Kazakhstan has been populated since the Neolithic Age, and the region’s climate and topography are ideal for pastoral nomads. Archaeologists think that people originally domesticated horses on the wide steppes of the area. The Scythians were the first people to settle in Central Asia.
Around the early 11th century, the Cuman arrived on the steppes of modern-day Kazakhstan, where they eventually joined forces with the Kipchak to form the massive Cuman-Kipchak confederation. While the ancient towns of Taraz (Aulie-Ata) and Hazrat-e Turkestan had long functioned as major way-stations along the Silk Road linking Asia and Europe, real governmental consolidation did not occur until the Mongol invasion in the early 13th century. Administrative districts were created during the Mongol Empire, the world’s biggest empire. These were ultimately ruled by the newly formed Kazakh Khanate (Kazakhstan).
Throughout this time, the steppe was dominated by traditional nomadic life and a livestock-based economy. A unique Kazakh identity started to develop among the Turkic tribes in the 15th century, a process that was cemented by the mid-16th century with the emergence of the Kazakh language, culture, and economy.
Nonetheless, the area was the site of escalating conflicts between the local Kazakh emirs and the neighboring Persian-speaking peoples to the south. At its peak, the Khanate ruled over portions of Central Asia as well as Cumania. Until the Russian takeover of Kazakhstan, Kazakh nomads would attack residents in Russian territory for slaves. By the early 17th century, the Kazakh Khanate was grappling with the consequences of tribal conflicts, which had effectively split the population into Great, Middle, and Little (or Small) hordes (jüz). The Kazakh Khanate was undermined by political disunity, tribal conflicts, and the decreasing significance of overland trading routes between East and West. The Khiva Khanate took advantage of the situation and conquered the Mangyshlak Peninsula. The Uzbeks ruled there for two centuries before the Russians arrived.
Kazakhs battled the Oirats, a federation of western Mongol tribes that included the Dzungar, in the 17th century.
 The Kazakh Khanate reached its pinnacle in the early 18th century. During this time, the Little Horde fought the Dzungar in the 1723–1730 war, after their “Great Disaster” invasion into Kazakh territory. The Kazakhs scored significant wins against the Dzungar under the leadership of Abul Khair Khan at the Bulanty River in 1726 and the Battle of Anrakay in 1729.
From the 1720s until the 1750s, Ablai Khan fought in the most important wars against the Dzungar, for which he was dubbed a “batyr” (“hero”) by the people. The Kazakhs suffered as a result of the Volga Kalmyk’s repeated attacks against them. In the first part of the nineteenth century, the Kokand Khanate used the weakness of Kazakh jüzs after Dzungar and Kalmyk invasions to capture present-day Southeastern Kazakhstan, including Almaty, the nominal capital. Also, before the Russians took over, the Emirate of Bukhara controlled Shymkent.
The Russian Empire started to extend its influence into Central Asia in the nineteenth century. The “Great Game” period is usually thought to have lasted from about 1813 until the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. The tsars essentially reigned over the majority of what is today the Republic of Kazakhstan.
In its effort to establish a presence in Central Asia in the so-called “Great Game” for dominance in the region against the British Empire, which was extending its influence from the south in India and Southeast Asia, the Russian Empire introduced a system of administration and built military garrisons and barracks. In 1735, Russia established its first outpost, Orsk. Russia mandated the use of the Russian language in all schools and government agencies.
Russian attempts to impose its system instilled animosity among the Kazakh people, and by the 1860s, some Kazakhs were resisting Russia’s authority. The traditional nomadic lifestyle and livestock-based economy had been disrupted, and people were suffering from famine and poverty, with several Kazakh tribes destroyed. The Kazakh national movement, which started in the late nineteenth century, aimed to maintain the local language and identity by opposing the Russian Empire’s efforts to integrate and suffocate them.
From the 1890s onwards, increasing numbers of Russian Empire immigrants started settling the area of modern-day Kazakhstan, particularly the province of Semirechye. When the Trans-Aral Railway from Orenburg to Tashkent was built in 1906, the number of settlers increased even more. A specifically established Migration Department (eреселенеское равление) in St. Petersburg monitored and promoted migration in order to increase Russian influence in the region. Over 400,000 Russians came to Kazakhstan during the nineteenth century, while approximately one million Slavs, Germans, Jews, and others immigrated to the area during the first part of the twentieth century. During most of this period, Vasile Balabanov was the administrator in charge of the resettlement.
During the last years of Tsarist Russia, the struggle for land and water between Kazakhs and immigrants fueled widespread hatred of colonial authority. The Central Asian Revolt, the most significant revolt, happened in 1916. The Kazakhs assaulted Russian and Cossack settlements as well as military outposts. Both sides engaged in a series of confrontations and horrific killings as a consequence of the rebellion. Until late 1919, both factions opposed the communist regime.
Although Kazakhstan had a short period of autonomy (Alash Autonomy) after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, the Kazakhs ultimately surrendered to Soviet authority. Kazakhstan became an independent republic inside the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1920. (RSFSR).
In the late 1920s and 1930s, Soviet persecution of the traditional aristocracy, along with forced collectivization, resulted in hunger and high mortality, sparking rebellion (see also: Famine in Kazakhstan, 1932–33). Due to hunger and widespread exodus, the Kazakh population fell by 38%. According to estimates, Kazakhstan’s population would be closer to 28–35 million if there had been no famine or exodus of Kazakhs.
Many famous Kazakh authors, philosophers, poets, politicians, and historians were assassinated on Stalin’s orders during the 1930s, both as part of the Great Purge and as part of a systematic pattern of repressing Kazakh identity and culture. Soviet authority was established, and a Communist bureaucracy worked tirelessly to completely incorporate Kazakhstan into the Soviet system. Kazakhstan became a Soviet republic in 1936. During the 1930s and 1940s, millions of political prisoners and undesirable ethnic groups were domestically exiled to Kazakhstan from other areas of the Soviet Union; many of the deportation victims were deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan solely because of their ethnic background or views. In September 1941, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Soviets moved roughly 400,000 Volga Germans from Western Russia to Kazakhstan.
Deportees were imprisoned in some of the largest Soviet work camps of the Gulag system, such as the ALZhIR camp near Astana, which was designated for the spouses of men deemed “enemy of the people.” Many relocated as a result of the Soviet Union’s population transfer program, while others were forced into involuntary settlements. The Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic provided the Soviet Union with five national divisions during World War II. The USSR established the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the primary national nuclear-weapon test-site, near the city of Semey, two years after the war’s conclusion.
In order to assist the war effort, industrialization and mineral extraction increased during World War II. Kazakhstan, on the other hand, had a mostly agrarian economy at the time of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. In 1953, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev launched the ambitious “Virgin Lands” initiative, which aimed to transform Kazakhstan’s traditional pasturelands into a significant grain-producing area for the Soviet Union. The Virgin Lands strategy had inconclusive outcomes. However, coupled with subsequent modernizations under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (in power 1964-1982), it spurred the growth of Kazakhstan’s agricultural sector, which remains the primary source of income for a significant proportion of the country’s people. Because of decades of hardship, conflict, and relocation, Kazakhs had become a minority in the nation by 1959, accounting for 30% of the population. Ethnic Russians made about 43% of the population.
Growing tensions throughout Soviet society in the late twentieth century fueled a desire for political and economic changes, which culminated in the 1980s. Lavrentii Beria’s decision to detonate a nuclear weapon on Kazakh SSR territory in Semey in 1949 was a major role in this. This had disastrous ecological and biological repercussions that were felt for decades, and Kazakh rage against the Soviet regime grew.
In December 1986, large protests by young ethnic Kazakhs, subsequently dubbed the Jeltoqsan riot, took place in Almaty to protest the substitution of Dinmukhamed Konayev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Kazakh SSR, with Gennady Kolbin, First Secretary of the Russian SFSR. The disturbance was put down by government forces, many individuals were murdered, and many protesters were imprisoned. In the last days of Soviet authority, dissatisfaction grew and found expression via Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost program.
Kazakhstan proclaimed full autonomy over its territory as a republic inside the Soviet Union on October 25, 1990. Following the failed coup attempt in Moscow in August 1991, Kazakhstan proclaimed independence, becoming the final Soviet country to do so. The Soviet Union ceased to exist ten days later.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s communist-era leader, became the country’s first President. He governed in an authoritarian style, which many thought was necessary in the early years of independence. The emphasis was on transforming the country’s economy into a market economy, but political changes trailed behind economic accomplishments. Kazakhstan accounted for 60% of Central Asia’s GDP in 2006, owing mainly to its oil sector.
The capital was relocated from Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, where it had been founded under the Soviet Union, to Astana in 1997.
As a consequence of a bribery investigation in the United States, Switzerland seized 48 million US dollars in Kazakh assets from Swiss bank accounts in 2011. The payments, according to US authorities, were bribes paid by American officials to Kazakh officials in return for oil or exploration licenses in Kazakhstan. The proceedings ultimately cost 84 million US dollars in the United States and another 60 million US dollars in Switzerland.