Historical Population Growth
Recent Population Growth
Karakalpaks living elsewhere in Uzbekistan
The International Karakalpak Population
Estimating Population Size
Demographics by Age
The world population of Karakalpaks is currently unknown but is probably of the order
of 560,000. It is probably growing at between 1% and 1.5% per annum. See below for the details
of how we have constructed this estimation.
The last population census in Uzbekistan occurred in 1989, just before the collapse of
the Soviet Union. At that time there were 411,900 Karakalpaks in the Uzbek SSR,
accounting for only 2.1% of its population.
Unfortunately the Soviet census did not identify any Karakalpaks living in the Kazakh SSR
or any of the other Central Asian Republics at that time. However it clearly showed that
the Karakalpaks, with a population of 0.4m in 1989, were one of the smallest ethnic groups
of Turkic people in the USSR compared to the much larger populations of Uzbeks (16.7m),
Qazaqs (8.1m), Tajiks (4.2m), Turkmen (2.7m) and Kyrgyz (2.5m). These figures do not
include the large populations of Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Qazaqs in countries like Afghanistan,
Iran, and China.
Within Uzbekistan, the majority of Karakalpaks live in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan:
The Karakalpak Population of Uzbekistan
|Population: '000's ||1979 ||1989 ||Average Growth % pa|
|Within Karakalpakstan ||281.1||389.7||3.3|
|Outside Karakalpakstan|| 16.7 || 22.2 ||2.9|
with the remainder living in certain viloyatlar of Uzbekistan (in particular the three
Ferghana provinces, Samarkand, Navoi, Surkhandarya and Khorezm). These figures exclude any
Karakalpaks living in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan or in the Volga and Astrakhan regions of Russia.
One of the problems associated with the identification of ethnicity is that small isolated
populations tend to lose their identity within one or two generations as their descendants
take on the culture and ethnicity of the surrounding dominant population. This is happening
today even within Karakalpakstan itself, where some of the Karakalpaks living close to the
border of Khorezm viloyati are increasingly associating themselves with the majority Uzbek
population. In some cases in the past, minorities have been pressurized to declare themselves as Uzbek.
Karakalpak villages scattered throughout the Uzbek viloyatlar tend to be small, perhaps of the
order of just a few hundred residents or less, and are even more susceptible to ethnic absorption.
However although they are small there are very many of them and it is likely that their total
Karakalpak population exceeded the 22,000 identified in the 1989 census. Of course ethnicity
has always been a self-chosen label, just as it was for many of the tribes who originally
chose to join the Karakalpak confederation. These observations help to highlight the fact
that our statistics exclude Karakalpak �Uzbeks� and the like � Karakalpaks who have subsequently
adopted Uzbek or some other ethnicity.
Historical Population Growth
The number of Karakalpaks living in the Aral region at the beginning of the 19th century was of the
order of 100,000. Andrianov refers to the report of P. E. Velichko, the director of the Orenburg
customs house, made in 1803, which estimated that the Karakalpaks had 20,000 nomad tents. By then
the bulk of the so-called "lower" Karakalpaks had migrated down the Jan'a Darya towards the Aral
delta. Today the average family size is just below 6, but in the 19th century - when infant mortality
and death rates were much higher - we assume it was about 5.
The size of the Karakalpak population during the 19th century can also be derived from the tax and
other records maintained by the Khivan Khan.
Every ten households was required to provide the Khan with one rider for military service and
Andrianov gives details of an early 19th century document, translated by M. V. Sazanov, showing that
the Karakalpaks provided 1,986 atlı or riders. This implies a population of 19,860 households or
about 100,000 people. This number of households coincides with the Karakalpak tax burden of 20,000
tilley. A later tax document, dated 1855 but relating to an earlier period, contains similar figures.
Immediately after the Russian conquest of Khiva in 1873, A. L. Kun and A. V. Kaulbars were tasked
with surveying the population of Khorezm by visiting the main populated regions and analysing the
Khivan tax records. They came up with two separate but similar estimates for the number of Karakalpak
households � 20,364 and 20,400 respectively. The implication is that there was very little growth
in the Karakalpak population between 1800 and 1873.
Certain 19th century travellers recorded estimates of the number of Karakalpak living in the Khorezm region,
without providing any basis for how they were derived. It is likely that they were meant to be no more than indicative.
Muravyov grossly over reported the Karakalpak population in 1819, quoting separate figures of 70,000 and 100,000
families (implying from 350,000 to 500,000 people). He did not visit the delta, but remained in Khiva. However he
did stress that such numbers were uncertain and observed that even the Khan himself did not have the faintest idea about
the number of his subjects. Captain James Abbott, who spent some time in Khiva in 1840, estimated the number of
Karakalpaks in Khorezm at 40,000 families or 200,000 people. However Arminius Vambery in 1863 computed the total number
of Karakalpaks in Khorezm at 10,000 tents, equivalent to about 50,000 people. Herbert Wood, who travelled extensively
through the delta in 1874, was equally conservative: "The numbers of this tribe are at the present day 50,000 souls, at
a very outside calculation..."
The first proper surveys of the Karakalpak population living in Central Asia were conducted by Tsarist
Russia, but excluded figures for the Khanates of Khiva and Bukhara, which at that time were protectorates
and not part of the Russian Empire:
Nationalities of Central Asia (excluding Bukhara and Khiva) in '000's
|Nationality ||1897 Census ||1911 Survey ||Average Growth % pa|
|Karakalpaks ||112 ||134 ||1.3|
|Qazaqs ||3,989 ||4,692 ||not comparable|
|Kyrgyz ||202 ||not shown || |
|Uzbeks ||1,458 ||1,847 ||not comparable|
|Turks ||440 ||not shown || |
|Total Turkic Groups ||7,252 ||8,177 ||0.9|
Source: Aziatskaia Rossiia, Saint Petersburg, 1914, cited by I. M. Mately in The Population and the Land.
Obviously by excluding Khiva and Bukhara, these figures significantly underestimate the Uzbek population.
But they also underestimated the size of the Karakalpak population because they exclude Karakalpaks living
outside of the Amu Darya Division. We estimate that some 4,000 households were excluded, equivalent to about 20,000 people.
Yet comparison with both earlier and later figures suggests that both sets of numbers are far too high, the
1911 figure probably exceeding the total Karakalpak population at that time. We must certainly doubt the
accuracy of the 1911 survey and question the 1897 census, which was by no means complete in some of the outer
regions of the Empire. As we have seen, it was quite common to estimate the population of nomads from the
number of tented households, or kibitkas, in a community. To make matters worse, there was much confusion between
the identities of the Qazaqs and Kyrgyz at that time - the Qazaqs were often described as Kyrgyz or Kyrgyz-Qazaq
and lived in close proximity to the Karakalpaks.
In 1901 Rossikova visited Petro-Aleksandrovsk, the Russian capital of the Amu Darya Division. At that time the local
administration were reporting the total population of the Division to be 147,070 - 51,065 in Shoraxan section and
96,015 in the more northerly and geographically larger Shımbay section. She was sceptical of these numbers, noting that the
borders of the Division were poorly defined, the Qazaq population was nomadic, and figures were collected from the rural districts
If the 1911 estimate was relatively too high, it is possible that the growth in the Karakalpak population could have
been very low prior to the Revolution, more in line with that of the total Turkic population.
Dusomov and Ametov quote figures for the population of the Turkestan ASSR in 1920, which included the Amu Darya Division
but not the Khorezm People's Soviet Republic. It included just 75,334 Karakalpaks out of a total population of
5,221,963. Karakalpaks were a tiny minority compared to over 2 million Uzbeks, 1 million Qazaqs, 0.5 million Russians
and 0.5 million Kyrgyz.
The first Soviet census in 1926 analysed each "ethnic group" by Soviet Republic, but the 1939 census only reported
"nationality" across the entire Soviet Union. One can therefore only compare the trend in the total Soviet
population of each ethnic group over the period covered by the first three All-Union censuses:
Ethnic Groups/Nationalities within the USSR
|Nationality ||1926 ||1939 ||1959|| ||1926 ||1939 ||1959|
| ||Population in '000's|| ||Average annual % growth|
|Qazaqs || 3,968 || 3,099 || 3,581|| ||na ||-1.9% ||0.7%|
|Uzbeks ||3,905 ||4,844 ||6,005|| ||na ||1.7% ||1.1%|
|Turkmen ||979 ||1,229 ||1,397|| ||na ||1.8% ||0.6%|
|Karakalpaks ||146 ||186 ||173|| ||na ||1.9% ||-0.4%|
Source: I. M. Mately, The Population and the Land, 1967.
The growth in the Karakalpak population up to 1939 is much in line with other Turkic groups with the
exception of the Qazaqs. Stalin's policy of collectivizing private farms was introduced in 1928 and
many private farmers, or kulaks, were exiled and in some cases murdered. Collectivization went relatively
smoothly among the Karakalpaks, Uzbeks and most of the Turkmen, and so the numbers affected were small
and did not therefore significantly impact the size of their populations. By contrast the Qazaqs reacted
forcefully to collectivization. They deliberately destroyed a huge proportion of their livestock, which
ultimately led to widespread starvation and death during the subsequent 1931-33 famine. A minority of
Qazaqs deserted the USSR with their herds for China. The Qazaq population may have declined by about
1.2 million over this period.
The Great Patriotic War had an enormous impact on the population size of the USSR. Firstly conscription
reduced the male population and the rate of reproduction. Secondly the level of casualities was colossal.
A special Goskomstat committee established by Gorbachev in 1989 estimated a total loss of 26.6 million
people, 13.5% of the 1941 population. The majority were civilians - the number of military casualties
included in this estimate was 8.7 million.
Karakalpak and other Turkic military personnel were conscripted and many were killed, although the civilian
population of Central Asia was spared the ravages of German occupation. The impact of the war on the
Turkic ethnic groups can clearly be seen in the depressed levels of population growth over the period
from 1939 to 1959. Yet there is no reason why the Karakalpaks should have been more adversely affected
by the war than their neighbours. The decline in the Karakalpak population over this period can only be
explained if many former Karakalpaks classified themselves as Uzbek at the time of the 1959 census. Had
their population grown in line with the Qazaq or Turkmen populations, the number of Karakalpaks should
have been about 40,000 higher than reported.
The 1959 census showed that out of the 172,600 Karakalpaks within the USSR, 168,300 lived in Uzbekistan.
It is likely that the remaining 4,300 mainly resided in the northern part of the Turkmen SSR.
From 1959 onwards we can track the ethnic population within the Uzbek SSR. In the 30 years up to 1989
the Karakalpak population grew at the same high rate as the total population of Uzbekistan � at an average
of around 3% per annum � very high by developing world standards. Between 1979 and 1989, the Karakalpak
population grew at an even higher 3.3% per annum. In 1991, the average birth rate in Karakalpakstan was
reported at over 30 births per 1,000 � four times higher than the average for the Soviet Union as a whole.
Ethnic Population of the Uzbek SSR
| ||1959 ||1970 ||1979||1989|
| ||Population in '000's|
|Karakalpaks ||168.3 ||230.3 ||297.8||411.9|
|Uzbeks ||5,038.3 ||7,724.4 ||10,569.0||14,142.5|
|Total Population ||8,105.5 ||11,799.0 ||15,389.3||19,810.1|
| || || || || |
| ||% Population Mix|
|Karakalpaks ||2.08 ||1.95 ||1.94||2.08|
|Uzbeks ||62.2 ||65.4 ||68.7 ||71.4 |
| || || || || |
| ||Average annual % growth|
|Karakalpaks ||na ||2.9 ||2.9||3.3|
|Uzbeks ||na ||4.0 ||3.5||3.0|
|Total ||na ||3.5 ||3.0||2.6|
However the Uzbek population of Uzbekistan has grown at an even higher rate over this period. Consequently
Uzbeks have increased as a percentage of the population, while Russians, Ukrainians, Tartars, Koreans
and Jews have declined, mainly due to outward emigration. To a limited degree this might reflect the
continuing adoption of Uzbek ethnicity by isolated minority groups such as the Tajiks and to a lesser
extent the Karakalpaks.
Recent Population Growth
The collapse of the USSR and the formation of an independent Uzbekistan have given rise to many economic
and social changes, and this has clearly affected patterns of migration and population growth. The complexity
of these changes makes it hard to estimate population sizes given the absence of a proper census since 1989.
Indeed organizations like the World Bank are now advising that a new population census is long overdue.
In the meantime, more limited surveys of birth and death rates have allowed the government to estimate the
trend in population growth for Uzbekistan as a whole. This work suggests that the birth rate had probably
already peaked in the mid-1980s at around 36-37 births per annum per 1,000 head of population and had dropped
to about 30 by 1994. Since then it has declined progressively and now stands at about 20. Population growth
has paralleled this trend, dropping to about 2.7% per annum at the start of the 1990s and falling to just 1.1%
per annum by 2005:
Trend in annual birth rate and population growth for Uzbekistan
This has principally arisen because of the severe economic downturn following independence and the associated cutbacks
in social security, all of which discouraged marriage and reduced the rate of childbirth. There have also
been increasing efforts to promote family planning with the dispensation of free IUD's. Some reports have linked
government pressure to reduce rural family size to a disturbing new practise in which young women are given
hysterectomies or have an IUD device implanted without their permission following childbirth.
The compound effect of this declining rate of population growth on the total population size would be to increase
it by 31% between 1989, the date of the last census, and 2006.
Of course these trends exclude the effects of migration, such as the huge evacuation of Russians back to Russia.
These adverse factors have probably had a similar impact on Karakalpak birth rates. However Karakalpakstan suffers
from above average levels of poverty and poorer people have larger families. The Karakalpak birth rate has remained
marginally higher than that for Uzbekistan as a whole, although the gap is closing � in 2003 the birth rate in
Karakalpakstan was 20.6 compared to 19.8 per 1,000 people for Uzbekistan. At the same time the Karakalpak death
rate is somewhat above average. Nevertheless Karakalpaks have continued to maintain a higher than average rate of
Almost constantly under threat by militarily and politically stronger tribal groups since its formation, the Karakalpak
population has suffered from dispersion and erosion for centuries. Small enclaves of Karakalpaks have fled to various
parts of Central Asia at differing times, giving rise to new and remote Karakalpak-speaking villages.
During the early 17th century some Karakalpaks migrated westwards reaching the upper Emba and Ural rivers and the river
Tobol. Others were noted in the lower reaches of the Emba and Ural rivers. Following the devastating Jungar attacks
of 1723 more Karakalpaks moved westwards and settled between the Ural and Volga Rivers in the region now known as
Bashkiria, while others fled eastwards towards Samarkand and the Ferghana Valley. Later some Karakalpaks were invited
by the Russians to come and settle around the mouth of the River Or in the vicinity of a new Russian settlement, which
would eventually become Orenburg.
During the first quarter of the 19th century the Khorezmian Uzbeks progressively subjugated the Karakalpaks living in the
Aral delta and on the Jan'a Darya, forcing more small groups to flee. Some Karakalpak Man'g'ıts escaped to Bukhara shortly
after 1807 and other Karakalpaks sought refuge among the Qazaqs. Following their defeat by Muhammad Rahim Khan, the
Karakalpaks were forcibly settled but continued to suffer predation from Yomut Turkmen bandits. The latter continued into
the first decades of the 20th century despite Russian protection. We have met several elderly Karakalpaks who remember being
forced to run and hide during Turkmen attacks on their homes in the delta.
In the early 1930s the forcible collectivization of private farms targeted wealthy Karakalpak landlords and bays.
In addition to the loss of their land, they also suffered from the confiscation of their private property. Those who refused
to cooperate were exiled and some were murdered. Some decided it was preferable to flee to countries outside of the USSR.
Elderly Karakalpaks have told us that people fled to Afghanistan, Iran, and even Arabia.
There followed a period of stability that finally ended in the early 1960s. The developing Aral Sea crisis
initially impacted the local fishing, fish processing and boat building industries, which finally collapsed in the early
1980s with the loss of some 100,000 jobs. The natural draining of the lakes and marshes in the northern delta began to
harm the cattle and dairy industry, while creeping desertification, increasing soil salinization and water shortages
substantially reduced the land available for irrigated agriculture. Following independence there has been a deliberate cut
in the cotton acreage in favour of less labour-intensive wheat cultivation, creating yet more unemployment in the delta.
The net result has been a major migration of people from the northern delta to the south over the past 35 years, with many
settling around No'kis and the other southern towns in Karakalpakstan. This trend gained particular prominence during the
two years of severe drought in 2000 and 2001. Such was the pressure to move that people were dismantling their houses and
selling the individual timbers and fittings for a little cash, knowing that it was impossible to sell their homes intact.
We have seen this with our own eyes at the Taxta Ko'pir Sunday livestock market. In some cases whole villages were abandoned
as people moved to a temporary and filthy squatter camp on the outskirts of No'kis.
During 2001 a shanty town developed on the outskirts of No'kis - photo March 2002.
It has since been removed.
Some people took the chance to emigrate from Karakalpakstan entirely. For many Qazaqs the attraction of a more open and
economically dynamic Kazakhstan was far greater than moving to another province of Uzbekistan. There were reports of
people bribing border guards to gain illegal entry into Kazakhstan and some 40 Karakalpak Qazaqs gained publicity by
openly writing to President Nazarbayev, asking for permission to resettle.
Ironically the Qazaq regime had already been encouraging the repatriation of foreign Qazaqs for some time. Immediately
following independence the Qazaq government introduced a programme to facilitate the repatriation of Qazaqs who had
been forced into exile because of political repression or forced collectivization during the 1920s and 1930s. The Agency
for Migration and Demography (AMD) was established to oversee and support the returnees, or oralman as they were called.
Annual quotas were set, and families returning within the quota were entitled to free transport and housing, a lump sum
payment and exemption from custom duties.
Unfortunately the Karakalpak Qazaqs did not qualify under this scheme, so in 2001 it was extended to cover all foreign
Qazaqs who now wished to return for permanent residence. This opened the floodgates and an increasing number of Qazaqs
decided to leave the Aral delta for Kazakhstan.
Estimates regarding the numbers involved in outward migration from Karakalpakstan appear to vary. Discussing migration
from Karakalpakstan, Borisova quotes specialists from the International Foundation to Save the Aral Sea, who noted that
one quarter of a million people had emigrated to Kazakhstan in the seven years up to 2002 � misleadingly equating this
to almost one sixth of the population of the Autonomous Republic. By contrast the Uzbek government reported that 63,000
people moved from Karakalpakstan to Kazakhstan between 1991 and 2001, while the United Nations High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) estimated that around 50,000 people left Karakalpakstan in the 1990s. This latter estimate is broadly confirmed by
an independent study initiated by MSF and conducted by Anthony Kolb, which concluded that net outward migration doubled from
about 3,000 per annum to 6,000 during the years of drought. About 80% of those migrants left for Kazakhstan. A later
2004/2005 study commissioned by the International Organisation for Migration concluded that Karakalpakstan experienced
an average outflow of 4,000 people per annum since the 1990s.
Figures published by the Qazaq AMD provide us with a different perspective. After an initial influx, the number of
oralman returning to Kazakhstan fell to around 3,000 families per annum by 1999. Numbers then began to rise sharply,
especially from 2001 onwards, reaching 17,500 families in 2003. By now maybe one third of a million people have been
repatriated under this programme. However only a portion have come from Karakalpakstan. The majority have been Qazaqs
returning after decades of exile. Compared to the underlying trend, probably no more than an additional 30,000 families,
or over 120,000 people, have been repatriated under the widened scheme since 2000. Many of these came from Karakalpakstan,
but others came from different parts of Uzbekistan as well as from an increasingly unfriendly Turkmenistan.
We believe that all of the above figures paint a fairly consistent picture. We estimate that perhaps 75,000 people departed
Karakalpakstan between 1989 and 2005, about 25,000 moving to other parts of Uzbekistan and 50,000 departing not only
Karakalpakstan but Uzbekistan as a whole. Most of these migrants will have come from the northern delta � the region worst
affected by the Aral disaster. However the majority of these people are ethnic Qazaqs. It seems unlikely that more than
about 20,000 Karakalpaks have left Karakalpakstan during this period, and not all of these will have left the Republic of
Uzbekistan as a whole.
Note that these calculations do not include temporary or seasonal migration. Kolb found that economic pressure was leading
to about 7% of people of working age leaving home each year to work elsewhere, either in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or, in a few
Karakalpaks living elsewhere in Uzbekistan
The 1989 census identified 21,900 Karakalpaks living in Uzbekistan outside of Karakalpakstan, up from 16,000 in 1979.
The location of these communities has recently been studied by Sha'rigu'l Payzullaeva from the Regional Studies Museum in No'kis.
Sergey Tolstov's daughter had previously studied the extensive Karakalpak populations spread throughout the Ferghana Valley
during the late 1950s.
Karakalpak villages can be identified in 8 of the 12 viloyatlar of Uzbekistan:
Ferghana, Namangan and Andijon
Tolstova identified 32 pure and 53 part-Karakalpak villages in the Ferghana Valley, mainly located along the Syr Darya and
the Kara Darya tributary. Indeed there are two villages actually called Karakalpak � one just north of Andijon and one south
of Pap on the banks of the Syr Darya, north-north-east of Khokand. She also presented an extract from a map of 1897, which identified
the location of 34 villages where Karakalpaks could be found.
Tolstova also presented a map made in 1917 and published in 1920, indicating a Karakalpak community living in a district of
Samarkand Oblast, about 150km to the north-west of Samarkand. There are two Karakalpak villages known today: Kungrad village
to the north of Samarkand and Bulungar just north of the main highway running north-east from Samarkand.
The main Karakalpak settlement is at Ka'nimex on the A379 north-west of Navoi. It lies to the north of Bukhara. There are
also some small, part-Karakalpak part-Uzbek settlements just north of Ka'nimex. More Karakalpaks live in Nurata. The 1926
census indicated that the Karakalpak population of this region was over 1,000 but less than 6,000. It is believed that some
of these Karakalpaks moved from Nurata to Man'g'ıt and To'rtku'l in the 1930s. The most remote Karakalpak settlement is at Tamdy,
just south of Zeravshan in the middle of the Qizil Qum. Tamdy was originally part of the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast,
formed in 1925.
Kyat is a Karakalpak village close to the main road north-east of Karshi. One of our friends met a Karakalpak man from Kashkadarya
while serving in the Soviet military. He was surprised that the Karakalpak insisted on calling himself an Uzbek.
Karakalpaks live in Baysun village in Baysun region. This region is not far from the Afghan border.
Karakalpaks live in No'kis village, south-east of Urgench.
The International Karakalpak Population
The number of Karakalpaks living in the former territories of the USSR outside of Uzbekistan is very small. The 1959 census
quantified the number as 4,700. It is likely that the number was once considerably higher but declined during the Soviet
period as isolated communities adopted the ethnicity of their more dominant surrounding population.
In 1963 Seboek recorded 2,542 Karakalpak speakers in the Turkmen SSR, a number that might derive from the 1959 census.
The last Soviet census in 1989 identified 317,252 Uzbeks, 87,595 Qazaqs, 35,000 Ukrainians, 31,838 Armenians, 14,000 Baluch
and 3,500 Tajiks. No Kyrgyz or Karakalpaks seem to have been reported.
A French website on Turkmenistan http://www.tlfq.ulaval.ca/axl/asie/turkmenistan.htm
gives a figure of 3,800 Karakalpaks in Turkmenistan in relation to population statistics that seem to refer to 2002. Unfortunately
no reference is given.
Following independence the fear of inter-ethnic conflict has led the Turkmen regime to take an unwelcoming stance against its
still sizeable non-Turkmen community. The majority of Russians and Qazaqs have now left, but a large population of Uzbeks
remain in the north along with a few Karakalpaks. Initially they could easily cross the border to visit their relatives in
Karakalpakstan or Khorezm viloyati, although the introduction of a visa charge has made this more difficult in recent years.
Turkmen statistics are not at all reliable, especially figures given for the ethnic minorities, which are deliberately understated.
We estimate the local population of Karakalpaks to be no more than 5,000.
In 1963 Sebeok identified Karakalpak as a minority language used within the Qazaq SSR but did not identify the number of speakers.
The last census in Kazakhstan took place in 1999 and identified a long list of ethnic groups, including 370,663 Uzbeks,
10,896 Kyrgyz and 1,729 Turkmen. The numbers of Karakalpaks are not listed in the research reports published on the survey,
because they are small and fall below the threshold of 10,000 mark, below which only certain selected groups are shown. We must
remember that some illegal immigrants may have been reluctant to disclose their true nationality.
At the same time we do know from our discussions with Karakalpaks in Karakalpakstan that Karakalpak people have been migrating to
Kazakhstan in recent years. However their destinations are widely separated, ranging from the oil-rich region of Aktau on the
Caspian coast to Dzhanbil close to the Kyrgyz border. Until we can obtain an exact figure from the census we will assume a total
An 1852 map showing the distribution of the nomads in the vicinity of the lower Volga identified Karakalpaks living with
Tatars on the eastern bank to the north of Astrakhan. However the 1926 population census indicated that the numbers
involved were below 1,000.
Karakalpaks in No'kis have told us of Karakalpak communities living in the Ufa and Baimak regions of Bashkiria, situated
between the Volga and the Ural mountains to the north of Orenburg. Others have told us about a Karakalpak community
living in the agricultural region of Kalach-on-Don, just to the west of Volgograd.
Surprisingly there is some uncertainty over the origin of these so-called Karakalpaks. Allen Frank has investigated the
background to this small and scattered group of "Astrakhan Karakalpaks" and has discovered that they are not strictly
Aral Karakalpaks at all, but are the descendants of Kazan Tartars and Kazan Mishars. They call themselves either "Kazan
Karakalpaks" or "Mishar Karakalpaks". The Kazan Karakalpaks are descended from Kazan Tartars who fled Russian service in
the 18th century and became nomads with the Qazaqs of the Junior Horde. In 1801 they crossed the Ural River to become
part of the Qazaq Inner Horde. Because they were Muslims who had fled Russian service they identified themselves to the
local Russian authorities as Central Asian Karakalpaks who had been former subjects of the Khivan Khan.
These "Astrakhan Karakalpaks" are the Karakalpaks who appeared in the 1926 Soviet population census. Frank notes that even
today, members of the same family can register themselves as Tatars, Karakalpaks, Qazaqs, or even Bashkirs. They are fluent
in both Tatar and Qazaq.
Having said this, some Qazaq academics have argued that despite their ancestral origins as Kazan Tartars, Qazaq oral tradition
identifies the Kazan Karakalpaks as having been the descendants of genuine Karakalpak people. There were strong historical links
between Khorezm and the former Kazan Khanate.
The Russian Federation conducted a full census in October 2002. It identified 655,000 Qazaqs, 123,000 Uzbeks, 33,000
Turkmen, but only 1,609 Karakalpaks. This is a surprise given the publicity surrounding the outward migration of Karakalpaks
during the 1990s and the opening years of the new millennium. It suggests that if any Karakalpaks have fled to Russia, they
must be a tiny minority.
Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran
Various Christian Evangelist websites report large Karakalpak populations in Turkey and Iran and a smaller population in
Afghanistan, but provide no references. The main source for this information appears to be
The Joshua Project, based in Colorado Springs in the USA, which claims
that more than 100,000 additional Karakalpaks live in Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran, listing 64,000 in Turkey, 36,000 in Iran,
and 2,500 in Afghanistan. It even purports to identify their location:
"The Karakalpaks in Turkey are primarily concentrated in the mountains of eastern Turkey, near the headwaters of the Murat
River. Those in Iran live mainly on the southern shores of Lake Urmia, which is located in the north-west corner of the country."
This information is repeated verbatim by the Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission, based in South Korea.
Another religious paper written by David Zeidan lists 30,000 Karakalpaks living in Iran in 1993. Another anonymous internet source
identifies 40,600 but gives no date.
Oz Turkler more modestly supposes that there are 2,000 Karakalpaks in
Afghanistan and several thousand in Iran.
Somewhat similar information occurs under the Karakalpak entry in "An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires" edited by
James S. Olson and published in 1994:
"Today more than 330,000 Karakalpaks live in the Soviet Union, with another 55,000 in Turkey, 25,000 in Iran, and several thousand in
Afghanistan, although that number is very indefinite, since substantial numbers of Karakalpak fled to Pakistan during the years of the
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s."
All of these sources should be viewed with enormous suspicion, if not total disbelief! The figures are nonsense. While there is
evidence that small numbers of Karakalpaks fled to Afghanistan and Iran, we have yet to meet a Karakalpak who has links with either country.
It is inconceivable that so many Karakalpaks could exist in these countries without there being any knowledge of them in their supposed
The historical conflict between the Kalmuks, Qazaqs, and Khivan Uzbeks led to an ongoing dispersal of the Karakalpak population
along the Syr Darya/Jan'a Darya into the Khorezm oasis, various parts of southern Kazakhstan, the lower Volga in Russia,
eastern and southern Uzbekistan, and northern Afghanistan. However there is no historical reason why significant Karakalpak
populations should have migrated to either Turkey or Iran. It is much more likely that small numbers of Karakalpaks, particularily
Persian-speaking mullahs and iyshans, fled to Iran during the collectivization of the early 1930s.
The population census conducted in Turkey in 2000 shows that relatively few people of foreign origin live there as permanent
residents � only 200,000 in total. This includes only 7,500 Central Asians: 3,650 Uzbeks, 2,738 Qazaqs, 873 Kyrgyz, 474
Turkmen and no Karakalpaks.
In Iran the Turkmen make up 1.5% to 2% of a population of about 68 million. However other Central Asian nationalities are rare.
The Qazaq population was reported as only 3,000 in 1982 and there have been no official reports of any Karakalpaks.
This leaves us with Afghanistan, which certainly did have a small Karakalpak population in the past, although numbers were
small � quoted figures range from 4,000 down to 2,000. The Ethnologue Report
claims that some live south of Mazar-i Sharif, which seems logical, and that some live north of Jalalabad, which sounds less likely.
The last population census took place in 1979, but was not completed because of fighting during the Soviet occupation. In the absence
of census data, the most authoritative reference we have comes from Zhdanko and Esbergenov, who reported in 1980 that there
were 2,000 Karakalpaks living in Afghanistan.
During the 1980s, the archaeologist Professor Vadim Yagodin from the Karakalpak Branch of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences in
No'kis worked in Afghanistan and attempted to locate the local Karakalpak population. He was unsuccessful and came to the
conclusion that by then they must have become integrated within the much larger Uzbek, Pashto or Farsi communities (there were
about 1 million Uzbeks in northern Afghanistan at that time).
Results from a recent census should be available in 2007.
Rest of the World
We know of various Karakalpaks residing in North America, Europe and Japan, but their numbers are very small. Will the
American-born granddaughter of a Karakalpak woman and her American husband regard herself as a Karakalpak or an American?
We think the answer is obvious.
Estimating Population Size
We have estimated the current population of Karakalpaks in Uzbekistan by firstly assuming that their population growth was
similar to that of Uzbekistan as a whole, then allowing for a slightly higher birth rate, finally adjusting for migration movements:
Estimation of the Karakalpak Population in Uzbekistan 2006
|Region ||Uzbekistan ||Karakalpakstan ||Rest of Uzbekistan|
|1989 Population ||411.9 ||389.7 ||22.2|
|Assuming 31% Growth ||540.0 ||510.0 ||30.0|
|Higher Birth Rate ||+20.0 ||+20.0 || |
|Migration ||-15.0 ||-20.0 ||+5.0|
|2006 Population ||545.0 ||510.0 ||35.0|
The Library of Congress Federal Research Division estimated in their "Country Profile: Uzbekistan", published in November 2004,
that the Karakalpak population of Uzbekistan was about 475,000. This is probably on the low side.
What then is the total population of Karakalpaks worldwide?
A rough estimate of the total number of Karakalpaks might be constructed as follows:
Worldwide Karakalpak Population in 2006
|Uzbek viloyatlar|| 35|
|Rest of the World|| 1|
|World Total|| 560|
indicating roughly 560,000 "true" Karakalpaks on the planet today. This figure excludes Karakalpak "Uzbeks" or
Karakalpak "Afghans" � Karakalpaks who have become integrated into other larger ethnic groups.
Demographics by Age
For Uzbekistan as a whole, Goskomprognozstat � the State Committee on Statistics and Analysis � publish annual demographic
breakdowns by age. These show that about 41.5% of the population is less than 16 years-old, 51% is aged between 16 and 59
and 7.5% is aged 60 and over. The average age is just over 24.
Because of the higher birth rate in the 1980s, the Karakalpak population is younger still. Some estimates suggest that 45%
of the population is less than 16 years old. The 1989 census demonstrated that ¾ of the population was below the age of 29.
The average family size in Karakalpakstan in 2003 was 5.8 compared to just 5.1 for the whole of Uzbekistan and 3.7 in Tashkent
city. This is down noticeably from the figure of 6.3 in 2000, reflecting the declining birth rate.
Despite the reduction of fertility since 1990, the Karakalpak population will continue to grow rapidly for a number of years
� the age profile of the current population means that a large percentage of women will be of childbearing age for at least
the next decade.
One long-term danger for a minority population such as the Karakalpaks, especially given the environmental and economic problems
that surround them, is that their identity is gradually eroded as people migrate out of their homeland, settle elsewhere and
become absorbed into the dominant surrounding nationality. Within the former USSR there were 27 Uzbeks for every Karakalpak
in 1926 and 41 Uzbeks for every Karakalpak in 1989. This implies an erosion of roughly one third of the population over 63
years. Some of this has arisen because Karakalpaks living in the Uzbek viloyatlar have adopted Uzbek identity, something
that can only occur once.
However in the past decade we have seen an increase in the levels of outward migration, giving rise to the likelihood that a
similar process will occur again in the future. Of course the one factor currently mitigating against this effect is the still
relatively high birth rate. Even so, this cannot prevent the Karakalpaks continuing to become an increasing minority in proportional terms.
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Visit our sister site www.qaraqalpaq.com, which uses the correct transliteration, Qaraqalpaq, rather than the
Russian transliteration, Karakalpak.
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