The 10th anniversary of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, a unique institution promoting harmonization of interethnic relations
in the Republic of Kazakhstan
The Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2005. The uniqueness of this institution is recognized all over the world and its experience of pursuing a policy of interethnic and inter-faith accord is being replicated in the countries of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.
The convocation of an Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan was proposed by President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev in 1992 at the first forum of representatives of ethnic groups of the country on the occasion of the first anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence. In his address the head of our state said the following: “Our main asset – the friendship between peoples – has been created by several generations of citizens of Kazakhstan. While rethinking now many things, our citizens cannot afford to waste this wealth or neglect good traditions. These traditions have not been established just in the last decade or under Communist guidelines. The voice of every people, every ethnic group has to be heard every day. It is for that reason that this forum has to be transformed into a permanent mechanism, by creating a new public institution”.
The Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, a new institution within the social and political system of the country, was established on 1 March 1995 by a decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. At first, some people were skeptical about the whole idea but, thanks to the perseverance and genuine desire of Nursultan A. Nazarbayev to preserve the friendship between peoples, that organization has become today a powerhouse serving as an umbrella for some 470 ethnic and cultural centers.
In April of 2002, the President signed a decree on a strategy of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan for a mid-term period (till 2007). The Strategy, inter alia, reads as follows: “The objectives set for the Assembly at the time of its establishment, by and large, have now been reached. Equality of all ethnic groups and the revival and development of their languages and cultures have been achieved in the country. Market reforms in the economic sector have largely been completed and the political system has been democratized. As the Assembly identifies its priorities, it sets for itself important goals and objectives such as the strengthening of a newly-acquired statehood, the protection of individual rights and freedoms as well as the interests of the people and the state, and the transition to a qualitatively new level of development, which meets the standards of the civilized world community. These issues have to be addressed on a systematic basis and preventively”.
The international reputation of that body has strengthened. On visiting Kazakhstan, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it “a model of interethnic accord and a stable and sustainable development for other states”. In his words, “thanks to the work of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, diverse ethnic, cultural and religious groups constituting this great nation can participate in the process of making important decisions that influence their life”. Positive comments regarding the Assembly have come from Max Van Der Stool, the former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, and Rolf Ekeus, its current High Commissioner.
A set of legislative norms and acts, first and foremost, the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which recognizes as “unconstitutional any actions that can disrupt interethnic accord”, forms a legal framework of Kazakhstan’s policy towards nationalities. In general, this policy is based on the rule of law and a reasonable combination of rights of nations and rights of individuals.
In his address to the people of Kazakhstan of 18 February 2005, President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev emphasized that the country had ensured the freedom of religion and had consistently pursued the policy of inter-faith accord and equality of religions. In fact, the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, held in Astana in 2003, has become an effective demonstration of the growing peace-making capacity of Kazakhstan, a state built according to the principles of Western democracy, taking into account the experience of leading states of East Asia and the specific character of our multi-ethnic and multi-faith society.
The formation of a single community of citizens in our country is a priority task, set by the head of state. One has to emphasize the President’s important role in pursuing such a policy that accounts for the fact that most residents of our country who do not belong to the indigenous ethnic group consider Kazakhstan as their homeland.
The main results of the interethnic policy in Kazakhstan, a country with an established record of interethnic peace and accord, recognized by the international community, are as follows:
1. The country has established a legal framework, which ensures equal rights and freedoms of its citizens, regardless of their ethnic and religious background. This principle constitutes the basis of the state’s interethnic policy.
2. The country has convened the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, a unique and effective mechanism to pursue a policy towards nationalities and an interethnic dialogue, thanks to which the process of cultural revival of ethnic groups is under way everywhere; the Assembly ensures that there is an all-inclusive dialogue between them. Today, some of the neighboring countries are replicating this experience.
3. A dialogue between diverse cultures has been established and a multicultural society promoting universal values has largely been formed in Kazakhstan. The culture of the Kazakh people, characterized by tolerance and openness to innovation, has become the backbone of the achieved spiritual integration. Spiritual identity complements the civil and political unity of our compatriots, thus forming a cornerstone for the efforts to strengthen the state’s independence and consolidate the society in the 21st century.
4. A balanced language policy is being pursued in the country, which has been able to solve the problems involving the languages without violent conflicts and turmoil. A natural process of learning the state language, especially by younger people, is well under way. Kazakhstan’s linguistic wealth enriches the country’s culture and constitutes an important factor in the strengthening of the unity of multiethnic Kazakhstan.
5. Spiritual revival and, importantly, inter-faith accord and tolerance have been ensured in the country. Tolerance towards other faiths, inherited by the current generation of the country’s citizens, is a good basis for the preservation of civil and inter-faith peace in the future. Thus, it has been demonstrated in practice that ethnic diversity is an asset and not a liability for our country.
The Assembly has taken the following specific steps to ensure that cultures and languages of diverse ethnic groups continue to thrive in Kazakhstan: language festivals, competitions of Sunday school students learning the state language and native tongues, international and national conferences on the language policy and roundtables on ethnic and cultural development.
Friendship houses, financed by the central and local governments, constitute an important tool to promote the revival and development of cultures of various national minorities. The state supports the publication of newspapers and magazines in 11 different languages and the production of TV programmes in 12 languages, broadcast by 44 TV companies, and radio programmes in 7 languages, broadcast by 18 radio stations. Every year, the states commissions up to 30 book titles – totaling more than 80,000 copies - in the languages of the country’s national minorities. A social and political magazine “Dostyk” (Friendship) has been published since May of 2000. Its editorial board has among its members all the heads of the country’s ethnic and cultural associations, who also sit on the Council of the Assembly.
National and Sunday schools are being financed through the State Language Programme. Currently, there are 101 national schools for ethnic minorities and additional 179 Sunday schools, under the national and cultural associations, have been opened, where students can learn 23 native tongues. 3 national revival schools have 29 departments teaching 11 native tongues.
In the early 1990’s a permanent exhibition devoted to the culture of the peoples of Kazakhstan was set up in the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Every ethnic group living in the country provided items of its material and spiritual culture, as well as its arts and crafts. Many regions and cities of the country have ethnographic museums. Uighurs, Germans, Koreans and Uzbeks of Kazakhstan have their own theaters. Almost every national and cultural association has its own folk performers, who are known now even beyond Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan regularly holds folk and language festivals, organizes country-wide celebrations of such holidays, as Nauryz and Sabantui, and celebrates the Day of Unity of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, the Memorial Day for the Victims of Political Repressions and the Day of Spiritual Unity and Conciliation. In addition, each ethnic group has its own traditional holidays, revived since the country has gained its independence and celebrated together with representatives of other ethnic groups.
Sessions of the Assembly
Since its establishment, the Assembly has held 10 sessions, which have addressed important issues of social and political development of the society, related to further economic and political reforms in Kazakhstan, under the following mottos:
The first constituent session (March of 1995) – “For Peace and Accord in our Common Home”;
The second session (June 1995) – “Rethinking of the Past and Further Democratic Reforms of the Society”;
The third session (April of 1996) – "Social Accord – the Foundation of Kazakhstan’s Democratic Development”;
The fourth session (June of 1997) – “Historic Memory, Interethnic Accord and Democratic Reforms – a Civil Choice by the People of Kazakhstan”;
The fifth session (January 1999) – “Interethnic Accord – the Foundation of Kazakhstan’s Stability and Development”;
The sixth session (December of 1999) – “Into the 21st Century in Friendship and Harmony”;
The seventh session (December of 2000) – “Spiritual and Cultural Development – the Foundation of the Strengthened State Independence of Kazakhstan”;
The eighth session (October of 2001) – “Ten Years of Independence: Peace, Progress and Accord”;
The ninth session (November of 2002) – “The Development Strategy of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan: Interethnic Accord, Security and Civil Peace”;
The tenth session (December of 2003) – “Kazakhstani Model of Interethnic Accord: Experience, Practice and Prospects”.
The Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan has been actively expanding its international ties, as demonstrated by frequent visits to Kazakhstan by representatives of important international organizations and foreign states. Close working contacts have been established with the OSCE structures. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, who has studied the work of the Assembly in great detail, is a frequent visitor to Kazakhstan. The OSCE has provided assistance in the establishment of a Center of Humanitarian Studies of the Issues of Interethnic Relations, which has been involved in the organization of more than 10 international conferences and seminars on harmonization of interethnic relations in the Central Asian region and the preparation of a number of reports summing up the results of the monitoring of the interethnic situation.
Annual celebration of the United Nations Day, held jointly by the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan and the United Nations Office in Kazakhstan, has become a good tradition.
International ties of the National and Cultural Center with the countries of origin are expanding and deepening. These processes are especially active among Armenian, Azeri, Dungan, German, Greek, Jewish, Karachay Balkar, Korean, Polish, Tatar, Turkish, Turkmen and Ukrainian communities. Close contacts have been established with all constituent entities of the Russian Federation that border with Kazakhstan.
Thus, educational, cultural and language environment for all ethnic minorities, created in the country with the direct involvement of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, the availability of media and cultural facilities (mass media outlets, friendship houses, ethnic theaters, museums, schools etc.) and expanding international ties all contribute to the common cause of social, political and cultural development of Kazakhstan and its entire people. The advisory and consultative body that promotes harmonization of interethnic relations in the form of people’s diplomacy, established by the head of state, has effectively demonstrated its viability and usefulness by becoming an integral element of the state’s system of democratic institutions.