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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(self-designation, Kazakh, Kazak), a nation and the indigenous population of the Kazakh SSR. Until 1925 and sometimes even later, the Kazakhs were erroneously referred to in literature and documents as the Kirghiz-Kazaks or simply as the Kirghiz, the name of a neighboring people. There are 5, 299, 000 Kazakhs in the USSR (1970), of which 4, 234, 000 live in the Kazakh SSR. Some Kazakhs also live in the Uzbek SSR, the Turkmen SSR, the Kirghiz SSR, the Tadzhik SSR, and some oblasts of the RSFSR. Outside the Soviet Union, Kazakhs live in the Chinese People’s Republic, the Mongolian People’s Republic, and Afghanistan. They speak the Kazakh language, and those who profess a religion are Sunni Muslims. In the past shamanism and ancestor worship were widely practiced.

The Kazakhs have a complex ethnic history. The ancient roots of their material culture and physicoanthropological type may be archaeologically traced to the Bronze Age tribes who inhabited the territory of present-day Kazakhstan. Among the Kazakhs’ ancestors were the Sacae tribes, who dwelt in Kazakhstan and Middle Asia. In the third and second centuries B.C., the Usun tribal confederation arose in southern Kazakhstan, and tribes belonging to the K’ang-yüeh tribal union inhabited the southwest. In the first centuries A.D. the Alani, who also influenced the Kazakhs’ ethnogenesis, lived west of the Aral Sea. In the sixth and seventh centuries the tribes dwelling in the southeastern part of Kazakhstan were subject to the West Turkic Kaganate. At the same time tribes from the east, such as the Turgäsh and Karluks, were settling in Kazakhstan. Later, several shortlived political unions of the early feudal type arose in various parts of Kazakhstan, including the Turgash (eighth century) and Karluk (eighth to the tenth century) kaganates, the Oguz confederation (ninth to the 11th century) and the confederation of the Kimaks and the Kipchaks (eighth to the 11th century). The latter occupied a large steppe region of modern Kazakhstan, called Dasht-i-Kipchak. The rise of the Karakhanid State (tenth to the 12th century) assisted the ethnic consolidation of local tribes. At the beginning of the 12th century, Kazakhstan was invaded by the Karakitai, or Khitans, who were subsequently absorbed into the native Turkic-speaking population.

At the beginning of the 13th century, remnants of the Naiman and Kerait (or Kerai) tribes fled to Kazakhstan from Mongolia and the Altai after being routed by Genghis Khan’s armies. The subsequent Mongol conquest of Middle Asia and Kazakhstan resulted in a large-scale mingling, disintegration, and consolidation of different tribes. The Nogai Horde and Uzbek Khanate, which in the mid-15th century arose out of the ruins of the eastern part of the Golden Horde, comprised various Turkic-speaking tribes, including the Kipchaks, Argyns, Karluks, Kanglis, and Naimans, as well as some Mongol tribes that had been assimilated by the native Turkic population. In the mid-15th century some of these tribes began migrating to Mogulistan as a consequence of internecine feudal wars and dynastic struggle in the Uzbek Khanate; they returned to the western regions in the 1470’s.

The feudal lords who led the Kazakh tribes created the Kazakh Khanate in the late 15th and early 16th century, and with its establishment the development of the Kazakh nationality was completed. Ethnically, the term “Kazakh” began to be applied in the 1520’s and 1530’s to all the steppe peoples who had inhabited the Uzbek Khanate and regions to the east. In the mid-16th century the ethnic composition of the Kazakhs was enlarged by tribes that had migrated to the area from beyond the Ural River after the disintegration of the Nogai Horde and from Siberia and the eastern part of Semirech’e.

Historically, the Kazakh nationality was composed of three groups of tribes, called zhuz (hordes), each of which was united by the common interests of the nomadic economy and territorially isolated from the others. The Greater Horde, or Uly Zhuz, in Semirech’e comprised the Dulat, Albani, Suan, Kangly, Jalair, Sirgeli, Shanshkyly, and Sary-Uisin tribes. The Middle Horde, also known as Orta Zhuz, located in the steppe regions of central Kazakhstan and in the Syr-Darya, Ishim, and Tobol river valleys, included the Argyn, Naiman, Kipchak, Kerait, and Kongrat tribes. In Western Kazakhstan the Little Horde, or Kishi Zhuz, consisted of the tribal confederations Alim-Uly, Bai-Uly (Adai, Alchyn, Zhappas clans), and the Zheti-Ru (Zhagal-Baily, Kerderi tribes). In the early 19th century the Inner, or Bukei, Horde separated from the Little Horde and withdrew beyond the Ural River.

Until the annexation of the Kazakh lands to Russia (completed in the 1860’s), the Kazakhs were essentially pastoral nomads. Only in a few areas in centuries past did they work irrigated fields. From the late 18th century, agricultural development was stimulated by Russian settlers. In the second half of the 19th century, farming grew as the Kazakhs gradually began to adopt a settled way of life. Domestic industries, fishing, and hunting were also important. Russian influences profoundly affected the development of the modern culture of the Kazakhs.

Fundamental changes in the Kazakhs’ economy and culture occurred after the October Revolution, when in the course of building socialism the Kazakh socialist nation was formed. Kazakhstan was transformed into a region with advanced industry and a highly developed and diversified agriculture. The Kazakhs’ culture and way of life changed—nomads adopted a settled way of life, illiteracy was wiped out, and national cadres of the working class and intelligentsia emerged.


Narody Srednei Azü i Kazakhstana, vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.
Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR, vols. 1–2. Alma-Ata, 1957–59.
Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR, 3rd ed., vol. 2. Alma-Ata, 1967.
Valikhanov, Ch. Ch. Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Alma-Ata, 1961–72.
Vostrov, V. V., and M. S. Mukanov. Rodoplemennoi sostav i rasselenie kazakhov (Konets XIX—nachalo XX vv.). Alma-Ata, 1968.
Kul’tura i byt kazakhskogo koikhozhogo aula. Alma-Ata, 1967.
Trudy Instituía istorii, arkheologii i etnografii AN Kazakhskoi SSR, vols. 3, 6, 16, 18. Alma-Ata, 1959–63.
Vostrov, V. V., and Kh. A. Kauanova. Material’naia kul’tura kazakhskogo naroda na sovremennom etape. Alma-Ata, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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