Rethinking Kazakh And Central Asian Nationhood by R. Charles Weller

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R. Charles Weller
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Rethinking Kazakh And Central Asian Nationhood

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Book review

After summarizing the five main views of nationhood, including the central debate between ´naturalists-perennialists´ and ´Western modernists´, a critique is offered of Western modernist writers treating the Kazakh and Central Asian nations. These writers insist on applying the cardinal Western doctrine of ´the separation of ethnicity and state´ in the Central Asian context in an effort to conform the post-Soviet Central Asian nations to Western norms of multiethnic ´democratic´ nationhood. To achieve this, they offer historiographical reinterpretations based in late 20th century Western modernist theories which themselves still echo Western eurocentric views of ´historyless, cultureless peoples´. They attribute the rise of modern ethnicity and statehood in Central Asia to Tsarist and/or Soviet policy. Modern Central Asian ethnic identities as well as the nation-states associated with them are, in their view, artificial (i.e. ´imagined´ or ´invented´) constructs, political fabrications "created" via Russian "ethno-engineering" and Russian-trained ´elite´ nationalists who inculcated in the masses an entirely ´new´ and ´modern´ idea of ethnonational identity having little or no roots in their own past. By taking this approach, they allegedly demonstrate that today´s nation-states in Central Asia have no true or historic relation to the ethnic nations whose names they bear and that those ethnic identities themselves in their current forms are ´inherently problematic´, inconsistent and highly instable, largely divorced from their pre-colonial histories. The Central Asians are conveniently (for Western modernists) left with no rightful historical claim as ´ethnic nations´ to their own modern ´political nations´. These views continue to profoundly impact international and ethnonational human rights in the modern global age, including rights of national language, culture and history in Central Asia. As a challenge to these prevailing Western views, the author offers a perspective on Central Asian ethnonational identity which affirms its ´complex unity´ and depth of historical rootedness, recognizing the long-standing intimate connection between the ethnosocial, ethnocultural, ethnolinguistic, ethnoreligious and ethnopolitical dimensions of nationhood in the Central Asian tradition. From this unique, non-Western historical and contextual base, a more indigenous, integral form of ´Central Asian democratic nationhood´ is sought which strives to achieve genuine justice and equality for all ethnonational peoples involved. The author lived and worked in Kazakhstan for eight years and completed his Ph.D. in cultural theory and history at Kazakh National University in Almaty working entirely in Kazakh under the direction of Kazakh scholars. He draws significantly upon Kazakh scholarship as central part of the ´challenge to prevailing Western views.´ (Click on the link below to read the ´Preface´ from the book; visit for more details.)

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