New Sources for Study of the Kazakhstani Turkish Community

Saule Tazhibyeva & Irina Nevskaya

New Sources for Study of the Kazakhstani Turkish Community

(65th Meeting Astana, 2023)

The sociolinguistic research conducted during the international project “Interaction of Turkic Languages and Cultures in post-Soviet Kazakhstan” in the period of 2014-2020 has attracted our attention to the Kazakhstani Turkish community; the project has also done a primary documentation of Turkish linguistic varieties spoken in Kazakhstan (Nevskaya, I., Tazhibayeva S. 2015).

The Kazakhstani Turks known in scientific and popular literature as “Meskhetian Turks” are residents of Kazakhstan since the time of their deportation from the Caucasus in 1944. After the collapse of the Soviet regime, the Turkish population had rejected using this designation considering it incorrect and humiliating their Turkish self-awareness. In Kazakhstan, the Turkish population started to identify themselves as Ahiska Turks, Hemshilli Turks, and Laz Turks, mostly according to the place of their original settlement in the Caucasus.

Kazakhstani “Meskhetian” Turks speak different Turkish idioms such as Ahiska Yerli, Ahiska Terekeme, Hemshilli, and Laz. Community members have a strong sense of their belonging to a big Turkish community on the one side. On the other side, they have a strong self-identification as members of a particular Turkish group (Nevskaya I., Tazhibayeva S., 2018). The collected audio and video data of the interviewers as well as the sociolinguistic data prove this fact of self-identification and show the language peculiarities of each sub-group; the collected materials are under study now. The documentation and preservation of Turkish indigenous varieties in Kazakhstan present a number of serious problems, aggravated by the fact that the older generation of native speakers of these varieties is passing away while the language of the young generation of the Kazakhstani Turks is undergoing considerable changes triggered by the lively processes of language interaction in Kazakhstan. In addition, the Kazakhstani Turkish varieties function only in the oral form while the younger generation is switching to Standard Turkish. Moreover, Turkey has proclaimed itself to be the protector of all Turkish sub-groups in Kazakhstan. In 1991, a Turkish Center was founded in Almaty. Republican Turkish was recommended to be used as the “sole standard language” of Kazakhstani Turks. An international weekly newspaper AHISKA published in Almaty uses Standard Turkish. Standard Turkish is taught at schools in the settlements of the Kazakhstani Turkish population as an optional subject; Turkish cultural centers have been organized in big cities. All this contributes to the fact that the Meskhetian Turkish varieties are becoming more and more endangered.

Our lecture will deal, firstly, with the issues of self-identification of the Kazakhstani Turks as contrasted to their ethnic identity written in their passports. Secondly, we will analyze the use of the native language and other languages in the different spheres of life in the multi-language environment of modern Kazakhstan by the speakers belonging to different groups according to their Turkish ethnic subgroup, age, gender, education, and profession.

Keywords: Meskhetian Turks, self-identification, idioms of Meskhetian Turkish, endangered languages, sociolinguistic survey.


Nevskaya, Irina & Tazhibayeva Saule (2015) Turkiс languages of Kazakhstan: Problems and research perspectives. In. Lars Johanson (ed) Turkic Languages – Volume 18, 2014, Numbers 1/2 – Harrassowitz Verlag Wiesbaden, pp.289–302

Nevskaya Irina & Tazhibayeva Saule (2022) Meskhetian Turks: an analysis of their self-identification and religion based on a sociolinguistic survey in 2013-2018. In. Oliver Corff (ed). Religion and State in the Altaic World. Proceedings of the 62 Annual Meeting of the PIAC, pp.183–198