Not far from Kazakhstan’s main seaport on the Caspian Sea lies a district of former dachas, or summer cottages, that were once used by technical specialists who worked in the manufacturing city known as Shevchenko during the late Soviet era.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the specialists left and Shevchenko became Aktau. The dachas soon fell into neglect. Now, in a potent symbol of Kazakhstan’s demographic transformation, the dacha neighborhood is populated by “returnees” – or oralmans in Kazakh – ethnic Kazakhs from abroad that Astana encourages to return home in order to bolster the numbers of the titular nationality in the country. Now, with recent unrest in the region, they have become targets for scapegoating.
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Nate Schenkkan is a Bishkek-based journalist.