Demographic upheavals in central Asia

Demographic upheavals in central Asia

How New the New Russia? Demographic Upheavals in Central Asia by Martha Brill Olcott ndependence came suddenly to the states of Central Asia, wit...

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How New

the New Russia?


Upheavals in Central Asia

by Martha Brill Olcott

ndependence came suddenly to the states of Central Asia, with advance notice of only a few weeks, and the populations in those states were far from unanimous in desiring sovereign statehood. To be sure, many in the new states were enthusiastic about the opportunity that so suddenly emerged. But many more would have been happy to accept a status short of full independence had it provided autonomy within a more loosely defined USSR. That is especially true of the people who came to Central Asia as part of Russia’s expansion or Soviet development efforts. This category comprised about a third of Central Asia’s population, the overwhelming majority of them Russian. But these “non-indigenous” people were not, and are not, evenly distributed across the region, so that their presence or absence now affects the process of state building in quite different ways horn nation to nation. At the time of independence, more than half of Kazakstan’s population was not Kazak and just less than half of Kyrgyzstan’s population was not Kyrgyz, while in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan about 70 percent of the population was from the ethnic community after which the new state was named. For the most part, the “non-indigenous” population did not view independence as the “indigenous” population did. No matter how strongly they had supported reform of the USSR, the non-indigenous population was badly disoriented by the country’s collapse, in part because it left them facing a stark choice. They could stay where they were and adapt to the new economic, political, and cultural realities, or they could leave. Where it was they might leave for, however, was a complex question, The breakup of the USSR had provided ethnic Russians and other members of titular nationalities with new “homelands” to which they might return, but for most people these were places they-or even their ancestors-had left long ago, sometimes as much as several centuries before. Few of the non-indigenous people living in Central Asia had homes elsewhere to which they could return, in any realistic sense. Russia and each of the Central Asian states have sought ways to encourage the non-indigenous population to remain where it is, although


MarthaBriJl Olcott

is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a professor of political science at Colgate University.


1996 I 537

OLCOTT different states have defined their encouragement in different ways, and the efforts have been only partly successful. Over the past several years, millions of people have chosen to suffer the costs of relocation from Central Asia, even though no one has really wanted them to leave. The demographic changes occurring because of this relocation will make the transition to independence more difficult for Central Asian states, as well as change the nature of the societies evolving there. These demographic changes are not so large as to suggest a dramatic and sudden alteration of the political status quo. About 10 percent of the Russians living in Central Asia have left the region since the states became independent, and, while many still talk of leaving, the number actively preparing to emigrate has apparently dropped significantly in 1995 and 1996. At the same time, Russian out-migration is substantial enough that it is transforming several of Central Asia’s societies, some immediately and some with effects that will be felt within a generation. Those differences reflect partly the overall number of migrants and partly their age. Everywhere but in Kazakstan it appears to be younger people who are leaving. The Russian departure is overwhelmingly voluntary. Most of Central Asia’s Russian migrants are leaving homes where they could live in peace. Interethnic skirmishes that occurred in Central Asia prior to independence were between the titular nationality and another Asian nationality. For example, in Uzbekistan’s Fergana region, Uzbeks attacked Meshket Turks in June 1989, and a year later the Uzbek minority came under attack in Kyrgyzstan’s Osh oblast. Even Tajikistan’s civil war has pitted Tajik against Tajik, with all sides taking care to leave the local Russian population as undisturbed as possible. Nevertheless, the Russians living in war-tom Tajikistan, who were 5 percent of Central Asia’s Russian population, can be considered to have faced real danger, and consequently just under half of Tajikistan’s Russian population has emigrated. The Russian departure from Central Asia has prompted great concern, both in Russia and in the countries from which the Russians are departing. Part of the reason Russia’s leaders did not dread the collapse of the USSR was that “hostages” would live in the new states, and they knew millions of RUSSian their presence could be used to Moscow’s geopolitical advantage. Thus, few among Russia’s elite want to see the ten million plus people who constitute Central Asia’s European population relocate to Russia. And quite apart from their geopolitical concerns, Russia’s leaders are well aware that the Russian Federation lacks the resources necessary to help resettle even people fleeing from the various war zones of the former USSR. Consequently, the Russian minorities living in Central Asia have become political pawns; Russian politicians invoke their plight to attract voters at home and to wring concessions from the leaders of the Central Asian states. Central Asian leaders also wish to limit Russian departures, in part because they fear Russia’s reprisals. That is particularly true in Kazakstan, where at the time of independence Russians were more than 35 percent of the population, with most of them living in ethnically compact zones close to the 3,000-mile border Kazakstan shares with Russia. Not only have the territories 538 I Orbis

Central Asia on both sides of this border always functioned as one economic unit, but the areas proximate to Russia are the home of virtually all of Kazakstan’s industry, as well as a great deal of its natural resources. This proximity makes the republic particularly vulnerable to Russian economic retaliation, which, when it comes, falls disproportionately on Kazakstan’s Russians and so only increases their dissatisfaction. Russian reprisals would be more difficult to mount against the other republics, but that has not made the local governments enthusiastic about the Russians’ departure. None of these states shares a border with Russia, yet all have wanted special assistance from Russia in various forms, such as preferential prices for energy or help The Russian minorities in with the shipment of key natural resources. The other four Central Asian states have also suffered Central hia from a shortage of trained personnel because of the Russians’ have become departure. In the long run, this shortage should lead to improved technical training in the local languages and encourage Central Pofitical PawnsAsians to go into fields from which they were previously excluded. For the present, however, the region’s states lack the funds for a massive campaign of educational reform, and leaders there want to spare their populations the consequences of a shortage of doctors, engineers, and other trained personnel. To accomplish this end, the Central Asian governments have tried various approaches. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have made Russian emigration difRcult by making it hard for those planning to leave the republic to sell property. Restrictions on exchanging local currencies for Russian rubles have also hampered emigrants; so did directives by Uzbek authorities in 1992-93 that made it impossible to obtain shipping crates for private use. The governments of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan have tried a more positive approach, changing state policies in ways designed to placate local Russians. Kyrgyzstan helps resettle people seeking to return to the republic, including Russians who tried resettlement in the Russian Federation. It has also modified its constitution to give Russian and Kyrgyz equal status as state languages. While the Kazaks have not gone so far, they have created virtual equality between Russian and Kazak. More important, the Kazak government has made integration of its cultural and economic policies with those of Russia its primary goal. Despite these various efforts, the leaders of the newly independent states (including Russia) have not been able to halt the emigration. Part of the reason is the higher priority that other issues claim, but a great deal of the failure is due to the ambivalence of all the parties involved. The Russian government has not yet decided what its responsibilities are to Russians living abroad; the various Central Asian governments simultaneously want their Russians to stay and to leave; and the Russians living in Central Asia have not yet reasoned out where their loyalties lie. As each of these parties reaches its various decisions, the nature of Central Asia’s societies will change from what they were and from one another. Fall 1996 I 539

OLCOTT Migration

Prior to Independence

The demographic changes that the Central Asian states have experienced since independence are not the beginning of a fundamentally new phase in these societies but the continuation of social and economic trends that began in the 1970s and 1980s. During the past quarter century, most of the Central Asian republics were becoming places where local Russians no longer wanted to live. They were slowly beginning to seem more like the homelands of the peoples after whom they were named and less like constituent parts of the USSR. The Soviet leadership took great pains to convince local officials and residents that these republics and national regions were not homelands. Those who ran the republics were appointed by the party leadership in Moscow and oversaw implementation of policies decreed in Moscow. Most republics were headed by a member of the titular nationality, but there was always a Russian deputy close by. The Soviet federative system was at least nominally intended to preserve and encourage the nationalities, but only so long as Soviet internationalist goals were properly advanced. Education and cultural events in the language of the titular nationality were possible, but Russian remained the language of political and economic advancement. Though all nationalities in the USSR were legally equal, Russians enjoyed the greatest status. Their language was the official language of international communication, and their history and culture were the basis of the multinational Soviet heritage. “Nationalists” were routed from positions of leadership by every Soviet leader, including Mikhail Gorbachev, who dismissed Communist Party of the Soviet Union Politburo member and Kazakstan Communist Party leader Dinmuhammad Kunaev on precisely this charge. As a result, Russians in the post-World War II era felt quite comfortable moving to Central Asia, and about half of the Russians living in Central Asia in 1991 had come to the region since 1945 or were the children of such recent immigrants. Almost all of the immigrants had come to the region of their own volition, principally for reasons of economic opportunity. More than a million Russians moved to Kazakstan during the Virgin Lands Campaign of the 195Os, in part as social activists responding to the government’s call, but in even larger part to escape the farming regions farther north and west, which had been devastated by World War II and which were only slowly being rebuilt. Several hundred thousand Russians came to Central Asia in the 1960s and 1970s as staff and management for new energy-related and industrial enterprises. In addition to career advancement, they sought an area that offered a good climate, lots of fresh fruits, cheap and regular plane service to Moscow, and the same access to Russian-language media and cultural life that they had enjoyed back home. During the 197Os,this situation began to change. Kazakstan remained the target of sizeable Russian immigration, but figures suggest that Russians were beginning to leave other parts of Central Asia. In Kyrgyzstan, the increase in Russian population during the 1970s was less than the increase projected 540 I Orbis

Central Asia through normal reproduction, while the other three republics showed net losses of Russians. Even more important, the Russians’ share of the total population began to decline faster than their drop in absolute numbers, because on average Central Asians had larger families than did local Russians. By the time of the 1989 census, the effect of the Central Asian “baby boom” of the 1950s was beginning to make itself felt, which further encouraged Russian emigration. The only exception, as noted, was in Kazakstan, where Russians generally lived in large, ethnically homogeneous enclaves. The notorious unreliability of Soviet statistics makes it difficult to measure Russian emigration from Central Asia for these years with any precision. But the problems this emigration began to create can be judged by the occasional newspaper account of regional shortages of physicians and other trained technical personnel, in an era when Soviet newspapers generally did not bruit social problems. For most of this period, Moscow’s preferred solution to Central Asia’s “migration problem” was to reduce the number of Central Asians living in their native lands by inducing them to leave the region in order to get technical training and jobs in Russia, particularly in regions where there were severe labor shortages, such as in eastern Siberia and the far north. For the most part, though, these efforts were a failure. Not only did the Central Asians have little interest in leaving their homes, but, save for the Kazaks, most did not have enough mastery of Russian to receive technical training in even the better institutions of their home republics, let alone in Russia itself. In December 1986, when his dismissal of Kunaev led to riots in Kazakstan’s capital city, Gorbachev began to rethink Moscow’s traditional nationalities policy. Under glasnost, non-Russians were given almost the same rights of cultural self-preservation as Russians. During this same period, republics began to demand greater rights of self-rule, including responsibility for the management of their economies. This movement started in the Baltic republics in 1987-88 as an offshoot of perestroika. By 1990, it had spread throughout the country, effectively turning the USSR into a series of homelands. With Moscow’s permission, republics began to pass laws that made the language of the titular nationality the official language of the republic. Though allowing grace periods of up to fifteen years before implementation, these laws required that government employees become proficient in the national language. Ihe enormous size of the state sector in these still communist republics meant such laws were a real threat to the millions of Russians living outside Russia. For the frosttime, such Russians began to feel themselves outsiders, as did many other minorities. Indeed, one intent of the new language policies was to cause minorities within the republics either to emigrate or to accept at least limited assimilation, However, glasnost had helped increase ethnic consciousness among the USSR’s principal and minority nationalities alike, making assimilation, or loss of national uniqueness, less desirable than it had ever been. Just as Central Asians began demanding the right to restore their history and culture to a place of privilege in their republics, ethnic pride of all sorts was increasing across the USSR. Russians living in Central Asia were largely symFall 1996 I 541

Table 1 fhm Central Asia to Russia

Russian axon 1990
















































Sotlrce: A.( ;. Vislxxvskii. kxtrrny

of Sciences.

etl.. :~~~~~~~riiic,A~.c~f~ 2995 10%).

Ciclosc~m~ ktihlte

cf EconomicI~rxrc~tsring

of thr I~u~~i;tn

p. X.2

pathetic to their neighbors’ efforts to redress c&t_rral grievances because they believed that they too had suffered from the Soviet experience, either personally or colk?ctively. A cultural rebirth in Central Asia wouk~ also permit them to share in the dhxd r&irth that was taking place in the Russian republic. Toward the end of the Gorbachev years, the steady, decades-long trickle of Russians out of Centrai Asia beaame a flood, taking Soviet officials by surprise. As Table 1 shows, large numbers of Russians lefi Central Asia in both 1990 and 1991. well before the dissolution of the USSR. Indeed, save for Turkmenistan, whose Russians account for only a small part of overall Russian emigration, more people left CentralAsia in 1990 than in 1791. Fear of interethnic fighting was one cause of increased Russian out-migration. Surveys after the riots in the Fergana Valley in 1787 and in Osh in 1990, neither of which involved the Russian population directly, indicated that people wet-e beginning to fear that interethnic fighting could spread to other ~~~il~ll~lnitiesin Central Asia. Such fears seemed neither exaggerated nor alarmist, since the Soviet media were filled with gmphic accounts of interethnic fighting, not only in the Fergana Valley, but also in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia It took little in~agination to envision Central Asia in flames. Evidence suggests, however, that other motivations were also at work, among them suppressecl desire. For the first time, privatization of housing made it possible for people wishing to leave the region simply to set1 their ap~~l~~ents, instead of spending years arranging the elaborate inter-city and inter-republic apartment trades that had been required under the Soviets. That the initial burst of emigration may have been due in part to long-held but unrealizable desires is suggested by the drop in Russian emigration from Tajikistan between 1990 and 1771. even though violent anti-A~~len~~n demonstrations in Dushanbe in February 1790 kept t& city under martial law for the ntzxt eighteen months. 542 I Orbis

Central Asia However, the desire of Central Asia’s Russian population to relocate clearly grew as Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika made themselves felt. In the 197Os, non-Russians of the USSR had to learn Russian to demonstrate their Soviet patriotism or enjoy social mobility; suddenly the burden was reversed, and Russians living in the republics were faced with the need to learn the local language if they were not to appear disloyal or to reduce sharply their economic potential. Similarly, the local Communist Party elites-who had been excoriated in the early and mid-1980s for corruption, nepotism, and “tribalism’‘-were now coming to power as proud native sons and national supporters. These Kyrgyz, Kazaks, and Turkmen no longer felt the need to hide either their clan and kin connections or the obligation to hire and promote their fellows, which they understood to derive from those connections. Meanwhile, Uzbeks and Tajiks were publicly pursuing regional interests rather than all-union ones. The effect of these reversals was to make Russians fear that they had no future in Central Asia. That is clearly reflected in a 1991 survey conducted by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion. The study found that: In Uzbekistan, 25 percent of all Russians surveyed were planning to leave the republic, 35 percent planned to stay, and another 40 percent were undecided. In Kyrgyzstan, 24 percent wanted to leave, 33 percent wanted to stay, and 41 percent were undecided. In Tajikistan, 36 percent wanted to leave, 23 percent wanted to stay, and 41 percent were undecided. In Turkmenistan, 28 percent wanted to leave, 32 percent wanted to stay, and 40 percent were undecided.’

The New Russian Migration The same survey was conducted again in three of those four republics in 1992, this time by a different research institute (the Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences). Results showed that the collapse of the USSR and the coming of local independence increased Russian desires to emigrate: In Uzbekistan, 43 percent of the Russians in the second survey said they wanted to leave, and only 18 percent planned to remain.

1 A.A. Rybakovskii, “Tsentral’naia Aziia i Rossiia: mezhgosudars~ennyi migtatsionnyi and Russia: Interstate Migratory Exchange), Unpublished manuscript, Moscow, p. 15.

obmen” (Central Asia

Fall 1996 I 543

OLCOR In Kyrgyzstan, 36 percent said they wanted to leave, and 25 percent said they wanted to stay. In Tajikistan, which had slipped into anarchic civil war in 1991, 66 percent said they wished to leave, and only 6 percent wanted to stay.’ Of course, the desire to emigrate is not the same thing as caption. Still, Russian our-migration from the five Central Asian states did increase after 1991, proceeding at different tempos in different republics. The earliest and most complete emigration came from Tajikistan, which is the country that has lost the greatest percentage of its Russian population, Russian emigration from Uzbekistan has also grown steadily, although its dimensions are hard to quantify because new beans to Russia are asked only where they have come from most recently, rather than where they came from originally. This practice conceals the origins of many migrating Russians, who move from elsewhere in Central Asia to Kazakstan and there attempt to arrange jobs and housing in Russia. What the immigration figures do not reveal are the reasons that people leave. Russians in Taji~s~n, and the parts of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan proximate to it, may have left out of fear for their physical safety. Others may have left for more traditional economic reasons, as suggested by one study that found Russians who had been living in workers’ dormitories were far more likely to em&gratethan were people who had better forms of housing.s Anecdotal evidence offered by dozens of press accounts suggests the biggest motivation for these “Russian refugees” was a sense of psychological dislocation or distress. “Refugees” from Kazakstan or Kyrgyzstan commonly cited incidents in which they were heckled on the streets or public transport, while those from IJzbekistan or Turkmenistan frequently complained that the increasingly “Islamic” nature of those states would put their daughters or wives in danger of being accused of immodest dress or behavior. This distress was encouraged by the media, exercising its new freedom after independence. Accounts of murders, street crimes, and apartment break-ins, all of which have become much more common, fueled people’s sense of vulnerability. Such crimes were rarely ethnic in a direct sense, but in many places the more affluent Russians made tempting victims for the more impoverished locals, thus heightening Russians’ sense that they were surrounded by hostile forces. Out-migration by the youngest and most able of the Russians combined with an exploding local population to make it more likely that media accounts of crimes showed elderly Russians as the victims, local youths as the victimizers. Then, too, in Uzbekistan, Tur~en~tan, and Kyrgyzstan, where local mastery of the native language is almost universal, much of the media switched from Russian to a local language that almost no Russians speak, thus increasing

544 I Or&s

Central Asia their feelings of isolation. The Russian-language media still available articulated this sense of dislocation, using “scientific methods” to document the distress of local Russians. Local Russian scholars cited the “nationalist excesses” of their new fellow citizens as the reason so many Russians were emigrating, thus sustaining the sense of dislocation and victimization. Such accounts and explanations circulated, albeit less publicly, even in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where press censorship kept this sort of story out of the media. Of course, what constitutes “excess” depends upon whose ox is being gored. One frequent cause of concern was enforcement of laws mandating use of the local language, which made many Russians fear for the security of their jobs or for their children’s future. But all of the local-language laws had been written before independence, with the intention of preserving and supporting local-language use in an environment dominated by Russian. Only when the Soviet Union disappeared did the republic language laws suddenly seem more procrustean. Virtually everywhere in Central Asia the effect of the language laws was to make it much easier to hire and promote locals instead of Russians. No doubt many such decisions also involved motives of revenge on the part of local elites, many of whom had only recently been at a competitive disadvantage with Russians. However, practical considerations of building loyal party and government structures for the new republics probably had as much to do with hiring and promoting decisions as did any desire to right old wrongs. That is best demonstrated by the large numbers of locals who, like the Russians, also found themselves disadvantaged in the new conditions of independence, whether because of bad clan or kin connections, poor choice of a profession, or simple bad luck. Unlike the locals, however, who might attribute this lack of success to nepotism or “tribalism,” the Russians were apt to see the explanation as anti-Russian bias. In general, during the early days of independence people searched desperately for explanations of the bewildering changes that had overtaken them. That was particularly true of Russians living outside of Russia proper, for in addition to comprehending the collapse of the USSR, they also had to cope with a transition from being members of a majority population to being members of a minority. They faced in acute form the question of what allegiance was owed to their new states. Central Asia’s elites tended to use defmitions of nationalism born of their Soviet experience, that of being embattled minorities struggling to defend their cultures against the assimilationist, “pro-internationalist” elite who dominated educational and cultural policy making in Moscow. Inevitably, the kind of patriotism such people championed was more mononational than multinational, and so it was understood by the Russians, and other local nationalities, as threatening. This problem of a new patriotism was especially disorienting for the Russians. Uzbeks or Ukrainians might choose to continue to live in Kazakstan, but they could take pride in the achievements of their “homelands.” Since most such minorities were accustomed to living outside their home regions, they Fall

1996 I 545


were simply exchanging one kind of “foreign” citizenship for another. What had happened to the Russians, and to Russia, was much harder to describe. Like the other peoples, Russians had been “liberated” from communism, but their state alone had lost status and territory. This sense of territorial loss was probably strongest among the Russians of northern Kazakstan, most of whom had understood their region to be Russia in all but name, while the rest of the republic historically had been the shared property of two peoples. The Russians who lived in the rest of Central Asia appear to have understood “Russia” in a less territorial, more abstract way. That can be demonstrated by the results of a survey conducted in September and October of 1994 by ethnographer Nadezhda Lebedeva of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Lebedeva interviewed sixty-two Russians and thirty Kazaks, chosen to insure the representation Central Asian of Russians preparing to emigrate, which 71 percent of the states now respondents said they planned to do. The poll gave respondents the option of supplying more than one answer to a question, often thus suggesting emigrants have a variety of motivations. However, champion a the study does not make clear the combinations in which the mononational respondents’ various attitudes are held.’ patriotism. AS one might expect from the people sampled, the Russians had decidedly negative attitudes toward Kazakstan: 21.9 percent said it was a place “where I do not feel myself to be secure”; 6.3 percent said, “I am being driven out of here”; and 15.6 percent described Kazakstan as “the land that I am leaving.” When asked ‘What is Russia for you ?” the Russians surveyed replied in the following ways: 25.8 percent said, “my real homeland”; 56.3 percent said, “the homeland of my ancestors”; and 18.8 percent replied, “a paternal home to which I can not return.” Given their general negativity about Kazakstan, it is significant that when asked the same question about Kazakstan more Russians (37.5 percent) claimed it as “my homeland” than had claimed Russia. Another

6.4 percent claimed KaZakstan as “the homeland

of my ancestors,” and 65.6 percent said simply that Kazakstan is “where I live.” The Kussians were also asked why they wanted to leave Kazakstan.

The most frequent answer was “there is no future for my children here” (59.4 percent), while the second most frequent was “because of material difficlllties” (40.2 percent). Almost as many respondents (37.5 percent) gave as a reason “fear for my life (or lives of loved ones).” But that figure should be treated with caution, since “fear for life” was the major criterion required immigrants to demonstrate if they wished

the Russian government to acquire the status of

“forced migrant,” entitling them to fvlancial assistance in resettlement. Perhaps more reliable as an index of actual Russian fear in Kazakstan is the fact that only 6.3 percent of the Russian respondents described themselves as “fleeing” Kazakstan. * Naclezhcla M. Lekdeva, NowziuiaKtmkuia di~qmr~ of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 19951, p. 51.


I Orbis





and Anthropology

Central Asia Plainly, many people were leaving because of new political realities: 28.2 percent said they were leaving because “not knowing the [Kazakl language created work-related difficulties,” and 25 percent gave “changes in the national political status of Russians” as their reason.5 Lebedeva used the same questionnaire in Uzbekistan, where she interviewed eighty-six people, fifty-six of whom were Russians. The selection bias was the same as in the Kazakstan survey, with 73.2 percent of those surveyed indicating they hoped to emigrate from Uzbekistan. The answers received in Uzbekistan mirrored those obtained in Kazakstan, except that more of the Russians in Uzbekistan considered themselves to have no homeland at all: only 16.7 percent of the respondents so described Russia, and 27.8 percent so described Uzbekistan. Cultural issues appear to trouble the Russians in Uzbekistan more than they do those in Kazakstan: 19.4 percent of the Russians, more than in Kazakstan, claimed they were being forced to emigrate, and 38.9 percent cited dificulties arising from lack of mastery of Uzbek as the reason for their departure.’ That is not surprising; Uzbekistan’s language law is more severe than Kazakstan’s, and more Uzbeks speak their native language fluently than do Kazaks. As a result, the shift from Russian to the national language has been more complete and more rapid in Uzbekistan than anywhere else in Central Asia, which means that people who do not know the national language are effectively cut off from the public and cultural life of their nation of residence. Access to Russian media is also more limited in Uzbekistan than in Kazakstan, in part because of President Islam Karimov’s displeasure with the Russian media’s portrayal of his republic. This atmosphere probably explains why Uzbekistan has lost a greater percentage of its Russian population than has Kazakstan. When faced with the need to declare citizenship, more of the Russians of Uzbekistan chose Russian citizenship than did the Russians of any other Central Asian state. Only Tajikistan has lost more Russians than Uzbekistan, with the Russian population there shrinking by 41 percent from 1989 to 1995, compared with Uzbekistan’s 17 percent. During the same period, to be sure, Kyrgyzstan lost 20 percent of its Russian population, but tens of thousands of those have probably returned in I995 and 1996. The inability to stem emigration has been a sore point for all the Central Asian republics, although discussion has been more public in some than in others. Probably the most open discussion has been in Kyrgyzstan, where the Russian-language press has printed hundreds of articles about Russian out-migration, stressing the different statuses of the Russian and Kyrgyz languages, the generally weak nature of the Kyrgyz economy, and the disruption of ties with Russia.’ 5 Ibid., pp. 48-49. 6 Ibid., pp. 88-89. 7 See Slovo Kyrgyzstnnu, Apr. 8, 1995.

Fall 1996 I 547

OLCO?T Kyrgyzstan’s government, anxious to reduce out-migration, has responded to these complaints. Beginning in late 1994, the status of Russian was repeatedly raised, until in March 1996 it was given the same legal status as Kyrgyz. Kyrgyzstan has also made a number of efforts to improve ties with Russia, the most recent of which-a four-party economic union with Russia, Kazakstan, and Belarus-began in March 1996. Kyrgyzstan has great hopes that this new union will help convince the country’s Russian population that they can maintain ties with Russia while remaining outside its borders. Russia seems to entertain the same hopes; when the treaty was signed, Boris Yeltsin called Kyrgyzstan a “model for all the CIS countries” and further claimed that “many of the more than 100,000 Russians who left [the republic] are now thinking of retuming.“8 Russians do indeed seem to be returning to Kyrgyzstan, but the reasons appear less connected to the treaty, which will take years to implement fully, than to the problems these emigrants have encountered in Russia. The average ethnic Russian in Kyrgyzstan earns only about a third of what his counterparts do in Russia, which has been an important stimulus for emigration. But upon arrival in Russia, these “Kyrgyzstani Russians” have frequently found stiff competition for jobs and far higher prices for goods, services, and apartments than in Kyrgyzstan. Even people who were able to cash in their holdings in Kyrgyzstan often discover their resources to be inadequate for setting up in Russia. The relatively lower figure for Russian emigration from Turkmenistan (10 percent from 1989 to 1995) seems an anomaly, given that Turkmenistan is not only a virtual police state, like Uzbekistan, but also has suffered one of the greatest drops in standard of living in the region. Russians in Turkmenistan, however, enjoy several advantages over their counterparts in Uzbekistan: the Russian language remains more widely used, Turkmenistan permits Russians to hold dual citizenship, and many of the Russians are in the republic because of their ties to Turkmenistan’s extremely lucrative energy industries.

Russia’s Response

Russia has demonstrated sympathy for the Russians of Central Asia, offering assistance to as many as it can and working to muster international support on their behalf. In large part because of such efforts to mobilize the world community, the high commissioner for national minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Max Van der Staal, has traveled to Central Asia several times, trying to improve ethnic tolerance on all sides. The office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) has been even more involved, trying to influence developments in the region and slow the migration process throughout the CIS. * “Results of Akaev-Yeltsin Meeting,” Open Media Research Institute, OMHIDa@

548 I Orbis

Digest, Mar. 29,


Central Asia However, after initial attempts to involve the world community, the Russian authorities were quick to understand that international intervention comes only in response to internationally defmed problems. For Russia to obtain international assistance for the Russians of Central Asia, they had to be seen as fleeing Central Asia rather than merely attempting to relocate. To that end, the parliament of the Russian Federation passed a law in February 1993 concerning “forcibly displaced persons,” and that became the basis of a CIS regional agreement in September 1993, signed by all members except Ukraine and Moldova. (Georgia was not then a CIS member.) That agreement established the following standard: For the needs of the present agreement, the term “forcibly displaced person” shall apply to any person who, having the nationality of the host State, has been forced to leave his place of permanent residence on the territory of another Patty, because of acts of violence or persecution committed against him or his family, whatever the circumstance, or because of real fears of persecution due to his race, nationality, religion, language, political opinions or appurtenance to a particular social group during armed and inter-ethnic conflicts.”

Russia created the Federal Migration Service to help resettle people who meet this definition, working according to the guidelines established in the Federal Migration Program of August 1994. These guidelines have allowed thousands of people from Central Asia to be classified as refugees or forced migrants, which enables them to receive financial assistance and to be relocated in “new settlements” established in various parts of Russia. Although signatories to this treaty, the Central Asian states have objected strongly to the ways in which the Russian government has employed it. All of the states save Tajikistan have argued vigorously that Russians leaving their republics are doing so for personal reasons, not because they or their families are in physical danger. These objections have substance, for there is little evidence of more than isolated instances in which local Russians have suffered anything greater than psychological distress.

Other Migrations

of Central Asia

Emigration of Russians from Central Asia is but one of many demographic changes these states have undergone since independence. Throughout the former Soviet Union the trend is toward mononationalism, although precise statistics are difficult to come by. Perhaps the best figures available are those regarding non-Russian immigrants to Russia, which show approximately 400,000 such immigrants in 1990-94. Although these figures reflect only the numbers of immigrants and not their nationality, one may suppose many were of ethnic groups having “homelands” (semi-autononous territories) within the Russian Federation. 9 UNHCRRegionalBureau for Europe, 7he CIS Conferenceon Refugees and Migrants, European Series, vol. 2, no. 1, l!G%, pp. 16243.


1996 I 549

OLCOTT Figures for other republics are more elusive. For example, the Kyrgyz government published partial results of a 1994 micro-census in which it was disclosed that 590,000 people had left the republic since 1989, and that 190,000 people had moved in.‘” No further information was provided about the identities of either group, or about their points of departure (for the latter group) and destinations (for the former). In 1995, the Interstate Statistical Committee of the CIS made public urban out-migration figures for 1993, which show that 43,736 Ukrainians and 40,352 Tatars left Central Asia. (These figures are probably a bit high, as Kazakstan reported all migrants from urban areas without distinguishing those moving within the republic from those leaving the republic.) Where these emigrants went is not disclosed, although it may be presumed that most of both groups went to Ukraine, since the Tatars were probably mostly Crimean Tatars returning to the Crimea, now in Ukraine.” Belarus officials report that 6,120 “refugees and forced migrants” requested Belarusian citizenship from 1992 through 1994.1L The problem of the Tajik rehgees is particularly complex. Nearly 25,000 such refugees are said to be living in the CIS, exclusive of Russia; these include 5,000 each in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan, and more than 10,000 in Turkmenistan. There are also said to be just less than 10,000 Tajik refugees still living in Afghanistan.‘” Not all emigrants left Central Asia for other parts of the CIS. The largest such departure was of ethnic Germans. From 1989 through early 1995, Kyrgyzstan’s German population dropped from 102,000 to 38,000 people.” Similarly, from 1989 until mid-1994, Kazakstan’s German population dropped by 958,000 to slightly more than 600,000.15 Many of these emigrants went to Germany, which in the 1980s had begun accepting “repatriates” (many of them descendants of settlers brought to Russia in the eighteenth century), but an unspecified number went only as far as the Russian Federation, which had been their more immediate “homeland” prior to their expulsion to Central Asia during World War II. The numbers of the latter have grown since Germany’s reunification, when the German government began encouraging German populations to remain in Central Asia, in part by sending foreign assistance to Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan that is earmarked for ethnic Germans who choose to stay in Central Asia instead of migrating to Germany.‘” People who have Jewish nationality indicated in their passports, or who can claim Jewish ancestry, have also been leaving Central Asia, bound either ‘0 Slozu Rjvppz~~a?~a, &ul. 5, 1’995. 11SeeIn&state Statistical Committee of the Commonwealth (,Moscow: ISCCIS. 1995).

550 I Orbis

of Independent

States. IMrzogrgthlc


Central Asia for the United States or Israel. In 1993,12,336 Jews left Central Asia, more than half from Uzbekistan.” (The actual figure is certainly higher, as official CIS statistics would consider to be a Jew only someone who had this nationality indicated on his passport.) Their reasons for departure may include a heightened discomfort about the possibilities of being targeted should Islam continue to revive, but in general Central Asia’s Jews seem to be departing for much the same reason as other Russian-speakers: they see little future for themselves in Central Asia. Of course, some people have moved into Central Asia during the period under discussion, but there have been no serious studies about this immigration. Anecdotal evidence suggests it is composed largely of USSR-era bureaucrats, some Communist Party functionaries, and students who were waiting to ftish their education in Russian cities before returning to Central Asia. The largest single group to return “home” are the Kazaks, who were originally offered fmancial incentives by Kazakstan’s government to return. Kazakstan was the only Central Asian state that systematically tried to attract the titular nationality back to the republic. As a result, more than 120,000 Kazaks were resettled in Kazakstan in 1991-94, nearly half from the CIS states, with most of the rest arriving from Mongolia. l8 This “return” of the Mongolian Kazaks was part of a complex government policy designed to hasten the formation of a Kazak majority in the republic, as well as in each of its oblasts, by making restitution to the descendants of Kazaks who had fled or been deported during the 1916uprising and collectivization, Most of the Mongolian Kazaks were settled in Russian-majority parts of eastern Kazakstan, but they proved much harder to assimilate than government officials had expected, since their culture, practices, and even language were very different from that of their putative co-nationals. The Kazak government also encouraged internal migration within the republic, in part to change the ethnic balance in the Russian-majority oblasts of northern Kazakstan, but in equal part to accommodate the desire of some Kazaks to reclaim lands from which their ancestors had been forced by Imperial Russian and Soviet officials.

Dealing with Migration All of the Central Asian states understand that, whatever their long-term prospects, it will be difficult for them to compensate immediately for the departing Russians. Consequently, each of the region’s leaders wishes to slow, or even reverse, this emigration. Russia’s government shares the concern, for it is in Russia’s geopolitical and economic interest to have as many Russians as possible remain in Central Asia. Having Russians in the region helps legitimize a security doctrine that asserts both Russia’s responsibility for their defense and t7 See Interstate Statistical Committee, Demographic Yearbook I8 LJNHCR Regional Bureau for Europe, 7he CIS Conjiice, p. 48.


1996 I 551

OLCOTT the consequent right to guard all the borders of the CIS. Russia has an even greater economic interest in keeping Central Asia’s Russians where they are, since it can ill afford the costs of resettling what some sources fear might be as many as seven or eight million people. What is sometimes lost in the discussion of emigration and its attendant problems, however, is the fact that it is but one response to a radically new environment. Thus, there is some reason to imagine that in the five years since independence those who felt their situations to be most unstable or untenable have made the adjustments they felt necessary, and that most of the rest, confused and uncertain though they may be, are likely to remain where and as they are, barring further drastic changes in the stability of the political and economic environment. For example, researcher Nadezhda Lebedeva predicted in a study published in 1993 that the first Russians to leave Central Asia would be those who had most recently arrived-who perceived themselves as having little in common culturally with the local population and who lived in relative isolation from other Russians. l9 Anecdotal and media evidence suggests that such people have indeed already departed. The Russian government and most Russian scholars believe that Russians who have not yet emigrated will be more likely to remain in Central Asia if their new governments grant them the right to hold citizenship both in their home states and in Russia. This suggestion was flatly rejected by all of the Central Asian states, save Turkmenistan, when it first surfaced in 1993, although Kyrgyzstan’s mounting economic and demographic problems have subsequently forced the administration there to backpedal, suggesting that it would seriously consider such an option. At the same time, though, the Kyrgyz have made plain that their greater preference is for something like the solution proposed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakstan-that citizens of CIS member states be permitted to exchange their citizenship “at par” if they move within the CIS. Both Kazakstan and Uzbekistan remain adamant that dual citizenship is too great a price to pay to placate local Russians. Indeed, both states are proceeding with plans to have local residents exchange their Soviet passports for new national ones during 1996, which will effectively force residents to decide whether to become citizens of the new states or to become resident aliens. By contrast, the Russian government has given citizens of the USSR residing in Russia until the turn of the century to decide their citizenship. However, that most (though not all) of the adult Russians now residing in Central Asia are likely to remain where they are does not mean that the Russian departure from the region has ended. The Russian population of Central Asia is already, on average, much older than the local population, with a disproportionately large share of each republic’s pensioners. Within the next decade or so, many of these Russians will make a natural exit. The other group 19 See Nadezhda M. Lebedeva, Sotsial’naia psikbologiia etnicheskikh migratsii (Moscow: ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 1993), pp, 1@79.


I Orbis



Central Asia that is likely to leave in the coming years comprises those who are now children or students. Save in Kazakstan, most Russian young people in Central Asia indicate that they will seek education or employment in Russia proper, rather than in the states where they were born.

Central Asia’s Possible


Thus, within a generation, even without substantial, continued Russian emigration, the face of Central Asia is certain to be quite different from what it is today. Continued emigration of Russian youth, the natural diminution of the population of Russian aged, and the birth rates of the local population (which, though somewhat reduced from earlier highs because of declines in the quality of health care and other indices of standard of living, nevertheless remain high relative to that of the Russians) will combine to leave only very small European minorities in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan will probably remain comparatively more diverse but will still be much more mono-ethnic than today. This change is suggested by the fact that, whereas in the 1989census Kyrgyzstan was 52.4 percent Kyrgyz and 21.5 percent Russian, by the 1994 micro-census the country was already 58.1 percent Kyrgyz and 18.0 percent Russian, 2o Similar processes are underway in Kazakstan. By late 1994, Kazaks had already increased their share of the population by 5 percent compared with 1989, to 44.3 percent. In the same period, the Russian share dropped almost 2 percent, to just 35.9 percent of the total population. By the year 2010, Kazaks are likely to be the majority in the state.21 Although certain elements of this demographic change, such as the high birth rate of most Central Asian peoples, were in place before the dissolution of the USSR, most of the initial demographic transformation of Central Asia has been a response to conditions wrought by the breakup. To the extent that those conditions still obtain, the various Central Asian governments and Russia, acting in concert or against one another, can continue to play a role in shaping the choices that Russians living in Central Asia make about their futures. Guarantees of jobs, subsidized housing, and dual or eventual Russian citizenship would all help encourage local Russians to remain where they are, as would easing the language laws. None of these measures, however, will be sufficient to turn the Central Asian states into stable multi-ethnic societies. A transformation of that sort would require the creation of some form of new state identity that would permit both minority and majority populations to feel similar senses of inclusion, and hence of allegiance. Such a development is difficult to foresee with the current conditions in Central Asia. All of the region’s states have moved away from the democratic *OSlm Kyrgyzstana, 21 Ibid.

Jan. 5, 1995.

Fall 1996 1 553

OLCOIT inclinations of their early days (and in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan those were not very great to begin with). In three of the Central Asian states (Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan), the present political structures have been ossified by extending the terms of the incumbent presidents indefinitely into the future, Kyrgyzstan has remained committed to holding a presidential election, but there is little likelihood of opposition to incumbent President Askar Akaev, while the political situation in Tajikistan remains chaotic, with control over large portions of the country still contested by force of amls. Perhaps more important, a variety of powerful economic and social forces are at work in each of the Central Asian states, beginning to create much greater differentiations both within each state and among the states. Trained in the Soviet era, the existing elites and today’s young adults are a reasonably homogeneous group with a high degree of bilingual fluency-the legacy of a shared school curriculum-and, for older people, a stock of shared “Soviet” experiences. This homogeneity works not only across ethnic groups but also within them, so that the Uzbeks or Kazaks of today still share a great deal, whether they are from the countryside or the city. As time passes, this intra-ethnic homogeneity will change as completely as its interethnic counterpart. Sharp differentiations will appear within the Uzbek, Kazak, Kyrgyz, and (perhaps) Turkmen societies, with the children of the elite well schooled in two or three languages while the mass of their fellows in the countryside have little or no education in any language. Standards of living will show a similar differentiation, with a small percentage of the local population enjoying wealth and privilege while the vast majority continues to endure considerable economic hardship. One consequence of this economic differentiation is that the influence of Islam is likely to grow, particularly among the disenfranchised and perhaps substantially in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, where Islam was already strongly established. The growing “Islamihcation” of the masses will put pressure on the republics’ leaders, since each of the current presidents is identified to some degree with the atheism of the Soviet past. Each state will find itself in an increasingly different geopolitical “neighborhood.” Kazakstan remains most sensitive to political and economic changes in Russia, both because of the long border the two states share and because the northern oblasts are likely to remain among me mOSt “Russian” parts of Central Asia. Equally important, however, is that Kazakstan shares a long border with China, which it cannot defend. China has little wish to see the emergence on its flank of either a strong democracy or a strong Muslim state that might inspire separatist aspirations in the Uighurs, Kazaks, and other Turkic peoples of its own northwest. Poor and remote, Kyrgyzstan is likely to remain a virtual appendage of Kazakstan and Russia, dependent upon the two states for financial and other assistance. It shares with Kazakstan the vulnerability of a border with China and has the additional problems created by a large minority population of Uzbeks in and around the southern city of Osh, which is both physically and culturally remote from the capital and the north. Both Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan 554 I Orbis

Central Asia are likely to remain states that, though diierent from Russia, will not be entirely culturally alien to Russians. By contrast, those states that share borders with neither China nor Russia are likely to turn their attentions southward and come to resemble states like Pakistan and Iran (in social structure, not necessarily in religious ideology). The potential for cooperation among these states was demonstrated by the recent opening of a rail connection between Turkmenistan and Iran. This railway will permit goods and raw materials to move in and out of Central Asia’s southern flank without recourse to Russia-inevitably bringing Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and (perhaps) Tajikistan into greater contact with Iran, Pakistan, and the Arab states of the Middle East. As the states of Central Asia evolve, their changing needs and interests will pull them away from Russia and from one another. Russia, it appears, is beginning to recognize this differentiation of interests, with some states, such as Kazakstan, of greater concern to it than others, such as Turkmenistan. One indication of this reorganization of priorities is Russia’s growing desire to find a solution to Tajikistan’s problems that would permit Moscow to relinquish much of its present responsibilities there. These changes in state interest will both be driven by and magnify the effects of demographic changes. Although the time of the urgent migration of populations in and out of Central Asia seems to be nearing a close, the slower demographic adjustments wrought by increasing age, comparative birth rates, and the need of maturing young people to seek education and employment will continue. As a result of such changes, the Central Asian states of a decade hence will be strikingly dissimilar both from what they are today and from one another, as each state evolves its own distinctive character.


1996 I 555