Into Their World…The Kazakh of Kazakhstan

kazakh_202As the second largest Muslim group in Central Asia, the Kazak people have had a tumultuous history, experiencing wars, migration and domination for centuries. One of the most influential ethnic groups in Central Asia at one time, the Kazak now dwell mainly in Kazakhstan, but can also be found in Mongolia, Ukraine and Russia. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, various clans of the Kazaks formed a federation of mutual protection which lasted until the nineteenth century when Russia claimed the entire territory of Kazakhstan. Tragically, nearly half of the Kazak population was killed during the 1920s and 1930s Russian Civil War.      

Traditionally nomadic shepherds, the Kazaks lived in dome-shaped felt tents called yurts. However, after the annexation and war, they were soon forced to move to apartments in cities and depend on the Russians for resources and goods. Yet there is currently a movement to re-develop their identity as nomadic shepherds.

Kazaks living in the city tend to wear Western dress while those in rural areas wear more traditional garb, such as loose colorless shirts and baggy pants. Most Kazak families are patriarchal (male-dominated); however, this is gradually changing. Many Kazak's eat a diet consisting of rice, bread, fruits and vegetables. 

Kazaks have embraced Islam since the sixteenth century and recent attempts by Russia to suppress religious freedoms have only increased the role of Islam in this people group. Many Kazaks, however, combine Islamic practices with traditional folk religions which include belief in spirits, animism and ancestor worship. The Kazaks continue to consult shamans and practice various traditional rituals before and after marriage, at birth and at death.

Due to a mismanagement of natural resources, the Kazaks are also facing many difficulties, including contamination of drinking water, a high infant mortality rate and a high rate of still births and birth defects.

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(Information compiled from

Laurie Fortunak Nichols is editorial coordinator of Lausanne World Pulse. She also serves as editorial coordinator for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and managing editor and book review editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ). She has edited a number of books, including the recent Extending God's Kingdom: Church Planting Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, with A. Scott Moreau and Gary R. Corwin.