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Text by Oksana Shuptar

The area that is now Kakakhstan seems to have been settled by proto-humans as much as one million years ago. The settlers knew how to light and maintain fire, but that seems to be the extent of their technology. They were hunter-gatherers. Neolithic inhabitants (from around 8,000 BC) developed cattle-breeding, agriculture, mining, weaving and ceramics.
Four thousand years ago the Bronze Age dawned with the invention of bronze on the Eurasian steppe and the replacement by the new alloy of stone tools. Archeological investigation of remains from that period have identified two important cultures: the Andronovo and the Begazy-Dandybai.
Bronze-Age people worked deposits that in some cases remain in exploitation to this day, notably the Zhezkagan and Sayak open-cast mines. The Androns produced a battle-chariot, depictions of which can still be seen on cliffs sacred to them. Other inscriptions in the same locale show Sun-headed divinities, oxen,
In the middle of the first millennium BC a confederation of tribes, collectively known as the Saks by the Persians and by the Greeks as the Scythians, settled in south, east and central Kazakhstan. Between the sixth and third centuries BC they established their first state, centred on the area in south-eastern Kazakhstan that came to be known as Zhetysu in Kazakh, or Semirechiye in Russian.
The best-known relic of Sak culture on Kazakh territory is the Issyk burial mound, where the Zolotoi Chelovek - Golden Man in English -  was discovered.
The Saks’ history is dominated by war. Their first adversaries were Kir and Darius I, rulers of the Persian Akhemenid dynasty. Then came Alexander the Great who, although threatening them, never defeated the Saks that lived beyond the River Syr-Darya. Indeed, they blocked Alexander’s eastward conquest.
New tribal unions displaced the Saks at the end of the first millennium BC: these tribes were the Usunes in Semirechiye, the Kangls in Priaralye, the Alans in west Kazakhstan and the Huns in the north-east.
The first use of the term ’Turk’ to denote a nation dates back to 542 AD. Chronicles agree with the Chinese claim that the Turks were descendants of the Huns. In 552 the Turks founded the Turkic Khanate, one of the first feudal states on the territory of Kazakhstan, under their leader Bumyn. Following numerous conquests they became masters of a stretch of the Silk Route that assumed great significance in the development of the khanate’s commercial, cultural and political contacts with neighbouring countries.
Internecine strife and social disorder weakened the khanate and allowed the Tan empire to invade Semirechye. This subsequently led to the formation of a new state under the Tyurgesh tribes, the Tyurgesh Khanate.
The main threat to the Tyurgesh were the Arabs, who had begun their conquest of Central Asia under the banner of ’holy war’ at the beginning of the eighth century. Islam thus replaced the Tengrianism, Buddhism and other religions that had hitherto been confessed in Semirechiye and south Kazakhstan. The Arab conquest also brought with it the Arabic script, which replaced the earlier Turkic letters.
A major battle, nowadays called the battle of Talas, was fought between the Chinese and the Arabs in 751 near the town  of Atlach. The Arabs won, thanks in large part to the defection by the Karluks, who had been at the Chinese rear, to the Arab side. The battle of Talas evicted the Chinese from the Kazakh steppe for good.
The Karakhanid state was the first Turkic state in which Islam was acknowledged as the established religion. It was in the Karakhanid state that thinkers and writers known to this day lived and worked. Prominent among them were Khodja Akhmed Yasavi, Abu Nasr al Farabi and Yusuf Balasaguni.
By the latter half of the 10th century the tribes of the Kimak federation (the Kypchaks, the Imeks, the Eimurs and others) had founded powerful states and occupied virtually all of present-day Kazakhstan. Indeed, the Kazakh steppe was at that time called the Kypchak steppe, or Desht-i-Kypchak. And the Kypchaks have played a major role in world history: the Transcaucasian states owe their existence to Kypchak arms; Beibars, a Kypchak by birth, was the progenitor of an Egyptian dynasty; and Yeltuknish and Rasia, the Indian rulers, were also natives of Desht-i-Kypchak.

The 13th century brought the conquests of the great Mongolian warrier Genghis Khan. During his invasion of south Kazakhstan his hordes faced fierce resistance from the cities alongside the River Syr-Darya, leading ultimately to the complete destruction of more than 30 cities, among them Otrar, Ashnas and Sygnak. The territory captured was shared out among Genghis Khan's sons, constituting a part of the vast Mongolian commonwealth of uluses or tribal semi-states.
The eldest son, Juchi, was given the steppe lands to the north of the Irtysh, north Semirechiye and east Desht-i-Kypchak. After his death in 1227 these lands were inherited by Genghis Khan's grandson, Bati. The latter, having conquered Russia and many states of eastern Europe, later founded his own state on the lower reaches of the River Volga. This was the Golden Horde, with its capital at Sarai-Batu.
However, by the latter half of the 14th century another great conqueror had appeared on the scene: Emir Timur, or Timurlain, the ruler of Maverannakhr and Central Asia. He undertook a number of devastating campaigns against the Golden Horde which severely weakened the already collapsing state. In 1380, on Kulikovo field, Dmitrii Donskoi defeated Khan Mamai's army and thus further accelerated the Golden Horde's decline. The Horde did not survive the crisis and soon disintegrated, leaving a number of smaller, ethnically distinct states in its place.
One of those states was the Ak Horde, a significant political force rich in territory and manpower, which strengthened its position under Khan Urus in the 1360s and -70s. However, the Horde's disunity, internal power struggles and the external threat posed by the Timurid state led to the Ak Horde's eventual collapse, and the appearance in its place of the Nogai Horde in west Kazakhstan and the Abulkhair Khanate. These events coincided with the rise in south Kazakhstan and Semirechiye, which had been bequeathed to Genghis Khan's son Chagatai on the death of his father, of the state of Mogulistan. The Abulkhair Khanate, a state composed of Uzbek nomads, vied continuously from its establishment in 1428 with the Juchids and the Timurids for land and power.

As descendants of Urus Khan, Sultans Zhanybek and Kirei had a genuine claim to his legacy, but lacking the strength needed to oppose Abulkhair Khan they were forced to move with their people to Semirechiye, where they settled.
These nomads who settled in Semirechiye were the first to be called the Kazakhs, the name at that time deriving from the Turkic for 'exile' or 'wanderer'. The meaning changed to denote all Zhanybek's and Kirei's subjects, only later becoming a name for the nation.
As a result of the crisis that overtook the Abulkhair Khanate and Mogulistan, discontented inhabitants of all parts of the Kazakh steppe began to gather in Semirechiye, swelling the numbers of Zhanybek and Kirei's subjects to 200,000. In the 1460s the first indigenous Kazakh union was born. It was called the Kazakh Khanate, and the date of its establishment is given by  Muhammed Khaidar as 870 by the Hijri calendar, corresponding to 1465 or -66 AD. Its influence grew rapidly, but flourished particularly vigorously under Kasym Khan, an accomplished military leader and wise politician who was also known as 'the gatherer-in of Kazakh lands'.
This state, formerly consisting of uluses, was subsequently divided into three economically and geographically distinct regions, each with its its own ethno-social organisation, called Juz (one theory has it that the term comes from the Arabic word meaning 'branch'). When in the 17th century the Khanate suffered severe internal instability, the divisions between the Juzes outweighed the forces holding them together: the Khanate disintegrated leaving the three Juzes completely independent of each other.
The Jungar Khanate and the Kalmyk state added to the difficulties faced by the Kazakhs: the gruelling war for the pasturelands of Semirechye and north Kazakhstan broke out.
In 1724-1725 the Jungars plundered and then destroyed the towns of Turkestan and Tashkent. Many soldiers died on the battlefield, but many more civilians succumbed to the famine and illness that afflicted the steppe. For this reason the period 1723-1727 has gone down in history as 'the years of Great Disaster'.
The late 1720s and early 1730s are marked by several great battles, in which united armies of the Senior and Junior Juzes led by Abulkhair defeated the Jungars, the definitive victory coming at the battle of Anrakai in 1730.

Having reached the borders of the Kazakh Khanate, the Russian Empire sought continued expansion to the east. Exchanges of embassies established a basis for mutually beneficial trade and strengthened the political and economic relations between the two states.
With the establishment of the Jungar Khanate, and with the memory of the years of Great Disaster still fresh in the minds of the Kazakhs, the decision was taken to accept Russian suzerainty.
The absorption of the Kazakh Khanate into Russia was a long and complex process beginning in the 1730s and completed in the mid-19th century. It undermined many of the traditional foundations of Kazakh society, which had hitherto been based very largely on clan and tribal affiliations, and with Kazakh territory now administered in accordance with procedures emanating from the Russian central government, the social structure of the Khanate underwent momentous change.
These changes were accelerated by the millions of immigrants who arrived from Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia. It is fair to describe the mutual interpenetration and enrichment of the Kazakh and Slavonic cultures that resulted from this immigration as profound. Abai Kunanbayev, Ybyrai Altynsarin, and Shokan Valikhanov were particularly influential at this time. It would not be long before the new Kazakh intelligentsia became inspirers of numerous national movements of the early 20th century, a time of particular unrest.

By the spring of 1918, Soviet power had been established in Kazakhstan, either voluntarily or by force of arms. On August 26th, 1920, the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was established as a member of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, its capital being in Orenburg. In 1936 Kazakhstan became a union republic in recognition of the growing significance of Kazakh autonomy in economics and culture.
In the 1930s and -40s, the soviet governmental system under Joseph Stalin acquired all the characteristics of a totalitarian regime. It is with this period that the major crimes of the soviet state are associated, most prominent among them being harsh suppression of nonconformity and antigovernment activity, dekulakisation with absolute expropriation, forced resettlement of entire national groups, and the establishment of a huge network of forced labour prison camps.
The most important event for the economy of Kazakhstan in the 1950s was the extensive cultivation of virgin and long-term fallow lands. Until 1985, and despite the construction of what the government chose to call developed socialism, politically and economically the country stagnated. It was only after Mikhail Gorbachev's assumption of power and his introduction of perestroika that some progress in social, cultural and economic spheres was made.

The attempted coup d'etat in Moscow on August 19th 1991 finally undermined Gorbachev's authority as well as the fundamentals of Soviet power, and it did not take long for the USSR to collapse. The former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, achieved sovereignty. In the winter of 1991 eleven states signed the protocol establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States.
On December 1st 1991 Nursultan Nazarbayev won national elections and inaugurated a new political system based on democratic principles and respect for civic rights and freedom. In 1997 the capital was transferred from Almaty to Akmola, which later changed its name to the current one - Astana.

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