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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Kazakhstan

Ethnicity

Most of Kazakhstan's population is ethnically Kazakh, which is a Turkic ethnicity that originated in the area of Central Asia and Kazakhstan today. Kazakhs are most closely related to the other Turkic people of Central Asia, including the Kyrgyzs, Uzbeks, and Turkmen (from Turkmenistan). Another quarter of the country's population is ethnic Russian, people who generally immigrated to the region under Soviet rule. There are also dozens of other small ethnic groups in the country, many of who were either from the region originally or were deported here by the Soviets. Among these groups, the Uzbeks, Ukrainians, and Tatars are some of the largest.

Language

Kazakh (or Qazaq) and Russian are both official languages in Kazakhstan. Kazakh is the native language of most ethnic Kazakhs, but few other people in the country learn the language. Kazakh is in the Turkic language family and is generally written in a modified Cyrillic script. It is nearly identical to Kyrgyz and more distantly related to the other Turkic languages.

Most ethnic minorities, including the ethnic Russians, use Russian as the language of communication from one ethnic group to the next as nearly everyone in the country is fluent in Russian. English, French, German, and other popular international languages are rarely taught in Kazakhstan, but are growing in popularity.

Religion

Just under half of Kazakhstan's population is Muslim (most of whom are ethnic Kazakhs) while a slightly smaller number of people in the country are Russian Orthodox, which is most commonly practiced by the ethnic Russians. Among the last 10% or so, the people follow numerous religions, most commonly Protestantism. Few of the people in Kazakhstan are strict religious adherents though.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Generally speaking, Kyrgyzstan is fairly liberal in how they practice Islam.

Orthodoxy is a Christian religion that claims to be the most loyal to the Christian faith and religion as it was described by Jesus and the Gospels in the New Testament. Christianity, including Orthodoxy, was founded after the death of Jesus in about 30-33 AD; various branches of Orthodoxy were officially recognized by governments long before Catholicism was recognized in the Roman Empire.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism have many of the same beliefs; both believe that there is a single God who created everything and a savior, the son of God, Jesus Christ who is the forgiver of sins. However, Orthodoxy is very decentralized so each bishop oversees their local country or region, giving each orthodox country a different leader. In this way, no bishop has more power than any other, meaning the tenants and interpretations of the faith remain relatively unchanged. These beliefs are based on the teachings of the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, in particular the life and teachings of Jesus, which is found in the gospels (in the New Testament).

This page was last updated: May, 2014