Capital: Astana
Area: 2,717,300 km˛
Population: 16,733,227 (July 2000 est.)
Religion(s): Muslim 47%, Russian Orthodox 44%, Protestant 2%, other 7%
Ethnic Groups: Kazakh (Qazaq) 46%, Russian 34.7%, Ukrainian 4.9%, German 3.1%, Uzbek 2.3%, Tatar 1.9%, other 7.1% (1996)
Language(s): Kazakh (Qazaq, state Language) 40%, Russian (official, used in everyday business) 66%
Currency: 1 Kazakhstani tenge = 100 tiyn
System of Government: Republic

The modern Kazakhs are heirs to an extremely ancient culture. The earliest unearthed artifacts can be dated to the early Stone Age, around 300,000 years ago. Many directly traceable artifacts found in Kazakhstan go back as far as the Bronze age, and belonged to different identifiable tribes. Later infusions of other groups, for example the Kypchaks in the 8th to 11th c., have contributed to the ethnic Turkic base that make up the Kazakhs. The Mongol conquest of Central Asia in the early 13th c. played a tremendous role in the intermingling and interbreeding of these groups to produce the Kazakh people.

After the break-up of the Golden and White Hordes, and of the other Mongol successor states in the late 14th c., the most important group to emerge was the Uzbek tribal confederation. During a succession conflict in the 15th c., the princes Janibek and Girey broke away from their own tribe and became the first khans of the Kazakh tribes. At the beginning of the 16th c., the Kazakhs had taken control over a readily definable and economically viable territory.

In the 16th c., under Kasim Khan, the "Kazakh" people emerged, united by language, culture and social organisation. After the death of Kasim Khan towards the end of the 16th c., the Kazakh state began to disintegrate. At the same time the Kazakhs organized themselves into three Hordes (from Turkic "ordu" = army): Ulu Zhuz, Orta Zhuz and Kichi Zhuz (the Great Hundred, the Middle Hundred and the Small Hundred). Their populations were known as the eastern, middle and western Kazakhs. The third of these Hordes generated a fourth Horde, the Inner Horde. The Hordes consisted of clans and family units, and together they comprised the Kazakh Khanate. Various tribes and competing khans were always a source of conflict and war between the Kazakhs. In reality, the great khan was seldom able to command all the tribes of his horde, and was forced instead to rule through coalitions.

As a result of some urban influence, the tribes of the southern part of Kazakhstan began to adopt Sunni Islam in the 8th c., and in the following centuries the religion gradually penetrated northwards. The Kazakhs converted at a relatively late date and were never very strong practitioners of their faith, that also came to preserve elements of their traditional religion. In the 17th and 18th c., the Kazakhs became subject to Russian influence and control.

The following period in Kazakh history is called "the Great Retreat". The Kazakhs had been obliged to accept Russian apportionment of their hunting grounds, and were soon prohibited from using the fertile land, known as the "Inner Side", between the Ural and Volga rivers. When they continued to do so because of the tremendous pressure on their shrinking pasturage, they suffered Russian reprisals.

The Russians also started meddling in the political affairs of the three Hordes. They helped the unpopular Nur Ali to power in the Small Horde in 1748, and he became a virtual puppet ruler. The tensions over the Inner side, and internal miscontent within the Small Horde prepared the ground for rebellion. During the Pugachov revolt of 1772-74, the Kazakhs took the opportunity to raid the Russian settlements and take their herds into the pasturage of the Inner side. The events of the Pugachov revolt triggered Kazakh Rebellion of 1773-76. The goal was to gain control of the Inner Side, but they failed because of internal discord among competing Kazakh factions. Civil War threatened, and the Russians sent Cossacks to quash the rebellion and restore order. Afterwards they were rewarded by the Russians with grants of land in Kazakhstan's already shrinking pasturage.

The leaders of the Middle Horde were also under strong Russian pressure, but were able to balance between the Russians and the Chinese.

The history of the Greater Horde was different from that of the other two Hordes. Instead of gradual assimiliation and loss of power to the growing Russian empire, the Greater Horde experienced a progressive break-up and diaspora away from its traditional base around the southern end of lake Balkash. The majority of the Horde had been under the Dzungarian Khanate. One group broke off in the 1730's to join with the Smaller Horde under Russian rule. The majority of the Greater Horde fell under Chinese control when the Chinese defeated the Dzungarians in 1758. Some of them migrated to former Dzungarian land, while others moved to the Tashkent area near the Aral Sea, and mixed with the Karakalpaks. Those who remained by lake Balkash, established their independence from China. The Greater Horde Kazakhs were subjugated to the Russian empire as late as 1865.

The Kazakhs put up almost continuous resistance to Russian encroachment which, together with the conflict over the Inner Side, only enhanced Kazakh discontent. Armed clashes between Kazakhs and Cossacks and between different Kazakh groups towards the end of the 18th c., led the Russians to create a new "Inner Horde", called the Bukei Horde, under Nur Ali's son. This Horde was allowed to live on the Inner Side. By 1830, however, the Horde had prospered and grown so large that the problems were worse than ever. At the same time the Russians tried to assimilate the Kazakhs. Russian schools were introduced to teach the Russian language and spread a Western lifestyle, and the Russians encouraged the practice of Islam, hoping that the Kazakhs would come closer to the social, political and cultural development of other Muslims under Russian rule, like the Volga Tatars.

These measures failed to bring order, however, and from the 1820s, the Russians gave the Kazakhs land, tools and seeds to induce them to become sedentary and to involve in farming. They also tried to introduce a whole new administrative structure, dividing the Kazakh land into okrugs, volosts (part of an okrug) and auls (part of a volost). They hoped to see a new Kazakh civil service class emerge, running a modern bureaucracy. Instead, the new structures never functioned as well as the traditional structures had, and this sometimes exacerbated crisis situations. After a series of uprisings in the late 1820s, a in 1837, a serious revolt broke out in the Middle Horde, led by Kenisary Qasimov, viewed by many as the first Kazakh nationalist. The revolt lasted until 1846, and alarmed the Russians because it threatened to involve the other Hordes as well and become a full-scale Kazakh war. For the rest of the century, the Russians tried to pacify the Kazakhs through land reforms and other measures.

This was not a lasting success, and a second and more violent revolt broke out in 1916. In order to cope with the demands of World War II, the Russians had increased the tax burden and for the first time obliged the Kazakhs for military service through the draft. The Kazakhs in response attacked Russian and Cossack villages, killing indiscriminately. The Russians' revenge was merciless. A military force drove 300,000 Kazakhs to flee into the mountains or to China. When appr. 80,000 of them returned the next year, they were slaughtered by colonists. During the 1921-22 famine, another million Kazakhs died from starvation after losing their cattle to Slav settlers, the White forces, and the Bolsheviks.

Inspired by the Russian revolution in 1917, Kazakh intellectuals had created Alash Orda, a Kazakh nationalist party. The Bolshevik take-over in Moscow in November divided the Kazakhs and radicalized the Alash Orda, which joined the White Forces. When the Bolsheviks created the Kyrgyz (Kazakh) ASSR in 1920, many hoped for better relations with the Russians, while Alash Orda became a powerful nationalist movement.

The Stalinist policy of collectivization starting in the late 1920's, was seen by nationalist Kazakhs as an attempt to russify the Kazakhs and confiscate their cattle. Between 1926 and 1939, the Kazakh population declined by 22%, due to starvation, violence and out-migration to Afghanistan, to Chinese-occupied East Turkestan and to Uzbekistan. Agricultural output dropped by more than 60%, and Kazakh nationalists did what they could to halt Russian colonization of the steppes and drive out the ones already there. During the Stalinist purges, nearly all Kazakhs were removed from the Kazakh Communist Party, and the Alash Orda was suppressed.

In 1936, Kazakhstan became a union republic of the socialist soviet federation. The Kazakh economy remained stagnant, and in 1953 Nikita Khrushchov introduced his "Virgin Lands"-policy to reform agriculture in Kazakhstan. The policy required a shift from grain-growing state farms to livestock-breeding state farms and a whole new bureaucratic apparatus, to be led by handpicked, young Leonid Brezhnev. The reform drew Kazakhstan closer to Moscow administratively, but created an environmental catastrophe as too much vegetation was cut down, leading to mass erosion of the pasture lands. Khrushchov also launched a major industrialization drive based on local natural resources and Russian expertise. This development contributed strongly to the urbanization of Kazakhstan, and at the same time it strengthened the Russian dominance in the cities.

After Brezhnev became General Secretary, he installed the Kazakh Kunayev who was one of his men. He was a guarantor of stability, and enforced the power of nomenklatura (soviet bureaucrats) and secured party-members and relatives of the political elite central positions in the bureaucracy. In 1986, Kunayev was removed by Gorbachov who installed an ethnic Russian (Kolbyn). This resulted in rioting, and compelled Gorbachov to act carefully in Kazakhstan. In 1989, he replaced Kolbyn with the Kazakh Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Kazakhs made the best of the opportunities for greater autonomy from Moscow, and became champions of reform. For example, reforms of the regulations animals in farms resulted in a tremendous growth in meat production and sales. Gradually, also Kazakh nationalists supported Gorbachov, and they maintained this support also through the coup attempt in August 1991. In December 1991 Kazakhstan was declared an independent republic.

Source: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs [NUPI] - Centre for Russian Studies
Photos: Didar Kazakstan Magazine

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