History and Government

History : Archaeological excavations indicate that the south of Kazakhstan was inhabited by man as early as the Palaeolithic Era and tribes were breeding cattle and producing bronzeware by the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. By the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, the Saks tribe occupied the territory of the steppes, the Savromat tribe the north and west of Kazakhstan, the Kangues the Syr-Daria River area and the Usuns (whose writing, weapons and jewellery have been preserved) the south. Later, the Huns, who bred cattle, made handicrafts and possessed a well-organized army, occupied Kazakhstan. By the 4th century AD, most of the Saks and Usuns had moved west and new individual states began to appear, such as Westturkic Khanate, which was established by Turkish tribes trading on the Silk Road.

During the 8th and 9th centuries, the Syr-Daria region and lands around the Aral Mountains were settled by Kimak tribes; the largest and strongest were the Kipchaks, considered the primary ancestors of the present-day Kazakhs. The 10th century was a time of considerable economic, social and cultural progress. Islam was declared the state religion and some outstanding works of literature in the Turkic language were written. The Mongols invaded in the 13th century and Genghis Khan and his army completely destroyed most of the towns and settlements and portioned the land out between his sons. However, by the 15th century, the Kazakh Khanate state was formed, consisting of the remaining descendants of the Saks, Usuns and Kangues of the West Turkic Khanate, and a gradual revival of agriculture, urban culture and trade relations was taking place.

The tribes integrated further and reformed into three tribal groups called Zhuzes - Senior, Middle and Junior - which became known by the ethnic name of ‘Kazakhs’. In 1734 the Junior Zhuze became Russian citizens, followed by the Middle Zhuze in 1742 and the Senior Zhuze in 1849. The Kazakhs had originally allied themselves with Russia in the mid-18th century to ward off attacks from the Mongols to the east, but by the 1820s, they were more concerned with preventing their own annexation in the course of Russian expansion. By 1860, the Russians had suppressed the last of the Kazakh rebellions and thousands of Russian and Ukrainian peasants settled in Kazakhstan. The Russians built new military installations and settlements. A final anti-Tsarist rebellion took place in 1916. It was put down with considerable brutality: an estimated 150,000 people were killed; twice that number were exiled. The next year saw the Bolshevik revolution and, in the civil war which followed, Kazakhstan was the scene of fierce fighting between pro- and anti-Soviet forces. In 1920, Kazakhstan was pacified and recognised as an autonomous republic of the USSR. Kazakhstan’s economic, mining and chemical industries, as well as agriculture and cattle breeding, developed greatly at this time, but during the terrible famine of the 1930s more than two million Kazakhs died of hunger due to the failure of farm collectivisation plans instituted by Stalin. In 1936, Kazakhstan was upgraded to become one of the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, Kazakhstan again experienced large-scale part-forced immigration which brought large numbers of ethnic Russians, Germans, Tatars and others. It was also the site of most of the main testing and launch facilities for the Soviet nuclear, missile and space programmes. The first manned spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin was launched from Baikonur in central Kazakhstan.

The first winds of reform swept the republic in 1986 when the Brezhnevian regime, led by Dinmukhamed Kunayev, was deposed in favour of a new administration under Gennadi Kolbin, a prot?g? of the reformist Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. He was replaced in 1989 by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the most prominent ethnic Kazakh in the Kremlin. Following the attempted coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, Nazarbayev quickly guided Kazakhstan to independence within the Commonwealth of Independent States, while the Kazakh Communist Party split from the Moscow-based Communist Party and re-established itself as the Socialist Party of Kazakhstan (SPK).

Although the SPK, like the CPSU, was ordered to cease functioning, Nazarbayev used many of the old personnel and party structures to maintain a firm grip on power (the SPK was later allowed to reform, but Nazarbayev had by then established his own political vehicle, the People’s Unity Party, PUP, later the Republican Party). As the only candidate at the presidential election in December 1991, Nazarbayev won 98 per cent of the vote. Following the introduction of a new constitution in 1995, a new set of political forces emerged in Kazakhstan. However, this made little difference to the distribution of power. The PUP took control of the Supreme Kenges while Nazabayev has been twice re-elected (in 1995 and 1999), unopposed on both occasions. In June 1997, Nazarbayev also managed to realise his pet project, the inauguration of a new capital city at Astana, based on a former Cossack fortress and located 750 miles north of the old capital, Almaty.

Kazakhstan inherited a nuclear arsenal from the former Soviet Union. The bulk of this has been dismantled and shipped to Russia. Now, the country’s main assets are its huge and largely unexploited oil and gas fields, which may match those of Kuwait in volume. In the short term, however, Kazakhstan has experienced some economic difficulties which have, on a number of occasions, given rise to public unrest. Nazarbayev has received political overtures from all the main regional powers : Iran, Turkey and China. The Kazakh leadership is not at all keen on Iranian-style Islamism and is more inclined to pursue the quasi-secular capitalist route roughly modelled on Turkey.

Government : Under the terms of the 1993 constitution, amended in 1995, the highest legislative body in Kazakhstan is the bicameral Kenges which is elected for a five-year term. The president of the republic, who is head of state and is also elected for a five-year term, holds executive power and appoints the prime minister and Council of Ministers.

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