Kazakhstan is a country with a rich historical and cultural past. Its geographical and geopolitical situation has played a significant role in promoting the development of Kazakhstan. Being located in the center of Eurasia, Kazakhstan has long been at the intersection of ancient world civilization and at the crossroads of major transport arteries. Thus it has been a site for a negotiation of social and economic, cultural and ideological relations between East and West, North and South, between Europe and Asia. At different stages in history, Kazakhstan has been home to many nations with distinctive cultural histories which have, in turn, been absorbed into modern Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan in Ancient Times
In the early part of the first millenium B.C., the nomadic Skythian-Saks civilization prospered on the territory of the Central Asian steppes. Many of the cultural landmarks of this civilization still exist on the steppe today. Especially impressive are articles of family life and decorations made of bronze and gold in the so-called “animist” style, excavated from mounds in different regions of Kazakhstan. The tomb of “The Gold Saks Warrior-Prince”, discovered in the town of Issyk, close to the capital city of Almaty, is famous for its integrity, beauty and elegance.
During the following centuries in the steppes of modern Kazakhstan the powerful state of the Huns was formed. This exerted great influence on the geopolitical map of the world of that period. It is know that the Great Roman empire was caught unawares by an attack launched by the daring Hun warrior, Attila. Along with their achievements in battle, the Huns brought with them into Europe great cultural influence, contributing significantly to modern European culture – the simplest example of this influence being trousers.
The Huns were succeeded in Central Asia by Turkic-speaking tribes. These groups founded several large state formations, know as “kaganats” (empires) which extended from the Yellow Sea in the east to the Black Sea in the west. These states were distinguished by a cultural that was progressive for its time and based not only on a nomadic economy, but also on an urban oasis culture that had rich trade handicraft traditions. For instance, in the oasis of Central Asia (the present day-territory of southern Kazakhstan and Central Asia) cities and caravansaries were founded which helped to facilitate the famous trade route, known as the Great Silk Road which connected Byzantium and China. In addition, other important trade routes were established in the area, including a road running along the banks of the Syr-Darya River leading to the Aral Sea and the South Ural, as well as the so-called “Sable Road” which connected Central Kazakhstan and the Altai with south-western regions of Siberia. It was via trade on this road the Near East and Europe were supplied with expensive furs. A number of major cities and trade centers such as Otrar (Farab), Taraz, Rulan, Yassi (Turkestan), Sauran, Balasagun and others were founded on this routes.
The Great Silk Road not only stimulated the development of trade, but also became a conduit of progressive scientific and cultural ideas. For example, the life and creative activity of the great philosopher Al-Farabi (870-959) dates back to these times. Born
in the district of Farab, Al-Farabi’s fame was such that he was known in the East as the Second Teacher after Aristotel. He is best known for his detailed research into philosophy, astronomy, theory of music and mathematics. The well known 11th century scholar of Turkic philology, Mahmud Kashgari, also lived in the area. His “piece de resistance” was a three-volume “Dictionary of Turkic dialects” which to this day serves as an important source of the history of Turkic folklore and literature. “Kutadgu Bilig” (“Blessed knowledge”) for example, which was written by the famous poet-philosopher Jusup Balasaguni, is recognized as having played an important role in the development of modern socio-political and ethnical thought. Likewise, the Sufi poet, Hodja Ahmet Jassawi, lived in what is today southern Kazakhstan during the 12 century. His collection of poetic thoughts "Divan-i Hikmet” (“The book of wisdom”) is known throughout the entire Muslim World. Given the varied cultural influences that were transmitted to the region via trade, it is not surprising that numerous religions co-existed peacefully for centuries on the territory of present day Kazakhstan. There were Buddhists enclaves, Zoroastrian communities, a Nestorian Cristian movement and Moslem mosques, as well as Sufi orders combining Islam with the traditional Turkic – Tengrian religion (a cult of the sky and other natural elements). This form of Islam was to influence the world outlook of the Kazakh people for centuries to come.
The greatest cultural legacy of this period is found in its architectural monuments which have been maintained and restored during the modern period. Architectural memorials, such as the mausoleums of Arystan Baba, the great Sufi Hodja Ahmet Jassawi (Turkestan) and Aisha Bibi (Taraz) are among the best preserved and most beautiful historic monuments in Kazakhstan today. Meanwhile, the ancient nomads of this region invented the “yurt”: an easily-dismantled and portable dome-shaped dwelling, made from wooden struts and felt, perfectly suited tot the nomadic lifestyle and culture.
In 1221, Mongolian tribes, led by Chingyz-Khan, invaded and occupied Central Asia. The Mongolian invasion exerted a considerable influence upon the history of the Kazakh people. One of the measures taken by Chingyz-Khan regarding the Kazakhs, was an attempt to replace the gender-tribal division with territorial administration and to unite nomads as a ruling class under the supreme power of Chingyz-Khan himself, and his successors.
The majority of modern Kazakhstan was included in the Golden Orda, Ulus (hereditary line) belonged to the successors of Dzhutchi, the eldest son of Chingiz-Khan. Later, Kazakh khans became his direct successors and enjoyed supreme power over the state. At the pick of its political and military might, the Golden Orda exerted significant influence of the formation of the Russian state and controlled the whole geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe. Thus, the East became a donor and a catalyst of ethnic and cultural processes in that part of the world also.
At the turn of the 15th century, the powerful empire of Tamarlane (1336-1405) was founded on the territory of Southern Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Tamarlane also brought under his control large areas of the Middle East and northern India. Also dating from this period are many great architectural memorials, numerous rare books from Ulugbek library, religious and historical treatise and a travelers’ notebook describing the achievements of Tamarline’s culture. / contents /
Formation of the Kazakh nation
By the second half of the 15th century a process of consolidation had begun among the nomadic peoples living on the territory of modern Kazakhstan. This process evolved from their world-view and style of life. A short time later, the first Kazakh states were formed, and by the beginning of the 16th century a united a Kazakh nation had emerged. The ethnonym “Kazakh” in old Turkic meant “free, independent” and fully reflected the character of a people who had long aspired to live independently.
During the first period of its existence, the Kazakh state was able to maintain a united state power and territorial integrity under the leadership of the wise khans Az-Djanibek and Tauke-khan. During this period, a legal system was also established, reflecting the norms of the nomadic way of life and the relation between different groups within Kazakh society. The ideology of the Kazakh people was indisputably Islamic at this time. The educational system and literature were built on the basis of the Arabic alphabet, the mores of Islam and the peoples’ traditional nomadic upbringing. By this time, the verbal-poetic and musical traditions of the Kazakhs were already highly developed. To this day, these traditions remain a cultural trademark of the Kazakh nation. It could even be said that modern Kazakh spiritual culture is based on the reconstruction of the best examples of poetic improvisation and on the history of such well-known “Akyns” (poets) and “Biys” (sages) as Asan-kaygy, Kaztugan-zhyrau, Tole bi, Aiteke bi, Kazybek bi, Bukhar-zhyrau and others. Also during this period, despite a large degree of ethnic and cultural unity, Kazakhstan remained a so-called “nomadic democracy” with a highly unstable political structure. The tribes of Southern and South - Eastern Kazakhstan grew into what was known as the Eldeer zhuz, the tribes of Central Kazakhstan into the Middle zhuz and the tribes of Western Kazakhstan into the Young zhuz. These tribes were, in turn, broken into kin groups and the leaders of each were known “Biys”. Some kin groups were led by “Sultan-Tores” (successors of Chingiz-Khan). At the head of the state was a Khan, elected from the “Sultan-Tores” by representatives of all tribes and kin groups of the Kazakh steppes.
The Kazakh people traditionally roamed from place to place following warm weather. Each kin group had its own routes, which other kin groups were not permitted to use. There was also a relatively strict system of land-use and land-ownership, which was seasonally determined. Winter month were considered to be the most difficult. Livestock was fed on pasturage, and when ice prevented livestock from getting to the grass, starvation resulted. This tragedy was known as a “Jut” by the Kazakhs. Catastrophic “Juts” usually occurred once every 10-12 years and thoroughly devastated the nomadic economy of the Kazakhs. During dry seasons, this nomadic economy was also weakened, often disem-powering state and military power as well. Some Kazakhs also engaged in agriculture, especially on the rich lands of Syrdaria, Talas, Tchu river valley, on the edges of the Altai mountains, in the Irtysh valley, and in the Zaisan depression. However, even in these areas, nomadic live-stock-breeding remained dominant. /contents /
Russian Colonization of the Kazakh Steppes
Totally dependent on nature and located geopolitically between the two largest nations of Eurasia, China and Russia, the Kazakh nomads were often subject to invasion by their economically and politically more stable, settled neighbors.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, nomadic tribes of Jungars, led by Chines Bogdy-khans, began a large-scale war against the Kazakh state. Here were bitter battles throughout the steppe lands, and, weakened by tribal and kin group divisions, as well as by regional affiliations, the Kazakh were defeated in 1723. This defeat is remembered to this day as a tragedy and is known in Kazakh as “Ak Taban Shubyryndy”.
However, thanks to the courage of “batyrs” (knights), the decisiveness of the Kazakh leader Ablai-khan, the diplomatic activities of the Kazakh “Biys” (sages) Tole bi, Kazdausty Kazybek bi, Ayteke bi, as well as the self-sacrifice of the people, the Kazakhs escaped the total capture and physical annihilation of the population. In order to obtain guarantees of independence and security, Kazakh khans started searching for the military assistance of the Russian Empire, which was actively expanding its border to the East, deep into Siberia. While Russia’s help saved the Kazakhs from annihilation, Russia also took this opportunity to begin a colonization process: building town-fortresses, moving a significant Russian population from internal regions of Russia into the steppe, transferring pastures to these Russian peasants and dividing Kazakh steppe land according to Russia’s administrative-territorial structure. Finnally, Kazakhstan lost its sovereignty.
Despite the heroic resistance of Kenesary-khan, leader of the peoples’ volunteer corps, the insurrection of Batyr Syrym, the uprising of the eldest zhuz and other anti-colonial actions, in 1871 Kazakhstan ceased to exist as an independent state. The last stage of Russia’s colonization of Kazakhstan was the annexation of Southern Kazakhstan in the 1850s and 1860s, following a Russian military campaign against the Khanate of Kokand, Bukhara and Khiva, whose lands extended into what is today the territory of Southern Kazakhstan.
Subsequently, Kazakhstan’s fate was closely linked to the European model of social progress in general, and in particular to the fate of the Russian state and its people.
During the first half of the 19th century an increasing number of Kazakh people turned to a settled way of life and abandoned pastoral nomadism in favor of agriculture. This way less by choice than by necessity, since large areas of fertile pasture had been expropriated from the Kazakh people and given to Russian peasants arriving to the internal regions of Russia. Gradually, the economy of Kazakhstan became increasingly integrated into the economic scheme of Russia. On the territory of Kazakhstan various industries, transport and trade were developed. As a result, a national working class and intelligentsia also began to develop.
Along with many less successful social and economic experiments, there were numerous successful attempts by the creative Kazakh intelligensia at ethnic and cultural adaptation to European civilization in the context of local conditions. These were based on the best examples of Russian spirituality. One of the Kazakh intellectuals who avidly supported such ideas was the scholar Shokan Walikhanov (1835-1865). An outstanding scholar-orientalist, he is perhaps best remembered as the first scholars from the West to travel to and thoroughly describe the region of Kashgaria and as a recorder of one of the great Central Asian masterpieces of verbal folklore: the epic “Manas”. Another important Kazakh intellectual from the Russian imperial period is the great poet-philosopher Abai Kunanbayev (1845-1904). Abai was one of the founders of Kazakh literary language and wrote many of the classics of Kazakh literature. He was not only a talented poet, but also a skillful translator of masterpieces from Eastern, Russian and European literature.
Unfortunately, the fate of the next generation of Kazakh intellectuals at the head of the national-liberation movement of the Kazakh people, was tragic. In 1917-1918 they formed a revolutionary party “Alash” and founded the government “Alash-Orda”, the aim of which was to liberate the Kazakh people from colonial oppression. Among the best known of these intellectuals were Alikhan Bukeikhanov, Ahmet Baitursynov and Mirzhakip Dulatov. They were engaged not only in political activity, but also in cultural and educational work, literary-public activity and scientific research. The distinguished poet-philosopher and historian Shakarim Khudaiberdiyev also played a special role in Kazakh development during this period, with his research and philosophy advocating eternal and universal humanistic values. Almost all of these intellectuals were repressed and executed during the years of Soviet domination. / contents /
The Development of Kazakhstan during the Soviet period
After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 Soviet power was gradually established in Kazakhstan. The 1st World War and the Civil War almost totally destroyed the economy of the area and following a catastrophic “Jut” during the winter of 1920-1921, almost half of the live-stock of Kazakhstan perished. As a result, the population of Kazakhstan faced a famine during the summer of 1921. The economy of Kazakhstan only recovered at the end of the 1920s. In 1920 Kazakhstan became an Autonomous Soviet Republic (ASSR) and in 1936 became a Union Republic of the USSR.
Taking into account the economic background of the region, the government of the Union accelerated plans for the economic development of Kazakhstan. As a result, in 1941, the volume of industrial production increased 8 fold in comparison with 1913. Thus, thanks to the ability of the planned economy to concentrate resources on the fulfillment of large-scale economic objectives, Kazakhstan had been completely transformed by the 1930s from a wide pasture area for nomadic live-stock breeders to a region with a large-scale and manifold industrial complex, a developed agriculture and livestock-breeding system, as well as a high level of culture.
Thousands of large industrial plants, along with tens of thousands of kilometers of railways and roads were built on the territory of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan became
A large producer of non-ferrous and ferrous metals, coal, oil, grain and livestock-derived products. By 1991 Kazakhstan was producing 70% of the USSR production of lead, zinc, titanium, magnesium tin, 90% of its phosphorus and chrome and more than 60% of its silver and molybdenum. Kazakhstan had also become a major producer of grain-crops.
However, the people of Kazakhstan paid a high price for these achievements. The methods of "social industrialization" caused numerous tragedies, such as the 1930s campaign of collectivization, with subsequent famine on a massive scale. As a result, a section of the Kazakh people fled with their livestock to China and other neighboring Central Asian countries. Between 1931-1934, some 1.5 million of the remaining Kazakhs died from starvation and disease: this represents more than 40% of the total Kazakh population at that time.
Kazakhstan was the only republic of the former Soviet Union where the native found itself in a minority. This situation developed in the 1930s, when not only was there a large loss of population, but also a massive influx of people from other regions of the URSS. These new residents of Kazakhstan came as "enemies of the people" and many were forced to live in concentration camps founded in Kazakhstan for victims of terror in 1937-1938.
Between 1935-1940, some 120,000 Poles were deported to Kazakhstan from Western Ukraine, Belorussia and Lithuania. In addition, during World War II (1941-1945) many Germans from the Caucasus were among those forcibly repatriated to Kazakhstan. Furthermore, in the 1950s and 1960s, more than one Ukraine and Belorussia moved to Kazakhsnan in order to work on the "Virgin Lands" campaign. As a result, the percentage of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan decreased from 57.1% in 1926 to 38% in 1939, and to no more than 30% in 1959. Only recently has the proportion of Kazakhs of Kazakhsnan once again reached 50% of the total population.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the USSR's general economic, social and political crisis also affected Kazakhstan. The rigid system of planned economics was inhibiting Kazakhstan's economic growth and social development. Thus, the USSR's reformist policy, 'Perestroika', was generally supported by the people of Kazakhstan. However, when, on 17 Decembrer 1986, the Soviet authorities brutally put down a youth protest in Almaty, many people in Kazakhstan began to lose faith in the USSR and began to believe that the and of the socialist system of their country was inevitable. / contents /
In the early 1990s the governments of Kazakhstan launched large-scale changes to the whole social an political system. On 24 April 1990, a law was passed declaring a presidential form of the government in the Kazakh SSR, with Nursultan Nazarbaev elected as its first President. On 25 October 1990 the Supreme Soviet of the Kazakh SSR approved the Declaration on State Sovereignty, establishing and the country's determination to be subject to international law, while the institution of citizenship as well as equality of forms of ownership were also introduced.
On 10 December 1991 the country was officially renamed in the republic of Kazakhstan. The events of August and December 1991 - the unsuccessful coups and the Belovezhsk agreements - had caused the collapse of the USSR and subsequently, on 16 December 1991, the Parliament of the on the Republic declared the independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
During the period 1991-1995, the political system and Constitutional legislation of the Republic were formed. The first Constitution of sovereign Kazakhstan was adopted in January 1993. Being to some extent a compromise between the old and new political systems, reflecting attempts to introduce into the post-Soviet context a western democratic model, this Constitution initially contained some contradiction which occasionally took the form of unnatural opposition and resistance of power.
As a result of the Referendum held on 30 August 1995, a new Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan was adopted, eliminating he shortcomings of the former constitution. The new Constitution established a Presidential Republic, and solved rationally the problem of divided responsibilities among different branches of power, while also welcoming changes to the market system.
In October 1997 President N. Nazarbayev addressed the people of Kazakhstan with a message spelling out the 'Country Development Strategy till 2030'. This paper analyses the Modern History of independent Kazakhstan and sets out the major thrusts of the country's development for the forthcoming 30 years.