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Koreans in Kazakhstan

German Kim. Koreans in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia

Eleks Kang, 60, in his old
Alternative Names There are roughly 500, 000 Koreans living in the former Soviet Union, about two-thirds of them in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and the remaining one-third mostly in Russia. In the past, both in the academic literature and the vernacular, the term "Soviet Koreans" was used to refer to all Koreans living in the USSR, but the Koreans referred to themselves as either Koryo saram or Choson saram* interchangeably. Nowadays the term Koryo saram is preferred. Recently in South Korean scientific litera­ture, mass media, and everyday speech two variants of the name, Koryoin and Koryo saram, have become most commonly used in regard to post-Soviet Koreans. In the Russian language Koreans are referred to as Koreyets, and specification by adjectives usually is given; for example, Soviet Korean, South Korean, North Korean, and so on. As to pejorative names, in Russian they typically apply to all Asian peoples rather than to Koreans in particular. The most common are such pejora­tive names as uzkoglasiy ("narrow-eyed") and zeltokozhiy ("yellow-skinned"). However, some pejoratives are used only for Koreans, such as sobakoyed ("dog eater"). In the Central Asian languages special pejorative names for Koreans are not observed. Location In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan Koreans live in an arid zone with a sharply continental climate, very different from the Korean peninsula's. The Korean Diaspora was initially concentrated in agrarian regions. Today the geo­graphical distribution has significantly changed, and Koreans have transformed from a rural to an urban popu­lation. The Kazakhs and Uzbeks who make up the majori­ties in these countries speak Turkic languages and are Muslim by faith. However, the ancestors of Kazakhs were nomads-cattlemen, as opposed to the settled, agricul­tural Uzbeks. Therefore, despite geographical, linguistic, religious, and anthropological affinities, Kazakhs and Uzbeks possess essential ethnocultural distinctions. Koreans reside across the former Soviet Union. First, there are traditional regions of Korean settlement: the Russian Far East and Sakhalin Island. Korean com­munities with large numbers are also found in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Central Russia (Volgograd, Saratov, Rostov, Nizhniy Novgorod, and other areas), as well as in the Siberian cities of Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, and Irkutsk. The geographies and climates of the noted regions markedly differ from each other. However, Russian-speaking Orthodox Christian populations com­prise the dominant majority in each one. History During the decline of the Choson Dynasty (1392 to 1910), Korea appeared unprepared to enter the era of capitalism. For nearly a century, Western and Japanese colonial claims aggravated its protracted political, social, and economic crises. In 1905, after its victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan declared the Korean peninsula its protectorate, annexing it five years later. Mass impoverishment and starvation among Korean peasants compelled many to flee the peninsula. The first Korean immigrants appeared in the Russian Far East during the late 1850s and early 1860s. The Russian administration used these Koreans to populate and develop this territory. In the 1880s and 1890s, the Koreans received the right to register as citizens of the Russian empire under the terms of a Russo-Korean treaty determining their status. The number of Korean immi­grants to the area grew by the thousands, with many taking the sea route from Pusan to Vladivostok and others the overland route across the river Tumangan. Some Koreans found other routes to Russian territory that took them through Chinese territory (Kho, 1987; Kim, 1965; Pak, 1993; Petrov, 2000). The number of Koreans increased in the pre-Revolutionary period from several dozen to some 85, 000 by 1917. Koreans initially lived in separate villages, and their daily life, social relations, ethnic culture, and language were almost the same as in Korea. The October Revolution of 1917 united workers of all ethnic groups with its slogans of justice, freedom, and equal rights. Koreans largely supported the Soviet cause, with hun­dreds sacrificing their lives in World War II, believing this would help lead to the liberation of Korea (Babichev, 1959; Kim, 1979; Pak, 1995). By the 1930s, the Koreans of the Soviet Far East had established their own identity, culture, and traditions. There were hundreds of Korean agricultural and fishing Kolkhozes; Koreans were actively involved in govern­ment and social organizations; traditional culture was maintained and developed; the Korean intelligentsia grew numerically and qualitatively; and Korean theaters and other educational and cultural institutions were estab­lished. Koreans were sovietized and integrated in the new political and socioeconomic system (Anosov, 1928; Pak, 1995). The Koreans were the first people of the Soviet Union to be deported. Top secret order number 1428-326cc of the Soviet government and Communist Party, "On the deportation of the Korean population of the Far East, " dated 21 August 1937 and signed by Molotov and Stalin, was a logical continuation of earlier Tsarist and Soviet policies relating to national minority populations (Kim, 2002; Lee U Khe, 1992). The Koreans settled in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, established the basis for a new life, and contributed to the development of agricul­ture in these new places (Kan, 1995; Kim, G. N., 1989; Kim, P. G., 1993). On 22 June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Despite the humiliation of deportation, the Koreans remained patriots who were ready to help defend their country. Korean men joined work brigades, other­wise known as the Labor Army, which kept the country and army alive throughout the war. Many Koreans wanted to join the ranks of the military at the front, but only a few were dispatched. One of them, Captain Alexander Min, was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Despite great losses, Koreans continued to survive through their persistence, work habits, and courage. In the postwar years, Koreans continued to make great contributions to the development of agriculture in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In the 1940s and 1950s more than 100 Koreans were honored with the highest Soviet decoration for work productivity, the Order of Hero of Socialist Labor. A turning point in the lives of Koreans, as with all other Soviet peoples, occurred in 1953, when Stalin died and the political regime began to liberalize. In the 1950s and 1960s Koreans also became more involved in cultivating cotton, sugar beets, and vegetables. Koreans also made great progress in the cultivation of onions in all regions of the Soviet Union (Kim & Meon, 1995; Kim, 1993). Organizational skills and high educational standards also prepared many Koreans for careers as specialists and leaders in industrial and governmental sectors. Many of them were honored with prestigious prizes such as the Lenin Prize and the State Prize. Furthermore, more than 150 Koreans were recognized with different honors for their long years of service in industry, agriculture, con­struction, architecture, and other sectors of the economy. In addition, Koreans played important roles in the devel­opment of science, academic research, art, literature, edu­cation, health care, and sports during the postwar years. By the early 1970s, there were hundreds of Koreans working as professors and scholars in universities and research institutes (Chey, 1987; Ginsburgs, 1976). After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the found­ing of the Newly Independent States, new page opened in the history of the Koryo saram. They are again being forced to adapt, this time to the nationalizing republics of Central Asia. The political and socioeconomic changes and the deteriorating standards of living over the last decade have led to much trepidation among all peoples of the former Soviet empire regarding the future. Contem­porary migration processes in Central Asia are connected to a complex variety of socio economic and political factors. Reasons for Koryo saram migration include the following: a desire to return to the places where the first generation settled, namely the Russian Far East; specific agricultural activities unique to the Koryo saram, namely, kobonjil ** (Li, 2000; Baek, 2001); clans and families in business; high levels of urbanization, education, and individualism; and success-oriented mentalities. Emigration of the Koryo saram to foreign countries is not considerable. The majority of migrants are drawn to other post-Soviet spaces, the so-called "near abroad." In the mid 1990s several thousand Koryo saram from Central Asia moved to the maritime region of the Far East, and in the late 1990s several dozen Korean house­holds moved to the Volgograd region, where new Korean villages were established (Bugai, 2002). Both individuals and family-clans participated in these migrations, which received some financial and moral support from South Korean nongovernmental organizations and churches. The exodus of more than 12, 000 Koreans from Tajikistan resulted from the civil war there, and was of a mass and forced character. There remain only several hundred Koreans in the capital, Dushanbe, where the situation is more or less under control by local authorities and the Russian Army. Korean migrants from Tajikistan can accurately be called war refugees (Kim, 2003a). The pattern of migration of Koryo saram from Central Asia has stabilized. However, it can become active again because it is dependent on the political, socio economic situation as well as the state of interethnic relations. Demography The number of Koreans in the Far East on the eve of deportation (1937) stood at about 180, 000 people. The number of fatalities during the journey from the Far East to Central Asia - including victims of a tragic failure at eche­lon number 505, which took place on 13 September 1937 at Verino Station near Khabarovsk - was probably in the hundreds. The exact number of fatalities is difficult to cal­culate, but it is indisputable that children and the elderly suffered the most. Certainly, it can be assumed that several thousand Koreans died due to illness and poor living conditions during the early years of forced resettlement. From the middle of the 1950s until the disintegra­tion of the USSR, Central Asia was home to approxi­mately 75% of the Soviet Union's Koreans, and of this number, about 90% were concentrated in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan's first census in 1999 recorded 99, 665 Koreans, dispersed in all regions, but mostly in the south of the country. The number of Koreans in Uzbekistan according to recent data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs is approximately 175, 000, mostly resid­ing in the capital, Tashkent, and in the Tashkent area. Soviet Koreans were different from Central Asia's other peoples in their rapid migration from rural to urban areas, especially to capitals: Almaty, Tashkent, and Bishkek have seen the number of Koreans increase several times during the last two decades. Data from the first Russian census (2002) has not yet been published, but the number of Koreans has been cal­culated to be approximately 140, 000 to 150, 000 persons. Some years ago there was much discussion about setting up an autonomous Korean area in the Russian Far East. Indeed, several young Koreans traveled there from Central Asia to explore the possibility of systematically moving entire family units back to the Maritime Province. The conclusion was that this would be imprac­tical due to the lack of procedure in Russian law for estab­lishing autonomous regions. In addition, there was the precedent of the Volga Germans, who tried but failed to create their own autonomous republic. Language The Korean language maintains its status as the "native language" of the Koreans living in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia. However, in social life it has rather limited functions, present primarily in mass media, art, literature, and education. Koryo mar -the dialect of Korean spoken by the Koryo saram-exists basically in the oral form and functions only in the interfamily sphere. Ancestors of the Korean immigrants to the Russian Far East (and, hence, those now living in Central Asia and Russia) hailed from the province of Northern Hamkyong, to which they migrated from southern parts of the penin­sula during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Long isolation from developing literary languages, absorption of elements from southern dialects, then preservation, and finally Russian-language influences led to the lin­guistic phenomenon that has received the name Koryo mar. (Kho, 1987; Kim, 1962; King, 1987; Pak, 1996). The modern language competence of the Koryo saram has been affected by such factors as Soviet national­ity and language policy, migrations, interethnic contacts, industrial employment, and educational and professional development. The level of language competence and the character of speech behavior differ for each age and social group. Most of those who are 30 years old and younger do not know Korean at all. Those from 30 to 60 years old typically have a passive mastery of the language, that is, they are able to understand everyday household speech. Only the most senior age group, from 60 to 80 years old, possesses fluency in Korean (Haarman, 1981; Kim, 2003b; Yugai, 1977). Culture and Community Economic Activities Koreans were traditionally engaged in agriculture, and consequently from the moment of their resettlement to the Russian empire to the 1970s they were occupied mainly in agriculture. Nevertheless, many Koreans, especially those with higher educations, became heads of large industrial enterprises. In the Soviet period there was a considerable Korean intelligentsia participating in the spheres of science, education, culture, and art. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the transition to the market economy, many Koreans have become successful in business. Among Koreans of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia there are a number of people who have managed to go beyond the limits of small and middle business. Cooperation with South Korean com­panies to a certain extent has contributed to their success. A number of Korean companies are based on a family-clan principle for example, the Lindex corpora­tion in Nizhni Novgorod led by Lyubomir Tyan or on a corporate principle for example, Dostar group in Kazakhstan led by Yury Tzkhai, which involved several Korean busi­ness people uniting their capital and assets to set up one powerful company. However the majority of Koreans are engaged in small businesses, mostly in trading, with workforces ranging from 2 to 5, to 10 to 15, persons. Gender Roles and Status A significant difference between the Korean Diaspora and South Korean society can be observed in the gender distribution of roles as well as the social status of men and women. Traditional Korean society was based on Confucian principles, completely granting leadership in family and society to men. During the Soviet period a policy of gender equality was pursued. Women were encouraged to receive edu­cation, become actively engaged in labor, and become involved in social life. Korean women in the Soviet Central Asia were more emancipated and freer than local women, in particular Moslems. Korean women are char­acterized by their high level of education; in fact, the pro­portion of women with higher education is higher than that of men. With the transition to the market economy some women proved better adapted than men for the new conditions and are now actively engaged in small businesses, namely trade and the service sector. They began to earn money for their entire families, and, accord­ingly, their status has become higher not only in society, but also within their families. In many Korean families the family budget is in the hands of women, and all important questions are solved by them. Korean women are considered to be excellent housekeepers, good at keeping order in their homes, looking after their hus­bands, raising their children, and taking care of their appearance.
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