Explaining Kazakhstani identity: supraethnic identity, ethnicity, language, and citizenship

Kristoffer Michael Rees, Nora Webb Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The demographic composition of Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union presented a dilemma to the new Kazakhstani government: Should it advance a Kazakh identity as paramount, possibly alienating the large non-Kazakh population? Or should it advocate for a non-ethnicized national identity? How would those decisions be made in light of global norms of liberal multiculturalism? And, critically, would citizens respond to new frames of identity? This paper provides an empirical look at supraethnic identity-building in Kazakhstan–that is, at the development of a national identity that individuals place above or alongside their ethnic identification. We closely examine the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan to describe how Kazakhstani policies intersect with theories of nationalism and nation-building. We then use ordered probit models to analyze data from a 2014 survey to examine how citizens of Kazakhstan associate with a “Kazakhstani” supraethnic identity. Our findings suggest that despite the Assembly of People’s rhetoric, there are still significant barriers to citizen-level adoption of a supraethnic identity in Kazakhstan, particularly regarding language. However, many individuals do claim an association with Kazakhstani identity, especially those individuals who strongly value citizenship in the abstract.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)815-839
Number of pages25
JournalNationalities Papers
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 3 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • citizenship
  • ethnicity
  • Kazakhstan
  • language
  • supraethnic identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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