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Nomadic origin

Kazakhs are descendants of Turkish nomads, who dominated the steppes area between the Volga and Tjan-San mountains for about a thousand years. These nomads settled around the 6th century in an area along the Silk Road. In contrast to the Tajiks and Uzbeks, the Kazakhs, because of their nomadic existence, have no written literature, which is why Kazakh culture has its origins in the art of storytelling. In the area that is now Kazakhstan, the nomads of various origins/clans, languages and cultures lived together. However, they did share a common Islamic culture and two classical written languages, Persian and (Djagataj) Turkish.

Part of Russia

From the second half of the eighteenth century, "Kazakhstan" was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire. When Tsarist Russia ended in 1917, Kazakh nationalists formed an autonomous government. This was short-lived, because in the early 1920s, Kazakhstan was incorporated into the Russian Federation by the Bolsheviks. The starting point of Stalin's policy in Central Asia was to draw borders based on different nationalities, although these lived together. This created artificial borders and significant minorities of neighbouring peoples still live within the national borders of the republics. Stalin tried to promote national identity by selecting 'national' languages for the respective republics. At the end of the 1920s, Sovietisation intensified in Central Asia, imposing atheism (disappearance of mosques) and breaking up traditional clan structures. The dispossession of the nomads from 1928 onwards led to deportation to labour camps (gulag), 'elimination' of nomads, and famine in Central Asia.

In 1936, the territory of Kazakhstan, under the name of "Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic", became a full member of the Soviet Union. Further Russification and collectivisation of agriculture was encouraged. In 1954, Khrushchev launched the plan to reclaim the 'virgin lands', i.e. to replace the steppes with farmland. The aim of this plan was to make the Soviet Union self-sufficient in cereals. Large grain sovchos were set up in northern Kazakhstan. Russification led to a dualistic society, in which mainly immigrant Russians and "Europeans" worked in the cities and the traditional nomads lived in the countryside.

On 16 December 1991, Kazakhstan became independent and was the last republic to break away from the Soviet Union. However, relations with Russia continued to play an important role in President Nazarbayev's economic and political policies.

21th century

For the September 2004 parliamentary elections, 12 parties managed to register under the new Political Parties Act, which makes registration very difficult. The most important pro-Presidential parties were Otan (Fatherland) and Asar (All Together). The latter political party was founded in January 2004 by the daughter of the President Dariga Nazarbayeva, who also runs an important national television network. Leading opposition parties are Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), which emerged as a breakaway from some reformist government ministers, Ak Zhol and Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RPPK). Nazarbayev's dominance was confirmed during the elections, which were won by the pro-presidential parties by 61% of the votes for Otan and 11% for Asar. In addition, only two other parties managed to reach the electoral threshold (including Ak Zhol with 12%). In December 2004, DCK was banned by the courts, with the result that Ak Zhol is effectively the only opposition party left. Partly because the opposition is unable to present a broad front and is divided internally, it remains rather weak.

In December 2005, Nazarbayev was re-elected president by a 90% majority; Western observers doubted the democratic nature of the elections. In January 2007 Prime Minister Akhmetov resigned without giving any reasons; the new Prime Minister was named Karim Masimov. In August 2007, President Nazarbayev's Nur-Otan party won all the seats in parliament. Observers note a slight improvement since the last elections, but the elections are not yet democratic. In March 2008, Rakhat Aliyev, Nazarbayev's son-in-law, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison after a power struggle with Nazarbayev. In February 2009, Kazakhstan allowed the United States to transport non-military goods through its territory to Afghanistan. In January 2010, Kazakhstan becomes the first former Soviet state to join the European Organisation for Peace and Security. Nazarbayev won the presidential election in April 2011. The parliamentary elections of January 2012 were deemed undemocratic by international observers. In January 2015, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan conclude a Eurasian economic union. In April 2015, President Nazarbayev was re-elected with 97.7% of the vote. In March 2017, the parliament adopts constitutional reforms limiting the president's power.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a long-time colleague of independent Kazakhstan's founder Nursultan Nazarbayev, took over as president when his mentor suddenly resigned in March 2019. He won a snap election for the presidency in June 2019 to consolidate his position.

Prime Minister Askar Mamin resigned on 5 January 2022 in the wake of mass protests against his government that began on 2 January 2022 after a sudden sharp increase in petrol prices and was succeeded by Alikhan Smailov.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated March 2024
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