Kazakhstan: It’s a Clan Thing

20 May

Kazakhstan is positioning itself as wannabe modern democratic state, but in reality life in the country is still underpinned by the zhuz or clan system. This system dates back to the 16th or 17th century and ethnic Kazakhs belong to one of of three clan groupings – the Uly (Senior) Zhuz, the Orta (Middle) Zhuz and the Kishi (Junior) Zhuz.

The clans are further sub-divided into a number of tribes and this provides a network for members of the same tribe to help each other get ahead in life The clans also play an important role in politics, with a number of cabinet ministers hailing from the same clan grouping as President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Uly Zhuz.

The Uly Zhuz traditionally inhabited the areas around Almaty in the south-east of Kazakhstan, while the Orta Zhuz is located in the north and centre of the country. The Kishi Zhuz inhabits the oil-rich west of Kazakhstan.

Check out this informative graphic for an overview of the clan and tribal system in Kazakhstan. For more on the influence of clans in the political arena, Kazaxia recommends these academic works by Edward Schatz – Modern Clan Politics: The Power of “Blood” in Kazakhstan and Beyond and Sally Cummings  Kazakhstan: Power and the Elite.



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