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Tsarist Kazakhstan

The stationing of Cossack troops on a line of ten garrisons and fifty-three outposts between the Uil river, a tributary of the Ural in the north-west - the region of the Lesser Juz - and the Irtysh river in the north-east, may be counted as the first significant act of formal colonisation of Kazakh territory by Tsarist Russia. This was in the 1760s, when Catherine the Great was ruling. Ostensibly the garrisons were there to protect the indigenous Kazakhs. From the 1780s, in the years immediately following Abylai's death, Russia was strengthening in presence on the Steppe and in the forest land immediately to the north of today's Kazakhstani territory, in regions far beyond the Russian homeland - with garrisons at Omsk, Orsk and Orenburg.

St Petersburg was actively pursuing a policy of encouraging settlement by Russians on colonised, non-Russian land in central Asia, much of it Kazakh. Areas of territory were effectively cordoned off by the Russians, where the Kazakhs suddenly found themselves forbidden to roam or to graze. Instead they were occupied by Cossack soldiery and their families, and cleared tor settlement by ethnic Russians. The Kazakhs had indeed been restored to all their Steppe land west of the Altai and Jungar ranges since the removal of the Jungars; but Russian settlement constituted an intrusion of a different kind.

At first the Kazakhs responded by wilfully driving their cattle through the territories newly denied to them, then by attacking Russian (or Cossack) fortifications. A taste for defiance of Russia had been spread by those Kazakhs of the Junior Juz who had elected to join the short-lived rebellion of the Tsarist pretender, Emelyan Pugachev, creator of his own 'Kingdom' in the Ural River region in 1773-4. In the winter of 1782-3 the first Kazakh revolt broke out, headed by Syrym Datov. He and his horsemen sustained their campaign for a decade and a half, in a complex series of partnerships with both Kazakh and Russian factions, until he was killed in 1798 or 1799.

The Russian colonial hand, however, became progressively heavier in the first half of the nineteenth century, with continuing settlements and the migrants exempted from all taxes for the first five years. The Cossack mercenaries engaged in many forms of needling impositions on the Kazakhs, such as levying a charge on crossing rivers and capricious seizures of land. The Russian administrator Mikhail Speransky, Governor-general of Siberia, sought to codify the adat, Kazakh customary law, into a system of administration, for which Kazakhs paid a poll tax. He encouraged settled farming, as distinct from nomadism. Yet if not exactly in a role of vassals, Kazakhs found themselves second-class citizens in their own country. The Lesser and Middle Juz were 're-organised'. Nomadic Kazakh migrations across the Ural River resulted in outright fighting with the Russians in 1818 and between 1826 and 1828. Discontent amid the Junior Juz repeatedly flared.

A new wave of Kazakh indignation swept the Middle Juz until a fresh rebellion broke out in 1837 championed by Isatai Taimenov and Makhambet Utemisov and was snuffed out in little more than a year. There simultaneously erupted a far more substantial insurrection against Tsarist-rule, this time under the command grandson of Ablai Khan - the chairsmatic Kenesary Kasymov - or Kenesary Khan. He rallied virtually the entire Middle Juz against the intruders, repeatedly outwitting and out-fighting them in daring raids on settlements and fortifications alike. He cast his own rifles. He established a refined legal system, combining Kazakh law with Islamic shari'a. In 1844 - after seven years of sustained rebellion - the Russian government sent a pair of envoys Kenesary's headquarters offering an amnesty in exchange for the Khan's formal submission to the Tsar. He accepted, though himself departing to assist the Kyrgyz in their own fight for independence from Kokand: he died in battle, two years later. Three localised rebellions followed - in the north-eastern-Caspian region, 1853-7; the Syrdarya basin, 1856-8; and in the Uralsk, Turgai and Mangyshlak oblasts in 1868-9 - which proved to be the end of Kazakh resistance. Russia was now moving energetically to consolidate its rule. In 1854 the Russians founded Fort Verny, which would grow be Alma-Ata (Almaty); and in 1862, Akmolinsk (today's Astana).

The imperial government relentlessly cut away at the authority of the Khans, until the role was totally abolished. By the 1880s colonisation by Russia was a wholly formalised reality, and the last decades of the nineteenth century saw the settlement of Russian peasantry proceeding on an unprecedented scale. In 1889, to ease a land crisis in Mother Russia, St Petersburg passed a decree for the resettlement of peasants from Russia in Kazakhstan, which resulted in the expropriation of lands of the nomadic Kazakh population on a massive scale - so great indeed that by the end of the century there had developed an acute shortage of farmland of the northern provinces of Kazakhstan. This prompted the Russian admimstrator to order the mass migration of Russian peasants to southern Kazakhstan. The settlers were invariably armed.

By the early twentieth century, as much as fifty million hectares of Kazakhstan had been expropriated and settled by Russians and Ukrainians, who together made up more than one third of the population. Between 1895 and 1905 close to 300,000 foreigners were re-settled on the Steppe; by 1910 the figure had risen to 770,000; by 1916 the number of Russian settlers was 1.5 million. The entire national make-up of Kazakhstan had been transformed, by edict of the colonising power. At the date of the Revolution of 1917, Russians constituted 42 per cent of Kazakhstan's population. The practice of enforced movements of population was therefore by no means an exclusively Communist vice.

Nor indeed was Russia's practice of using the places of central Asia of which she had control as a dumping ground for citizens sentenced to 'internal exile'. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Tsarist regimes had been engaging in these practices. Hence the exile of the Ukrainian artist and writer Taras Shevchenko to Orsk in 1847, and his later rearrest and exile in the Mangyshlak Peninsula on the eastern shore of the Caspian. A decade later, Feodor Dostoevsky also had a taste of exile for four years in north-eastern Kazakhstan's Semipalatinsk, where in 1862 he wrote Memoirs from the House of the Dead. There ' he met the Kazakh Orientalist and ethnographer, Chokan Valikhanov, who was to be a sustaining strength and source of knowledge for the novelist in his recovery from the shock of near execution and his ensuing exile, and was an outstanding scholar in his own right. There too Dostoevsky met and fell in love with Maria Isaeva, the wife of a Russian officer stationed in Semipalatinsk, who in due course would become his wife.

The benefit of education and dubious advantage of sedentarisation were being brought to bear on the nomadic Kazakh people by the Russians, to some extent by force. The Russians made it a point of pride to bring their own form of civilisation to the Kazakh people. The Russian commander-in-chief of the Kazakh headquarters at Fort Verny in the 1880s is on record with a declaration: There is a requirement to admit with sincerity that our business here is a Russian one, first and foremost, and that the land populated by Kazakhs is not their own, but belongs to the State [the Russian state]. The Russian settled elements must force them off the land or lead them into oblivion.' Russian settlers were, likewise, to an extent, soldiers of the Tsar. 'As a general rule,' said a senior administrator, 'each [Russian] man here must be literate, and must be able to use weapons.'

Increasingly, in the early twentieth century, Kazakhstan came to be seen as a source of raw materials, for Russia and, indeed, of rewards for daring British and French entrepreneurs, who became the masters of coalmines in Kazakhstan and certain mineral mining enterprises. When the First World War broke out in 1914, the call upon these resources increased.

With the onset of war, things were about to change radically. In 1916, matters came to a violent head. A wave of self-determination swept асross Central Asia. Wholesale mobilisation of Kazakhs as indentured labour backing up the front line against the Germans in the Great War ignited widespread insurrection. It was headed by Abdulghaffar and Amangeldy Imanov. In the desperation a European war which threatened the very existence of the Russian state, the resurrection was brutally suppressed. An estimated 150,000 Kazakhs were slaughtuered and as many as 200,000 fled to China. Out of such massive disaster and suffering, the Kazakh nationalist party Alash Orda (first formed as a nationalist underground by educated Kazakhs at the start of the century) was ready to exploit a totally new and unexpected development.

 


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