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Kazakhstan: Astana Faces Unsettling Language Debate

One third of residents in Kazakhstan do not speak Kazakh. (Photo: Dean C.K. Cox)

Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has staked his political reputation largely on his ability to foster domestic stability amid regional turbulence. That sense of tranquility is coming under growing pressure in Kazakhstan, with the latest challenge generated by an impassioned debate over language policy.

This past summer saw Kazakhstani authorities grapple with labor unrest and extremist activity in western regions. The language debate threatens to unsettle northern Kazakhstan, an area that is home to large concentrations of Russian speakers.

The language row erupted on August 29, when 138 public figures including politicians, writers and intellectuals published an open letter to President Nazarbayev and other top officials, calling on the government to be more aggressive about promoting the Kazakh language.

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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan: Astana Faces Unsettling Language Debate

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