a small tribe that live on the slopes of Mt. Elbrus in the central Caucasus Mountains. There are about 71,000 of them, most of them in Kabardino-Balkaria. They are related to the Karachays. Eighty percent of their territory is above 2,000 meters. The Balkars, also known as the Malkars, are mostly Muslims and speak the Karachay-Balkar language, a member of the Altaic-Turkic family of languages.

The Balkars are Sunni Muslims but they converted very late, in some cases not until the end of the 19th century. Traditional beliefs that have endured include the ritual of dressing up dolls as frogs and dousing them in water to bring rain; protecting homes from the evil eye with horse’s skulls; placing a horse at the entrance of a home for good luck; giving amulets to their animals; and banging on pans during a lunar eclipses to prevent the monster Jelmauuz from consuming the moon.

The Balkars also maintain beliefs in their traditional gods. According to legend the Balkarian people were sent by their gods to earth from the constellation known as the She-Bear to communicate with the mountains.


Dungans are Chinese Muslims. Most are descendants of Muslim Chinese from Gangsu and Shanxi who fled their homeland after a failed Muslim rebellion in 1878. Most speak Russian as their first language as well as the Central Asian language of the people they live among. Many are trilingual, speak a Dungan dialect of Chinese but can not write in Chinese. Although most dress in Central Asia clothes they still eat Chinese-style dishes with chopsticks, speak Chinese at home and live in Chinese-style courtyard home with Chinese-style heated beds call kangs. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: China, Russia and Eurasia “edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company]

There were about 70,000 Dungans in the former Soviet Union in the 1980s, with 30,000 in Kyrgyzstan and 25,000 in Kazakhstan, and small number in Uzbekistan and Russia. They live mostly on the Chu Valley of Kyrgyzstan and the Kurdai region of Kazakhstan with a few in Bishkek, Almaty and other cities in the region.

The first Dungans arrived after the fall of Kashgar and the final victory of the Xinjiang by the Manchu. They were welcomed with open arms and given land by the Russians as part of Great Game scheme to win the support of Chinese Muslims so they could gain an advantageous position to claim territory in Central Asia.

Meskhetian Turks

Meskhetian Turks are a Turkish group that has traditionally lived in south-southwestern Georgia to the south of Meskhetian mountain range. In November 1944, after being denounced as “enemies” of the people” by Stalin, they were rounded to and deported to Central Asia (mostly Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). About 155,000 Meskhetian Turks from 200 villages in the Meskhetia region of southern Georgia were deported.

Meskhetian Turks have received some attention for the way they adapted their traditional culture and lifestyle from the western Caucasus region to Central Asia. The two areas could not be more unalike. The western Caucasus is well-watered, mountainous and mostly Christian. Central Asia is flat dry and mostly Muslim. The traditional way of life of the Caucasus was of little use to the Meskhetian Turks in Central Asia and their modern identity has been shaped by how they dealt with this change.

The traditional homelands of the Meskhetian Turks has since been taken over by Georgians and other ethnic groups who are adverse to te idea of giving the land back to the Meskhetian Turks. The Georgian government said Meskhetian Turks could return under the condition that they replace their Turkish names with Georgian ones. Proud of their Turkish identify, most refused. The issue o resettlement is still being debated to this day.

Uyghurs in Kazakhstan

By one count there are about 200,000 Uyghurs in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In another estimate there are 300,000 Uyghurs in Kazakhstan alone. Some Uyghurs migrated from China to the Soviet Union during the Great Leap Forward era. One Uyghur singer who left in 1961 told the Japan Times, “I remember my father got up on a horse cart and sang a farewell song, and people were crying.” She said when she returned to China in 1992, “Very old men came up and said they remembered my parents. They thanked us; they thought that if we were divided for so many years, we would have forgotten the culture.”

Uyghur living in Kazakhstan enjoy a relatively high degree of cultural and educational freedom. Many Uyghur children are educated in their language at school. The government funds theater and dance companies in the Uyghur language. The fact that many Uyghurs live together and learned Uyghur in school has helped them keep their culture alive. In Kazakhstan the Uyghur language is written with the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Uyghur-language State Republican Theater of Musical Comedy was founded in 1934, As of the early 2000s, the company boasted 110 professional musicians, actors and dancers and classical and dances and plays. It includes both Kazakhstan-born and Chinese-born Uyghurs. The company used to tour China but was banned from doing so since in 1996.

Uyghur Activism in Kazakhstan

Some Uyghur groups that have demanded more autonomy in western China have been based in Kazakhstan, which is regarded by Beijing as a hotbed for Uyghur nationalism. Some Uyghurs who have been accused by Beijing of being terrorists have sought refuge in Kazakhstan.

The body of one activist was found strangled to death in a reservoir. Two others were killed after allegedly killing two policemen (an incident that Uyghurs say didn’t occur). Other have received death threats over the phone. Uyghur activists believe the Chinese government is ultimately behind the deaths and threats and say that the Uyghur areas are crawling with Chinese spies and informants.

As Kazakhstan and Beijing forge close ties, the Kazakhstan government has begun turnings its back on the Uyghur community and repatriating some Uyghurs that Beijing has label as terrorists to China. Some of those who have been repatriated have allegedly been tortured and killed.

Kazakhs Outside Kazakhstan

There were an estimated 10.8 million Kazakh worldwide in the 1990s. There about 8 millions Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, 1.1 million in Xinjiang, 900,000 in Uzbekistan, 740,000 in Russia, 90,000 in Turkmenistan, 70,000 in Western Mongolia, 50,000 in Kyrgyzstan and 30,000 in Afghanistan. There are also many Kazakhs in Turkey and the United States.

Kazakhs living outside of Kazakhstan have been invited to become citizens in their homeland if they returned. About hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs have thus far taken up up the offer, most of them from China, Mongolia and Russia. The effort to bring the Kazakh diaspora back to Kazakhstan continues. In 2004 more Kazakhs returned than left, making Kazakhstan the first of the former Soviet republic to reverse brain drain.

Many of the Kazakhs that lived in Mongolia migrated to Kazakhstan after Kazakhstan became independent in 1991. See Mongolia

Kazakhs in China

Kazakhs in China also called Hasake or Qazaqs. They live mainly in Altay Prefecture, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and Mulei and Balikun Autonomous counties in Yili, the northern part of Xinjiang. A small number of them are found in Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, and the Aksay Kazakh autonomous county in Akesai, Gansu province.

The Kazakh have traditionally made their living from livestock raising and animal husbandry. Only small numbers of them settled down and are engaged in agricultural production, in part because where they lived was not very well suited for agriculture. Near the Kazakh border in China, there are people with blond hair, green eyes and Asian features.

Most Kazakhs in China are Muslims as they are in Kazakhstan. Muslim holidays are their main festivals. Because of their traditional nomadic ways they have raised relatively few mosques. Kazakhs are regarded by the Chinese as being industrious, brave, warm and hospitable and good at singing and dancing.

The Kazakhs have generally have stuck to their nomadic ways more than the other minorities in Western China. They generally raise sheep and earn money by selling mutton, lamb, wool and sheepskin. Chinese merchants provide them with clothes, consumer items, sweet and particularly alcohol.

The Kazakhs resisted several attempts to by the Chinese Communists to make them live on sheep-raising communes. About 60,000 Kazakhs reportedly fled to the Soviet Union in 1962 and other crossed the border in India and Pakistan or were granted political asylum in Turkey. Horgass Pass between Xinjiang, China and Soviet Kazakhstan was closed in 1971 and not reopened until 1983.

Kazakh population in China: 0.1097 percent of the total population; 1,462,588 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 1,251,023 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 1,111,718 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

See Separate Articles Under China; KAZAKHS IN CHINA: HISTORY AND CULTURE factsanddetails.com ; KAZAKH NOMADIC LIFE factsanddetails.com ]

Image Sources:

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.

Last updated April 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.