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Ancient land of the Kazakhs

In 1991, a new country - the Republic of Kazakhstan - appeared on the geopolitical map of the world.

Kazakhstan has a multi-millennia history and culture. One of the central questions is the origin of it's native people, The Kazakhs, and the development of their statehood, culture, traditions, and relations with other civilisations.

If written sourses are examined, it can be concluded that Kazakh statehood was completely formed by 1470, when sultans Janibek and Girey organised numerous tribes in the southeastern areas and combined them into a single "Kazakh" tribe.

In the beginning ot the 16th century, when Kasymkhan ruled over these lands, the Kazakh khanate strengthened: its borders were expanded and the khanate included the cities of Turkestan, Otrar, Sairan, Sauran, Sygnak, Suzak and Chimkent, which were located on the Syr Darya river. Kazakhs became well-known, both in Europe and Asia.

The 16th century is a milestone in the history of the Muslim world. This was the time when a new age began. V. Bartold, an outstanding orientalist, wrote: "In the new history of Islam, the pace of changing dynasties, the general instability of power, and small states where no patriotism could exist switched to a new order - the uniting of states. We see the Muslim empire of the Great Moghuls in India, then Turkey, Persia...". That was the approximate time when the Kazakh, Bukhara, and Yarkand khanates were established in Central Asia. Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Karakalpaks, all speaking Turkic languages, claimed their rights in the arena of history.

The Kazakh Khanate existed until 1718 when Taukekhan, the last Khan of the united Kazakhs, died and numerous steppe khans, who governed small groups of Kazakhs in small areas took over, and this was the beginning of a disintegration and recession which resulted in the annexation of the khanate by the Russian Empire.

The ethnic name "Kazakh", subsequently used as the name of the state, is a Turkic word. In the opinion of the majority of scholars, it means "free man". Kazakhs, originally nomads and farmers who loved freedom and owned tremendous herds, began to develop the succulent pastures and rich lands in the foothills and in river valleys.

However, when speaking about Kazakhs and their first state, the Kazakh khanate, it should be mentioned that the origin of the people as well as the origin of their statehood are rooted in a very distant time.

Even in the Bronze Age, four thousand years ago, the land of Kazakhstan was inhabited by the so called Andron and Begazy-Dandybai tribes. They were engaged in farming and livestock breeding, and were excellent warriors who even mastered battle chariots. Their society was already split and consisted of ordinary people and chariot warriors. They believed that the warriors' guardian was the Sun God, to whom they dedicated their religious poetry.

Petroglyphs of chariots still exist on rocks in places where the ancient people established their tribal sactuaries. People carved scenes of ritual dances, sun-headed gods, huge bulls and camels personifying ancient gods on the sun tanned black rocks.

Scattered over the Kazakh steppe, the burial mounds of noble warriors have impressive dimensions for both the mound and the grave itself. The most well-known are the Bergazy and Dandybai necropolises in the Saryarka, Tegisken and Aral areas. They contain the armaments of dead men - axes, bronze daggers, and spears, and sometimes even horses put into battle chariots, in their graves.

People of that age were not only excellent warriors, farmers and livestock breeders, but also remarkable metallurgists. They made axes, daggers, knives and jewels of bronze, and were the first to start development of the copper deposits which are still in operation - the Zhezkazgan and Sayak mines.

These people lived in large settlements, with dug-out and above ground dwellings. Also, they created large towns, surrounded by walls and moats, where houses were constructed strictly according to a layout. Such cities were inhabited by warriors and craftsmen, priests and farmers. These tribe lived on the territory of Kazakhstan for about a thousand years: from the 17th century B.C. to the 8th or 9th centuries A.D.

Then they gave way to Saks. That was the name given to these people by the ancient Persians. The Chinese name was 'se' and the Greek name was Scythians. They were nomads, semi-nomads and farmers. However, most of all, they were great riders who learned how to use a bow while galloping at full speed. These Scythian riders became the prototype for fearless half man - half horse centaurs.

In the 7th century B.C., lightning quick detachments of steppe knights from mountain and steppe Eurasian areas, primarily from Kazakhstan, crossed the Caucasus ridge and invaded the middle east, devastating towns, palaces and temples.

Their success frightened the Assyrian sovereign Assargadon (680-669 B.C.) who was then forced to consider allying with them and even gave his daughter away in marriage to the Scythian leader Partatua.

The Scythian cavalry appeared at the walls of Urartu kingdom, then in Palestine, then moved forward on to Egypt. The Scythians also destroyed the Urartian fort at Teishebaini. The Biblical prophet Jeremiah cried: "These are people coming from a northern land... having bows and short spears... Their voice is roaring as a sea, they are galloping on their horses making a line like one man... Just hearing about them, we lose our heart... the dagger of the enemy is horrifying us..."

Only at the end of the 6th century B.C. did the Scythians return home, bringing with them not only their spoils but also the knowledge of the Midian, Urartian and Assyrian cultures. Then Scythians fought several bloody wars with the Achaemenids. There was a battle with the Scythians where the powerful Cyrus the Great, "the king of Parsuash country from the Achaemenid house", was killed in 530 B.C. The Scythian queen Tomiris ordered his head put into a wine-skin filled with human blood.

Then, having made an alliance with the Persians, the Scythians conducted a war against ancient Greece and became famous for their victory at the city of Phoermopilis. They successfully resisted the soldiers of Alexander the Great and blocked the way of the "conqueror of the world" toward the East anoss the Yaksart (Syr Darya) river.

In the 4th - 3rd centuries B.C., Scythians established their first state on the territory of Kazakhstan with its center in Zhetisu ("the land of seven rivers"), in southeastern Kazakhstan. Scythian kings were not only warriors but also supreme priests. Scythians had their own writen language, mythology and remarkable art. This was called "the art of beast style" where characters were beasts of prey and herbivores and the dominant idea was the struggle between them. Their masterpieces of bronze and gold now decorate the collections of many renowned museums in the world.

The Scythians buried their kings, noble warriors and priests in huge mounds and 'gave' the dead numerous gold jewels, armaments, ceramics and wooden utensils as well as many other everyday items.

A Scythian burial mound, Issyk, was found near the city of Almaty. The mound is now well-known. Beneath the mound was a grave lined with fir logs containing the remains of a Scythian king whose clothing was completely covered with golden plates and who had a pointed hat on his head. The hat was decorated with figures of winged horses symbolising the Sun God. His armament consisted of a long sword and a short dagger. Clay jars with koumiss (fermented mare's milk), wooden trays with meat and precious bowls of gold and silver were found with him.

Both Androns as well as their descendants the Scythians were the distant ancestors of the Kazakhs. The name of the 'Usuns', the people who came to the place of the Scythians in the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., is still preserved in the name of one large Kazakh clan. Today, these Kazakhs live in the same areas where their ancestors the Usuns lived centuries ago.

The majority of historians believe that the Androns, Scythians and Usuns had a European style constitution, which is supported by anthropological research. However, since the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., representatives of the Mongol race appeared on the steppes of Eurasia, including the Kazakh steppe, and their numbers increased rapidly.

The language situation was also rather difficult. Until recently, the common opinion was that Kazakhstan's lands were inhabited mainly by those who spoke languages of the Indo-European and Indo-Iranian subfamilies. However, now there is some evidence which proves that some of the Bronze Age tribes, especially the Scythians, spoke proto-Turkic languages.

A silver bowl with an inscription of 26 characters on the bottom was found in the 'golden man' grave, the Issyk mound. This inscription has not yet been decrypted. Some scientists believe that it is one of Iranian languages, others - that it is proto-Turkic. In any case, this was the time when the appearance and language of the Medieval and modern Kazakhs first coalesced, their psychological features, customs and many aspects of culture and lifestyle began their development. The middle of the first millennium A.D. is a true milestone in the history of Kazakhs and for all Turkic peoples.

An ancient Turkic source, glorifying the famous warrior Kul-Tegin, who belonged to the royal family, said about the beginning of the new age in the great steppe: "When the blue sky above and the brown earth below were created, then the human race was created. My ancestors Bumyn-kagan and Istemi-kagan reigned over the human race. Having started their reign, they protected the state and established the laws of the Turkic people". The empire of ancient Turks stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Black sea.

At the same time, the ethnic environment also began changing and the majority became Turkic-language peoples whose centre was in the Altai. The term 'Turk' was fixed in written sources in the second half of the 6th century.

Archaeological investigations of Turkic memorials allows them to be related to specific Turkic tribal groups. Archaeological excavations in the Sayan Altai mountains showed that there were cultures which could be related to the early Kyrgyz, Kypchaks, and Oguzs. Tribal wars, struggles for power and pastures on the steppes, mountains and valleys of Kazakhstan caused some Turkic tribes to move south and settle in Central Asia (Turgeshes, Karluks, Uzbeks, Oguzes, and Seljuks), in South Asia and the Caucasus (Turkmen and Seljuks), and in Europe (Kangars-Pechenegs, Kypchaks-Polovtsy, Turks-Ogyzes, and Karakalpaks).

From the 6th century to the beginning of the 8th century, the time of the Great Mongols' invasion, several states existed in the region, successively replacing one another: the Western-Turkic, Tyurgesh and Karluk kaganates, and the states of the Oguzes, Karakhanids, Kimaks, and Kypchaks. After the invasion in the early 8th century, the Uluses of the Mongol empire formed - Dzhuchi and Dzhagataya, which gave birth to the Ak-Horde and later to the Kazakh khanate itself.

All these states had mixed economies. Tribes of pastoral people were found adjacent to the tribes engaged in farming, and the residents of steppe and towns complemented each other. The cities of Taraz, Otrar, Ispidzhab, and Talkhir were on the Great Silk Road which connected long ago the East and the West: Japan, Korea and China with Central Asia, Iran, the Seljuks' state, and the Russian and Byzantine empires.

This was a route of transportation of different goods: silk, fabrics, precious stones and silver, medicines and dyes, selected horses and elephants, cheetahs and rhinoceroses, eagles and ostriches for sale or as valuable gifts; and slaves. The arts of dancing and painting, architecture and music were spread along the Great Silk Road. It was also a route of propagation of religion: Manicheaism and Buddhism, Christianity and Islam which, since the 8th century, became the predominant religion of the Kazakhs. At the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries, the sacred object of all the Kazakhs - Hadji Akhmed Yassawi complex, was erected in the city of Turkestan on the Syr Darya.

The people who lived on the territory of Kazakhstan absorbed the best ideas and achievements of other civilizations, and have made their contribution into the treasury of world culture: their mobile houses 'yurts', saddles and stirrups, the art of conducting a battle on horseback, carpet patterns and silver jewels, melodious songs and music that sounds like running steppe horses.

Today, the ancient land of the Kazakhs is in a period of rebuilding and development of its statehood, economy, and culture. The country is striving for a respected place in the international community.

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