Introduction / History
The Kazakhs of Mongolia belong to a larger group of people who live primarily in Kazakstan. Ethnically, they are of Turkic descent, and are the second largest Muslim group of Central Asia. In the past, they were perhaps the most influential of the various Central Asian ethnic groups.
Kazakhs developed a distinct ethnic identity in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In the nineteenth century, the Russians acquired Central Asia through a steady process of annexation. They eventually claimed the entire territory of Kazakstan. About half of the Kazakh population was killed during the Russian Civil War of the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, many fled to China and Mongolia.
The Kazakhs who now live in Mongolia make up the largest non-Mongolian ethnic group in the country. However, at the present time, their number is decreasing since many are emigrating back to their homeland, Kazakstan.
What are their lives like?
While many of the Kazakhs work as highly paid coal miners, some are nomads who migrate seasonally in search of pasture. During the summer months, they live in round tents called yurts. Yurts are made by stretching pieces of felt over wooden frames. These tents are very portable, making them suitable to a nomadic lifestyle. In the winter months, they live in adobe (concrete block) houses.
Like the Mongols, the Kazakhs raise livestock. Their livestock includes sheep, goats, and some cattle. Many also have horses, but only for prestige. To the Kazakh, horses represent the key to freedom. Even their economy and wealth are based on the number of horses they own. When a young couple marries, the "bride price" is often paid in horses. This custom is reflected in the words of a favorite quotation which says, "A beautiful maiden is worth 80 fine horses."
The Kazakh usually live as extended families. These include the parents, the married sons and their families, and the remaining unmarried children. In previous times, polygyny (having more than one wife) was practiced, but only by men who could afford it or by men whose first wife was childless. Today, marriages are generally monogamous.
The Kazakhs have Mongolian features, black hair, rough complexions, and medium frames. They are generally short-tempered and find it easy to move on in difficult times. Their clothing is made from felt and sheepskins.
Because of the harshness of the climate, the diet of the Kazakhs changes considerably throughout the year. In the winter they consume fat and meat, and during the summer months, dairy products are eaten. A favorite drink, called kumiss, is a wine made from fermented mare's milk.
In the Kazakh province of Bayan-Ölgiy, Kazaki is the primary language spoken. It is used both in grammar schools and in local administrative offices. Halh Mongolian and Russian are also taught as second and third languages in Kazakh schools.
What are their beliefs?
The Kazakhs embraced Islam during the sixteenth century and still consider themselves Muslim today. In reality, however, they are the least Islamic of the Central Asia Turks. Their Islamic practices have been combined with traditional folk rituals.
Essentially, the Kazakhs are Islamic animists and are still engaging in ancestor worship and other such practices. ("Animism" is the belief that non-human objects have spirits. "Ancestor worship" involves praying and offering sacrifices to deceased ancestors.) They also consult shamans (priests who cure the sick by magic, communicate with the spirits, and control events) for both religious and political reasons.
What are their needs?
Mission agencies have had very little success because the people are quite loyal to their traditions. Consequently, there are only a few known believers. Much intercession is needed to see the Kazakhs reached with the Gospel.
* The Lord has raised up several Mongolian missionaries to go to places other Westerners cannot go. Pray that the church would be ready to support these missionaries as that is often the big hindrance.
* Pray that God's church in Mongolia would grow in deeper discipleship and greater missions vision.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to go and break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to grant favor and wisdom to missions agencies that may be focusing on the Kazakh.
* Pray that Christian businessmen will have open doors to share the Gospel with the Kazakh.
* Ask God to encourage and protect the small number of Kazakh Christians.
* Pray that these new converts will have the boldness to share the Gospel with their people.
* Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among Kazakhs.