Until the arrival of Russians in the eighteenth century, the
history of Kazakstan was determined by the movements, conflicts,
and alliances of Turkic and Mongol tribes. The nomadic tribal
society of what came to be the Kazak people then suffered increasingly
frequent incursions by the Russian Empire, ultimately being included
in that empire and the Soviet Union that followed it.
Early Tribal Movements
Humans have inhabited present-day Kazakstan since the earliest
Stone Age, generally pursuing the nomadic pastoralism for which
the region's climate and terrain are best suited. The earliest
well-documented state in the region was the Turkic Kaganate, which
came into existence in the sixth century A.D. The Qarluqs, a confederation
of Turkic tribes, established a state in what is now eastern Kazakstan
in 766. In the eighth and ninth centuries, portions of southern
Kazakstan were conquered by Arabs, who also introduced Islam.
The Oghuz Turks controlled western Kazakstan from the ninth through
the eleventh centuries; the Kimak and Kipchak peoples, also of
Turkic origin, controlled the east at roughly the same time. The
large central desert of Kazakstan is still called Dashti-Kipchak,
or the Kipchak Steppe.
In the late ninth century, the Qarluq state was destroyed by
invaders who established the large Qarakhanid state, which occupied
a region known as Transoxania, the area north and east of the
Oxus River (the present-day Syrdariya), extending into what is
now China. Beginning in the early eleventh century, the Qarakhanids
fought constantly among themselves and with the Seljuk Turks to
the south. In the course of these conflicts, parts of present-day
Kazakstan shifted back and forth between the combatants. The Qarakhanids,
who accepted Islam and the authority of the Arab Abbasid caliphs
of Baghdad during their dominant period, were conquered in the
1130s by the Karakitai, a Turkic confederation from northern China.
In the mid-twelfth century, an independent state of Khorazm (also
seen as Khorezm or Khwarazm) along the Oxus River broke away from
the weakening Karakitai, but the bulk of the Karakitai state lasted
until the invasion of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan in 1219-21.
After the Mongol capture of the Karakitai state, Kazakstan fell
under the control of a succession of rulers of the Mongolian Golden
Horde, the western branch of the Mongol Empire. (The horde, or
zhuz , is the precursor of the present-day clan, which
is still an important element of Kazak society--see Population
and Society, this ch.) By the early fifteenth century, the ruling
structure had split into several large groups known as khanates,
including the Nogai Horde and the Uzbek Khanate.
Data as of March 1996