Our program featured two Fulbright Scholars from Lehigh University who did a presentation on their home country of Kazakhstan. The first speaker, Zhanar Tostubayeva, has been teaching English in a vocational school in for more than 10 years. Zhanar led us on an historical journey through the centuries dating back to the early 13th Century when Genghis Kahn and the Mongol tribes invaded Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The formation of the Kazakh khanate from the 15th to the 19th century saw the Kazakhs emerge as a distinct ethnic group.
The nomadic tribes invented a unique form of shelter called a yurt. The yurt consists of wooden frames in a coat cover and stayed cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They were easily installed and dismantled and could be transported by horses and camels. Clothing was often made of materials suited to the region’s extreme climate. Imported cotton, silk, and woolen fabrics were used by the nomads. Contemporary Kazakhs wear Western dress. The Kazakhs split into three tribal unions during the 17th century: the Elder, Middle, and Lesser Hordes, which were led by the Khans. They formally joined Russia in 1731 in pursuit of protection from the Mongols.
Demographics changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian peasants were brought in and introduced the first industrial enterprises. The repression of an anti- Russian rebellion in 1916 led to 300,000 fleeing the country. Civil war followed in 1917 following the Bolshevic revolution in Russia. Kazakhstan became an autonomous republic of the USSR in 1920, and a full union republic in 1936. Kazakh soldiers proudly served in World War II to help defeat Nazi Germany.
The second speaker, Xeniya Volkova, is studying for her master’s degree in Instructional Design for Education at Lehigh University. She has been teaching English as a second language to high school students and adult learners at one of the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools. Her presentation covered more recent history.
The Virgin Lands Campaign from 1954-1962 brought about 2 million people to the country. This mass influx of Russians dropped the percentage of ethnic Kazakhs to 30%. The first manned spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur site in central Kazakhstan in 1961. The country declared independence in 1991 as Nursultan Nazarbayev won an uncontested presidential election. The country joined the Commonwealth of Independent States and was admitted to the United Nations.
The Assembly of People of Kazakhstan aims to strengthen ethnic and religious peaceful coexistence amongst the various ethnic groups that make up such a diverse population. US President George W. Bush met with President Nazarbayev in 2001 to announce a commitment to a long-term strategic partnership. The country has set up a network of schools for students age 5 to 18. Instruction is tri-lingual including Kazakh, Russian, and English but shifts to exclusively English by the junior year.
The Baiterek is a monument and observation tower in Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan. The monument is meant to embody a folktale about a mythical tree of life and a magic bird of happiness: the bird, named Samruk, had laid its egg in the crevice between two branches of a poplar tree. The country now has 17.7 million people and GDP ranked 43rd globally. The country is rich in minerals and is a heavy exporter of oil and gas.