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Kazakstan is the only former Soviet republic where the indigenous
ethnic group is not a majority of the population. In 1994 eight of the
country's eleven provinces had Slavic (Russian and Ukrainian) population
majorities. Only the three southernmost provinces were populated
principally by Kazaks and other Turkic groups; the capital city, Almaty,
had a European (German and Russian) majority. Overall, in 1994 the
population was about 44 percent Kazak, 36 percent Russian, 5 percent
Ukrainian, and 4 percent German. Tatars and Uzbeks each represented about
2 percent of the population; Azerbaijanis, Uygurs, and Belarusians each
represented 1 percent; and the remaining 4 percent included approximately
ninety other nationalities (see table 4, Appendix).
Kazakstan's ethnic composition is the driving force behind much of the
country's political and cultural life. In most ways, the republic's two
major ethnic groups, the Kazaks and the "Russian-speakers"
(Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Belarusians), may as well live in
different countries. To the Russians, most of whom live in northern
Kazakstan within a day's drive of Russia proper, Kazakstan is an extension
of the Siberian frontier and a product of Russian and Soviet development.
To most Kazaks, these Russians are usurpers. Of Kazakstan's current
Russian residents, 38 percent were born outside the republic, while most
of the rest are second-generation Kazakstani citizens.
The Nazarbayev government has announced plans to move the capital from
Almaty in the far southeast to Aqmola in the north-central region by 1998.
That change would cause a shift of the Kazak population northward and
accelerate the absorption of the Russian-dominated northern provinces into
the Kazakstani state. Over the longer term, the role of Russians in the
society of Kazakstan also is determined by a demographic factor--the
average age of the Russian population is higher, and its birth rate much
Data as of March 1996