The Kazakhs of Kyrgyzstan belong to a larger group of people who live primarily in present day Kazakhstan. Traditionally the Kazaks were semi nomadic, equestrian tribal people who roamed the Ural Mountains and the regions of North and Central Asia of Eurasia. Only people of the Kazakh ethnic group are called Kazakhs, while the term Kazakhstani refers to the people of Kazakhstan, inclusive of all ethnic groups living in the country. Kazakhs developed a distinct ethnic identity in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. As several of the clans formed a federation for mutual protection, they took on an ethnic identity of their own. Through the years, the Kazakhs closely preserved their culture by keeping an epic tradition of oral history. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the annexation of Central Asia by Russia and the Soviet Union respectively, resulted in many Kazakhs fleeing the steppes to Europe and Asia, with many later becoming citizens of other countries. Today you will find Kazakhs in Russia, Ukraine, and all the Central Asian countries including Kyrgyzstan.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Since 1991, the government of Kazakhstan, as part of their nation building strategy, has actively supported the return migration of 'oralman', (the Kazakh word for those in diaspora), by offering incentives to lure them into settling in Kazakhstan. As a result, one million ethnic Kazakhs have repatriated to their ancestral homeland. Therefore, there are fewer Kazakhs in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries. As nomads and herders roaming the steppes in the early times, tribalism formed the basis of their society and tribes consisted of family members and family elders. Arranged marriages and inter-tribal marriages helped them maintain peace and gave them a sense of security. In the modern world, one can see tribalism slowly fading in business or government and everyday life. Nonetheless, when ethnic Kazakhs meet another Kazakh for the first time, they usually ask about their tribal or clan background. As the Kazakhs dispersed during the Soviet annexation, the diaspora Kazakhs, over time, embraced the language and traditions of the land they emigrated to including that of Kyrgyzstan. At home, however, they usually speak the Kazakh language. Dome shaped felt tents, called yurts, once housed the nomadic shepherds. As expats, many were forced to move to the cities and live in houses or small apartments, taking up low paid jobs in the cities or work on farms. Due to their poor living conditions, many were pushed to the brink of poverty. However, rapid industrialization raised their standard of living during industrial revolution. Nonetheless, materialism and corruption are rampant in the current society. No matter where they live the Kazakhs have their own cuisine, though it is like that of other Central Asian peoples like the Kyrgyz people. Besbarmak is a traditional Kazakh food, made with boiled horsemeat or lamb. Rice and bread are common staples. The Kazakhs enjoy eating native apples, grapes, melons, and tomatoes and drinking fermented horse milk. Those who practice Islam do not drink alcohol, but they drink tea with almost every meal. Kazakhs extend great hospitality and are open to external influences. Kazakhs consider it an offence to decline an invitation to dine at their homes. They mark their social occasions with lavish feasts and singing in groups. They often play the dombra and kobyz, two traditional stringed instruments. Western style dress is common among the men and women living in cities. The structure of the Kazakh family is patriarchal, or male-dominated, but this is gradually changing. Such changes have caused a breakdown in the traditional Kazakh family. However, Kazakhs still retain an extremely hierarchical view and people with age and position are given great respect and honor.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims, and they are the second largest Muslim group of Central Asia. Islam was first introduced to them in the early eighth century. Their Islamic practices are combined with traditional folk religions such as shamanism, animism and ancestor worship. Many Kazakhs, even now, continue to consult shamans (priests who communicate with the spirits). They also practice traditional rituals before and after marriage, at birth and at death. Many of them wear "protection" beads and talismans to ward off the evil spirits and the evil eye. Missionary efforts by various Christian organizations since 1818, has borne fruit among the Kazakhs. Today, the entire Bible, in modern translation, is available in the Kazakh language.
What Are Their Needs?
The Kazakhs in Kyrgyzstan need the chance to find their way to the cross and the empty grave.
Ask the Lord to send long term laborers to live among Kazakhs in Kyrgyzstan and share the love of Christ with them. Ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of Kazakhs, so that they will be receptive to the gospel. Pray that Christian who are filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit will have open doors to share the gospel with the Kazakhs. Ask the Lord to raise up a church planting movement among Kazakhs in Kyrgyzstan.
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