Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kyrgyz Gastarbeiters Russianizing Their Names for Protection

Paul Goble

In Transit, February 27 – Ethnic Kyrgyz planning to move to the Russian Federation for work are russianizing their family names in massive numbers in order to avoid the problems that their Kyrgyz names alone can cause them, according to that Central Asian country’s justice minister.
Marat Kayypov said this week that the Kyrgyz, who are obliged by their national traditions to know their family names back seven generations, must add the Russian endings “-ov” or “-ev” or they will “encounter problems” once they move to Russia (
This adaptation of Central Asian names was typical and sometimes even required in Soviet times, but since 1991, many Kyrgyz as well other nationalities have shifted back to what they see as more traditional ones, including first names, family names, and even patronymics, in order to demonstrate respect for their ancestors.
That some Kyrgyz have changed their name in order to “fit in” better in Moscow or some other Russian city has sparked outrage. One Osh educational official said angrily that “My children will bear my name, and I don’t intend to change it – even in America or in Africa!”
But this phenomenon of name changing is massive, officials in Bishkek say. According to statistics on one Internet newspaper there, 5,000 Kyrgyz formally “russianized” their family names in 2006, a number that jumped to 18,000 last year. And such numbers are creating some curious problems.
Often within a single family, children of the same parents have adopted different forms of family names, some more russianized and others less so, a development that is not promoting indifference or integration but rather heightened sensitivities about ethnic identification, especially since many are making these changes out of fear.
Kyrgyz officials are not happy about this development, but they say that if members of their national community have to take this step in order to be able to move to Russia for work, then the authorities should do whatever they can to simplify the application procedure and speed up the process.
But some human rights activists are not so sure. Mukhayye Abduraupova says that whatever protection Kyrgyz who change their names gain, they may lose elsewhere. Not only are there problems with diplomas and other certifications with different names, but they may find it difficult to get their pensions in a timely fashion.
That so many Kyrgyz are willing to take those risks in an effort to protect themselves from attacks in the Russian Federation is thus a powerful indication of just how explosive the situation between ethnic Russians and Central Asian Gastarbeiters has become and how far some of the latter are prepared to go to continue to work there.

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