Tomsk State University
Department of History

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Identity and Conflict at the Borders: Adaptation of Oralmans in East Kazakhstan

In the context of the global process of (re)emigration, the problem of human adaptation to new conditions of life - social, cultural, economic - is very important. Successful adaptation depends on many factors, both objective (state support programs, institutional mechanisms of integration, social and cultural distance between the country / environment of “exit” and “entry”), and subjective factors (personal motivation, cultural background and psychological characteristics, socio-psychological atmosphere in the “host community”).

The goal of field research conducted by LSAR in August 2013 was to review the socio-anthropological aspects of adaptation of Oralmans (Kazakh repatriates) in East Kazakhstan, including the following aspects:

Taking into account the central theme of the project “The Individual in a Changing World...”, our objective was to find out how the boundaries between 'we' and 'they' are created in Kazakh society in the context of “Oralman problem” on the level of everyday interactions and discursive practices, and what situations cause shifting of these boundaries.

The study was based on qualitative methodology involving the use of such techniques as in-depth interviews and observation.

The main groups of respondents were:

Areas covered: Republic of Kazakhstan, East Kazakhstan, city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Shygys and Novoyavlenka villages.

Shygys should be mentioned separately as it was built 30 kilometers away from Ust-Kamenogorsk as a densely populated Oralman settlement, where special conditions (free accommodation, new school and kindergarten) had been created for Oralmans under “Nurly Kosh” state support program (2009 – 2011).

During the field work 16 interviews were conducted with Oralmans themselves, local Kazakhs, and Russians. Among the respondents were representatives of Ust-Kamenogorsk city administration (akimat), dealing with issues related to adaptation of Oralmans, Oralmans themselves (immigrants from China - Tarbagatai and Altai regions, from Mongolia - Bayan-Ulegy Aimak). Local Kazakhs represented the sphere of education and rural community (Novoyavlenka village). The average age of respondents was 35 years. In addition to interviews, observation and analysis of the publications and documents were performed.

The choice of Kazakhstan as a research area was determined by several factors creating special context for marking the boundaries: firstly, high concentration of Russian (Russian-speaking) population, and secondly, according to a survey conducted in 2005 by the Center for Social Technologies, public opinion towards Oralmans in East Kazakhstan is predominantly negative (Oralmans: Realities, Problems, and Prospects [electronic resource] // Demoskop -Weekly. No. 245-246 (May 1-21), 2006. URL: http://www.demoscope. ru/weekly/2006/0245/analit07.php).

Local Kazakhs interviewed widely believe that Oralmans can be divided in two groups: those who came in the 1990s and those in the 2000s, and that they do not interact with each other. We captured such separation when interviewing Oralman who had come from Mongolia in the 1990s, and had already reached pretty high social position. He had already become “local” and prefers to identify himself with local Kazakhs, keeping distance from Oralmans relocated in the 2000s. This fact represents an important point in identification. Status “Oralman” is officially considered as temporary (until obtaining citizenship of Kazakhstan), but in reality it stays with a person for a long time (as a label).

According to Oralmans themselves, there are internal differentiation among them depending of which country they came from. It is usually based on language differences (Kazakhs from Mongolia and China define each other by the amount of words from corresponding alphabets - Mongolian and Chinese used in Kazakh language), as well as some specifics of rituals (difference in conducting Muslim rites). Furthermore, fractional identification among Oralmans can go deeper, indicating not only the country of “exit”, but also region, and specifics of the material side of life.

Thus the study identified several pairs of opposites “We” – “They”:

Expedition team:
Irina Popravko - Head of the expedition, Leading Research Fellow at LSAR
Sergei Artsemovich – Assistant at LSAR
Anastasia Kuznetsova – Assistant at LSAR
LSAR staff expresses special thanks for the help in conducting research to Beibit Sadykzhanov, guidance counselor at the office of foreign students relations of East Kazakhstan State University, Erasyl Tusupov, who acted as a translator, Alexander Alexeenko, leading demographer of Kazakhstan, for their valuable comments, and to Ludmila Veremchuk, employee of Kazakh-American Free University, who was helping and taking care of us as if we were her relatives.

The project "Man in a Changing World. Identity and Social Adaptation: Past and Present" is funded by the Russian Government
(grant #14.В25.31.0009)
© Laboratory for Social and Anthropoligical Research, 2013

The website is translated into English by LSAR Fellow Elena M. Karageorgii, e-mail: visits: 106237

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