Kazakhstan and Kazakhs

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Kazakhstan, a Eurasian region inhabited since the mid-1400s by the Kazakh people, comprises an immense stretch of steppe that runs for almost 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from the Lower Volga and Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai and Tien Shan mountain ranges in the east and southeast. In the early twenty-first century, the Kazakh republic serves as a bridge between Russian Siberia in the north and the Central Asian republics of Kirghizia/Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenia/Turkmenistan in the south. To the east it is bounded by the region of the People's Republic of China that is known as Xinjiang (Sinkiang) or Chinese Turkestan. With an area of some 2,71,500 square kilometers (1,050,000 square miles), Kazakhstan is almost twice the size of Alaska. As the Kazakh SSR it was the largest republic in the USSR next to the Russian Federation and was sometimes known as the Soviet Texas. The climate is severely continental, with January's mean temperatures varying from18 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit) in the north to3 degrees C (27 degreesF) in the south, and July's from 19 degrees C (66 degrees F) in the north to 2830 degrees C (8386 degrees F) in the south. Annual precipitation in the north averages 300 millimeters (11.7 inches), in the mountains 1,600 millimeters (62 inches), and in the desert regions less than 100 millimeters (3.9 inches). Fortunately, the region is one of inland drainage with a number of rivers, the Irtysh, Ili, Chu, and Syr Darya included, that flow into the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash. This permits the extensive irrigation that now threatens the Aral Sea with extinction.

Originally peopled by the Sacae or Scythians, by the end of the first century b.c.e. the area of Kazakhstan was populated by nomadic Turkic and Mongol tribes. Known to the Chinese as the Usun, they were the ancestors of the later Kazakhs. First, however, these tribes formed a succession of loose, tribal-based confederations known as khaganates (later khanates). Of these the most powerful was the Turgesh (or Tiurkic) of the sixth century c.e. Other nomadic empires followed its collapse in the 700s, beginning with the Karakhanids who ruled southern Kazakhstan or Semireche from the 900s to the 1100s. They were replaced by the Karakitai (Kara Khitai), who succumbed to the Mongols during 12191221. Subsequently these tribes were included in the semiautonomous White Horde, which was established by Orda, the eldest son of Genghis

Khan's eldest son Dzhuchi, as a component of the more extensive Mongol Golden Horde. Having established itself between the Altai Mountains and Syr Darya River, the White Horde quickly gained control of Semireche and East Turkestan as well. But if its rulers were descendants of the Mongol royal line, most of its populace were ethnically Turkic.

With the collapse of that empire, these tribes at first were subject to the Nogai Tatars, formerly of the Golden Horde, and then of the Uzbeks. By 1447 the latter had conquered the territory between the Syr Darya and Irtysh Rivers, the inhabitants of whom became known as the Uzbek Kazakhs. Yet the White Horde lingered, civil strife and fights for power were constant, and in 1465 two of its princes, the brothers Janibek (Dzhanibek) and Gerei, led a number of Turkic tribes in a migration southeast to Mogulstan (Mogolistan), which once was part of the domain of Genghis Khan's second son Chagatai, and which now was an independent state. They were welcomed by its ruler and given lands on the Chu and Talas Rivers, where they formed a powerful Kazakh khanate. By the late 1400s this had extended its power over much of the formerly Uzbek-controlled Desht-i Kipchak, or Kipchak Steppe. Over the next few decades most of the Kazakh tribesthe Kipchaks, Usuns, Dulats, and Naimans includedwere united briefly under Kasym Khan (15111518). He extended their power southward while giving his subjects a period of relative calm. Internal strife then reemerged after his death, and the Kazakh state began disintegrating as its components joined with other tribes arriving from the collapsing Nogai Horde. Having merged during the 1600s they formed themselves into three nomadic confederations known as "hordes" or zhuzy (dzhuzy): the Ulu (Large, Great, or Senior) in Semireche, the Kishiu (Small, Lesser, or Junior) between the Aral and Caspian Seas, and the Orta (Middle) in the central steppe. But taken together, they were now an ethnically distinct people, known to the Russians since the latter 1500s as the Kirgiz-Kazakhs, with a social system based on the families and clans that continued to influence Kazakh politics into the twenty-first century.

By the mid-1600s the Kazakhs were again under pressure, this time from the Jungarian (Dzhungarian) Oriots or Kalmyks who attacked westward from Mongolia. Divided as they were, the Kazakhs at first had difficulty in opposing the invaders, and the conflict dragged on into the 1700s. Although the Kazakhs then did unite briefly to win some major victories, the menace only lifted after the Manchus decisively vanquished the Oriot-Kalmyks in 1758. In the interim, the Kazakhs had drifted gradually but steadily into the orbit of Imperial Russia. Consequently, some leaders began seeking support from the Russians in their struggles. Thus the khans and other leaders of the Small Horde in 1731, of the Middle Horde in 1740, and of part of the Great Horde in 1742, agreed to accept Russian suzerainty. But matters were not that straightforward, and while Russian scholars generally regard such treaties as evidence of the Kazakhs' "voluntary union" with their empire, subsequent Kazakh historians disagree. They argue that this was a mere tactic in a larger game of playing Russia off against Manchu China, maintain that the khans lacked the requisite authority to make such concessions, and as evidence point to the frequent cases of resistance to and uprisings against the Russian colonizers. A textbook appearing in the new Republic of Kazakhstan charges that the tsarist authorities even encouraged the Oriot-Kalmyk attacks as a means of driving the Kazakhs into Russian arms. So, as elsewhere, history has become a major weapon in modern Kazakhstan's bitter ethnic and nationalist debates.

From 1730 to 1840 St. Petersburg's rule was exercised through the governor-general of Orenburg. As Russian expansion southward became progressively more organized and effective, the authorities were able to abolish the traditional Kazakh

forms of leadership. They deposed the khan of the Middle Horde in 1822, that of the Small Horde in 1824, and that of the Large Horde in 1848. Meanwhile, they also created the new Bukei (Bukej) or Inner Horde in 1812. Then Bukei, younger son of the Small Horde's Khan Nurali, received permission to move some 1,600 tents into lands between the Urals and Volga, which had been abandoned by the western Oriot-Kalmyks, who had fled to China. These Kazakhs eventually settled in the Province of Astrakhan and by the mid-1800s had some 150,000 tents. At this time the Large Horde meanwhile had some 100,000 tents, the Small Horde 800,000, and the Middle Horde 406,000 tents.

In the mid-1800s St. Petersburg organized the governor-generalships of the Steppe and of Turkestan to manage the Kazakhs and Central Asians to the south. During the late 1800s a growing wave of Russian and other Slavic (largely Ukrainian) peasant immigrants flowed into the region's northern sections and began settling on Kazakh lands. The resulting discontent of the Kazakhs and other Central Asians boiled over in the great revolt of 1916 and reemerged again during the civil strife between 1917 and 1920.

During that conflict the intellectuals of the Alash Orda sought to establish a Western-style Kazakh state. Many eventually supported the Communists in the creation of the Kirghiz (Kazakh) Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) as part of Soviet Russia in 1920. Reorganized as the Kazakh ASSR in 1925, it became a constituent republic under Josef Stalin in 1936 and remained so until December 1991. But despite its "democratic" constitution, during the 1930s Kazakhstan underwent the horrors of collectivization, of the forced settlement of the nomadic stockbreeders, of the resulting famine and epidemics, and of deportations and executions. Meanwhile, the purges decimated the Kazakh intelligentsia and political leadership. The result was a reported 2.2 million Kazakh deaths (a 49% loss), so that there were fewer Kazakhs in the USSR in 1939 than in 1926. Equally disturbing, by the decade's end the republic was being flooded by deportees from elsewhere, converted into a basic element of Stalin's Gulag Archipelago, and from 1949 into a testing ground for nuclear weapons as well.

Although a new Soviet Kazakh educated elite slowly emerged after 1938, their position in their own nominal state was threatened further by the new influx of hundreds of thousands of Russian, Ukrainian, and German immigrants during Nikita Khrushchev's Virgin Lands agricultural program in the 1950s. The mixed results of this effort, the problems raised by nuclear testing on the republic's territory, and the fact that by 1979 the Kazakhs reportedly were outnumbered by Russians (41% to 36%), further fueled their ethnic resentments. These exploded in riots that gripped the capital of Alma-Ata in December 1986 when Dinmukhammed Kunayev, the ethnic Kazakh longtime head of the republican Communist Party, was replaced by a Russian in December 1986. But in April 1990 Nursultan Nazarbayev, another ethnic Kazakh, assumed the post of Party chief. With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, he charted the course that established the Republic of Kazakhstan and brought it into the new CIS. Emerging as virtual president-for-life from the votes of 1995 and 1999, and backed by his own and his wife's families and elements of his Large Horde clan, he has preserved the unity of his ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse state, which awaits the development of the Caspian oil reserves as a means of alleviating the crushing poverty that afflicts many of its citizens, Kazakhs and others alike.

See also: central asia; islam; kunayev, dinmukhammed akhmedovich; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist; nazarbayev, nursultan abishevich


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David R. Jones