The Koreans of Kazakhstan
In 1937, almost 172,000 Koreans who had settled in the Russian Far East were forcibly deported to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan during the rule of Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin, under the guise of preventing Japanese espionage in the region. Around 40,000 people died during the perilous journey and the harsh Kazakh winters that followed the forced relocation, and those who survived were forbidden to speak their own language.
While researching sociolinguistic variations in the Korean language, U.S.-born Korean photographer Michael Vince Kim came across the direct result of this mass deportation: Koryo-mar, a now near-extinct language spoken by ethnic Koreans in the former Soviet Union. Kim was immediately fascinated by this Soviet-Korean dialect, which comprises archaisms that don’t exist in modern Korean, and began
researching its history.
“[I was] shocked to find that this tragic episode of Korean history is largely untold and unknown,” Kim says. “[I] felt compelled to meet this community and tell their story, and to see how their culture and their language had diverged from the roots that we shared.”
“The Koreans of Kazakhstan,” Kim’s resulting long-term project, won Magnum Photos’ “30 Under 30” award for young photographers. Currently extending the series to Uzbekistan and other neighboring countries, as well as South Korea, Kim says: “The issue of migration, displacement and identity within the Korean diaspora is something I’ve been interested in for most of my life, and photography has been a medium that allows me to explore it visually.”
– Amy Touchette
Photos © Michael Vince Kim/INSTITUTE