ASTANA – There has always been enough room for all nationalities within the multi-ethnic and multicultural community of Kazakhstan. Throughout history, Kazakhs have demonstrated tolerance and compassion towards peoples seeking refuge in the nation from their rulers; at one point from Soviets, at others from Chinese.
The Astana Times recently interviewed the Chairman of the Dungan Public Association “Huejzw” Abubakir Vointse to shed light on their history in Kazakhstan.
When and how did Dungans first settle on the territory of Kazakhstan?
Dungans moved here for the first time in 1877 after a Dungan uprising against the despotism and cruelty of the Qing dynasty in China. A part of the rebellion, escaping repression from the imperial armies, our ancestors fled from China to the territories of Kazakhstan. At the moment, there are numerous writings of different genres about Dungans written by Dungan and Russian explorers, writers and poets, but the primary sources always remained the works of the first scientists and ethnographers who left a lot of valuable information from early in the centuryfor our generation.
What were Dungans initially engaged in? Was there any profile? (For example: agriculture, commerce, architecture, etc.)
Dungans were agricultural people. Most of the time they were engaged in the cultivation of vegetables and the irrigational type of rice growing. They are also involved in the livestock type of agriculture. They breed cattle and poultry. Some leave the traditional farms to become involved in a trade or become industrial workers. It should be noted that in the past Dungans contributed to the development of agriculture in the region. Turkic neighbours learned a lot from them in this area.
What is the Dungan population in Kazakhstan today? What is its role in the social life of Kazakhstan’s community? How active is your association?
Today, there are70,000 Dungans living here, mostly in the Zhambyl region in the south, some 50,000 in the Almaty region and some 20,000 in Almaty proper. We have Kazakhstan Dungan community centres with subsidiaries all over the regions and in Astana. Dungans are members of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK) and are members of the Board of APK.
We also keep in touch with China and learn our Dungan language. We do lots of charity and provide the opportunity to educate poor children here at our (ethno-cultural) centre. The Kazakh government allots some money to buy books in our language, we have language courses in the association, etc.
Have you ever been to your homeland?
My homeland is Xi’an in the Shaanxi province (in central China), where I have been once in my entire life, but because I was born in Kazakhstan I consider this country as my homeland and Xi’an is my historical homeland.
Dungans in Kazakhstan are a minority but our rights are not infringed in any way here. Dungans are Muslim. We have preserved our traditions and language.