Kazakhstan – From 1868 to 2019 and the Protest of 2022

In this entry, we’ll learn about the history of Kazakhstan from 1900 to 2021, the geographical location and what led to the current situation.

The Flag of Kazakhstan

Geographic Location

Image from Wikipedia

Kazahkstan, officially called the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a country located in Central Asia.
It shares borders with Russia in the North and the West, China in the East, and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the South.

It is the ninth-largest country in world with an area of 2.7 million square kilometers.


18.8 million people live in Kazakhstan.

As of 2020 (source: Retrieved on 6th August, 2020 – Wikipedia)
As of 2020 (source: globalreligiousfutures)

The excel program I used changed the percentage slightly, since the rounding up of the percentages (very likely) didn’t result in 100% but a bit above (see link below pie chart).

Recent History

First industrial enterprises are set up after thousands of Russian and Ukrainian peasants were brought to to settle Kazakh lands.

A major anti-Russian rebellion was repressed bloodily – 150,000 people were killed and more than 300,000 fled abroad. It was caused by the conscription of Muslims into the Russian military for service on the Eastern Front during the First World War.
Also known as Central Asian revolt of 1916 or Semirechye Revolt.

It lasted from 3rd July 1916 to February 1917.

Shortly after the Russian Revolutin, a Civil War broke out in Russia.

Kazakhstan becomes an autonomous republic of the USSR. It is called the Kyrgyz Autonomous Province until 1925 to distinguish its people from the Cossacks.

An illustration depicting a Cossack raid on a Korean Village during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)
The War ended in a victory for Japan

Late 1920s-1930s
Industrialisation and collectivisation of agriculture. In a campaign to settle nomadic Kazakhs and collectvise agriculture, one million people starved to death.

Kazakhstan became a full union republic of the USSR.

Flag of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (24th January 1953 to 4th June 1992)

Forceful relocation of hundreds of thousands of Koreans, Crimean Tatars, Germans and others to Kazakhstan.

First detonation of a nuclear bomb in eastern Kazakhstan.

The Virgin Land Campaign of Nikita Khrushchev was implemented in 1953. Its goal was to sharply increase the agricultural production of the Soviet Union. Two million people – mainly Russians – moved to Kazakhstan which led to a drop of ethnic Kazakhs to 30%.

A poster stamp of the USSR celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Virgin Land Campaign

On the Baikonur space launch site in central Kazakhstan, the first manned spacecraft was launched. It took two years to build the launch site; the city of Leninsk was built as well to house thousands of workers and provide their families with schools and other facilities.

Mikhail Gorbachev replaced the leader of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK) (Dinmukhamed Kunayev, an ethnic Kazakh) with Gennadiy Kolbin (an ethnic Russian).
This led to a protest in Almaty where 3,000 people participated.

Dinmukhamed Kunaev served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan
from 7th December 1964 to 16th December 1986

Nursultan Nazarbayev (ethnic Kazakh) becomes leader of the CPK. The parliament adopts a new law on language which proclaimed that Kazakh is the state language and Russian a language of „inter-ethnic communication“.

On the 25th October, Kazakhstan declares its sovereignity.
Nursultan Nazarbayev is elected by the Supreme Soviet as the first president.

August 1991
The attempted coup against Gorbachev* was condemned by Nazarbayev. Afterwards, the CPK withdraws from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A decree is signed by him to close the nuclear test ground Semipalatinsk.

*The coup began on August 18 and ended three days later – without success.

December 1991
Nazarbayev won in the presidential elections uncontested. The country declared its independence from the Soviet Union and subsequently joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Admitted into the United Nations and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (predecessor of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)).

A new constitution which increases the powers of the president was adopted. In the same year a large privatisation programme is launched and Kazakhstan ratified the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

An economic and military cooperation pact with Russia is signed and a nuclear free status was obtained. The term of President Nazarbayev is extended until December 2000 and through a national referendum a new constitution was adopted.

Akmola (formerly known as Tselinograd) becomes the new capital of Kazakhstan.
Previously, Almaty has been the capital from 1936-1991 and post-Soviet Union from 1991-1997.
Major oil agreement secured with China.

Capital is renamed to Astana.
Through an amendment to the constitution, the presidential term in office is extended from five to seven years as well as the removal of the upper age limit of a president.

Adoption of Economic Security Strategy up to 2010. World Bank praised the economic reforms. After an incursion by Islamist militants in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, security on all borders was strengthened. A crackdown on Uighurs also occurred after a shoot-out in Almaty.

June 2001
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is launched by Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It aims to fight ethnic and religious militancy and to promote free trade. It emerged from the Shanghai Five (founded in 1996).

Images from Wikipedia

November 2001
President of Kazakhstan purged government of officials who allegedly joined the newly-formed Democratic Choice reform movement.

December 2001
President Nazarbayev and US President George W Bush held a meeting.
A long-term commitment to strategic partnership was declared.

July 2002
Mukhtar Ablyazov, Democratic Choice co-founder and ex-energy minister, was jailed for alleged abuse of office.

August 2002
Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, also a co-founder of Democratic Choice and part of the Opposition, was jailed for allegedly abusing his position as regional governor.

September/October 2004
President Nazarbayev retained control over lower house of parliament. The election was criticized as flawed by international observes.
Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, Parliament speaker, resigned in protest at conduct of voting.

January 2005
One of the country’s main opposition parties, the Democratic Choice, is ordered by Court to be dissolved. Accusation against the party that it breached state security by calling for a protest against parliamentary election results.

February 2006
Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly (oppositing figure), his bodyguard and driver were found shot dead outside Almaty.

12 September 1962 – 11 February 2006

June 2009
A law was passed to tighten to control over the internet; chat rooms, blogs and public forums count since as mass media. Bloggers could therefore break the law if they expressed their views.

January 2010
First former Soviet state to chair the OSCE despite criticism of its own democratic credentials.

May 2010
Parliament approved bill which grants Nazarbayev the title „leader of the nation“ and immunity from prosecution.

December 2011
In the western oil town of Zhanaozen a clash between striking workers and the police leaves 16 people dead. A state of emergency is declared by the government.

June 2013
British Prime Minister David Cameron officially visits Kazakhstan. Great Britain is the third largest investor in the oil-rich nation.

January 2015
Eurasian Economic Union between Russia, Kazahkstan and Belarus comes into force.

From Investopedia

March 2016
Government banned the use of mobil devices in governments after confidential information was leaked through the mobile messenger app WhatsApp.

May 2016
Dozens of anti-government protesters are arrested after they held a rally against the controversial land reforms.

March 2017
Constitutional reform that reduces the president’s power approved by parliament.

May 2018
Nazarbayev appointed as chairman for life of a newly-strengthened Security Council by the parliament. Thus preparing for his post-presidential role.

March 2019
President Nazarbayev announced his resignation.

April 2019
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, former Senate-chairman, announced snap presidential election for 9th June.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (on the left) with Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry on 13 September 2013

(Timeline by BBC, not everything included from the most recent 15 years to reduce length)

Cause of the Current Protests

The protest-wave began where it started in 2011 too: Zhanaozen. A state of emergency was declared this time as well, and the acting government has resigned.

(source: Deutsch Welle)

In 2011, the cause of the protests were low wages of the oil workers. The protests now are linked to the strong increase in autogas prices. At the official level it was explained that this sharp increase was caused by a rise in demand and production shortages.

It isn’t the first time that the energy sector had a problem. Last year, the country failed to generate sufficient electricity leading to emergency shutdown. As a consequence, the decision has been made to build the nation’s first nuclear power plant.

Food prices have also risen drastically last autumn, prompting the government to prohibit exports on cattle and other, smaller, livestock, as well as potatoes and carrots.

The Guardian lists inequality as a reason as well, as it is stated in this article:
„Beyond the limits of Almaty and the capital city, Nur-Sultan, however, the illusion begins to look threadbare. And the causes behind the protests currently gripping the central Asian nation come into focus. Average monthly salaries are less than £450 ($600). Police, doctors, teachers and all kinds of government workers supplement their meagre pay with bribes.“

The AP (Associated Press, second link of the quote) mentions following problems:

  • Banking System (fell prey to non-performing loans)
  • Corruption is rampant
  • Financial hardship is widespread
  • Ultrarich tycoons

    Next to the inequality created by the mass privatisation in the 1990s the suicide rate is cited by the Guardian as well (UNICEF Report PDF):

While it decreased in the decade that followed, Covid-19 led to a sharp increase again.


Now with the history of Kazakhstan in mind, the politicial and economic situation can be better understood. Whether more protests are going to occur in the near future depends on the actions taken by the government – as well as Russia which now interferes as well.

In other words: it seems very likely that a course to totalitarianism is taken to keep the government in power, as the firing order and shutdown of the internet already indicate.
A possibility, but rather unlikely, is a successful uprising that dethrones the autocratic government in Kazakhstan. That’s all speculation, though.

I personally hope that the democratic movement succeeds one day, as well as in other former Soviet states like Belarus.


The Semirechye Revolt

The Cossacs

Nikita Khrushchev

The launch site – Baikonur

Dinmukhamed Kunaev

Gennady Kolbin

Nursultan Nazarbayev

Declaration KSSR on the state sovereignty of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic

Attempted coup against Gorbachev collapses

OSCE Website

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

The story of ‘The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ opposition movement

Altynbek Sarsenbayuly

Promises to Keep: Kazakhstan’s 2010 OSCE Chairmanship

Deadly riots spread in Kazakhstan oil region

What is David Cameron doing in Kazakhstan? (Opinion)

Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)

Kazakhstan’s land reform protests explained

Kazakhstan’s president to step down after 30 years in power

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev


Kazakhstan: What’s behind the unrest?

Inequality is driving protest against Kazakhstan’s authoritarian government

EXPLAINER: What’s behind unrest rocking oil-rich Kazakhstan

Child Suicide in Kazakhstan (Special Report) | UNICEF

Veröffentlicht von thomasbaroque

Ich schreibe über politische, wirtschaftliche und wissenschaftliche Themen. Meine eigenen politischen Ziele ebenso. / I write about politics, the economy and science (my English isn't that good, though). My own political goals and ideas as well.

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