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Kazakhstan History, Language and Culture

History of Kazakhstan

The south of Kazakhstan was inhabited as early as the Palaeolithic Era and tribes were breeding cattle and producing bronze-ware by the middle of the second millennium BC. Soon after, the Saks, Savromat, Kangues and Usuns occupied the area and later, the Huns. By the fourth century AD, most of the Saks and Usuns had moved west and individual states appeared, such as Westturkic Khanate, which was established by Turkish tribes trading on the Silk Road.

During the eighth and ninth centuries the Kimak tribes arrived of which the largest and strongest were the Kipchaks, ancestors of the present-day Kazakhs. In the 10th century, Islam was declared the state religion before the Mongols invaded in the 13th century and Genghis Khan destroyed most of the towns. However, by the 15th century, the Kazakh Khanate state was thriving as the tribes reformed into three groups – Junior, Middle and Senior Zhuzes – known as Kazakhs. In 1734 the Junior Zhuze became Russian citizens, followed by the Middle in 1742 and the Senior Zhuze in 1849. The Kazakhs had allied themselves with Russia in the mid-18th century to ward off the Mongols, but by 1860 the Russians had suppressed the last of the Kazakh rebellions and thousands of Russian and Ukrainian peasants settled in Kazakhstan.

A final anti-Tsarist rebellion in 1916 was brutally supressed before the Bolshevik revolution and yet more fierce fighting in the civil war that followed. In 1920, Kazakhstan was recognised as an autonomous republic and although its mining and chemical industries, as well as agriculture, developed greatly, more than two million Kazakhs died of hunger during the 1930s before the country again experienced large-scale immigration. It was the site of most of the main testing and launch facilities for the Soviet nuclear, missile and space programmes and the first manned spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin was launched from Baikonur in central Kazakhstan.

In 1986, the Brezhnevian regime was deposed in favour of a new administration under Gennadi Kolbin, a protégé of the reformist Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Three years later Nursultan Nazarbayev, replaced him and guided Kazakhstan to independence. As the only candidate at the presidential election in December 1991, he won 98 per cent of the vote and in June 1997 realised his pet project, the inauguration of a new capital city at Astana. Astana was renamed Nur-Sultan on 23 March 2019 after former first president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who passed away on 20 March 2019.

Kazakhstan’s main assets are its huge and largely unexploited oil and gas fields.

Did you know?

• Kazakhstan is home to 131 ethnicities.

• World IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight boxing champion Vladimir Klitschko was born in Kazakhstan.

• The unfinished Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Turkestan dates from the late 14th century is widely considered to represent the Khazakh national identity.

Kazakhstan Culture

Religion in Kazakhstan

Mainly Sunni Muslim. There are Russian Orthodox and Jewish minorities. There are 10 independent denominations of Christianity. The Kazakhs do not express their religious feelings fervently - Kazakhstan is an outlying district of the Muslim world and a meeting point of Russian, Chinese and Central Asian civilisations. Islam plays a minor role in policy and there are no significant Islamic political organisations in the country.

Social Conventions in Kazakhstan

Kazakhs are very hospitable. When greeting a guest, the host gives him/her both hands as if showing that he/she is unarmed. When addressing a guest or elder, a Kazakh may address him/her with a shortened form of the guest's or elder's name and the suffix 'ke'. For example, Abkhan may be called Abeke, Nursultan can be called Nureke. This should be regarded as indicating a high level of respect for the visitor.

At a Kazakh home, the most honoured guest, usually the oldest, is traditionally offered a boiled sheep's head on a beautiful dish as a further sign of respect. National customs forbid young people whose parents are still alive from cutting the sheep's head. They must pass the dish to the other guests for cutting. Inside mosques, women observe their own ritual in a separate room, and must cover their heads and their arms. Formal dress is often required when visiting the theatre, or attending a dinner party. Shorts should not be worn except on the sports ground.

Language in Kazakhstan

The official language is Kazakh, a Turkic language closely related to Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Turkish. The government has begun to replace the Russian Cyrillic alphabet with the Turkish version of the Roman alphabet. Meanwhile, the Cyrillic alphabet is in general use and most people in the cities can speak Russian, whereas country people tend to only speak Kazakh. English is usually spoken by those involved in tourism. Uygur and other regional languages and dialects are also spoken.

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