History of Kazakhstan

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The history of Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world and one of the most decisive for human history

At the origins of human civilization

The territory of today’s Kazakhstan was one of the very first points in which the human being developed, so much so that about 900,000 years ago the Sinanthropus appeared here, whose best known species is certainly the Pekingese Man. However, it will only be after the last ice age that the whole country will begin and be more and more populated, so much so that, according to different traditions, the arch and the first rudimentary boats were invented here. With the Neolithic Revolution there was the flowering of many cultures fundamental for human development, including that of Botai, which was the first to domesticate the horse.


Due to the climate change that will lead to the emergence of the steppes, many inhabitants began to migrate to the forests, causing the new Indo-European peoples who arrived in the country to find it almost empty. In fact, at the beginning of the first millennium, populations such as Alans, Aorsi, Budini, Wusun, Madjars and Saka found their home here; as a result of this various states were also born, including that of Kangju and that of Yancai. It must be said that the identity of these people was extremely fluid and very likely that there was not such a clear distinction between them.

The first migrations and the arrival of the Turks

Starting from the first centuries of the new millennium, these and other populations present in the area will begin to move further and further west, giving life to what were considered the “barbaric invasions” by the Romans. Specifically, the Proto-Bulgarians certainly originate from this area, while it is not yet 100% clear whether the Huns also come from today’s Kazakhstan. At the beginning of the 6th century the Rouran Khanate, active mainly in Mongolia, incorporated the eastern part of it, causing the Göktürk, the first Turkish people, to populate it. Already in the middle of the century Bumin Qaghan revolted against his previous lords by forming the first Turkish Kaghanate, which however managed to resist for just fifty years before dividing following a civil war.

The Göktürk empire in its greatest expansion

In 682, thanks to the efforts of Ilterish Qaghan, the Khaganate was restored, but already in 731 it collapsed again, this time permanently. It was succeeded by the Turgesh, a confederation that will reign here until 766, being then annihilated by the Qarluq; following this, some Turks will take refuge in the West, forming the kingdom of the Yabgu-Oghuz, which will dominate western Kazakhstan from the 9th to the 11th century. This realm will also play a fundamental role in European history, as the Kievan Rus will ally themselves with the latter to defeat the Khazars; the arrival of Islam in Kazakhstan dates back to this period. Between the 10th and 11th centuries the confederation was upset by continuous internal unrest, from which the Seljuks, a population destined to change the Middle East forever; however, this greatly weakened the Oghuz kingdom which, in fact, dissolved in 1055. To take their place will be first the Karakhanids and then the Kara Khitay, all peoples who will then be conquered by Genghis Khan and his Mongols between 1219 and 1221.

The Golden Horde and the Kazakh Khanate

On these territories the legendary Golden Horde will form, a khanate that will give many problems to Europe and the rest of Asia, representing one of the main engines for Mongolian expansions. In 1313 the ruler Öz Beg Khan, also met by Ibn Battuta, will convert to Islam, leading the entire Golden Horde to a process of conversion in turn. At the beginning of the 15th century, however, the kingdom will find itself in an unprecedented crisis, which will lead it to split into several entities, including the Nogai Horde and the Kazakh Khanate, the latter located approximately on the current Kazakhstan.


More precisely, these territories passed to the Uzbek Khanate but then, thanks to a 32-year long civil war, the Kazakhs managed to free themselves from the Uzbek yoke and form what is certainly the “first ancestor” of today’s Kazakhstan. Starting from 1643 the Khanate set out to its own destruction due to a fierce war against its Dzungars neighbors. These made up the last remaining Mongol kingdom in today’s China and their desire for expansion will bring great political instability in the region, facilitating Russia in the West and the Chinese in the East who will then exterminate 90% of the Dzungars.

The beginning of Russian rule

The Kazakh Khanate, due to its immense size, was divided into 3 juz: major, medium and small. The juz were the sorts of tribal confederations within the Khanate linked to specific tribes and territories which, however, followed a single khan. This division was created in 1697 to provide each territory with a local khan to face the Dzungar threat but in the long run, it will prove to be a weapon in the hands of the Russians. These began to make their appearance in Kazakhstan in the early 1700s, thanks to the migration of some Cossacks who arrived here taking advantage of the clash with the Dzungars. In 1730 Abul Khayr, khan of Little Juz, turned to them to defeat his Mongol enemies, allowing the Russians to penetrate his territory and conquer it. In 1798 they also took the Medio Juz, while for the Major they had to wait until 1820 when, due to a fierce clash with the Kokand Khanate, they were forced to ask for protection in Moscow.


Between 1822 and 1848 the Juz were abolished, then starting a real colonization campaign that will bring many revolts in Kazakhstan. The Russian newcomers were in fact granted large plots of land to cultivate the land, while the pastures of the locals were reduced more and more. Between 1906 and 1912 about half a million Russian peasants reached the Kazakh lands, giving the first severe blow to the local lifestyle and increasing discontent in the region which, not surprisingly, will be one of the major Basmachi centers of the Russian Empire. These were mostly Turkish Muslims who revolted against the Russian Empire, forming groups of bandits who gave a hard time until 1920, when the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was officially founded, renamed the Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925. Autonomous Kazakh.

Soviet Union

From 1929 to 1934 Iosif Stalin wanted to impose the collectivization of the agricultural sector at all costs and this led the country to suffer a food crisis no less serious than that which occurred in the same period in Ukraine, with shepherds who preferred to kill all their flock rather than hand it over to the Russian authorities. It is estimated that over 1 million people died of starvation, which at the time meant about 80% of the population, an absurd and shameful disaster that completely upset the fate of the country. Already with the Second World War, the Russians “moved” here many industries and populations located on the border, in order to keep the former safe from enemy attacks and the latter protected from possible betrayals and / or aid to the enemy; this increased the number of non-Kazakhs in the country more and more, a figure that will increase with the “Campaign of the virgin lands” wanted by Khrushchev.


According to some estimates, starting in the 1970s, the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was the only one in which the people of the same name did not make up the majority of the population, which caused quite a few problems when Kazakhstan officially became independent.


In 1989 Nursultan Nazarbayev became General Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party, a man who proved decisive and fundamental for the fate of the country, so much so that he still holds them today. In 1991 Kazakhstan gained independence and Nazarbayev, although not convinced of the advantages derived from it, became the first president in Kazakh history, immediately preparing to maintain a stable ethnic balance and an economic shock as limited as possible by the dissolution of the Union.


In 2019 Nursultan officially resigned as president of Kazakhstan, but he remains one of the key authorities of the country today, while remaining more detached from the public scene than in the past. If you are interested in learning more about Kazakhstan, I invite you to read the article made on “Sovietistan” by Erika Fatland.

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