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The famous Kazakhs

AL-FARABI (870-950)

The real name of the man who was called the second Aristotle because of his universal knowledge was Abu-Nasr ibn-Mohammed Tarkhan ibn-Uzlag Al-Farabi. He came from the renowned city of Farab, later renamed Otrar. His studies in Baghdad and Aleppo acquainted him with the teachings of the Greek philosophers. In 160 treatises, Al- Farabi, with his creative use of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and Ptolemy, built up a world of ideas aimed at the reconciliation of science, philosophy and the philosophical concept of faith. There is hardly a scientific area on which he did not publish his views: philosophy and religion, ethics and aesthetics, political theory, logic and rhetoric, music, mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine and scientific theory. A1-Farabi spent the last years of his life in Cairo, Aleppo and Damascus, where he died. The country's biggest scientific institute, the Al-Farabi Almaty State University, bears his name.

ABLAI KHAN (1711-1781)

Abdulmansur Ablai was a sultan until he was proclaimed Khan of the Middle Horde in 1771. He played a major role in the unification of the three Kazakh Hordes. Ablai Khan maintained an austere and thoroughly organized hierarchy of power and a strong army. At the same time, he developed a network of diplomatic and commercial connections with Russia, China and the Khanates of Zhungaria, Bukhara and Khiva. In 1740, he swore allegiance to Russia and requested integration. This saved him from imprisonment by the Zhungars: in 1740 he was released thanks to the intervention of a Russian embassy. In 1772 he reconfirmed his vow of loyalty to Russia. The Russians amply demonstrated their gratitude for the service rendered to them by Ablai Khan. The peaceful submission of a major part of the Kazakh steppe was rewarded with annual transfers of money and other forms of support. The Khan's head was displayed on the 100 tenge banknote (now replaced by a coin).


It took decades before the real effects of the 18th Century khans' submission to Russia became obvious. In part due to patriotic considerations, but certainly also due to personal gain, they had sold the Kazakh steppe to the Russians. Kenesary Kasymov, a grandson of Ablai Khan, did not share these principles. At a time when the khans had been stripped of their authority by the Russian occupiers, while reinforcement of the Russian military presence in the steppe meant that the Kazakhs were being pushed away from their fertile pasturelands, he fought for his country's independence, the reinstating of the Khanate, and the re-engagement of the beys. Between 1837 and 1846 he commanded a movement-at times counting 20,000 armed men-and put vast stretches of land under its control.

Against the officially declared prohibition of the Russian authorities, Kenesary was elected Khan in 1841, in the rebel-controlled Torgay steppe. He initiated economic reforms and attempted to settle relations with the Russians in a peaceful manner. This failed completely, and an army was prepared to march against him. In his attempts to mobilise the entire Kazakh population against this army, he resorted to punitive action against auls that were unwilling to submit themselves to his vision. This lost him his social base and he was forced to withdraw onto a peninsula in the Ili delta, which was hard to capture. Following the unconditional surrender by the Middle Horde to Russian authority, he tried to continue his struggle from the Kyrgyz mountain range. Eventually, together with 32 of his sultans, he was taken prisoner and executed.


The life of this man, who died of tuberculosis before he reached the age of 30, reflects the way in which the Kazakh people were torn apart at the height of Russian colonisation. Chokan Chingisovich Valihanov (his full name Mohammed - Hanafiya, nickname was given by his mother) was a great-grandson of the renowned Ablai Khan.

The initial diploma was received in native village Kushmurune at one private Kazakh school, where he learned the Arabian language, received representation about east poetry and studied in drawing. The last employment was his genuine passion and Chokan's kept sketches demonstrate that the great talent of the remarkable artist lived in him. Since childhood Chokan's father involved him in gathering the materials concerning legends and national traditions, and involved him in a circle of highly educated Russian scientists, engineers, officers.

Being a sultan's son with the rank of officer, he received an excellent education at the Russian cadet school in Omsk. He spent much time reading and visiting Russian intellectuals who had been sent into exile in Siberia. He became a Russian army officer at 18, and served as an adjutant to the Russian governor-general Gasfort. Later, he was promoted to the rank of captain. He used his right of access to the Omsk archives to enrich his knowledge of history, geography and ethnography. As his superior was also responsible for the Kazakh steppe areas, Valikhanov also had to accompany him on his journeys through those lands as an interpreter and negotiator. This strengthened the young Kazakh's interest in the fate of his people. During one of these journeys in 1855, he got to know Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Semipalatinsk. The latter was enthralled by the young Kazakh nobleman's historical expertise and state of mind. A profound friendship developed between the two.

The most ancient and steady roots of the Kazakh mentality have found reflection in a number of his researches, in particular, in clauses "Traces of shamanism in Kirghiz (Kazakhs)" and "About Moslem in steppe".

Living for two years in Petersburg, Chokan worked in the general staff on the preparation for the edition of the map of Asia, he participated in editions of works of Russian geographical society. Here Chokan published the works devoted to history and culture of Central Asia and the foreign East; among them researches "Kirghiz" (Kazakhs), "Traces of shamanism in Kirghiz", "About Kirghiz nomads' camp" and others that contains the huge material about history, ethnographies of Kazakhs, their life, customs and culture. He wrote the national epic poem "Kozy-Korpesh and the Bayan-Sulu".

Valikhanov spent the next couple of years as a member of a diplomatic and fact-finding mission in Semirechye on numerous trips, which took him as far as Issyk Kul, Kuldzha and Kashgar. He collected valuable information, wrote, commented and drew. On one of his travels, he met the famous Russian explorer Semyonov, later known as Semyonov Tienshansky. Thanks to the latter's influence, Valikhanov's work came to the attention of people in Moscow and St Petersburg. Valikhanov was given recognition, became an ordinary member of the Russian Geographical Society, and was allowed to present the voluminous results of his research in St Petersburg. He was awarded the Order of Saint Vladimir for his scientific work. He stayed in St Petersburg for more than a year, dedicating himself exclusively to scientific activity and cooperating in the design of a map of Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan.

In 1864, Valikhanov was offered a place on an armed expedition with the aim of incorporating southern Kazakhstan into the Russian Empire. Horrified by the gruesome character of such a mission, he requested his premature dismissal on grounds of his tuberculosis. He retired to a remote corner of Semirechye. Here in the last year of his life, he cherished the thought of setting up a Turkestan liberation movement, but was unable to make this scheme materialise. Valikhanov was the first Kazakh to receive a first-class European education. He is seen as a leading example for the Kazakh young generation.

Nowadays nearby to natural boundary Kogen-Togan where was buried in 1865, tragically lonely Chokan Valihanov, in the Altyn-Emel district, in honor of the 150-anniversary from the date of his birth (1985) the memorial complex is constructed.

Chokan's tradition of careful gathering of a spiritual heritage of people has found worthy continuers, including Zataevich that has kept samples of Kazakh sing creativity for world musical culture. Chokan's idea about the cultural-historical communication of Kazakh and Russian people was developed by L.I.Gumilev in the concept.


Ibrahim Kunanbayev, the son of a rich and powerful Kazakh provincial prince, gave himself the pen-name Abai the Righteous.
His father sent him to the Koran school in Semipalatinsk, where he spent many years studying and got to know exiled Russian intellectuals. The library that the young Russians had established, their seminars and discussions, made an impression on Abai that was to influence his entire life. Once back in his aul, he was confronted with the conflict between learning and rural custom. He was married against his will and had to bow to all his father's whims. Henceforth, he vowed to dedicate all his work to the effort to liberate his nomadic people from ignorance. He took topics from his immediate environment, transformed them into poetry and put them into literary shape. By translating them into Kazakh, Abai made important works from Russian and European literature accessible to his compatriots. He concentrated on Kazakhs' national self-consciousness. As the best prerequisites for this he recommended education and moral integrity. His literary and philosophical masterpiece, the Book of Words, is dedicated to this theme. His work provided a powerful impulse to the development of Kazakh writing; today, Abai is honoured as the founder of Kazakh literature.

MUKHTAR AUEZOV (1897-1961)

Born in Abai's hometown and directly surrounded by his descendants, Auezov grew up with admiration for the great poet. During the 1920s and 30s, Abai's work and his literary heirs were attacked by Stalinist slander. The label "backward-looking, aiming at the restoration of feudal order" was used to pursue dozens of great names in Kazakh literature, who were put in camps and even executed. Auezov was given advice by his colleagues, themselves already detained, to glorify Soviet power in order to be able to complete Abai's Way, on which he was already working. The four volumes of this work, which depicts Kazakh life during the 19th and early 20th centuries in a grandiose portrayal, were published between 1942 and 1956. Mukhtar Auezov was awarded a USSR state prize for the first two volumes. Kazakhs honour him for the fact that with his biography he essentially saved Abai from oblivion. He also built a true and lasting monument to Kazakh culture through his encyclopaedic portraits of nomadic life.

Auezov's histories make their way through a series of changes in social conditions and conflicts, and many of his works were made suitable for drama. The Auezov National Kazakh Drama Theatre in Almaty is named after him.


The story of Akhmet Baytursinuly stands as an example of the entire group of patriotic- minded Kazakhs who were systematically annihilated during the 1930s. Baytursinuly started his career as a teacher after finishing his studies at an Islamic School. He dedicated his life to the education of his compatriots. Baytursinuly translated the Russian poet Ivan Krylov into Kazakh, wrote his own poetry and distinguished himself as a turkologist and ethnologist. Between 1913 and 1918, he published the newspaper Kazakh at a time when his people were still called Kyrgyz. Baytursinuly knew better; he had undertaken a thorough study into the Kazakh language and the family tree of Turkic languages.

A member of the Alash Orda Party, he was accused of trying to restore the feudal order of the beys. Baytursinuly proved the contrary and put his talent at the disposal of Soviet development. He was first minister for education and a member of the Kyrgyz Revolutionary Council, an expression which at the time still referred to both the Kyrgyz and Kazakh peoples. It was in this position that in 1920 he wrote an impressively analytical and courageous letter to Lenin. He complained that the Revolutionary Council's work had contributed nothing since it had no clear goals. The Council's members were close to concluding that the communists were newly elected oppressors. There were only two roads could be taken in the direction of further development: the easy way which consisted of the continuation of oppression, or the difficult way of laboriously convincing the Kyrgyz that the New Order really would bring about liberation. To choose the second option, one would have to mobilise the national intelligentsia. Baytursinuly proposed to have two- thirds of the revolutionary committees occupied by "Kyrgyz intellectuals" and recruit the remaining members among "genuine" communists. It is not known whether he ever got a direct answer to his letter. But it is likely it was a decisive reason for his later persecution In 1928, Baytursinuly became professor in the Kazakh language at the Kazakh National University, but was not given much time to exercise this appointment. He and his family were sent into exile from 1929 to 1933. It was only thanks to the intervention of Maxim Gorky's wife that he was temporarily set free. After a short period, he disappeared into the Stalinist camps, where, after terrible abuses and with his health destroyed, he was shot as an enemy of the people in 1937. It was only in 1988 that his reputation was rehabilitated "for lack of evidence". His wife's rehabilitation followed in the same year, and that of their daughter in 1990. At least the daughter lived to receive compensation. She built a museum in honour of her father in Almaty, a visit to which is recommended.


This Kazakh bard became a Soviet celebrity in 1927 after he performed his work. The Course of Time, in front of a large audience of Kazakhs. The epic verse, entirely in Kazakh tradition, expressed the theme of the new Soviet era for the first time. Born in a village at the foot of the Zailiyskiy Alatau and growing up a celebrated aytis from childhood, Zhambyl at the age of 81, using all his moral authority, put himself at the vanguard of Kazakhstan's Sovietisation. His emotional poems Home Nation, The Big Construction Site, My Life and To Youth, however, found their way more easily into Kazakh hearts than into the decisions of party councils. Tn 1938 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Kazakhstan Soviet Republic. Zhambyl appeared on the parliamentary rostrum as a musician and singer. When nearly 100 years old, he dedicated various works to the resistance of his Soviet homeland against the fascist intruders. Radio listeners in Leningrad during the blockade could hear his appeal People of Leningrad, My Children time and again. His last song, From a Hundred- year-old Heart, can be seen as the continuation of an ancient Kazakh tradition according to which one writes his own funeral song if one cannot find somebody worthy of doing so tor him. Even though the context in which Zhambyl wrote his works is now viewed differently, recognition of this Methuselah's passion and talent among his present-day compatriots has not diminished. The district and town where he was born bear his name to this day.


The longest-serving First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, originally a miner was extremely popular among the Kazakh population, because in spite of his rapid rise in politics he always stuck to a simple lifestyle. Many of the street remains named after him. Nowadays, this statesman's name is always evoked when the bright side of Kazakhstan's survival as a Soviet republic comes to mind. Kunayev did a lot for his Union Republic. Of course, he enjoyed some freedom of decision since the Soviet Union was relatively prosperous during his tenure. Even in the "years of stagnation", what is now called "Kunayev's Kazakhstan" was noted for a lot of building and stable social welfare. The charismatic politician had a better grip on his power base than many of his peers, and he succeeded in tapping funds for his republic's budget. After 26 years in office as head of the Kazakh Soviet Republic, Kunayev was replaced by a Russian named Koblin in December 1986 by a decree of the Central Committee. His dismissal led to a popular uprising in Almaty, at the cost of many dead and injured. The event contributed more than a little to the Kunayev legend and is viewed as the beginning of a process that in the end led to Kazakhstan's independence.


The only President of the Republic of Kazakhstan so far was born into an ordinary family in Almaty oblast. He started work as a metal factory labourer. Following his training as an engineer, he obtained an additional post-academic degree in economic science. His political career started in 1969 in the Soviet youth organization Komsomol. Ten years later he became a Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, and after another 10 years he reached the post of First Secretary. Five years earlier, he had already found himself at the head of the Council of Ministers. In 1990, he became President of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan, and when his country was cut loose from the Soviet Union, he was elected President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Since he first attained this position in December 1991, he has consolidated his control through astute political manoeuvring. He combines all crucial powers in the country, including the right to presidency for life. Members of his family occupy influential posts: his wife Sara is engaged in charity, education and health; his eldest daughter Dariga, a doctor of political science, is in charge of the state television company Khabar, and in 2003 founded the political party Asar, a broad movement to support her father's policies and to include ordinary citizens in the social process. No one was surprised, when Asar joined the party loyal to the president in 2006.

With his consistent policy of state neutrality and international understanding, Nazarbayev has gained great respect as a statesman. He volunteers as mediator in regional conflicts and shows strong engagement in keeping the many nationalities within Kazakhstan's borders working together and thinking as a single nation. Nazarbayev is an enthusiastic sportsman  (downhill skiing, tennis, horse-riding, swimming and volleyball) and huntsman. His penchant for historical, philosophical and economic literature is reflected in his own numerous political essays and books, including The Kazakhstan Way (published by Stacey International in 2008).