“We have a saying, ‘Let the face of those who divide people by hordes burn,’” Turysov said. “So I sometimes have doubts. Maybe it will work for some people.”
He said he had just registered and so far had not seen any results. He said he got onto the site hoping to see some of his acquaintances, but so far they hadn't turned up.
Kazakhstan's clan system has existed since the days of the Mongol Empire, with legend holding that Genghis Khan himself laid the groundwork by dividing territory into thirds and granting each to one of his sons. He thereby created the Great, Middle, and Junior hordes that still define modern-day Kazakh society.
Despite their names, the three hordes have no particular hierarchy in either size or power. But they do imply certain characteristics among their members.
Junior zhuz Kazakhs are known as warriors; Middle zhuz members, by contrast, make up the bulk of the country's literary and intellectual class. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is perhaps the best-known representative of the Great zhuz, which is credited with superior management skills and a historic ability to unite the region's disparate nomadic tribes into a single country.
Kremlin strategists often sought to create a balance among the hordes when doling out government posts in Soviet-era Kazakhstan. But since the collapse of the USSR, Nazarbaev has largely surrounded himself with fellow Great zhuz members.
That partiality, critics say, can easily stir clan resentment, especially once dozens of tribal designations—and the fact that some Kazakhs ally themselves with no hordes at all—are folded into the mix. Journalist Toktarali Tanzharyk said a site like Rulas may only make things worse:
“Anyone from children to elderly people in their seventies can be a social-network user. And someone could express a thought with particular overtones meant to cause discord between different tribes,” he said. “Sometimes you can see signs of such contention on the Internet already. These various expressions that tribes use to characterize one another can sometimes be very hurtful and set people against each other.”
Rulas says more than 5,000 people have already downloaded its special Android app. But the site still faces an uphill climb in a country where many of its 17 million residents already belong to one or more social-networking sites, including Facebook and Russian sites like Moi Mir, VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki.
But a web-savvy Kazakh like Erbol Serykbai, who has launched his own information site, Surak-zhauap.kz, said it's too early to tell if Rulas will be able to work out the kinks in its classification system, like the fact that many of the subdivisions of individual tribes are still missing.
“It seems to me that they were in a bit of a hurry with regards to this,” he said. “It's only possible to search for users on the site by name, which isn't very useful. I also tried to do a search for girls between 18 and 22 from various tribes—and the site couldn't give me the information I asked for.”