550th Anniversary of Kazakh Khanate

Kazakhstan - A Young Country with an Ancient History

22 June 2015 - As we celebrate the 550th Anniversary of the establishment of Kazakh Khanate (state), we are launching a series of publications about prominent personalities in the history of Kazakhstan and ancient cities along the Great Silk Way.

We would like to start our publications with one of the renowned Kazakh Khans (ruler) - Abylay Khan (Abilmansur).

He was an outstanding statesman, brave military commander and visionary politician. Abylay was also known as talented kyuyshi who was deeply familiar with Kazakh folklore and loved it. 

ABYLAY, Abilmansur (1711 — 1781) was an outstanding statesman, military commander and diplomat. He was a descendant of Zhangir Khan in the fifth generation. Abylay grew brave, sharp and smart. From the early years he experienced difficulties. During the period named "Aktaban Shubyryndy" ("The Years of Great Disaster") he became an orphan and found shelter in house of Tole bi. The boy was responsible for grazing Tole bi’s camels.

According to Bukhar Zhyrau, Umbetey Zhyrau and others, Abylay became famous warrior in his youth. In battles with Dzungars, which took place in 1730-1740, Abylay earned the glory of batyr (warrior) through his destructive victories over Dzungar invaders. In one of the battles Abylay killed Sharysh, the son (in some sources — son-in-law) of Dzungar Khong Tayiji Galdan Tseren. After this victorious fight Abylay became Sultan of the Middle Zhuz. All people called him Abylay after his grandfather.

In August 1740 together with the Khan of the Middle Zhuz Abilmambet and 120 elders Abylay came to Orenburg and agreed to accept the sovereignty of Russia. In 1741 Abylay was captured by Dzungars. According to historical sources, Tole bi and Abulkhair Khan submitted a request to administration of the city of Orenburg for the assistance in Abylay’s release. It happened on September 5, 1743. Russian embassy headed by K. Miller helped them to release Abylay from the captivity. Upon the Order of the Vice-Chancellor M. Vorontsov and the decision of the Foreign Association (1749) on behalf of the Tsarist Government, Abylay was given annual financial rewards and other assistance. The new stage of strengthening the authority of Abylay (1744) coincided with the removal of Abilmambet-Khan to Turkestan.

In 1752 Kazakh army (approximately 15-20 thousand people) under the command of Abylay repelled the attack of Dzungars. In December 1753, as a result of successful fight against Dzungars, Abylay freed significant part of Kazakh lands and captured 3 000 Kalmyks. In 1754-1755 Kyrgyz army attacked some villages in Semirechye and defeated the units under the command of batyrs Zhaugash, Kokzhal Barak and Shynkozha near the rivers Aksu, Koksu and Chu. In response to it Abylay gathered a huge army, resisted Kyrgyz troops and thus liberated the territory between the rivers Ili and Chu from invaders. In 1756 Kazakhs had two military campaigns against united forces of Chinese and Kalmyk armies under the leadership of Abylay. One battle was won, in another they were defeated and Abylay was injured. In 1757 Abylay’s army (up to 6 thousand people in total) successfully fought against Chinese troops consisting of 40 thousand soldiers. As a result, Chinese side asked for making peace. After the next defeat of Kyrgyz army in 1764 Abylay established the border between Kazakh and Kyrgyz land from Narynkol to Korday which has survived till our time.

In 1756-1767 Abylay’s war against the ruler of Kokand Yerdenbek resulted in occupation of the cities Turkestan, Sayram, Shymkent. In addition the city of Tashkent was obliged to pay tribute to the Kazakh Khanate. Abylay fought a long battle with Kalmyk army. In 1771 near the Moyynty River, during the bloody battles with Kalmyks, Abylay won another victory. In 1771 Kalmyk army under the command of Ubashi and Galdan Tseren requested Abylay to make a peace and the opportunity to go through Kazakh lands towards Dzungaria. Not far from Lake Balkash at the military council gathered to discuss the suggestion of Kalmyks Abylay tried to convince the participants that there was no need to destruct the enemy. He put the idea of peace agreement with Kalmyks and suggested to approve their migration. At that period Kalmyk nation accounted 170-180 thousand people, including 40 thousand military men.

In 1771 Abilmambet passed away. According to established tradition, one of his brothers or his elder son Abilpeiz had the right to became next Khan of the Middle Zhuz. However, upon the wish of main sultans, elders and Abilpeiz, influential representatives of all three Zhuzes proclaimed Abylay Khan. Despite the official recognition of Abylay as the Khan of a whole Kazakh nation, Chinese Emperor, Dzungarian Khong Tayiji, Central Asian rulers and Russian Empress Catherine II treated him as a Khan on the Middle Zhuz only. The reason was that they were concerned about his increasing strength.

In 1772 Abylay swore its allegiance to the Russian Empire again. From the one hand, it gave him an opportunity to protect the South-Eastern borders of the Kazakh Khanate from future Chinese aggression. From the other hand, it enhanced him to have relations with Russia within the established legal frameworks. Abylay paid much attention to consolidation of the Kazakh Khanate. He managed to unite Kazakh forces and make it a powerful military state. He coordinated his policy with the geopolitical position of the Kazakh Khanate which was situated between the two empires — Russian and China.

Abylay didn’t break diplomatic relations with the Qing Empire and cleverly used any dispute between the Russian and Chinese Empires to achieve the goal of the Kazakh Khanate. As Abylay’s relations with Chine became stronger he began avoiding contacts with Russia. In 1779 he refused the invitation of the Tsarist administration to visit their country and adopt symbols of Khan’s power. During the uprising of Yemelyan Pugachev Abylay attacked Russian fortresses with the army of 2 thousand people.

To expand diplomatic ties of the Kazakh Khanate Abylay developed negotiations with the ruler of Afghanistan Ahmad Shah Durrani and prepared diplomatic mission to Turkey.

Abylay was also known as talented kyuyshi who was deeply familiar with Kazakh folklore and loved it. He was the author of many kyuys. Abylay spent his life in military campaigns and died near the Arys River in Southern Kazakhstan. He was buried in mausoleum-mosque of Khodja Ahmet Yassawi

Abylay’s image was reflected in kyuys of Bukhar, Umbetey, Shadi-tore Zhangiruly; poems of Kopbay Zhamantayuly, Mazhit Aytbaev; works of I. Esenberlin, A. Kekilbaev, K. Zhumadilov and others. The personality of Abylay attracted attention of national and foreign researchers, including Sh. Walikhanov, V. Bartold, N. Mynzhani, R. Suleymenov, M. Magauin, M. Olkott, J. Wheeler and others. Abylay is remembers as outstanding statesman, talented military commander and visionary politician. One of streets in the city of Astana was named after him. In 2013 the 300 anniversary of Abylay-Khan was celebrated in the city of Kokshetau.

Retrieved from: http://e-history.kz/en/biography/view/10

8 July 2015 - we would like share an information about one of the great Kazakh Khans - Abulkhair (Abilkhair).

ABULKHAIR (Abilkhair, Abylkair), Abilkhair Mukhambet Gazi Bakhadur-Khan (1693 — 12 August 1748), military leader, Khan of the Junior Zhuz (1710–1748). Descendant of Chingizid Osek.

In 1715 after the death of Tauke Khan he sought to become the head of three Zhuzes. However, according to the views on succession, Tauke’s son Bolat was declared the Supreme Khan.

During military campaigns against Dzungar army Abulkhair proved that he was a talented military commander and organizer of national resistance against the enemy. Over a short period of time he had managed to obtain the support of strong and influential batyrs (warriors) of the Junior and Middle Zhuzes, including Bukenbay (died in 1741), Yeset and Zhanybek (died in 1751). He became the most trustworthy Khan in Kazakhstan.

During the Oirat-Kazakh war in 1723-1729 Abulkhair significantly expanded his political influence in the territory of Kazakhstan and strived for the leading role in military and political life of Kazakh tribes.

In 1726 at the national meeting in the place named Ordabasy Abulkhair was elected the leader of Kazakh militias. Abulkhair’s leadership potential revealed in victorious battles with Dzungars at the Bulanty River (1728) and in the Anyrakay area (1729).

In 1730-1731 Abulkhair’s actual social status in the Kazakh Zhuzes was equal to the title of the "Supreme Khan". According to the noble batyr and foreman of the Tabyn clan Bukenbay, "after the death of Tauke-Khan Abulkhair-Khan was a leader and did what he wasnted witout any obstacles".

In the late 1720s — early 1730s Abulkhair was the major and most significant political figure among other khans and sultans. Like his eminent predecessors, Abulkhair also faced traditional alternative to lose his real power obtained in bloody battles or to struggle in order to enhance it. As in the case of the other khans, including Kasym, Yesim, Tauke and Kaip, he decided to follow the second variant. In accordance with it, he undertook vibrant search of best ways and methods to enlarge his powers.

In 1726 and 1730, on behalf of elders of the Junior Zhuz, Abulkhair Khan requested the Russian Government to provide Kazakhs from the Junior Zhuz with citizenship and patronage.

In 1730 sent his embassies to Saint Petersburg to the Russian Empresses Anna Ioannovna (embassy of Kundagululy and embassy of Iutlymbet).

In 1731 embassy of the Russian Commission of Foreign Affairs, headed by Mr. Tevkelev, arrived to the Kazakh Steppe from Saint Petersburg. Russian Ambassador in the Junior Zhuz Tevkelev wrote in the first report to the Russian Empresses that before his appearance in the Kazakh Steppe Abulkhair "was respected among other khans".

In October 1731 Abulkhair accepted the sovereignty of Russia.

Abulkhair was obliged to protect trade caravans, give military assistance to the Russian Government and pay the yasak (tribute) — the fur and skins. Instead he requested to build a fortress at the estuary of the Or River and secure his and his descendants’ right to hold the title of khan and protect him from attacks of Bashkirs, Kalmyks and Yaik Cossacks.

By means of the planned reforms Abulkhair supposed to create the state system which could provide the high level of manageability of nomadic population by the ruling monarch and ability of society to oppose the military aggression of strong neighbours effectively.

The Tsarist Government did not fulfil its obligations to the Kazakh Khan. Kazakhs didn’t obtain any military assistance from the Russian Government in their struggle against Dzungars. The city of Orenburg, constructed at the request of Abulkhair, became the centre of colonization of the Kazakh steppes used by the Tsarist administration. Cossack leaders considered that territory to be the Russian property and built there fortress and other military constructions without paying attention of the interests of indigenous population. The Tsarist Government usurped the right to appoint the supreme rulers — khans.

As a result of these actions, the traditional system of state governance was destroyed; groups of sultans strengthened the fight for the power. Russian subjects continued their attacks on Kazakh lands. Construction of fortified line in the territory of the Junior Zhuz became more active. All-Kazakh anti-Dzungar front broke up. Military threat from Dzungaria increased.

In 1741 Dzungar units again attacked Kazakh lands.

Retreived from: http://e-history.kz/en/biography/view/9

Sygnak. The heritage of national history of Kazakh people

August 3 - Sygnak was a flourishing town surrounded by large buildings and fields, rich variety of products, major trading centre on the Silk Road before Mongol invasion According to the ancient and medieval authors, travelers, missionaries, statesmen, inter-stream area of the Amu Darya (Oxus) and the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) since olden times was inhabited by people who possessed a high level of civilization. The President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev noted, that there were three capitals on the bank of the river Syr Darya: Jankent —capital of Oghuz state: Sygnak —the Kipchak’s capital and since XIV century the capital of White Horde; Kyzylorda was the first capital of Kazakhstan. President also noted, that this place was the birthplace of the great philosopher of the Turkic world — Korkyt-Ata, well-known public man, writer, philosopher.

Sygnak was first mentioned in the sources of the X century, it was named by Makhmud Kashkari in the number of the Oghuz’s towns in the XI century. In the XII century Sygnak became the capital of Kipchak state union. The historian of XIII century Juvayni had a description of city defeat by Mongols in 1219 in retaliation for their resistance. He writes that Jochi’s detachment moving down the Syr Darya, conquered town by town. Jochi was accompanied by two local merchants — Hasan Khoja and Ali Khoja. Hasa Khoja was sent to Sygnak to persuade the inhabitants to surrender, but townspeople killed the merchant and resisted. Only after seven-day assault Sygnak captured and the population was completely cut out. The life in Sygnak has stopped for a long time, the part of which remained in ruins.

Plano Carpini was the first European visited the Mongol Empire. Passing through the towns of the Syr Darya after twenty — five years of their destruction, he wrote in his diary; "We found countless destroyed towns, destroyed fortresses and many devastated villages on that land". However, in the XIII century the town was able to recover and reach its former greatness becoming the capital of Golden Horde. The walls of the mausoleum in Sygnak In the second half of the XIV century, the city became capital of White Horde. Erzen Khan, his son Mubarek Khoja, Urus Khan, Tokhtamysh ruled in Sygnak. There was a mint and also was held intensive construction. After unsuccessful struggle of Tokhtamysh with Timur, the town was captured by Timur’s grandson Ulugbek, who tried to get a foothold on the Syr Darya, but he was defeated in 1423 and was staved to Central Asia by the troops of Barak, Khan of White Horde.

From the written above it is clear how important was Sygnak, which was located on the border of "unquiet" steppe. Dominating in the steppe was possible only by owning Sygnak and the fertile plain around the town, settled and well-groomed by farmers. The greatest role in foreign trade belonged to Sygnak. The main flow of goods from Central Asia and the Middle East passed through it to China and back. Glass, jewels, works of applied art, horses were exported from Central Asia and silk, ceramics, beads of mother-of pearl, lapis lazuli, coral and etc. were exported from China.

The town was not only large economical, but also political and cultural centre. Sygnak was provided by water through the main channels constructed on the middle reaches of the Syr Darya. It should be noted that town received life-giving water in the period when it was a capital of the Kipchak, through Iski-Tyumen-Aryk channel with length of over 20 km. The part of land near Sygnak was irrigated by the waters of the mountain rivers the Mynbulak, the Chulak, the Arpenshandy, the Kyzyltam, which were also turned to main channels. At the end of XV-XVI centuries Sygnak continued to maintain the value of major economical and political centre of East Desht-i-Kipchak. Ibn Ruzbikhan wrote that Sygnak was "the beginning of livability, the centerpiece of property in relation to the inhabitants of Desht, merchants of holdings and locations of Desht-i-Kipchak to the borders of the river Yedil (the Volga), which are the northern edge of landscaped land and is adjacent to the coast of Bakhr-Al-Mukhit (Caspian sea), made Sygnak a place of their warehouse and brought their trade goods. Merchants of Turkestan, Transoxiana from the East to the border of Kashgar, Khotan bring the goods of these countries to Sygnak and make bargains and exchanges with people of Desht. Since these trade deals are the place of merchants’ presence from different countries, the goods here are in abundance". In the XVI-XVIII centuries Sygnak belonged to Kazakh people and was the largest city in the lower reaches of the Syr Darya. Goods with 500 camel’s packsaddle were sold in its markets every day, fields, which were irrigated by the channels the Ordakent, the Kyzyltal, the Buzgul-Uzyak, the Tyumen-Aryk and others derived from the Syr Darya, were cultivated in its vicinity.

"The harbor of Desht-i-Kipchak" — was the name of Sygnak at that time. "The best bows and arrows" were famous among the numerous goods, brought by the nomads, who purchased grain, clothes and luxury items. The historian Ruzbikhan writes, that Sygnak inhabitants were engaged in hunting except agriculture, crafts and trade: "The steppe around Sygnak was covered with grass and trees, where herds of wild goats, sheep and other cattle graze. Inhabitants hunt them in the summer and prepare meat for the winter. The wild fowl here is extremely cheap". Plan of Sygnak  (by Mamiyev T.) Thus, Sygnak is famous since X century. Its ruins located in Zhanakorgan district of Atyrau region, not far from railway station of Tyumen-aryk. Sygnak and its rulers are the property of national history of Kazakh people. There is dry steppe around fortification, covered with saxaul and thorns. Low hills with heaps of bricks and tiles indicates the remains of architectural structures, which were, apparently in the vicinity of Sygnak.

Retrieved from http://e-history.kz/en/publications/view/1283

Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi


August 13 - What is the history of this unique building erected in the 14th century? The Mausoleum was built by the order of Amir Timur. Amir Timur is a great military leader who conquered 27 countries and established his own empire. Some scientists believe that he was born on the territory between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. The construction of the Mausoleum started in the 1390-s and lasted until Timur’s death (1405).

We remind that Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is a prominent Sufi preacher whose poems were well known in the Turkic world. In his poems he called for peace and asceticism, condemned lie, hypocrisy and gain of oppressions. According to historical chronicles, Khoja Ahmed drew out the flavour of Khan Arslan, one of the greatest Turkic preachers of Islam and ruler of Maverannahr. Arslan was a person who raised him. Khoja

Why did Amir Timur decide to build the Mausoleum? According to the Amir Timur’s Code, he believed that it was possible to establish a fair state and expand his power on the basis of Islam. This is what he wrote in his Code: "My life experience has proved that a rule without religious and legal basis cannot exist long. It is like a naked man who makes other people cast down their eyes and do not command any respect. We can also compare it with a house without roof, doors and fence to which the most despicable person may come in." This means that he paid much attention to religion in his state which explained the construction of the Mausoleum.

It’s known that in the 14th century Amir Timur fought against Tokhtamysh for the cities located in the basin of the Syr Darya. In 1388 the Khan of the Golden Horde Tokhtamysh robbed the grave of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. Later Amir Timur defeated the army of Tokhtamysh and took away the loot. He decided to use the money to construct a new enormous mausoleum under the grave of the preacher. Amir Timur was a religious person. It’s known that in decisive battles he read poems of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and claimed that the poems helped him to win.


What does the Mausoleum look like? The building consists of a mosque, madrasah, library, two palace halls, burial-vault, residential rooms, dining room, central hall called kazandyk and well room. The main (the South) entrance is decorated with a majestic arch and two towers — minarets. The main entrance leads to the central hall — kazandyk. It’s a square room, and the length of each wall is 18.5 m. There is a taikazan (big cauldron) in the centre. The room has a dome that is the biggest in Central Asia. Two small residential rooms are adjacent to kazandyk from eastern and western sides. A carved door separates the central hall from the burial-vault. The burial-vault is a square room, and the length of each wall is 7.5 m. The 1.85 m high gravestone of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is placed in the centre of the room. The graves of wife and son of Yasawi’s son Ibrakhim-Shah are situated in the same room. The room is topped with double dome.

The northern part of the Mausoleum is also decorated with an arch. The mosque is situated in the north-western part. The mosque allows access to the library and kazandyk. Between the mosque and the burial-vault there are rooms that allow visiting Yasawi’s grave (ziyarat-khana). Barred door is the only thing that separates these rooms from the grave. The small and large palaces are located in the north-eastern part of the mausoleum. The small palace was used to bury the most respectful people for 600 years.


The large palace served as a meeting room, Khan’s throne and sceptre are situated there. The south-western part is the dining room where servants cooked a special dish called khalim (porridge) to give to poor people. There is a room with a well called kuduk-khana in the south-eastern part. The facade of the building is decorated with geometric and floral ornament.

You can also see writings both outside and inside the building. What do the writings mean? The writings on the facade are texts of the 59, 60, 61, 62 and 63 suras of the Koran. There are five eight-pointed patterns looking like stars on the left and on the right from the arc on the front side of the northern portal. The pattern is the Prophet’s name repeated twice. A 96.7 m high banner which weights five kg has been kept in the mausoleum. There is writing about Amir Timur on it: "The most glorious sultan, ruler, wise man, Amir Timur." The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi demonstrates that Amir Timur took care of poor people and tried to solve their problems. Undoubtedly, they could find a shelter in this building.

Retrieved from: http://e-history.kz/en/publications/view/1281