Back to category Published: 02 october 2019 Author: Alexandr V.

History of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a country with an enormous historical past and a rich multinational culture. Located in the heart of the Eurasian continent, Kazakhstan was a place of origin and development of the most ancient civilizations, mixing and interpenetration of various cultures.


Prehistoric Kazakhstan

The first islets of civilization appeared on the territory of Kazakhstan about a million years ago. In the early Paleolithic era, ancient people settled the Karatau tracts, rich in wildfowl and wild fruits, where the most ancient sites of Stone Age people were found. Later, during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, people appeared in the central and eastern regions of Kazakhstan and in the west, in Mangystau.

Around this time nomadic cattle breeding originated here. Excavations conducted at the site of the Botai settlement allowed scientists to argue that as early as the IV-III millennium BC the tribes inhabiting northwestern Kazakhstan had already domesticated animals, mastered horse breeding, crafts, produced and consumed koumiss and other dairy products. With the advent of the horse in farming, manufacturing, military arts and, commerce, the development of humanity's civilizational path has reached an entirely different level. 

At the same time, about 4.000 years ago, tribes of the Andronovo culture appeared in Kazakhstan. They were engaged in farming and nomadic cattle breeding, made metal weapons, and were familiar with wheel making. Images of their battle chariots have been preserved in the rock paintings of that era. These symbols can be considered the beginning of the birth of the Tengriism cult, the main polytheistic religion of many steppe peoples.

Nowadays, these ancient petroglyphs can be seen in the Tamgaly tract (another variant of the name is Tanbaly). The site of the ancient people dates back to about the XIII century B.C. There is an extensive necropolis and a canyon of more than 3.000 petroglyphs. Near the tract are burial mounds, burials of nomads. The whole area, including the canyon with petroglyphs, was a cult area, and people visited it only for religious rites. People lived on the periphery of the gorge, where the remains of ancient settlements and camps have been found. Today, the Tamgaly tract is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Scythian Culture

By the first millennium B.C., the first states and tribal communities began to form on the territory of Kazakhstan. Around 800-600 B.C., the people of the Andronovo culture were replaced by established tribes of Saks, who were called Scythians in the West.

They were nomads, semi-nomads, and farmers. In the 6th-3rd centuries B.C. the Sak tribes united and created their own state whose center was in Zhetysu (or Semirechye), in the southeast of modern Kazakhstan. The Saks already had their own runic writing, mythology, and outstanding jewelry art of the world level which was called Animal Style.

There are many monuments of that era in Kazakhstan. The most famous of them are the Issyk and Berel mounds.
      •    The Issyk Burial Mounds are an ancient Sak royal burial site dating back to the V-IV centuries B.C. In one of the Issyk burial mounds, the first "Golden Man" was discovered — a Sak warlord in gold armor and many gold ornaments and household items, over four thousand ornaments made of gold leaf, bronze, and gold weapons, statuettes, and vessels of various sizes. You can see the Isyk Golden Man in the Archaeological Museum of Almaty.
      •    The Berel Burial Mounds are the Golden Mound of the Kings. It dates back to the VIII-VII centuries B.C. The original gold jewelry was also found here, which later became the basis for the reconstruction of the third Golden Man in Kazakhstan. The sculpture of this Golden Man and his restored attire can be seen in the Nur-Sultan State Museum of Gold and Precious Metals.

The State of the Hunnu (Huns)

The state of the Hunnu people, or as they were later called in Europe, the Huns, was formed in the territories south and southeast of the Altai Mountains closer to the II-III centuries B.C.
The Hunnu warriors regularly raided the territories of the Chinese Empire. It is believed that their raids were the reason that prompted Emperor Qin Shi-Huangdi to order the construction of the Great Wall of China.

By the middle of the second century B.C. it was already a huge state with its own culture, occupying an area from Manchuria in the east to the Pamirs in the west. The Huns had their own code of laws and courts. The state existed until the II century AD, after which there was a split among the tribes.

Part of the Hunnu migrated to the Dzungarian Alatau mountains, where they created their own state. The main group of tribes moved to the west of Kazakhstan, to the Urals, and to the Volga region. Here Ugrian tribes have joined them, and by 375 AD the Hunnu-Ugrian tribes under the leadership of Attila have moved to Europe, have grasped considerable territories of the Roman Empire and the city of Rome. 

The Turkic Kaganate and the Rise of the Silk Road

In the middle of the first millennium of our era in the south of Kazakhstan arose the first Turkic state, a union of tribes — the Turkic Kaganate. In the VI century, the Kaganate was named Turkistan. The creation of the united state stimulated the development of caravan trade throughout the region. It was that time when the first large cities appeared in the steppe: Chirik-Rabat, Otrar, Sygnak, Ispidzhab, Taraz, and Balasagun. Turkestan existed until the VII century and subsequently disintegrated into two Kaganates, and then into smaller parts.

In the VII century, the territory of the Kaganate came under the influence of the Arab Caliphate. The Arabs introduced Islam to the tribes inhabiting the southern outskirts of the steppe and brought the Arabic script, which in time supplanted the traditional ancient Turkic runic script.

By the middle of the IX century, new states had formed in these southern lands: the Karakhanid and Oguz kingdoms. The first existed until the 13th century and was absorbed by the Khorezm Shah Mohammed II. The Oguzes, who lived in the western lands, under pressure from the gaining strength of Kipchak tribes, migrated to the southern shore of the Caspian Sea and then left for Transcaucasia and Asia Minor. The Gagauzians, Turkmens, Azerbaijanis, and Anatolian Turks can be considered descendants of the Oguzes.

All these states, both early and later, were characterized by the advanced culture for that time and were based not only on nomadic cattle-breeding but also created the original urban culture with trade and crafts tradition. Consequently, in the oases of Central Asia, on the territory of South Kazakhstan emerged not only large cities but also small settlements, caravanserais, through which passed the famous caravan trade route, known as the Great Silk Road, which connected Byzantium and China.

But the Great Silk Road was not the only trade artery. Another caravan route along the banks of the Syr Darya, which led to the Aral Sea and the Southern Urals, as well as the so-called sable road through Central Kazakhstan and Altai to the southwestern regions of Siberia, which delivered expensive Siberian furs to the Middle East and Europe, were of great importance.

The outstanding heritage of that time is the graceful urban architecture, a unique combination of nomadic cultural traditions and Islamic architectural influences. Architectural monuments such as the mausoleum of Ahmed Yassaui in Turkistan, Arystan Baba mausoleum near Shymkent and Aisha Bibi mausoleum in Taraz have survived to this day.

The Mongol Invasion, the Golden Horde

By the middle of the XI th century, the Kypchaks, a strong and warlike tribe, came to the northern, eastern, and central lands of Kazakhstan. The beginning of the Kipchak expansion fell at the beginning of the XI century, and by the middle of it almost all Kazakhstan, except for Semirechye, was under their influence. The lands occupied by Kipchaks received the name Desht-i-Kipchaks, which in translation means land of Kipchaks. In Russia, these lands are known as Polovtsian Field: Russians called the Kipchaks Polovtsians.

In 1218 the Mongol army invaded the territory of the Desht-i-Kipchaks. Most of the Kipchak tribes joined Genghis Khan's army and soon became his main fighting force. The renewed and strengthened by the Kipchaks, the army of Genghis Khan marched along the Syr Darya River, destroying the cities of Otrar, Sygnak, and Ashnas. The local nomads initially offered fierce resistance to the invaders, but many tribes voluntarily joined the Mongol army. 

By the XII century, the entire Turkic steppe was part of the Mongol ulus. The eastern Desht-i-Kipchak, from Balkhash to the Lower Volga region, was given to Jochi, Genghis Khan's eldest son. The lands of Turkestan and Semirechye became part of the ulus of the second son, Chagatai. The third son of Genghis Khan, Ugedei, ruled the northeastern part of Semirechye, Tarbagatai, and some areas in the upper reaches of the Irtysh and eastern Mongolia.

At the beginning of the XIII century, in 1227, Genghis Khan and Jochi died. The empire was broken up into several khanates. The Eastern Desht-i-Kipchak, part of the territory of Khorezm and western Siberia became part of the Golden Horde, a state created by Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan. In the Russian chronicles, Batu is known as Batu Khan. By this time, the overwhelming majority of the subjects of the Golden Horde were members of the Turkic tribes: the Kipchaks, Kangls, Naimans, Kereits, and Konyrats.

At the turn of the XIV-XV centuries in the territories of Southern Kazakhstan and Central Asia formed a powerful empire of Temirlan, who subjugated to his power vast areas of the Middle East and Northern India. By the XIV century, Tamerlane's eyes fell on the possessions of the Mongols, and in 1391 Tamerlane defeated the army of the Horde. After the defeat, the Mongol state split into two parts: the western Ak-Orda and the eastern Kok-Orda. The latter, in turn, later divided into two more separate states: the Nogai Horde and the Uzbek Khanate.

Some landmarks of that era that have survived to this day include:
      •    The City of Otrar is one of the largest and richest cities of antiquity in Central Asia, according to some reports it was founded in the I-II centuries. In the XIII century, it was destroyed by the troops of Genghis Khan but later rebuilt. It was inhabited until the beginning of the XIX century.
      •    The Settlement of Saraishyk is a settlement of the XIII-XIV centuries. According to legend, it was founded by Batyi and was considered one of the largest cities of the Golden Horde.  

Formation of the Kazakh Nation and the First Kazakh Khanate

During the collapse of the Golden Horde, in the XIV-XV centuries, that was the emergence and formation of a special nation — the Kazakh nation. The people who lived on the territory of the Great Steppe absorbed, accepted, and processed the achievements of many peoples and different civilizations, contributing to the emerging culture and their achievements in the household and art: mobile dwelling yurt, saddle, and stirrups for horses, military art of horseback fight, carpet patterns and silver ornaments, melodious tunes and music. In this way, a special Kazakh culture, unlike anything else, gradually took shape and the Kazakh nation was formed. 

Kazakh Khanate

In 1460, two subjects of the Uzbek Khanate, Sultans Zhanibek, and Kerey, with their clans roamed to Semirechye, where they founded the Kazakh Khanate in 1465. Some time later, after the death of the Khan of the Uzbek ulus, the Kazakhs returned to the banks of the Syr Darya, expanding the possessions of the Khanate.

Later the rulers of the Kazakh Khanate managed to expand the borders of their Kazakh Khanate from Irtysh to Zhaik (today — the river Ural). In addition, the followers of Zhanibek and Kerey managed to take back the steppes of Sary Arka from the Nogai Horde.

The Kazakh Khanate was a real state, with its tribal hierarchy. In the years of Tauke-khan's reign, the Kazakh Khanate adopted a code of laws Zhety Zhargy. Its creators were famous public figures, scientists and thinkers, biys (judges, sages) Tole bi, Kazybek bi, and Aiteke bi.

At the same time, due to different ethnic, political, and economic factors, three main ethno-territorial associations emerged in the territory of the Kazakh Khanate — the Senior, Middle, and Junior Juzes, each of which, in turn, was divided into several clans. Thus, in the XIV-XV centuries, the process of formation of the Kazakh nationhood was basically completed.
In 1718 the first Kazakh khanate collapsed under the onslaught of the Dzungars.

Accession to the Russian Empire

Wars between the Kazakh and Dzungar states began in the first half of the XVII century and lasted until 1756. The most difficult period of the Kazakh-Dzhungar confrontation was in 1723-1727. Realizing that without support from the outside to fight the Dzungars was becoming increasingly difficult, Abulkhair, the Khan of Junior Juz, in 1730 appealed to Russian Empress Anna Ioannovna with a proposal to create a military alliance. In response, the empress offered a full protectorate from Russia.

The date of the beginning of the process of joining Kazakhstan in Russia is October 10, 1731. The terms proposed by the Empress were first signed by the Khan of Junior Juz Abulkhair. Middle Juz received Russian citizenship in 1724, and Senior Juz — in 1734. In 1822 the Charter of the Siberian Kirghiz was issued - a tsarist manifesto, according to which the khan's power was abolished and the Kazakhs lost their independence for good.

The inclusion of the three Juzes into the Russian Empire had its advantages and disadvantages. First of all, the Russian government was concerned about the security of the newly acquired lands. Forts and Cossack camps were being built, whose task was to guard and protect the land and trade routes from external enemies. The caravan routes that followed the territory of Kazakhstan became internationally important. Most of these forts and settlements later grew into major cities. A striking example is the southern capital of Kazakhstan, the city of Almaty, which grew out of the small fort Verny, founded in 1854.

In addition to military aid, Kazakhstan began to receive large investments: the construction of roads, factories, manufactories, and plants began. The industrial extraction of minerals began.
Culturally, the development of Kazakh society also received a new impetus. Schools and gymnasiums were opened in many settlements, including those teaching children in the Kazakh language. Scientist and educator Ybyrai Altynsarin made a great contribution to the enlightenment and education of the Kazakh people. Kazakh literature appeared and Kazakh science was born. Today the whole world knows the names of the writer and poet Abai Kunanbayev, traveler and explorer Shoqan Walikhanov. 

At the same time, the accession to Russia had negative consequences. The life of the Kazakh tribes changed drastically. Many nomads were forced to convert to a settled way of life, which was frankly alien to them. In addition, about 500 thousand peasant farms were moved to Kazakhstan from Russia and were given the original nomadic lands of the Kazakhs. This was the reason for popular unrest and revolts against the tsarist regime.

Kazakhstan as Part of the USSR

After the revolution of 1917 in Kazakhstan began the establishment of Soviet power. The change of power was accompanied by uprisings and struggles with the new regime. Some Kazakh clans in their entirety left for neighboring China, not wanting to accept the new power. The process of establishing Soviet power was completed by the end of 1918, but the clashes with its opponents continued up to the middle of the 20s.

In August 1920, a decree was passed on the formation of the Kyrgyz Soviet Autonomous Socialist Republic within the RSFSR, with its capital in Orenburg. Five years later the Kyrgyz ASSR was renamed the Kazakh ASSR. Kyzyl Orda became the capital of the Kazakh ASSR. Later, in 1927, the status of the main city of autonomy was given to Alma-Ata. In 1936, the Kazakh Autonomous Republic was transformed into the Kazakh SSR by the decision of the government of the USSR.

The late 1920s and early 1930s were a time of forced collectivization. The Kazakh people, accustomed to a nomadic way of life, resisted it, and during this period there were many popular uprisings, which were brutally suppressed by the Soviet authorities. Collectivization and prodrazverstka (food procurement system during war communism), during which food was almost completely confiscated from the population, drought and cold winters led to mass deaths from starvation — the Holodomor. According to various estimates, over one and a half million Kazakhs died at that time.

At the end of the 1930s, the process of industrialization began in the republic. Kazakhstan became one of the largest industrial regions of the USSR. The extraction of minerals was particularly developed. Over time, Kazakhstan became a major supplier of lead, zinc, titanium, magnesium, tin, phosphorus, chrome, silver, and molybdenum to the USSR defense and technic industries.

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, over 400 plants and factories were evacuated to Kazakhstan from the European part of the country, which remained in the country after the war and formed the basis of Kazakhstan's industry. During the war years, a large number of peoples from the European part of the USSR were relocated to Kazakhstan: ethnic Germans, Poles, Jews, and Chechens. The evacuated Ukrainians and Belarusians also moved to Kazakhstan. The large Korean diaspora was forcibly moved from the Far East. There were so many resettlers, that by the middle of 50's the Kazakh population of the republic was only about 40%. It was during this time that the modern culture of Kazakhstan was formed, based not only on Kazakh traditions but absorbed the cultural heritage of all nations and nationalities that voluntarily or involuntarily came to Kazakhstan.

After the war, the industrialization of Kazakhstan got a second wind. Oil refineries were built, new deposits of oil, gas, and coal were discovered. Kazakhstan became one of the leading suppliers of oil and coal in the Soviet Union. 

Another important event in the history of Kazakhstan was the campaign related to the development of virgin and fallow lands. During the years of the development of virgin lands, Kazakhstan produced almost 600 million tons of grain. As a result, the republic became one of the largest producers of grain not only in the USSR but also in the world.

In 1955, construction of the Baikonur military test site for ballistic missiles began in Kazakhstan. Later, the regular military test site became the first and most important space launching site on the planet. In 1957, the first artificial satellite was launched here, and four years later Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, went into space from Baikonur. Today Baikonur is still one of the world's leading space launch sites.  

Also in the postwar years, the world's largest nuclear test site was built in Kazakhstan near the city of Semipalatinsk to test the latest samples of nuclear and atomic weapons. In 1949 the first Soviet atomic bomb was tested here. Tests were stopped in 1991, and the site was completely closed thanks to public action in 2000.  

Modern Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is the last of the former Soviet republics to declare independence. This significant historical event took place on December 16, 1991. Since then, this date has become a public holiday and is celebrated as Independence Day. The first countries to recognize Kazakhstan's independence were Turkey, the United States, and China. The first president of independent Kazakhstan was Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In 1992, Kazakhstan became a member of the OSCE, and in the same year, the republic was admitted to the United Nations. Since then, Kazakhstan has played a huge role in global political life. Kazakhstan is the initiator of many political initiatives not only in the Central Asian region but throughout the world. For example, Kazakhstan regularly holds congresses of leaders of the world and traditional religions, which each time gathers a huge number of participants from all over the world. In 2010 Kazakhstan was the first of the former post-Soviet countries to chair the OSCE.

Modern Kazakhstan is a dynamically developing democratic state, a country with rich culture, history, and traditions, with great opportunities for all types of tourism: from extreme to classical. Kazakhstan's multinational culture, ancient history, and wealth of nature will leave no visitor indifferent. Having visited Kazakhstan once, you will definitely want to come back here again.

Historical Sights of Kazakhstan 

      •    Otrar is one of the largest and richest cities of antiquity in Central Asia, according to some reports, was founded in the I-II centuries. In the XIII century, it was destroyed by the troops of Genghis Khan but later rebuilt. It was inhabited until the beginning of the XIX century.
     •    Saraishyk is a settlement of the XIII-XIV centuries. According to legend, it was founded by Batyi and was considered one of the largest cities of the Golden Horde.
     •    Ancient Cities of Kazakhstan on the Great Silk RoadTaraz and Turkistan. Silk Road. Most of the monuments located in these cities are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List
     •    The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi is a mausoleum of the XIV century built by order of Tamerlane on the tomb of the poet and preacher Khoja Ahmed Yassawi. It is located in the city of Turkistan. The central object on the territory of theKhazret Sultan Historical and Cultural museum-reserve.  
     •    Botay is an ancient settlement in northern Kazakhstan, where the earliest traces of horse domestication were found 6,000 years ago.
     •    Petroglyphs of Tamgaly (Tanbaly) — the site of ancient people of the XIII century BC. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List
     •    Tamgaly Tas is an ancient open-air Buddhist temple dating back to the X century AD. You can see several images of Buddha, texts, and inscriptions. In addition to the Buddhist paintings, there are also ancient Turkic runic writings of the VIII-IX centuries.
    •    Berel Mounds is the Golden Mound of the Kings. It dates back to the VII-VII centuries B.C. Original jewelry made of gold was found here, which later became the basis for the reconstruction of the third Golden Man in Kazakhstan. The sculpture of the Golden Man and his restored attire can be viewed at the Nur-Sultan State Museum of Gold and Precious Metals.
    •    The Issyk Burial Mound is an ancient Sak royal burial site dating back to the V-IV centuries B.C. The first Golden Man was discovered in the Issyk burial mound: a Sak warlord or ruler, a warrior in gold armor, as well as many gold ornaments and various articles. You can see it in the Archaeological Museum of Almaty.
    •    Ulytau village and mountains of the same name in the Karaganda region. This area is known for being a favorite place of the khans of nomadic tribes. Here the eldest son of Genghis Khan, Zhoshy Khan, formed his headquarters; it was also the starting point of Batyi's march to the east, and many historically significant events in the history of Kazakhstan took place here.

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