Rhetoric and National History

National history stumbles when it perceives its subject as a population defined by membership in a specific group to the exclusion of other connective tissue. The classic example of a nation with a territory, language, identity, and national history is the “Jewish” nation, which is also possibly the most problematic example, sharing no common language, territory, or identity among all those who self-identify as Jews. Much the same can be found in any of what Anderson has named the “imagined communities” of our current world. In short, instead of studying only nations and national identity, perhaps the interplay of certain other groupings might produce more interesting analysis. For example, “Jewish” painters and their interactions with both non-Jewish painters and those “Jewish” painters who do not actively self-identity or agitate as Jewish.

Unfortunately, while Jewish nationality is the classic example, it is also one of the least useful, almost guaranteeing that the initial argument will be lost in a sea of hazy discourse. Kazakhs, then, might be a better example, and certainly one closer to my area of expertise.

The current “nation state” of Kazakhstan, bearing a name which translates conveniently as “Land of the Kazakhs,” borders the Russian Federation (not the Russian-speaking Federation), the “Land of the Uzbeks,” the “Land of the Turkmen,” the “Land of the Kyrgyz,” and the “People’s Republic of China.” One might suspect nationality and identity are sticky subjects in a neighborhood where China comes across, at least superficially, as the least focused on nationalism. The borders of Kazakhstan have been relatively clear for the past eighty years, but shifted several times during the breakup of the Russian Empire and the re-categorization of the lands of the Soviet Union.

These lands and borders were, in theory, supposed to reflect the national make-up of the Soviet Union, with the odd caveat that the appearance of Russian populations would not be counted equally, leaving the colonization of the Russian Empire to become solidified in a supposedly non-Russian nationality. Additionally, some territory inhabited by some nations remained outside the Soviet Union; in the case of the Kazakhs, many had moved willingly or fled persecution and famine to settle in China and Mongolia, on lands that were often specifically set aside for their use following the depopulation of the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. These Kazakhs ended up maintaining a nomadic way of life into the twenty-first century; however, Kazakhs of Kazakhstan

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