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Regional Museum of History

Opposite the Kazakh Drama Theatre on Dostyk Avenue stands a detached and elegant two-storey Tsarist-era building, topped with little octagonal minarets which give the building an Eastern feel. Built in 1879 to house a Russian-Kazakh school it now houses the West Kazakhstan Regional Museum of History and Local Lore. The displays commence with archaeology, including Stone Age implements found near Lake Shalkar and some ceramic and bronze items unearthed from the Iron Age burial mounds at Kyrkoba, some 80km east of Uralsk. A beautiful though damaged silver rhyton, dating from the 5th century BC and probably an import from the territory of present-day Iran, was found near the village of Dolinnoe, east of Uralsk. This curved, horn-shaped object has some intriguing decoration, including a calf's head at the tip. There is also a display of balbals.

Next comes a room focused on the history of the Bukei Horde. Items on display include a copy of one of the sumptuous dresses of Fatima, wife of Zhangir Khan, and photographs of the buildings linked with the Bukei Horde still to be seen in the village of Orda. A mural depicts Zhangir Khan and Fatima, the latter wearing an elaborate embroidered costume, being shown the progress in the construction of the Orda Mosque by its architect.

The displays continue upstairs. A room focused on the early part of the 20th century and on World War II is centred on a machine gun. Then comes a room dedicated to local cultural figures, including writers and actresses, and a room devoted to musicians linked with the region, including violinist Marat Bisengaliev, who founded the West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra in 2003. The last room, covering post-independence Kazakhstan, includes photographs of President Nazarbaev visiting the region, and the white plastic helmet worn by the president during a visit to the Karachaganak field, which Nazarbaev has signed and dated.


Also sometimes known as the Inner Horde, the Bukei Horde has its origins in the weakened state of the Kazakhs of the Junior Zhuz at the end of the 18th century, riven by internal feuding and facing an increasingly assertive imperial Russia. Bukei, the younger son of Khan Nurali of the Junior Zhuz, requested the permission of Tsar Pavel I to occupy the lands between the Urals and the Volga. The Tsar responded with a decree of 1801 establishing the Bukei Horde. In 1812, Tsar Alexander I elevated Bukei to the rank of khan.

The most renowned of the leaders of the Bukei Horde was Zhangir Khan, who took on the role in 1824. He was well educated and westward-looking. When in 1825 the vaccination of children against smallpox commenced in the territory of the Horde, Zhangir had one of his sons vaccinated first to reassure his nervous people about the safety of the procedure. Realising that the fate of the Horde was linked to closer interaction with Russia, he opened a Russian-Kazakh School in 1841. Zhangir Khan had four wives, of whom his favourite was Fatima, an accomplished linguist and pianist, who bore him seven children. While the Bukei Horde was part of the Russian Empire and subservient to it, Zhangir Khan had considerable leeway in the administration of his own domains, including as regards revenue raising. The unsuccessful rebellion of Makhambet Utemisuly and Isatay Taymanuly in 1836-37 was directed against the excesses of Zhangir Khan as well as his close alliance with the Russians. Zhangir Khan died in 1845, at the age of 44. With his death the position of khan was abolished.

The buildings associated with Zhangir Khan's rule, including a striking mosque of a decidedly European style with columned facades, around the village of Orda in the far west of the region, make for an interesting visit but are difficult to reach, involving a long day's drive from Uralskjust to get there.