Between Minority and Majority: Sart-Kalmaks in Kyrgyzstan26.04.2016
Aida Aaly Alymbaeva
PhD Candidate, Associate / CASCA, Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropology
This paper deconstructs the processes of identification of a community of Chelpek village, Kyrgyzstan. The ‘between-nesness’ of the identification of the Chelpek villagers has been observed as it is expressed in the intra-village debates on the self-identification as well as through their identification by surrounding neighbors who see the Chelpek villagers as Kalmaks, Kyrgyz or Sart-Kalmaks. Each of these ethnic categories have a number of characteristics and are emotionally loaded in the meanings that they hold for my interlocutors based on their memories of the past, accessed as genealogies, based on the memory of migration, and epic poems. This group in general is considered to be that of Mongol-rooted Muslim people, who migrated from the territory of modern Xingjian during the second half of 19th century, and who today share most of cultural traits, including language, with the Kyrgyz people, who are, in their turn, the majority. The ambiguousness of the boundaries nowadays, despite the tendency of each of the groups towards their ‘clearness’, is based on and at the same time leads to their equivocal status as being neither majority nor minority. This paper, based on recent fieldwork as part of my PhD dissertation, demonstrates the changes and conditions of the status of this group within the last decades of the soviet and post-soviet time. The following stages and factors are shortly considered as focal in this process: the soviet nationalities policy and its role in the institutional inclusion of Sart-Kalmaks into Kyrgyz majority, and the current reconsideration of Chelpek villagers as being ‘proper/non-proper’ by those who consider themselves as Kyrgyz; the vague image of ‘homeland’ in Chelpek which shifts among Kalmykia of the Russian Federation and Kyrgyzstan itself; and the transformations in nationalism moods in Kyrgyzstan of the last decades of the soviet time.