From Kazakhstan Encyclopedia

Oralman (Template:Lang-kz), or "returnee", is an official term used by Kazakh authorities to describe ethnic Kazakhs who have immigrated to Kazakhstan since its independence in 1991.[1] Oralman usually come from the neighbouring countries of China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and also from countries with notable Kazakh minorities: Iran (Iranian Kazakhs), Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


Oralman typically settle in areas of Kazakhstan adjoining or near to their former homes, for reasons of climate and convenience; thus returnees from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are often found in the country's south, while those from China and Mongolia are concentrated in the east.[2] The government prefers to settle them in the north of the country, and offers them more benefits; however, returnees themselves prefer regions where the Russian language is less important in everyday life, particularly in the south.[3]

According to the Research done by LSAR (Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research) the Oralman people can be divided up into two types: Those who came in the 1990´s and those in the 2000´s. However, they were able to find out something very unique in it.[4] This was the situation where the Oralman form the 1990´s do not really interact or better said at all do not interact with the Oralman people from the 2000s.[4] Within the Oralman people, there are also internal differences among them, depending on where they came from.[4] Here usually the differences lay mostly in their languages.[4] Overall, they were able to find out the different identified several pairs of opposites who they see them as ″We″ - ″They″:[4]

  • Russians - Kazakhs ;
  • Russians - Oralmans ;
  • Local Kazakhs - Oralmans ;
  • Oralmans from Mongolia - Oralmans from China ;
  • Oralmans living long time in Kazakhstan - recently moved Oralmans ;
  • Oralmans in the city – Oralmans in Shygys ;
  • Oralmans of China from Altai region - Oralmans of China from Tarbagatai region


Oralman often face difficulty integrating into the labour market and with everyday communication due to insufficient command of the Russian language, which remains an important lingua franca in Kazakhstan.[5]

Oralman from China form the majority of teachers of the Chinese language at universities in Kazakhstan.[6]

Ethnic Kazakhs in China

According to Astrid Cerny´s research paper Going where the grass is greener: China Kazakhs and the Oralman immigration policy in Kazakhstan the number of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the North of China are approximately around 1.1 million people.[7] Thus, showing the huge diaspora of Kazakhs in China and the mass exodus that Kazakhstan faced in the 20th century.[7] The recent phenomena of former Ethnic Kazakhs willing to return back to their motherland is of no surprise, despite the fact that the concept of The Grass is greener on the Other side might represent the reality.[7] The desire to maintain and strengthen their cultural identity, while at the same time assimilating into a different identity is not possible and acceptable for former ethnic Kazakhs in China.[7] According to the research paper, it is stated that the combination of economic, ecological and socio-political factors drive the the desire for people to leave a country and return to where they belong.[7]

However, the author does not neglect the idea that this may result in a dilemma, as returning back to the motherland is not a solution to the problem of the Oralman.[7] As a result of this dilemma that the Oralman has to face with might even be more difficult than it seemed in the beginning.[7] With issues like becoming a second-class citizen or integrating itself into the society and the new environment are just few of the many problems they may face.[7] Thus, making the concept of The Grass is greener on the Other side less viable and difficult to believe in.[7]

Practical Steps in tackling the Oralman Dilemma

One of the key issues in tackling the migration issue in Kazakhstan is to support the Process of Repatriation of Kazakhs coming into Kazakhstan.[8] The Republic of Kazakhstan has launched several integration centers for the temporary residence of the Oralman since the year of 2008 in various cities such as in Karaganda, Shymkent and in other Southern regions.[9] Through these centers, the government has tried to implement and ensure legal consultations, support for learning the state languages as well support for vocational trainings and for the individuals professional development.[10]

Kazakh repatriates as nation-building promoters

Since the early beginnings of the 1990´s and with the beginning of the sovereignty of Kazakhstan, Kazakh repatriates from abroad, mainly from Uzbekistan, Mongolia, China and Turkmenistan began to be co-ethnically reintegrated into the society.[11] The government sought to build a state truly of and for the titular ethnicity, in order to overcome issues of Russification and promote or better said lift up the status of the Kazakh language itself.[11] It is still believed that the ethnic purity is still kept untouched even if the kazakh repatriates were abroad for so many years.[11] Despite the fact that the Oralman might become a burden and problem for the society, the nation-building idea insists that the repatriates should contribute rather to the homeland than being and becoming noisome and eventually a social burden.[11] One important aspect here plays the role of the Kazakhstan´s migration and citizenship policies that are based on the idea of self-definition or better said self-identification.[11] For them, the one and only ethnic center for Kazakhs is and will be Kazakhstan itself.[11] Due to that, it seeks to restore the historical justice, as it tries to describe the colonial passed that stripped away some people their own homeland away and so had to seek for the neighboring countries abroad.[11] However, to sustain such a consistent and effective migratory policy was not always easy. Since the state´s independence, the newly sovereign country struggled to sustain number of repatriates due to various reasons. On of them was the fact that the quota system for repatriates for financial governmental support seemed to be unsustainable as the economic crisis at that hit it very strong.[11][11] For instance, 10.000 households were to be provided by the government annually, but it seemed impossible to sustain it all and numbers of quota cuts had to be made to as low as 500 households.[11] However, as the years passed and the country became more sustainable and achieved numerous economic growth annually, the government began keenly to take the Oralman Dilemma into its focus. For instance, it adapted in December 2008 the Nurly Kosh (Bright Move) program aiming to effectively situate immigrants as well as repatriates in the spheres of employment and housing.[11]

Correlation of the 2012 Zhanaozen incident and the Oralman

The strike of the labor workers in the Mangistau oblast in the city named as Zhanaozen brought out negative and tense feedbacks towards the alleged Oralman involvement to having triggered the strike.[11] In that incident, more than 12 people died and the strike by the oil workers and their demand for higher wages and better working conditions have been denied.[11] As far as what the Oralmans are concerned, they have been criticized by the Chairman of the Board of the National Welfare Fund Samruk Kazyna as being defectors and instigators of the strike.[11] As a result of that, the Kazakh nationalists labeled this insult as a phobia towards the Oralman as well defaming the dignity.[11] It is believed that the immigration of migrants (repatriates) into that region were rather of negative result as this burdened seriously the local authorities there.[11] Due to that, the government reconsidered again their quota system and reduced for the next 4 months until it was lifted.[11] At the end of the day, the Zhanaozen incident showed the government that it failed to create an effective scheme for utilizing labor and satisfying the needs of Kazakh immigrants.[11]

Other notable problems they face

The receiving community does pose some difficulties for the repatriates but it also poses some threat to the local people as well. The local for instance considers the repatriates as "other" and "not authentic" co-ethnics.[11] Moreover, the repatriates also undergo several complaints by the local communities as the seem to see the treatment towards the repatriates as unfair in many ways and seem to only be sharing ethnicity within their own name only.[11] Apart from that, as the social cleavage still prevails and exists, the linguistic cleavage does at the same time.[11] Here we are speaking about the dominant Russian-speaking dominance over the Kazakh-speaking people, where for most of the people the gradual shift to the Russian language is more preferred and received.[11] As a result of that, the cultural division also plays an important role in the nation-building process and needs to be taken not lightly into consideration.[11] Furthermore, we may also one other factor that comes here into play. The idea that the repatriates see themselves as the true and genuine people who have been able to preserve the pure Kazakhness even abroad for a long period of time, often boast themselves with self-confidence and self-identification over the local Kazakh people.[11] This self-identified image of the repatriates might further alienate them from the local community and of its perception.[11] Even if the public was general discontent with the nation-building process towards the integration of the Kazakh repatriates was strong, there was no real widespread cultural or ethnical conflicts to be seen, as the non-Kazakh minorities as well as with the other Kazakh citizens did not object the Kazakh-oriented state building process.[11] One other aspect that still gives this process impetus is the absence of political counterforce towards the migratory policies and it seems unlikely that this process will be hindered completely and will so to say be continuing in the future.[11] The quote by Natsuko Oka describes the importance of this issue and of its weight on the Kazakh community as well as for its state and it goes as follows: "Having defined itself as the state for all Kazakhs of the world, Kazakhstan has entitled co-ethnics with the right of return to their ancestral homeland to become full-fledged citizens. If the government declares that the state cannot accept ethnic brethren any more, such a decision will surely invite severe criticism from Kazakh nationalists as well as immigrants, who will readily cast the ruling elites as traitors to the Kazakh nation. On the other hand, instability in the society will only grow worse if new immigrants continue to arrive while the integration of those who already have settled barely proceeds, and their social problems remain unsolved. Kazakhstan finds itself caught in a dilemma: because of its ethnic roots and de-colonization agenda, Kazakh repatriation policy cannot be easily abandoned even if it creates more problems than benefits."[11]

Adaptation of Repatriates

One of the most striking features that the Kazakh ethnicities possess is the ability to adapt to any society and environment.[12] How well we can validate it we can verify it exactly yet. It is quite interesting to note that some researchers argue that the Kazakh ethnos and especially the Kazakh group identity continues to exist even if part of the daily rituals changes in the new environment.[12] However, it is not always so true as many assume. Despite that, Kazakh repatriates of course have many problems to tackle and overcome when adapting to a new lifestyle. One of the issues that can be of analytical importance for linguists could be the problem of alphabet and the use of the languages.[12] For instance, the Kazakh language differs quite a lot from other central asian languages and so also from their structure of alphabet.[12] In Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia people write in Cyrillic, but in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan they write in Latin alphabets and of course the repatriates, in this case the Kazakh repatriates who study abroad in latin alphabet, which poses a problem for them.<[12] Eventually, creating problems in secondary and higher education for them.[12] Moreover, it also might create an undoubted advantage for the returnees if they have received abroad higher education and return to their homeland receiving state support as well provisions that would undermine then the Kazakh citizens in Kazakhstan.[12] Therefore, Kazakhstan can not afford to provide everyone with the consistent state support for adaptational purposes for the Kazakh repatriates as this also a state concern as well as an issue of a financial aspect.[12] Of course, here we can clearly see the concern of the public as well as the state on how then to solve this migratory issue. A key role in creating favorable conditions for the returnees might be be the proper scattering of repatriates, as it is important in demographical terms to adapt them to local communities and so to resettle them in a proper way.[12] Otherwise, causing unnecessary socio-economic problems.[12] As many repatriates rather would want to resettle in the southern region of Kazakhstan, it is also important to allow them to resettle in the northern part, as the demographic aspect here plays an important role.[12] Of course while doing it, the state must make sure to provide them with certain provisions like tax breaks, credits, loans or state support in any way.[12] As Kazakhstan is well known for its hospitality towards foreigners, it is important to take note of that and understand that repatriates can also be treated in the same way as their own compatriots.[12] At the end of the day, repatriates have preserved in some way their own traditional customs and identity, and so are also able to contribute to revive the traditional culture not only abroad, but also in Kazakhstan despite being considered as repatriates.[12] It is also forgotten by many Kazakhs that the Oralman people also bring back the restoration of the Kazakh culture, as some assume as i said before, which of course can be argued that it goes against the current flow of Russification.[13] Despite all that, the level and the extend of Discrimination towards the people of Oralman is not minimal as well. From discriminatory and lamenting perceptions and statements like: “Why does the government give people from China and Mongolia so much money? Why don’t they give it to people from Kazakhstan to make their lives better?” also depict the publics attitude in away towards them.[14] They are portrayed as being uneducated and welfare-dependent resettlers, who bring nothing else but harm to the society. Despite that, the Kazakh government shows tolerance towards this issue and tries everything to let the repatriates to be of state priorities who could boost the ethnic Kazakh population, which showed a positive result throughout the last decades where the population has risen by nearly 20% since the independence day.[15] With that, the government considers that the Kazakh Language will be enriched further and boosted, so that in away it would boost the Kazakhification idea in Russian-dominated regions of the north.[16]This sense of rise of nationhood and of its cultural identity has been observed since the Ukraine crisis of 2014, which can be argued as the trigger event for Kazakhstan to rethink their migratory policies as well as their idea on promoting and strengthening further the nation-building program.[17]

The identity crisis

Identity itself is a difficult topic to talk about as it involves many aspects within it. According to E. Erickson´s theory on identity, the image of oneself integrates its own personality with the surrounding world, which can in this case be successful sublimations, active protective mechanisms, preferable potentials and so on.[18]There is also the famous understanding that only language enables a person to see himself in his imaginations as an object.[19] The identity issue here comes into forefront as ethnicity plays an important role, as this makes the base for objective characteristics features like place of birth, languages, economy, race type and etc.[20] According to the study done on the ethnic-linguistic identification of repatriates in modern Kazakhstan, they have identified that the repatriates between the ages of 17-25 have undergone the problem of identity crises, as this for instance poses an important question for them: Who am I?.[21] Along with this identity issue, the repatriates also undergo problems in receiving secondary education int heir own mother tongue.[22] Most of the time it is is either a bilingual secondary taught program or neither, which of course also cause a spill-over effect on the education system of other states and so cause huge strains in adaptational programs for repatriates.[23] Of course other factors influence this identity issue along with the ethnic-linguistic identification. These other factors which could influence were for instance the level of proficiency in their language, socio-economic situation as well residence of their stay.[24] All that indicates that the ida of identity loss and in general about the ethnic-linguistic crisis is dependent on many factors and so individual-specific as well.

See also




Further reading

Template:Kazakh diaspora
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