ARCHPRIEST Yevgeny of the Russian Orthodox Church here can see the
difference plainly in the suddenly sparse crowd at annual Easter
More than a million ethnic Russians - and a half million ethnic
Germans - have left Kazakstan in less than four years.
The apartments they have vacated have created the equivalent of a
building boom in parts of Kazakstan. The faces peopling the capital
of Almaty, still a rich ethnic mix, have become more Asian and less
The population of the immense Central Asian steppe shows the tide
marks of the Russian empire. When the decade began, there were more
Russians than Kazaks in Kazakstan, thanks to a century of Russian
homesteading; Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's banishments of
alleged dissidents from Russia proper; the moving of arms factories
out of Hitler's reach; and Khrushchev's grand cultivation schemes
for the "virgin lands" of Kazakstan.
But since Kazakstan in 1991 became independent of Russia for the
first time in more than two centuries, it has become an
increasingly Kazak country. Russians here are growing more anxious
over their children's future.
One Russian interviewed said that even a year ago he never would
have thought of leaving Kazakstan. But now the engineer would move
to Russia immediately if he had the money.
His children never will receive a high-quality education the way he
did, he says, because "Kazaks are in a privileged position for
Who the Kazaks are
Kazaks are the nomadic people who emerged in the 15th century after
the Mongol rule of Central Asia. They are largely of Mongol stock,
but speak a language similar to Turkish.
The Kazaks were independent and unified under a series of khans, or
tribal kings, until swearing loyalty to the Russian empress in
1731. The Kazaks have been under some form of Russian control from
then until 1991, when the imploding Soviet Union cut them loose.
Kazaks still look over their shoulders warily at Russia. The
oil-rich Kazaks must export their oil through Russia for refining
and import it back for use. Almost anything the Kazaks want to buy
or sell travels through Russia. And Russian nationalists from
Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Vladimir Zhirinovsky want to annex all or
part of Kazakstan back into Russia.
Tensions between ethnic Russians and Kazaks here have been mild and
getting milder as the balance of power shifts between them. The
reason is simple: The Russians are leaving. Those who have left are
those with the best prospects, so those left behind tend to be
older and poorer.
"I expect Russians to continue leaving," says Nurbulat Masanov, a
history and ethnography professor at Kazakstan State University,
"because Russians living here are second-class citizens."
Meanwhile, Kazak nationalists are more concerned with how the Kazak
language, culture, and economic position has suffered under
imperial Russia. …