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The Ambiguities of The Kazakhs' Nomadic Heritage

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Presenting themselves as the heirs of the steppe nomads, the Kazakhs have, since the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991, emphasised their nomadic inheritance as the basis of their identity. Nonetheless, for all that they reclaim this heritage, they remain influenced by negative representations of nomads, and, having difficulty in combining pastoralism and modernity, they proclaim themselves at the same time founders of cities, inventors of writing and creators of state, in a quest for ancestral grounding which they share with other Central Asian republics. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, debates upon sedentarisation showed all the ambivalence of the Russian and Kazakh positions on the topic. Following independence, the 'patrimonialisation' of nomadism focused upon some ancillary emblems, such as the yurt or the horse, neglecting the essential feature, residential mobility, and, in ignoring actual nomadic practices, it definitively relegated nomadism to the past. Ethnography, conceived as a historical discipline consistently built on an evolutionist paradigm, described Kazakh pastoralism as relevant to a temporal elsewhere (before the 1917 revolution) or a geographical one (beyond the borders of Kazakhstan), and it showed little interest in the actual realities of mobile pastoralism, despite it being practiced by a small part of the population.
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Keywords: Kazakhstan; Nomadism; pastoralism; patrimony; sedentarisation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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  • Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects. Its readership includes all those interested in nomadic peoples, scholars, researchers, planners and project administrators.
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