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Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

Country Profile: Kazakhstan, December 2006

called the Great Horde, the Middle Horde, and the Lesser Horde. In the eighteenth century, Russian traders advanced from the north, catching the hordes between them and Kalmyk invaders from the east. When the Great Horde was forced to accept Russian protection in the 1820s, all of the Kazakh groups had come under Russian control, and the decay of the nomadic culture accelerated. Uprisings against Russian rule began in the 1830s (under the national hero Khan Kene) and continued sporadically through the so-called Basmachi Rebellion of the 1920s.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, Kazakhstan suffered from waves of large-scale implantation of Russians, including the agricultural settlements of Tsar Nicholas II’s Minister of Interior Pyotr Stolypin, the Virgin Lands project of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (in power 1953–64) in the 1950s, and the relocation of Soviet industry to Kazakhstan in the 1960s and 1970s. Soviet leader Joseph V. Stalin (in power 1927–53) also forcibly resettled other ethnic groups in Kazakhstan. Soviet agricultural policy was especially harmful to indigenous people and their economy. As the Soviet Union began to deteriorate in the 1980s, Kazakh nationalism grew under Communist Party leader Dinmukhamed Kunayev. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the last leader of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and an advocate of maintaining a union of Soviet republics with increased autonomy, became president of an independent Kazakhstan when the Soviet Union split apart in 1991.

In the post-Soviet era, Kazakhstan remained closely tied to Russia by energy supply lines, national defense, and the importance of Russian technologists in Kazakhstan’s economy, but Nazarbayev also sought closer relations with the West. Beginning in the 1990s, the discovery of major new oil fields and subsequent international investment enabled Kazakhstan’s economy to pull far ahead of its Central Asian neighbors. Since his first election in 1991, Nazarbayev has maintained firm control of Kazakhstan’s political and economic policy, removing all potential political rivals, including four prime ministers. A new constitution ratified in 1995 significantly expanded presidential power. After canceling the 1996 presidential election, in 1999 Nazarbayev easily won an election that received international criticism. However, by the mid-1990s the ruling elite already had begun to show signs of factionalism. Beginning in 1999, a series of corruption scandals arose, and frequent changes of government disrupted economic policy. In 2002 the government arrested the leaders of the top opposition group, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), and pressured the media to stop critical reporting. In 2004 corruption allegations against the Nazarbayev regime intensified as a U.S. oil executive was indicted on charges of bribing representatives of the Kazakhstan government. In 2004 and early 2005, a series of restrictions on opposition parties, including the liquidation of the DVK, brought accusations of a political crackdown in advance of the 2006 presidential election. The government advanced the election date by one year to December 2005, when Nazarbayev gained 91 percent of the vote in what international observers called an unfair election. In February 2006, Altynbek Sarsenbayev became the second major opposition leader in four months to suffer a violent death, prompting street protests. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan’s international diplomatic and economic positions continued to advance in 2006, despite domestic oppression, as the oil and natural gas extraction of Western oil companies in Kazakhstan increased substantially and Kazakhstan continued to support antiterrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere.


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