The Kazakhs are the most Russified of all the groups in Central Asia. This is because they were the first people from the region to be brought under Russian rule and have maintained close contacts with Russians over a long period while the other groups in Central Asia remained relatively isolated.

Russian traders and soldiers began to appear on the northwestern edge of Kazakh territory in the seventeenth century. In 1640, the Russians reached the Caspian Sea but were unable to penetrate into Kazakhstan because of the Oryats. Cossacks built a number of forts along the Kazakhstan border to keep the Oryats out of Siberia and to protect important trade routes to Asia. Cossacks established forts that later became the cities of Oral (Ural'sk) and Atyrau (Gur'yev). Russians were able to seize Kazakh territory because the khanates were preoccupied by Kalmyk invaders of Mongol origin, who in the late sixteenth century had begun to move into Kazakh territory from the east. Forced westward in what they call their Great Retreat, the Kazakhs were increasingly caught between the Kalmyks and the Russians.

In 1730 Abul Khayr, one of the khans of the Lesser Horde, asked the Russians for help in their battle against the Oryats sought Russian assistance. Kazakhs under Abul Khayr swore oaths of allegiance to the tsar. The Kazakhs of the Lesser Horde (Zhug) and some from the Middle Horde accepted Russian citizenship. The Russians viewed the oaths of loyalty from the khans as kind invitation for as annexation while the Kazakhs regarded the agreement as a pledge of help against the Kazakhs enemies. Although Abul Khayr's intent had been to form a temporary alliance against the stronger Kalmyks, the Russians gained permanent control of the Lesser Horde as a result of his decision.

The Russians didn’t offer much help in the fight against the Oryats. Instead they used agreement a an excuse to move into Kazakhstan. They began moving their Cossacks southward into Kazakhstan around 1750. Russian, Ukrainian Cossack and Tatar settlers moved in to region, new forts and trading centers were set up.

Russians Take Over Kazakhstan

The defeat of the Oryats by the Manchurian Chinese in the 1750s, and internal divisions among the Kazakhs allowed the Russians to steadily advance into Kazakhstan. Some khans accepted the Russian presence. The Kazakh steppe after all was a vast place and it may have appeared at the time that there was enough land for all. Other khans resented the presence of the Russians. There were periodic revolts, which the Russians put brutally down. Nothing could stop the momentum for long.

The power of the khans was weakened. The Russians conquered the Middle Horde by 1798, but the Great Horde managed to remain independent until the 1820s, when the expanding Quqon (Kokand) Khanate to the south forced the Great Horde khans to choose Russian protection, which seemed to them the lesser of two evils. The Young Horde was ousted in 1824 and the khanate of the Nukeev Zhuz, an offshoot of the Young Horde was ousted in 1845. They were replaced by new administration systems based on tsarist rule.

The Kazakhs began to resist Russian control almost as soon as it became complete. The first mass uprising was led by Khan Kene (Kenisary Kasimov) of the Middle Horde, whose followers fought the Russians between 1836 and 1847. Khan Kene is now considered a Kazakh national hero. Uprisings continued sporadically through the so-called Basmachi Rebellion of the 1920s but failed to achieve much.

By 1848,. Russia had gained control of Kazakhstan. The ruling khans were stripped of their titles and Kazakhstan became a Russian colony. Almaty was established as a fort in southern Kazakhstan in 1854. By the 1860s, the Kazakh steppe was surrounded by Russian fortifications and military outposts. This helped to strengthen the Russian Empire by expanding its’s borders and creating buffer zones between it and its enemies.

Some Kazakhs live in what is now China and Mongolia. According to the Chinese government: From the mid-18th century, Tsarist Russia began to invade Central Asia and eat up Kazakh grasslands and areas east and south of Lake Balkhash — part of China's territory. After the mid-19th century, owing to aggression by the Tsar, the Middle and Little hordes and the western branch of the Great Horde were cut off from China. Russian Cossacks infiltrated the area, driving the Kazakhs into the deserts where men and animals could hardly survive. From 1864 to 1883, the Tsarist government compelled the Qing court to sign a number of unequal treaties, forcing the principle of "people go with the land" on the "Tacheng Protocol on the Delimitation of Sino-Russian Boundary." This met with strong opposition from the local minority nationalities. Many Mongolians, Kazakhs and Kirgiz migrated back to Chinese-controlled territory. Twelve Kazakh Kelie clans grazing near Zhaysang Lake moved their animals south of the Altay Mountains in 1864. More than 3,000 families of the Kazakh Heizai clan moved to Ili and Bortala in 1883. Many others followed suit after the delimitation of the border. [Source: |]

Russian Control of Kazakhstan

When the Great Horde was forced to accept Russian protection in the 1820s, all of the Kazakh groups had come under Russian control, and the decay of the nomadic culture accelerated. In 1863 Russia elaborated a new imperial policy, announced in the Gorchakov Circular, asserting the right to annex "troublesome" areas on the empire's borders. This policy led immediately to the Russian conquest of the rest of Central Asia and the creation of two administrative districts, the Guberniya (Governorate General) of Turkestan and the Steppe District. Most of present-day Kazakhstan was in the Steppe District, and parts of present-day southern Kazakhstan were in the Governorate General. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the early nineteenth century, the construction of Russian forts began to have a destructive effect on the Kazakh traditional economy by limiting the once-vast territory over which the nomadic tribes could drive their herds and flocks. The final disruption of nomadism began in the 1890s, when many Russian settlers were introduced into the fertile lands of northern and eastern Kazakhstan. Between 1906 and 1912, more than a half-million Russian farms were started as part of the reforms of Russian minister of the interior Petr Stolypin, shattering what remained of the traditional Kazakh way of life.

Starving and displaced, many Kazakhs joined in the general Central Asian resistance to conscription into the Russian imperial army, which the tsar ordered in July 1916 as part of the effort against Germany in World War I. In late 1916, Russian forces brutally suppressed the widespread armed resistance to the taking of land and conscription of Central Asians. Thousands of Kazakhs were killed, and thousands of others fled to China and Mongolia.

Russian Rule in Kazakhstan

The first Russian settlers to what is now Kazakhstan were mostly Cossacks, who lived in the fortified military towns. They were given 67 million hectares of the best Kazakh land. Towns, including Almaty, grew up around the fortified Cossack villages. Southern Kazakhstan was included in the Turkestan territory along with the other future Central Asian republics. Northern Kazakhstan was ruled separately as the Steppe territories. The territories in turn were divided into oblats (provinces) and into “uezds” (regions) and “volosts” (districts).

Beginning in the nineteenth century, Kazakhstan suffered from waves of large-scale implantation of Russians, including the agricultural settlements of Tsar Nicholas II’s Minister of Interior Pyotr Stolypin. The tsars viewed the Kazakh steppe as potential farm land. All land was declared to property of the Russian state and Russian and Ukrainian peasants, Tatars and Cossacks were invited to cultivate the land, primarily in northern Kazakhstan. Land-hungry peasants arrived en mass after serfdom was abolished in Russia and the Ukraine in 1861. One million settlers arrived in the 1890s.

Under Russian rule, agricultural was developed, trade increased and the first industries were established. Among the Kazakhs contact with the Russians kindled Russification and a sense of nationalism and ethnic identity. The Russians took their best agricultural land but also taught them. A Europeanized educated class and a working class developed, both of which had not existed before. At same time thousands died in revolts and famines.

The tsars also used Kazakhstan the same the way the did Siberia as a dumping ground for exiled revolutionaries and troublemakers to Kazakhstan. Dostoyevsky were exiled to Kazakhstan in the 1850s. Trotsky was sent to the Altay mountains. The Ukrainian revolutionary poet Taras Shevchenko was also sent there.

After finishing his five-year sentence in Siberia, Dostoevsky was given an additional penal term as a common soldier in Semipalatinsk, a military outpost in present-day Kazakhstan. Here, he played by the rules, and became a junior officer. In his free time Dostoevsky read books and befriended a troubled, tubercular widow, Marie Isavea, whom he later married and whom brought him nothing but grief. It was in Semey that Dostoevsky made friends with the Shokan Ualikhanov, a prince of the Kazakh Middle Horde, explorer, intellectual, and spy in the Russian army (See Below). Finally after persistent lobbying, Dostoevsky’s friends secured his release.

Great Game and Shoqan Uaalikhanov

Uzbekistan, western China and Afghanistan were more important in the Great Game than Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan had some importance because they formed the buffer zone between the Russian Empire and the British-Indian Empire and Iran. See Great Game Under Central Asia.

On of the most memorable figures of the Great Game was Shoqan Uaalikhanov ((Chokan Valikhanov) 1835-65), the grandson of a of Kazakh khan and a writer explorer, statesman and spy. He was a graduate of a famous military school, a friend of Dostoevsky, and explorer who traveled extensively in Central Asia and filled notebooks with also sorts scientific and anthropological observations.

Shoqan was the first person to write down parts of the Manas told to him by Kyrgyz oral bards. He spied among the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz for the Russian and the later spoke out against Russian incursions in Central Asia. He died young under mysterious circumstances and is now regarded as a national hero in Kazakhstan.

Shoqan greatest claim to fame was his infiltration of Kashgar disguised as a merchant. He was only the second European since Marco Polo to enter the city (the other fellow was beheaded after his identity was discovered). The following is one of journal entries: "In Kashgar, and in the Six Cities in general, there is custom that all foreigners upon arrival must enter into marriage...The wedding is conducted in due form, and all that is required of the groom is that he consummate the union with his bride. So as not to depart from common procedure, and at the insistence of our new friends, we too were obliged to submit to this custom."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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