Claiming Ancestral Homelands? Mongolian Kazakh Migration in Inner Asia.

by Anna Genina

Institution: University of Michigan
Department: Anthropology
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Mongolian Kazakhs; migration; repatriation; Kazakhstan; Central Asia; Anthropology and Archaeology; Social Sciences
Record ID: 2057976
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/111536


This dissertation examines the migration processes of Kazakhs from Mongolia to Kazakhstan between 1990-2011. Since 1990, when Kazakhstan gained sovereignty from the Soviet Union, approximately half of the 120,000 Kazakhs who lived in Mongolia migrated to Kazakhstan through a state-supported process of ethnic repatriation. Over twenty years that the repatriation program has been in place, Kazakhstan???s attempts to claim its current territory as the homeland of all Kazakhs and to construct Kazakhs living abroad as its national diaspora have produced some complicated and quite unintended effects. Rather than participating in an orderly process of permanent mass repatriation, Mongolian Kazakhs have created a viable cross-border community, continuing to maintain social ties and kin relationships on both sides of the border. This dissertation is about claims to homeland, belonging, and history in a space carved up by state borders and divided by competing political structures, economic systems, and unequal regional power relations. At the most basic level, it is about how people relate people to places, through ideas and practices of mobility and migration, historical narratives built around sacred places and ancestral genealogies, and categories of belonging or exclusion based on language, religion, and ways of life. A central aim of my dissertation is to show how people???s lives can be organized around principles of seasonal migration, pilgrimage, kinship, and ancestry, as much as claims to citizenship in a nation-state. Mongolian Kazakhs articulate their ideas of homeland and belonging through appeals to ancestries, not polities, enveloping state-sponsored notions of ???repatriation??? into a deep history of ancestral movements and cyclical seasonal migrations. This is predicated upon the creation and on-going maintenance of reciprocal relationships of care among the land, the ancestors, and their descendants. For Kazakhs in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, such cyclical relationships to ancestries and movement represent very powerful, albeit not always overtly political forms of belonging. Ultimately, I argue for the actual possibility of alternative worldviews in which the nation-state, with its attending conceptions of history, relatedness, and belonging, has become but one aspect of people???s experiences of creating a compelling and meaningful way of life.