Diaspora in Kazakhstan
The Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan is the second most populous group of ethnic Koreans in Central Asia to this day. This diaspora is the most advanced in terms of demographic and social mobility, with its members well promoted in the highest political and academic circles.
Today the diaspora is a mix that even includes North Koreans who in the 1980-90s were granted an opportunity to work, and some were entitled to Kazakhstani citizenship. After gaining independence in 1991, Kazakhstan established proper diplomatic relations with South Korea and opened its doors to various projects and fields of cooperation.
The city of Almaty, then-capital of Kazakhstan, by the mid1990s had become a battleground between the two Koreas. Symbolically, the embassies of the two countries were placed in northern and the southern areas of the capital respectively. In that period Almaty had had an influx of South Korean businessmen, traders and missionaries. During the following 15 years, the overall perception of North Korea in the eyes of local Koreans began to change in favor of South Korea, as it meant more opportunities to network, learn and expand. In the 1990s some South Korean missionaries helped an undeclared number of escapees from North Korea make it to Seoul.
In the 1990s Kazakhstan denuclearized and had begun constructing an image as a peacemaker. Its relationships with Pyongyang began to deteriorate drastically after North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006, which led to an eventual closure of the North’s embassy in Almaty.
The Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan undoubtedly has all general traits of other Korean ethnic diasporas in Central Asia — for example, their roots are primarily in the northern and southern provinces, they carry the experience of the socialist past, they have had massive input into the construction of the socialist regime in the DPRK, and they maintained relations with both Koreas. Nevertheless, the diaspora in Kazakhstan bears some differences, if not advantages, over the diasporas in other Central Asian states. First, it is their status and the level of the country of residence — Kazakhstan, which took a leading position in international relations, as in the CIS.
The Korean diaspora of Kazakhstan differs in the higher level of education, sophisticated culture, a broader perception of the world, because it was here to where the biggest number of Korean students were deported from the Far East, and not Uzbekistan.
It is here that the key elements of Korean culture were sustained and promoted, such as Korean theater, the editorial board of a Soviet Union-wide newspaper in Korean, as well as radio broadcasts in Korean.
Kazakhstan can become a springboard for South Korean businesses for further expansion to the West.