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History of Kazakhstan

People have been in the region that is today Kazakhstan for thousands of years and for most of that time have been nomadic herders. In the land's early history number people came and went until about 500 BC when the land was controlled by the Huns and Saka. These two groups ruled for the next thousands years.

In the 500s AD a number of groups began creating organized governments in the region, nearly all of which were of Turkish origin. None of these groups dominated the entire region, but this was the introduction of the Turkish people, which has remained to this day.

In the 700s and 800s the Arabs arrived to the southern part of the region and introduced Islam, a religion most of these Turkic people accepted. However this conversion didn't unify the region as the Oghuz Turks held the west and the Kimak and Kipchak Turks held the east throughout the 800s to the 1000s, while the Huns and Saka held control in the north.

The transferring of land and power among these nomadic people continued into the early 1200s when the people were surrounded by two grouping groups: the Seljuk Turks to the south and the Mongols to the east. It was the Mongols that proved more powerful at the time and in 1219 to 1221 they overran the entire region, submitting the local people to their rule.

From 1221 much of Kazakh culture developed from Mongol culture, organization, and traditions. The region was ruled over by the Golden Horde for the next couple hundred years until the early- to mid-1400s when the Horde was sub divided into khanates. One of these khanates was the Kazakh Khanate, whose borders shifted over time, however primarily gaining territory in the following centuries. This khanate didn't cover the whole of modern day Kazakhstan though; there were numerous khanates in the region, but the Kazakh khanate was generally always the most powerful.

Among the Mongol leaders, the strongest in the Central Asian region was Timur and his descendants, who came to power in the mid- to late-1300s and ruled until the 1500s. These people ruled the region with few challenges and fully developed the Silk Trade Route as well as major cities along the path, most of which are in modern day Uzbekistan.

The beginning of Russian rule began with the disagreements within the khanates. In 1731 the Russians were growing more powerful and slowly took over the khanates of Kazakhstan. This advancement by the Kalmyks and Russians was called the Great Retreat and soon many of the Kazakhs viewed the Kalmyks as the greater threat, turning to the Russians for assistance. This assistance soon turned into occupation and later in the century into outright takeover, leading many people to revolt, but others accepting this rule as a better alternative to Kalmyk rule. By 1820 much of the territory had been taken by the Russians.

The Russians ruled the region through the 1800s, but did little to interfere domestically until 1863. This also marked the complete takeover of the land as Russia took what is today southern Kazakhstan and spread further south. Under Russian rule the Kazakh way of life began to change. The Russians founded cities and towns, taking away the vast openness and migration routes of the nomadic people and animals. The nomads were encouraged to settle the land, but most just found new routes to roam. These Russian settlements grew from small outposts to larger towns and huge farms, eliminating the ability to move for the nomadic people in some parts of the country, most notably in the north and east.

Russia continued to alter the Kazakh culture and way of life with new growth and urbanization efforts in the early 1900s. Railroads were built and Russians were encouraged to settle the region as farmers. Relations further deteriorated in 1916 when the Russian tsar decided that the Kazakhs were eligible to fight in the Russian army and began drafting Kazakhs to fight. This led to resistance and even armed uprisings by the people, but they had no chance to defeat the more powerful Russians as many fled east.

With the Russian Revolution, the Kazakhs attempted to create an independent government in 1917 and, due to chaos and disorganization in St. Petersburg, succeeded for two years. By 1920 though the Bolsheviks had essentially solidified their power and they ended this short-lived republic, which was incorporated into the newly founded Soviet Union in 1920.

The Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (later called the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic) was formed in 1925. Kazakhstan suffered greatly under Soviet leadership, most particularly under Josef Stalin's rule, which began in 1929. Under Stalin there were great efforts to collectivize agriculture, which destroyed Kazakh life and led to most food production to be overseen by governmental forces, hence giving the government to control its distribution to ethnic Russians as many of the Kazakh farmers were starved to death. Over the following five years it is estimated that over a million Kazakhs died, many from starvation.

In the late 1930s and during World War II (WWII) Kazakhstan was the recipient of numerous factories and people. First, the Soviet government began exiling rebellious people to the region, making the region as a whole more diverse ethnically, mostly with ethnic Tatars and Muslims from the Caucus region. During WWII these deportations continued as the Soviet feared they might collaborate with the Nazis and others, including numerous Poles were also deported here in fear of their allegiance. Also during WWII, as the Germans entered the Soviet Union's western border, numerous factories were moved east, many of which made their way to Kazakhstan.

Even after WWII movement to Kazakhstan continued as the Soviet government again stressed farm development on Kazakhstan's lands. Also, with the growth of natural resources found in Kazakhstan, industries were moved to the region and by the 1980s the Kazakhs made of a minority in the region.

Soviet rule finally ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite the wrongs the Soviets did to the Kazakh people, the Kazakh leadership, including Nursultan Nazarbayev sided with the Soviet Union as they didn't know if they could sustain an economy and high standard of living without Russian support. This led to a fairly peaceful transition to an independent state as Kazakhstan was the last of the former Soviet republics to declare independence. This peaceful transition also helped in that nearly have the population was Kazakh and another half Russian. These efforts to maintain the relationship with the Soviet Union and Russia quelled ethnic tensions.

Since independence Kazakhstan has maintained strong relations with Russia, but has also opened its doors to various other countries as they now have positive relations with many of their neighbors and other international powers. Despite this, their government still acts like the Soviet government did in the sense of power being held at the top in a dictator-like fashion.

This page was last updated: March, 2013