The Muslim Kazakhs of Western Mongolia

mongolian-kazakhs-30-days-netMajestically the eagles circle while sometimes powerfully beating their wings high above the gathered crowd. At the signal of the falconer an eagle suddenly swoops down, glides over the heads of the spectators and lands with a loud shriek on the thick padded gloves of its master. The “Festival of the Golden Eagle” in Bayan-Olgii in the western most province of Mongolia is attended by the best falconers with their prize birds.

At high speeds and with unbelievable agility the eagles gracefully show off their flying abilities. The event beginning in mid-October signals the opening of the hunting season. The birds are trained to hunt for groundhogs, frogs and even wolves. The “Feast of the Golden Eagle” is a zealously guarded part of local Kazakh culture. In recent decades, the Mongolian Kazakhs have even been able to hang on to their traditions and skills much more so than their brothers in neighbouring Kazakhstan.

110,000 Kazakh’s

Kazakh nomads have roamed the mountains and valleys of western Mongolia with their herds since the 19th century. The area has many peaks ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 meters. Up until 1930 the nomads could freely move between Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Chinese province of Xinjiang. However after the founding of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924 many of them left their semi-nomadic lifestyle and began settling down in the western Mongolian highlands. Today the Kazakhs in the province of Bayan-Olgii number around 87,000 or about 88.7% of the provincial population while across the country they represent some 4% of the total Mongol population (about 110,000 people).

A Different Culture

The Kazakh culture differs in several ways from the Mongol culture. Traditionally the Mongolian Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims whereas the rest of the population are associated with Tibetan Buddhism. In daily life, Islam actually only plays a minor part in the lives of most Mongolian Kazakhs. Years of governmental atheistic indoctrination and communist upbringing has left its mark on the people. Until the end of the 1990′s there were practically no mosques at all in Bayan-Olgii. Places of Islamic worship only sprang up a few years ago in the villages and settlements. Some of these were paid for by foreign Islamic organisations. It remains to be seen if such efforts will actually win their hearts deeply to Islam again.

Since the 1990′s 35,000 to 50,000 ethnic Mongolians have submitted themselves to Christ. Previously only a few dozen were known to be Christians. The Kazakhs in Bayan-Olgii have so far remained untouched by these events.

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Flag of Mongolia

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Map of Mongolia

Prayer Points:

* Pray that the the Gospel could be presented in a culturally sensitive way to the Kazakhs of Mongolia so that they could put their hope in the God. “Those who hope in him will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

* Pray that Mongolian Christians and others will make increased efforts to bring the Good News of the Messiah to the Kazakh minority in Western Mongolia.

Background on Mongolia (World Factbook)

The Mongols gained fame in the 13th century when under Chinggis KHAN they conquered a huge Eurasian empire. After his death the empire was divided into several powerful Mongol states, but these broke apart in the 14th century. The Mongols eventually retired to their original steppe homelands and later came under Chinese rule. Mongolia won its independence in 1921 with Soviet backing. A Communist regime was installed in 1924. The ex-Communist Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) won elections in 1990 and 1992, but was defeated by the Democratic Union Coalition (DUC) in the 1996 parliamentary election. Since then, parliamentary elections returned the MPRP overwhelmingly to power in 2000 and produced a coalition government in 2012.

Economy of Mongolia

Economic activity in Mongolia has traditionally been based on herding and agriculture. Mongolia has extensive mineral deposits. Copper, coal, molybdenum, tin, tungsten and gold account for a large part of industrial production. Soviet assistance, at its height one-third of GDP, disappeared almost overnight in 1990 and 1991 at the time of the dismantlement of the USSR. The following decade saw Mongolia endure both deep recession due to political inaction and natural disasters. Growth was good in 2010, largely because of high copper prices and new gold production. Mongolia’s economy continues to be heavily influenced by its neighbors.

Statistics About Mongolia

Population: 3,226,516 (July 2013 est.) World rank #136

Life Expectancy at Birth: 68.95 years. World rank #157

Ethnic Groups: Mongol (mostly Khalkha) 94.9%, Turkic (mostly Kazakh) 5%, other (including Chinese and Russian) 0.1%

Religions: Buddhist Lamaist 50%, Shamanist and Christian 6%, Muslim 4%, none 40%

Languages: Khalkha Mongol 90%, Turkic, Russian

Literacy: 97.4% – male, 96.9%, female, 97.9%

School life expectancy: 14 years


Mongloia Video

One of the earliest churches to compose their own songs in Mongolia is represented in this video


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