The Kazakh, a Turkic people, are the second largest Muslim people group of Central Asia. In times past, they may have been the most influential of the various Central Asian ethnic groups. While most of the Kazakh now live in Kazakhstan, they make up only about 40% of the country’s population. Large communities can also be found in Mongolia, Ukraine, and Russia.
The Kazakh 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 Kazakhstan. Tragically, about half of the Kazakh population was killed during the Russian Civil War of the 1920’s and 1930’s. During this time, many fled to China and Mongolia.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Since the collapse of Soviet Communism, the Kazakh 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 redevelop their own cultural identity.
As nomadic shepherds, the Kazakh lived in dome shaped felt tents called yurts. These portable dwellings could be taken down and moved from area to area as the shepherd found good land for his flocks. Under Russian rule, many other Kazakhs 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 there is no hot water. The water is clean, but not safe to drink. The process of purifying the water can be very tedious.
The Kazakh eat a variety of meat and dairy products. A popular Kazakh food is besbarmak, which is eaten with your hands. It is made of noodles, potatoes, onions, and mutton. Rice and bread are common staples. In the southern regions of Kazakhstan, fruit and vegetables grow in abundance. There the people enjoy eating grapes, melons, and tomatoes. Kazakh apples are also famous throughout Central Asia.
The foundation of the Kazakh culture is hospitality, which always starts with a cup of tea. The host offers tea to any person who comes to his house. Guests must accept the kindness, or the host will be offended.
A favorite sport is kokpar which means “fighting for a goat’s carcass.” Up to 1000 horseman will participate in this sport.
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.
Traditional Kazakh folk religion includes beliefs in spirits. They practice 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, the Kazakh continue to consult shamans (priests who cure the sick by magic, communicate with the spirits, and control events). They also practice various traditional rituals before and after marriage, at birth, and at death.
What Are Their Needs?
The Kazakh are facing ecological catastrophe due to the mismanagement of natural resources. This has caused the near desolation of the Aral Sea and contamination of much of their drinking water. As a result, the infant mortality rate is very high. There is also a high rate of stillbirths and birth defects. Abortion is their main method of birth control. Most women have five or six abortions. Because Kazakhs value children, this creates a serious emotional battle for Kazakh parents.
The Kazakh church is young, but the church is growing. Young people are especially excited about hearing the Good News of the Gospel. Over 40 Kazakh speaking churches exist, but in a people group of over eight million, that is a small number. Many churches are located in the major cities like Almaty, but Christian workers are also needed in the rural areas.
- Praise God for the growing number of Kazakh Christians.
- Pray that they would learn the Word of God quickly.
- Pray that there would be fresh leadership training materials prepared in the Kazakh language for pastors.
- Pray for salvation for heads of families as the Gospel is clearly presented to them.
- Ask the Lord to send long term laborers to live among the Kazak and share the love of Christ with them.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the Kazak 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 encourage and protect the small number of Muslim Kazak who have converted to Christianity.
- Pray that these converts will begin to boldly share the Gospel with their own people.
- Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Kazak.
Text source: Copyright © GAAPNet: Updated original Bethany people profile. Used with permission.