15 September 2005

Other Ethnic Groups

As I mentioned yesterday, there are quite a variety of ethnic groups throughout Central Asia. Most of the Europeans in the area came in the last 200 years. The Russian, Germans, and Ukranians were the most prevalent, but many, if not most, returned to their respective countries in the early 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The Europeans in the area came for different reasons. Some were colonizers in the late 1800s or in the mid-1950s. Some were deported at various times (Central Asia was often erroneously called Siberia during deportations. I imagine Central Asia felt as isolated and far away from home as the Siberia would have.) The Germans mostly came from the Volga region and there are still a few towns in Kyrgyzstan with German names although most don't have many Germans left in them.

There are several other Turkic groups. The Crimean Tatars (emphasize the second syllable) are a Turkic people from, you guessed it, Crimea. They started coming to Central Asia in the mid-1800s, but many were deported by Stalin. The Meskhetian Turks, originally from Georgia and also deported in WWII, live mainly in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan and two valleys in Kyrgyzstan. There are around 500,000 Uyghurs in Central Asia (many in Kyrgyzstan). The Karakalpaks have their own area in Uzbekistan near the Aral Sea.

Finally, there is a hodgepodge of other ethnic groups. Koreans were deported here during World War II. All the markets here have plenty of Korean salads for sale. It was a surprise when I first looked at an Uzbek cookbook and saw a recipe for kim-chee. Kurds also came during World War II and many live in Kazakhstan (not a great site, but the best I could find). Some think there may be as many as a million Kurds in Central Asia. A large group of Jews lived in Bukhara for many hundreds of years, but most have emigrated to Israel and the US. The Dungans are Chinese Muslims who left China because of persecution in the mid-1800s. Many of them live in Kyrgyzstan.

And finally, there are even Central Asia gypsies. Called luli, they live a very marginalized life as gypsies do everywhere. There are about 30,000 and they speak Tajik and originate from areas around Samarqand.

It is interesting to see the number of people here who are the descendents of deportees. I'd love to see some research on that topic.

The diversity is obvious here in Bishkek. My husband has students from a variety of places, and today I was chatting with a Han Chinese from Urumqi in China and a Uyghur.


  1. I think you are amazing, Amira!

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insight, with us.

    We are better for it, and it is very much appreciated.

  2. Are there really any Meskhetians to speak of left in the Ferghana Valley? I thought that the 1989 evacuation after the pogrom was mandatory (or that everyone took the offer to resettle). I know Meskhetians who live elsewhere in Uzbekistan, but the Ferghana Valley ones are mostly centered in Krasnodar. And most of those ones are being resettled in the US.

  3. I should have specifically said that many of the Meskhetians have left the Fergana Valley. The site I linked to metioned that.

  4. I think alot of Meskhetian Turks from the Ferghana Valley also ended up in Azerbaijan. It is hard to tell since there are no hard numbers on the group. But, a large wave of Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan joined those that had come to Azerbaijan in the late 1950s. I have seen no estimates breaking down where in Uzbekistan they came from.