Introduction / History The Kazakhs of Russia belong to a larger group of people who live primarily in Kazakstan. They are of Turkic descent, and are closely related to the Kyrgyz and the Karakalpak. The Kazak 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; however, about half of the Kazak population was killed during the Russian Civil War of the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, many fled to China and Mongolia.
Kazakhs developed a distinct ethnic identity in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Several of their clans formed a federation that would provide mutual protection. As other clans joined the federation its political influence began to take on an ethnic character.
During the nineteenth century, the Russians acquired Central Asia through a steady process of annexation. They eventually claimed the entire territory of Kazakstan.
What are their lives like? Since the collapse of Soviet communism, Kazakhs have been searching for their identity. Traditionally, they were nomadic shepherds; however, under Soviet rule, much of their land was seized and used for collective farming. As industry developed, their economy and culture became dependent entirely on the Russians. Today, however, there is a widespread movement to re-develop their own cultural identity.
As nomadic shepherds, Kazakhs lived in dome shaped felt tents called yurts. Under Russian rule, many were forced to move to the cities and live in houses or small apartments. Most of these two or three room apartments have running water, though in some rural areas they have no hot water. The water is clean, but not safe to drink. Many Kazakhs have now moved to other Central Asian nations, such as Russia and the Ukraine, in search of work in the cities or on the farms.
The Kazakhs eat a variety of meat and dairy products. Rice and bread are common staples. In the southern regions of Kazakstan, the people enjoy eating grapes, melons, and tomatoes.
Western style dress is common among the men and women living in the cities. However, rural Kazakh workers generally wear loose, colorless shirts with baggy trousers that are tied at the waist. This outfit is similar to the native costume of the past.
The structure of the Kazakh family is patriarchal, or male-dominated, but this is gradually changing. Legal authority that once belonged to the male head of the household has now been shifted to the head of the collective farm. These changes have caused a breakdown in the traditional Kazakh family.
What are their beliefs? The Kazakhs embraced Islam during the sixteenth century and still consider themselves Muslim today. Changes in Kazakh society (mainly from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle) and an attempt by the Soviets to suppress religious freedoms have led the people to adopt Islam more closely. However, their Islamic practices have been combined with traditional folk religions.
Kazakhs formerly practiced animism and ancestor worship. ("Animism" is the belief that non-human objects have spirits. "Ancestor worship" involves praying and offering sacrifices to deceased ancestors.) Today, they continue to consult shamans (priests who communicate with the spirits). They also practice traditional rituals before and after marriage, at birth, and at death.
What are their needs? The Kazakhs are facing ecological problems due to the poor management of natural resources. This has caused the near desolation of the Aral Sea and contamination of much of their drinking water. The infant mortality rate is very high. There is also a high rate of still births and babies born with birth defects. This may explain why so many of the Kazakhs have moved from Kazakstan into other Central Asian nations.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord to send long term laborers to live among Kazakhs and share the love of Christ with them.
Ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of Kazakhs towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
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 now focusing on the Kazakhs.
Pray that Christian businessmen will have open doors to share the Gospel with Kazakhs.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among Kazakhs.