Rural population: 46.8 percent of total population (2015); rate of urbanization: 0.86 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Settled Kazakhs still raise sheep and slaughter them by hand with a knife. Many city dwellers return to their parent’s house in the countryside on the weekends. In the early 2000s, economic growth brought significant movement from rural to urban areas.

There are town and cities in remote parts of Kazakhstan that beg the question: why is anyone living here?. The mines are abandoned, slag heaps scar the landscape and wheat silos are empty. In the 1990s many people from rural areas migrated to the cities to look for work and not finding any. In rural areas many have yurts set up to use ad a kitchen and dining room in warmer months.

The Kazakhs remained nomadic horsemen until the 1920s. There are few roads on the vast grasslands of the steppe and horses are still the ideal way to get around. Some Kazakhs continue to maintain a seminomadic resistance, moving with their animals to the summer pastures and residing in yurts. Many Kazakhs traditionally have lived in yurts in the summer and wood-and-adobe houses in the long winter. After the first freeze, often enough sheep and goats are slaughtered to last the whole winter. A family may kill 150 animals over three days.

It takes a nomad around two weeks to slowly move his animals, which graze along the way, 100 kilometers. They don’t need maps but use the sun, stars and landmarks to find their way. Describing his life, a Kazakh nomad told AP, "Moving around is good. Tiring, but good. I have a wife, children, sheep, cow and the grasslands.

See Livestock

See Mongolia, China

Traditional Kazakh Nomadic Life

Except for a few settled farmers, most Kazakhs in rural areas make a living connected with animal husbandry. Traditionally, Kazakhs migrated to look for pasturage as the seasons changed. In spring, summer and autumn, they lived in collapsible round yurts and in winter built flat-roofed earthen huts in the pastures. In the yurt, living and storage spaces are separated. The yurt door usually opens to the east, the two flanks are for sleeping berths and the center is for storing goods and saddles; in front are placed cushions for visitors. Riding and hunting gear, cooking utensils, provisions and baby animals are kept on both sides of the door. [Source: China.org |]

The pastoral Kazakhs produce a great variety of dairy products. For instance, milk dough, milk skin and cheese. Butter is made from cow's and sheep's milk. They usually eat mutton stewed in water without salt – a kind of meat eaten with the hands. By custom, they slaughter animals in late autumn and cure the meat by smoking it for the winter. |

In spring and summer, when the animals are putting on weight and producing lots of milk, the Kazakh herdsmen put fresh horse milk in shaba (barrels made of horse hide) and mix it regularly until it ferments into the cloudy, sour horse milk wine, a favorite summer beverage for the local people. The richer herdsmen drink tea boiled with cow's or camel's milk, salt and butter. Rice and wheat flour confections also come in a great variety: Nang (baked cake), rice cooked with minced mutton and eaten with the hands, dough fried in sheep's fat, and flour sheets cooked with mutton. Their diet contains few vegetables. |

Homes in Kazakhstan

In the cities many people live in large apartment blocks, which they rent. Some people live in rural-style homes, which they own. Dreary apartment blocks are arranged in long rows. Many Kazakhs who live in apartments use yurts for ceremonies. In rural areas, many Kazakhs live in houses they built for themselves or houses built for them on state farms and collectives. After the collapse of the Soviet Union measures were taken to privatize all housing.

Many rural Kazakhs live in permanent stone or mud-brick houses. Wooded houses have traditionally only been found in places where there are forests or access to trees, which is true in parts of northern Kazakhstan, where you can find houses similar to Russian-style Siberian homes. Traditional permanent dwellings vary according to the climate of the region and the settled people who live near them. In the steppe areas of northern Kazakhstan permanent dwellings often have a yurtlike form, similar to those of the peoples of western Siberia. In southern and western Kazakhstan, the Kazakhs have traditionally lived in mud-brick cottages.

In the middle of the 19th century, the construction of rectangular buildings with flat roofs covered with earth and turf appeared, Typically, they didn’t have a foundation and had an earthen floor covered with felt and carpets. Turf, adobe bricks, wood and stone were all used as building materials. The proportions were often defined by availability of materials.

Many people in rural areas live in charming peasant houses that lack plumbing, running water and sewers. Traditional houses tend to be large with separate rooms for the parents, grandparents and children and guest rooms. The rooms of the grandparents often follow traditions while those of their family members have modern furnishings. The kitchens is set off separately. Family life is often centered around a central room, especially in the winter to conserve heat. Many rural homes have their own steam heating systems. Traditional Kazakh homes have carpets on the floor, kilims on the walls, blackened by soot from the wood strove.

Kazakhs and Yurts

Some Kazakhs continue to live in yurts — felt tents that were easy to disassemble and transport to another place — with the few remaining nomadic and semi-nomadic Kazakhs living in them as they travel with their animals. Many people who live in permanent homes still keep yurts outside their homes. Yurts are used mostly during the summer. They serve as dwellings for animal herders using summer pastures and vacation houses for urban dwellers escaping to the countryside. Many rural Kazakhs live in stone or mud-brick houses in the winter and yurts in the summer.

As with other Central Asian nomadic people, proto-Kazakhs have lived in yurts since ancient times. According to the historical records, Wusun people, the remote ancestors of the Kazakhs, dwelled in yurts. In 105 B.C., a Xijun princess, who married the King of Wusun people, Kunmo, wrote in Yellow Swan Song: "taking the sky as room and felt as wall, taking meat as food and jelly as thick liquid." The reference to felt walls is regarded as evidence that the Kazakhs have lived in yurts for more than 2000 years. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences ~]

The Kazakhs like their freedom and elbowroom offered by yurts and often set them up miles away from their nearest neighbors. Yurts are most widely sewn on the Mangyshal Peninsula and around the Syr Darya and other places where animals are herded. Many people in small towns and villages set them up outside their home. The roofs of the yurts of wealthy Kazahks are often elaborately embroidered. Some Kazakhs use camels to transport possessions and tent poles and felt pieces of their yurts.

According to the Kazakhstan government: If you were in Kazakhstan, but did not see the white Kazakh yurt on the green meadows of jaylyau, you can not feel and enjoy the real life of Kazakhs and their culture. Yurt is one of the oldest and greatest inventions of Eurasian nomads. At all times Yurt was a practical and convenient, portable accommodation. This original house, a traditional phenomenon of portable Kazakh houses had been evolving towards perfection for centuries. It has been recognized by researchers as "the most perfect type of portable shelters and impressed the travelers and merchants, ambassadors of foreign states and medieval historians. Many of them, left fanciful descriptions of felt tents, which amazed them with its comfort and splendid decorations. [Source:VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

There are Yurt-Restaurants in some Kazakhstan cities that offer tourists wide range of meals from traditional Kazakh cuisine. More Yurts can be found in rural areas (shepherds usually live in Yurts) or in specially constructed ethno-villages, e.g. in Burabay (Borovoe), Almaty region, etc. Moreover, during many tours comfortable Yurts are offered as an overnight accommodation for a short stay of tourists or as a hotel for longer stays.

Kazakh Yurts

Kazakh yurts come in two types: big and small. The big yurt is made up of two parts, the lower part is in cylindrical shape, and the upper part is in round bow shape; the other type is the small yurt, which has a tapered shape. The walls of the yurts are made of felt, grass and woven materials. The frame is made of special red willow wood and resembles collapsible garden fencing. The woven walls are about 1.5 meters in height, and each wall piece is about 3.2 meters in width. Depending on the size, a yurts can be made up of 6 to 12 woven wall pieces. Yurts are is easy to put up, pull down and move. They are warm in winter and cool in summer. They are sturdy and durable: safe in gale-force winds and dry when it is rainy or snowy. ~

Kazakh yurts are wider and more richly decorated than the Mongolia ones. A yurt consists of three main parts and many other smaller parts. The three main parts include 1) the Shanyrak – top of the Yurt; 2) the Kerege – walls frame; and 3) Uwyk – a frame part from Kerege to the Shanyrak. The frame is usually covered with pieces of felt from outside and decorated with carpets from inside. It should be noted, that Shanyrak is extremely valuable for Kazakhs and is considered to be a sacred symbol of family well being and peace. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

The umbrella-like roof is composed of round skylight centerpiece and vaulting poles. The the skylight centerpiece is about one meter in diameter and comprised of red willow wood bent into round shape and drilled with small holes to hold the vaulting poles. The upper ends of the vaulting poles are placed in the small hole, and wrapped up at the connecting point with unprocessed wet camel fur that is allowed to dry in the sun. Thin, semicircle-shaped pieces of wood are imbedded in the skylight centerpiece like a pot bottom facing the sky. The vaulting poles are about three meters in length, The upper part of the pole is perfectly straight, thin and smooth with an arrowhead at the end. The lower part of the vaulting pole has a curved shape. When the felt wall pieces are joined together and bound up into walls, the arrowheads of the vaulting poles are placed into the small holes in the skylight, and the curved parts at the lower end are bound to the crossing part of the woven walls. ~

When the frame of the yurt is finished, colored wattled walls are placed around the woven walls. The wattled walls are the grass curtains woven from achnatherum (needle grass) of the same length, width and size. The grass curtains surrounding the door sides of the yurt are made particular care: every piece of achnatherum is coiled with colored knitting wool, and symmetrical and harmonious patterns that are produced are quite beautiful. When the wattled walls are bound up, woolen felt is placed on the outside of the yurt, and fixed and connected with ropes. The roof and skylight are covered with felt. The skylight cover is movable and is tied with ropes that can be drawn to and fro. At ordinary times, it is open; at night or when it rains or snows, the cover is sealed. The yurt is about 1.40 meters in height. The entrance of the yurt is generally a wood board door with double leaves, carved with various patterns, often related to mountain, water and flowers. Outside it, a door curtain of woven achnatherum and a layer of colored felt. ~

Kazakh Yurt Interiors

A yurt usually does not have rooms in it, and it was a common practice to have a separate yurt as a bedroom, separate one as a kitchen, guesthouse, etc as long as people could afford that. Inside the yurt are chests, tables cooking stuff and other possession. Rugs are cover the floor and people either sit on rugs or on low stools.

Connection to the nature and the universe is also reflected in the interior design of the yurt. Flower patterns of tekemets (felt carpets), abstract, cosmogonic ornaments of baskurs (woven, patterned ribbons encircling the inner perimeter of the yurt), furniture intricately carved and inlaid, all these reflect the perception of the Kazakh nomads about the world structure and beauty among which they live. Almost all types of traditional craft of Kazakhs can be found in the interior decoration of the Yurt. Multi-coloured patterns of ornaments, rich texture and flexibility of wood-carvings, different type of embroideries, felt carpets, leather handiworks and metal items, thus creating a unique polyphony of colors and lines. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

Indoor decorations and furnishings generally set up in a very particular way in accordance with Kazakh customs and beliefs. Some wood boxes and cabinets filled with valuable articles or clothes are placed next to the walls in the part of the tent facing the door. Beddings are rolled up tidily on the sides of the cabinets an covered with colored cloth. The colored felt and cotton-padded cushions are spread around the stove for people to sit on and guests to use. ~

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Kazakh Yurt

According to the Kazakhstan government: The “Kazakh yurt is a product of traditional Kazakhstan culture based on the ecological balance and sustainability, a product of a culture that does not seek to dominate and change the nature, but seeks to learn its laws and follow them in a daily life. Perceiving the nature as a natural shelter, nomads created their house by the own laws of the nature. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

“A nomad made the Yurt easy for assembling and disassembling, and with the help of one camel and two horses the entire construction of the yurt and decorations of the interior are easily transported. Dynamism of the nomadic life is wholly reflected in the optimal comfort of Yurt’s structure. It keeps the cool air inside during hot summer days, protects from cold piercing winds in winter and does not get wet from pouring autumn rains.

“When speaking of the Kazakh yurt, we can confidently say that the dwelling was not only just thoroughly thought out to meet the needs of the nomadic way of life, but the principle of the yurt construction and decoration was a reflection of nomads’ views on the world around them. Yurt brings a thoughtful and adapted principle of communion with nature, with flat Steppes and high mountains, alpine meadows and endless blue skies. Stay in a Yurt a couple of hours for a bowl of hot flavored tea or spend the night here and look through the half-open shanyrak, the cool light of distant stars will touch your face, and you will feel interesting, inexplicable feeling of comfortable security at home and at the same time a sense of infinite openness of the universe. This unusual way of life was probably dictated by ancestors of Kazakhs, not only because of the specifics of nomadic economy, but also from the need to feel themselves a part of a whole, to live in unison to the rhythms of the universe.”

Kyrgyz and Kazakh Yurt-Making Craftsmanship Recognized by UNESCO

In 2014, traditional knowledge and skills in making Kyrgyz and Kazakh yurts was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list. According to UNESCO: “The yurt is a nomadic dwelling used among the Kazakh and Kyrgyz peoples. It has a wooden circular frame covered with felt and braided with ropes, and can be easily assembled and dismantled within a short period of time. The bearers of yurt-making knowledge are craftspeople, both men and women, who produce yurts and their interior decorations. Yurts are made from natural and renewable raw materials. Men and their apprentices make the wooden frames by hand, along with wooden, leather, bone and metal details. Women make the interior decorations and exterior coverings, ornamented with traditional zoomorphic, vegetative or geometric patterns. [Source: UNESCO ~]

As a rule, they work in community-based groups supervised by experienced women artisans, and employ weaving, spinning, braiding, felting, embroidering, sewing and other traditional handicraft techniques. Yurt creation involves the whole community of craftspeople, and fosters common human values, constructive cooperation and creative imagination. Traditionally, knowledge and skills are transmitted within families or from teachers to apprentices. All festivities, ceremonies, births, weddings and funeral rituals are held in a yurt. As such, the yurt remains a symbol of family and traditional hospitality, fundamental to the identity of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz peoples. ~

According to UNESCO Kyrgyz and Kazakh yurt-making skills were placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list because traditional yurt-making knowledge and skills are transmitted from generation to generation in families and through various formal and non-formal educational activities; part of Kyrgyz and Kazakh peoples’ everyday life, yurt-making provides its practitioners with a sense of identity and continuity and highlights a harmonious relation between nature and human creativity. ~

Nomad Seasonal Rhythms

Many nomad families spend the short summer in the mountains, where their tend sheep, goats, and camels which graze in Alpine pastures, and then move in the winter down to small settlements or villages, where they live in gers or mud houses.

During the winter the herds typically lose 40 percent of their weight and are sustained by hay cut in the autumn. The animals need about 10 kilograms of hay a head per week. After the first freeze, often enough sheep and goats are slaughtered to provide meat for the herders to last the whole winter. A family may kill 150 animals over three days.

The winter is often one of the busiest times. The animals begin bearing young but are weak from lack of food. Special care has to be taken to make sure the deliveries go smoothly and the young survive. Small ones are often brought in the gers to stay warm. The winter evenings are spent singing, cooking and telling stories.

In the spring and summer horses are milked six times a day to collect milk for koumiss. In May men and children begin preparing for the sporting events in the Naadam festival in July while women spend their free time knitting, sewing and spinning.

Herders have traditionally moved their animals between the high summer pastures of the mountains and their villages camps on steppes where they spend the winter. They pick up and move two or three times a year, typically in May and October, usually remaining within a 25-square mile area, and relocate from November to April to a winter camp with some stone shelters for the animals.

Herders stay in an area as long as the there is enough grass. Where grazing land is more scarce nomads roam across large swaths of empty plains, mountains and grassland, having to travel longer distances and pack up and move maybe ten or so times a year or as often as twice a week. Moving the animals around also allows the grass to grow back. It takes a nomad around two weeks to slowly move his animals, which graze along the way, 100 kilometers. The nomads don’t need maps and GPS devices; they use the sun, stars, the shape of hills and mountains and landmarks to find their way.

There are no fences, except around cities, Herders have traditionally takes their animals to where the pastures were best. In the dusty steppes and sandy deserts they find places where wild grasses grow tall and find places in the mountains were the pastures are sweet. Men traditionally rode on horses, Women rode on horseback or on the pack animals. Bactrian camels were traditionally used to move possessions. Everything was loaded on their backs: ger parts, carpets, pots and pans, shelves, stoves. These days trucks often fulfill this duty. Some have argued the nomadic migrations have been determined by more than practicality.

Seasonal Migrations

The pastures are divided according to season—summer, spring/fall, and winter based on the amount of grass and when the grass is sufficient to eat, which is often determined by geography, climate conditions and season. The summer pastures are usually located in the north in the steppe areas or in the mountains. These areas have abundant, lush grass but heavy snows make it impossible for the animals to graze. In the winter the animals are taken to the south or to the desert and semidesert zones, where autumn rains are imperative for producing grass for animals to eat.

Nomads that live near mountains migrate between the high pastures in the summer and the river valleys in the winter. The distance between pastures and the river valleys is often less than 80 kilometers. During the summer they often set up their gers in the open pastures and gather for hair cutting ceremonies, weddings, funerals, festivals and family reunions that often feature singing and horse races.

Between the main summer and winter migrations nomads stay briefly at fall and spring pastures. Nomads that move overland between the northern steppes and the southern semideserts are known as “meridanal” nomads while those that migrate up and own the mountains are called “vertical” nomads. The nature of the migration, the type of grass available and the market price for animals and family and clan needs determine which animals are raised.

Nomad Daily Life and Chores

Kazakhs herd sheep, horses, cattle, goats, camels, and yaks. Although horses are the most valued animal, Kazakhs actually depend on sheep for their basic livelihood. Sheep provide milk, which is processed into butter, cheeses, and other dairy products; mutton, wool, and hide for clothes and tents; and dung for cooking and heating. Sheep can be herded on foot, with one person and a few dogs responsible for a flock. Kazakhstann dogs, which are famous for their ferocity and hostility to strangers, do not help herd sheep as Western sheepdogs do, but they protect the flocks from wolves or other predators. Sheep are driven back to the camp every night, both for their protection and to provide a concentrated and convenient supply of dung. The sheep are led out to pasture each day, ideally moving out from the camp in a spiral until fresh pasture is so far away that it is more convenient to move the camp. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Each species of animal is herded separately, and herders must balance, therefore, the expected benefit from each type of animal against the cost of providing human labor to watch each separate herd and to move to the precise environment to which each animal is best suited. Sheep are basic, horses something of a luxury item, and other species are added to the camp inventory as labor power and environmental considerations dictate. The demands on human labor mean that a single household is not the optimal unit for herding.

The basic unit in Kazakh pastoralism is a herding camp, composed of two to six households, that manages its flocks as a single integrated economic unit. In the past, the members of a herding camp were usually, though not necessarily, patrilineal kinsmen. Membership of the herding camp was reconstituted on a year-to-year basis, with some households remaining in the same camp, others leaving to join different camps, and some camps dividing if their human and animal populations grew too large for effective operation. Under collectivization, herding camps remained the basic unit of pastoral production. *

Cooking is often done with a wok-like pot. Money earned is used to buy flour, rice, vodka and sweets and biscuits for children and guests. Animal dung, known as “argul”, is a major source of fuel. It is collected with small rakes and tosses them over their shoulder in basket on their back. From time to time blocks of milk and water are frozen for future use.

Livestock and Life on the Steppe

Of the total land area in Kazakhstan about 65 percent is used for pasturage and fodder. Under the Soviet system fodder was produced on collectives. The grassland environment is better suited for raising livestock than agriculture. Herders generally keep sheep, goats and horses, and sometimes cattle, yaks and Bactrian camels. Animals have traditionally provided butter, cheese, and meat to eat, koumiss and milk to drink, wool to make clothing and tents, dung fuel for stoves, and meat, wool and cashmere to sell. Some nomads can slaughter their animals without spilling a drop of blood.

Daily life revolves around tending, feeding, washing and milking the animals and collecting dung for fuel. These chores have changed little since the time of the ancient Scythians and the Mongols. Sometimes the animals are tended. Other times they are allowed to roam about as if they were free and are rounded up from to time to time. Sometimes it seems as if the animals are wild but they always belong to someone. When animals owned by different nomads are gathered together, sometimes their horns or bodies are painted so they can be told apart.

The main concerns for animal herders are finding enough grazing land and water for their animals. The water comes from rivers, streams and wells. They water in lakes and some wells is often salty. In the winter when grass lies under crusty layers of ice and snow, the animals are fed hay.

Nomads, Semi-Nomads and Livestock

Kazakhs have traditionally raised sheep, some horses, cattle and camels in rich pastures. Those that have stuck to their nomadic ways generally raise sheep and earn money by selling mutton, lamb, wool and sheepskin.

During the winter seminomads and their animals live in mud-brick structures and the animals survive off any grass they can find and fodder. In the spring the Kazakhs take their sheep to the low pastures, where the ewes give birth. Later the animals are moved to higher summer pastures.

The use of summer pastures has traditionally been under the jurisdiction of individual clans. Among nomads, winter pastures are shared by small communities. Semi-nomads have rights to land around their homes They also generally have rights to certain hay-growing areas where fodder is produced for the winter. These are generally spread out near the winter pastures.

Semi-nomads engage in varying degrees of agriculture. The agricultural land is generally near their permanent winter homes. The poorer households tend to rely on agriculture more than richer ones. Herders who abandoned herding and became year-round farmer have traditionally been looked upon with pity. Under Soviet rule more and more Kazakhs chose this existence and became the settled population.

Kazakhs are horsemen like Mongolians but they are many differences between the two ethnic groups. The shapes of their saddles are different. Kazakh yurts are wider and more richly decorated than Mongolia ones.

Kazakh Nomads Under Soviet Rule

The Communist government labeled the nomadic life as inefficient and tried to encourage Kazakhs and other nomadic groups to settle down. The Soviets helped former nomads build brick and concrete homes with electricity, television nd other modern amenities.

Under Soviet rule, Kazakhstan was transformed from a country of nomadic herders into an agricultural, industrial republic. The experiences of the Kazakhs had made many parallels with other Soviet republics. High culture emerged and was supported. Education and health care were improved and brought to many areas for the first time. Literacy and life spands increased dramatically. At the same time there were forced collectivization, famines and epidemics. Kazakhstan was treated as a backwater—a place to test nuclear weapons and conduct experiments with killer biological agents. *

Under Communism, nomads were organized into government-controlled cooperatives, animals were nationalized and became property of the state, and gers were sometimes transported on trucks rather than pack animals. Nomads were called breeders. They were told by the government how many sheep, goats, yaks, camels and horses to raise, and sometimes told where to graze their animals and how long to stay there. Children attended boarding schools.

The state bought animals at a stable, guaranteed price or they were paid a wage. Sheep were taken to the cities by the state. Incomes were secure. The government made all the decisions. The individual ownership of animals was forbidden. People were allocated a certain number of animals. If any of the animals died the nomads were punished. If nomads didn't meet their quotas or their animals were underweight they didn't receive full payment.

Traditional communities were broken down and traditional skills were lost. Families were encouraged to specialize. Some produced camel hair. Some produced wool. Other raised horses. Instead of being jacks of all trades and taking care of themselves traditionally nomadic people began to rely on the state for things like helping sick animals or fixing the felt on their gers.

Collectivization and Mass Starvation in the Soviet Era

From 1929 to 1934, during the period when Soviet leader Joseph V. Stalin was trying to collectivize agriculture, Kazakhstan endured repeated famines because peasants had slaughtered their livestock in protest against Soviet agricultural policy. In that period, at least 1.5 million Kazakhs and 80 percent of the republic's livestock died. Thousands more Kazakhs tried to escape to China, although most starved in the attempt. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Under Stalin’s policy of de-nomadization and collectivization, nomadic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz were forced to settle down and turn their animals over to the state. The Kazakhs resisted. Many people chose to slaughter their animals rather than give them to the state. In some cases guerrillas fighting against the Communists killed the animals.

The populations of entire villages perished—hundreds of thousands of families. Many of those that survived left everything behind, their homes, their animals, and fled to Siberia and elsewhere in Central Asia and the Soviet Union. An estimated 1 million people made their way to China, Mongolia, Afghanistan and other places.

Between 1929 and 1932, it is estimated 1.75 million to 2.5 million people died (including 40 to 50 percent of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan) of malnutrition and starvation as a result of the loss of animals. President Nazarbaev told the Washington Post, “It was terrible. My father saw with his own eyes and told me...You’d walk along a path and see corpses everywhere.” Millions of Kazakhs fled to China and Afghanistan to avoid starvation.

Nomads After Soviet Rule

Many nomads still rely on the government for their livestock. A typical nomad may have around 650 sheep, horses to get around on and camels to transport his stuff. One nomad told National Geographic it the 1990s was a hard life at that time. “All you see is dust and rain and snow. My wife, my son and I all tend the sheep, and together were earn only [$5] a month. I have a family of eight o feed—eight!”

Many of the collectives were privatized. Many people were given livestock and the rights to use some grazing land. Herders could buy and sell their animals. Some people took up herding who had never herded before.

Some collectives became shareholding companies. Herders used government vouchers to buy animals that belonged to cooperatives and state farms. Many families took ownership of more than a hundred animals. Some nomads set up systems in which individual families took care of their own animals but joined together to transport them to market. By this time much of the herding was done on motorcycle rather than on horseback.

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

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