RUSSIA AND KAZAKHSTAN: GEOPOLITICAL ALTERNATIVES AND CIVILIZATIONAL CHOICE
Sergei Kliashtorniy, Professor, head of the Sector for Turkic and Mongolian Studies of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies (St. Petersburg, Russian Federation)
The geographical coordinates of the geopolitical space oriented toward Russia were defined long before the formation of its current borders. The interaction between Old Russia-Russia and the Turkic world began about 1,500 years ago and in no way peacefully at first. The migration of Turkic tribes from Central Asia westward during the 5th-15th centuries gave rise to at least two types of military-political integration in the Eurasian space—Oguz-Turkic (in the 5th-10th centuries) and Mongolian-Turkic (in the 13th-15th centuries). In the 15th century, when agrarian overpopulation of the central part of Russia became clearly designated, the state began to expand outward to the east and southeast. This process and the migration that accompanied it were just as inevitable as the previous migration of the Turkic peoples, who engaged in nomadic cattle breeding, to the west of the Eurasian steppes. It is indicative that although they differed chronologically, these migration movements, which encompassed the southern expanses of Russia, the Ural and the Volga regions, Siberia, and Northern Kazakhstan, coincided in terms of area. But in contrast to the westward migration of the Turkic peoples, the spread of Russians to the east and southeast had a different underlying economic motive—the people made their living by means of agricultural farming. Arable land did not take over pastureland, but was compatible with it, giving rise to new types of economic symbiosis.
The state formations of the Great Steppes created by the nomads were distinguished by extreme instability and low conflict-resolving ability, nor did they ensure the safety of economic activity, but led to constant warring, which often ended in genuine genocide. For example, in 1723-1727, which were imprinted on the Kazakh memory as the “years of great trouble,” a significant portion of these people, who belonged to separate antagonistic domains, was massacred by the jungars. Incidentally, this horrendous slaughter was only more instance in the series of jungar invasions of 1681-1684, 1694, 1711-1712, and 1714-1717. By establishing a new system of power relations, Russia was performing the mission of pacifying the Great Steppes, and later, Turkestan, thus drawing together the geopolitical space of Eurasia into a single whole.
At the present time, we are seeing the clear and intensified actualization of a historical and politically important problem—Russian-Turkic symbiosis or, in geopolitical terms, Eurasian integration. It is crystal clear that keeping in mind Russia’s role in the CIS, as well as its vital interests and obligations, this issue must be considered from the viewpoint of harmonizing and integrating the interests of Slavic and Turkic ethnopolitical formations, which are at the different hierarchical levels.
When the Republic of Kazakhstan acquired its sovereignty, it had to choose a political and civilizational course capable of having an impact on the actual situation and historical future both of the republic itself, and of the entire post-Soviet space. The problem of choice and the very possibility of it are having an extremely strong influence on the sociopolitical life and psychosocial climate in the country, and are prompting the republic’s power structures to step up their search for optimal solutions.
Theoretically, these questions of choice can be formulated quite simply—what are the alternatives and to what extent do they coincide with and correspond to the geopolitical realities?
In real politics, the integration choice is very difficult and must account without fail for the financial and economic conditions, which are of an axiomatic nature, as well as for other noneconomic, but just as urgent factors. The latter include the level of the CIS’s integration potential; the isolationist and anti-isolationist trends that have formed in the system of Russian-Kazakh relations; the multifaceted national makeup of the Kazakhstan population; and the level of influence of extremist sociopolitical groups.
Keeping to the geopolitical perspective, we will designate the hierarchy of existing alternative models, without insisting on an exhaustive description and recognizing not only the crucial, but also the very unstable nature of the current situation, as well as the possible alternatives for its development.
The first integration alternative, which has already become the state choice to a certain extent, is the Eurasian integration multinational and nonreligious model. Its development alternatives are oriented to a certain extent toward a leader and toward a particular state and legal structure (confederative or federative).
The second model for integrating a larger or smaller part of the Eurasian space is the pan-Turan model with its pan-Turkic ideology of mono-ethnicity and nonreligiosity. Its possible political orientation is pro-western, defined by its ties with Turkey, as well as with the economic and military-political blocs it belongs to. A variety of combinations of the two designated models are also possible, even the most fanciful.
The third theoretically possible alternative is the pan-Islamic mono-religious multistate and multiethnic model that has supporters in Kazakhstan who are inspired by the example of the republic’s southern neighbors. Its possible political orientation is pro-western, through the Islamic countries related economically and politically with the West (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and so on). Partial implementation of this model cannot be excluded even in the medium term.
Finally, the fourth, which does not yet seem likely, but is theoretically possible, is a Sino-centric, multiethnic and nonreligious model, with a clear separation, in the spirit of the traditional Han state doctrine, between the political integration sphere and the political influence sphere.
Of course, if any one of these models predominates this will also dictate the choice of specific civilizational orientation, which the advocators of each alternative clearly recognize. For example, those in favor of the Islamic model, of “returning” Kazakhstan to the bosom of the Muslim civilization, which is supposedly traditional for it, created strong lobby groups striving to juxtapose Islam against the “overbearing influence of the Euro-Christian civilization.”
In this respect, the question naturally arises of the extent to which the history of the Kazakh people, primarily the history of interrelations between Russia and Kazakhstan, has predetermined the current situation. What were the actual geopolitical alternatives and civilizational choice at the critical time for the Kazakh people when their very survival insistently demanded a new political orientation and other forms of social and political life? The matter concerns the time after the Kazakh khanate collapsed right up to the time the Kazakh zhuzes (tribal groups) became part of the Russian Empire, that is, a period of almost one-and-a-half centuries.
It should immediately be stipulated that this annexation process, which we are only brushing in passing, was rather difficult and painful, and aroused an equivocal reaction (at different times and in different groups of the Kazakhstan population). Its historical and geopolitical results can only be evaluated in the long term and from a variety of different angles.
In Soviet historiography of the 1920s-1930s, this period was usually called Kazakhstan’s colonial subordination to czarism, a period of “absolute evil,” and annexation to Russia itself was seen as the result of the intrigues and personal ambitions of Abulkhair-khan, or as a conspiracy between some of the Kazakh nobility and the czarist government. In 1941, M.P. Viatkin first put forward the thesis of Kazakhstan’s annexation to Russia as the “lesser of the two evils,” meaning the alterative to the possibility and likelihood of the Kazakh zhuzes falling under the control of the predatory nomadic state of the jungars. Finally, between 1948 and 1949, it became the popular opinion that Kazakhstan’s annexation to Russia was of progressive significance, but the joint struggle of the Russian and Kazakh peoples against czarism was singled out as the crucial aspect of this process. Nevertheless, positive innovations were ascertained in Kazakhstan’s socioeconomic and cultural development, a fact which, long before our times, was clearly stated by the great Kazakh enlighteners Chokan Valikhanov, Ibrai Altynsarin, and Abai Kunanbaev.
We will take a look only at the most important aspects of the rapprochement between the Kazakh zhuzes and Russia. Since the end of the 16th century, Russian-Kazakh and Russian-Turkestan trade began along the routes through Tobolsk and Kazan. In order to ensure its safety, the town of Guriev was founded by czarist edict in 1645 at the mouth of the River Yaik. As early as the end of the 17th century, the Kazakh khans sent requests to the Russian authorities asking to develop trade, and political ties were established, which became stronger as the invasions of the jungar conquerors into Kazakhstan became more frequent. The Kazakh embassies constantly made requests to form a military alliance. But at that time, groups of Kazakh chieftains oriented toward Bukhara and Khiva appeared who were hostile toward Russia and in opposition to Tauke-khan, a supporter of pro-Russian orientation. It was they who organized attacks on the Russian settlements.
Responding to the Kazakhs’ requests, Peter the Great instructed Siberian Governor Prince Matvei Gagarin to render them assistance in fighting the jungars. In 1715-1720, despite the tough opposition of the latter, the Irtysh stronghold began being built, and the Omsk, Semipalatinsk, and Ust-Kamenogorsk fortresses were founded, which helped to repel the jungars’ attacks on the Kazakh tribes.
In 1717, Tauke-khan turned to Peter the Great for the first time with a request to accept Kazakhs as Russian citizens, but without paying yasak (tribute) and performing duties and with retention of the khan’s power. Tauke’s death in 1718 interrupted the negotiations on annexation, but requests for help and statements of willingness to serve the “white czar” continued to come from Kaip-khan and Abulkhair-khan. A decisive document was the letter from Abulkhair-khan of the Junior Zhuze on citizenship and protection (April 1730) to Empress Anna Ioannovna, in response to which a letters patent followed of 19 February, 1731 with instructions to accept the khan with all his subordinate nomadic population as Russian citizens according to the request.
What were the conditions for the Kazakhs’ existence at that time? We have already noted that some of the Kazakh tribes were exterminated by the jungars, or they died of starvation and deprivation. Despite the victories of the Kazakh volunteer corps on the Bulanty River (1727) and in the Anrakhai battle (1729), the Kazakhs’ best pastureland, in the region of Semirechie (the Seven River area), became the nomadic land of the jungar khuntaiji (the supreme chieftain). The Kazakhs were deprived of their settled-farming and trade-craft centers in the valley along the middle reaches of the Syr Darya, including Turkestan and Sairam. Conflicts and intestine wars among the Kazakh nobility prevented taking advantage of the military successes and repulsing the jungars. Particularly tragic was the position of the Junior Zhuze, which was pushed out of its nomadic camps toward the north and came under the blows of the Bashkirs, Karakalpaks, Bukhars, Volga Kalmyks, and Yaik Cossacks, who did not like the fact that this zhuze was encroaching on the Urals.
Adopting Russian citizenship and coming under Russia’s protection dramatically changed the situation. The military danger was minimized, and the threats coming from the Kalmyks, Cossacks, and Bashkirs were eliminated entirely. New rich pastureland along the Emba, Irgiz, and Yaik made it possible for the tribes of the Junior Zhuze to rapidly revive their farms. This is shown by the many letters of thanks from Abulkhair’s son, Sultan Nuraly, batyr Bukenbai, and other local rulers to the Russian administration. Kazakh-Russian trade developed tempestuously round Orenburg founded in 1735. According to a report by A. Levshin, the Kazakhs exchanged up to 1 million sheep a year for Russian-made metal goods and handicrafts.
In 1740, some of the tribes of the Middle Zhuze headed by Abylai-khan took Russian citizenship. But the situation in the east of the Kazakh lands changed dramatically when during the Qin Dynasty, the Chinese routed Jungaria and created the Xinjiang Province in 1758. Peking’s direct pressure on Abylai and the cooling in relations between the khan and the Siberian administration gave rise to a system of dual citizenship of the Middle Zhuze, for the first time it was subordinate to both Peking and Petersburg. Abylai’s policy was continued for some time by his son, Vali-khan. As for the Senior Zhuze, located a long way from Russia, it was mainly under the political influence of Kokand.
Some words about Islam in Kazakhstan at that time. Fadlallah Ibn-Ruzbihan, a Bukharan author of the beginning of the 17th century, historian, and theologian, noted that although the Kazakhs were considered Muslims, in everyday life they were pagans for whom the highest spiritual authority was not the mullah, but the shaman-baksi. By the 18th century, the situation had little changed, but the propagation of Islam rapidly spread, primarily from Bukhara, which was of immense concern to the representative of the czarist administration in Orenburg, since at that time (1787-1791), the Russian-Turkish War was going on. Orenburg was continuously informed that the Bukharan mullahs, adjutants to the emir, were carrying out effective anti-Russian propaganda among the Kazakh nobility in favor of the Ottoman Empire. After all, at that time the political situation in the Junior Zhuze was extremely aggravated, its main chieftain Srym Datov, who relied on the support of Khiva in his struggle for power, openly opposed the Russian administration. The situation in the Steppes was discussed several times by the Council under the empress (the future Permanent Council). In opposition to the Bukharans, he suggested using Tatar mullahs to engage in the religious propaganda of Islam among the Kazakhs. They were entrusted with organizing primary spiritual schools (madhabs) to stop the local nobility from sending their children to study in Bukhara and Khiva. As early as 1788, mufti Muhammajan Husainov, the head akhun of the district, was appointed as director of this project.
Baron O.A. Igolstrom, governor-general of Simbirsk, Ufa, and Orenburg, was entrusted with practical implementation of the program. And he had something to rely on—as early as 1755, close to Orenburg, the Seitov settlement was built (also called the Kargaly settlement)—the center for training Muslim spiritual clergy from among the Tatars and Bashkirs. As Academician V.V. Barthold notes, “for the Tatars, Orenburg became the center where measures were taken to strengthen Islam in the Kirghiz (that is, Kazakh.—S. K.) steppes, where the nomads were still Muslims only by name” (Collected Works, Vol. IX, p. 409, in Russian). Not until the first decades of the 19th century did attempts to spread Islam by means of the state structures stop, and the idea of creating Muslim schools for the children of the Kazakh nobility was replaced by a system of Russian education, which produced magnificent figures of science, culture, and enlightenment from the Kazakh milieu. The first of them was Chokan Valikhanov, the great grandson of Abylai-khan.
Against this background, let us return to the problems of geopolitical predetermination and civilizational choice, relating them to the 18th century.
Military pressure from the east, accompanied by genocide, forced the Kazakhs to break forever with the Central Asian imperial nomadic tradition and put up tough resistance to its last bearers, the jungars, however, they were unable to do this on their own. Under extreme military pressure from the outside, permanent internal strife, and intestine wars, the very existence of the Kazakhs in their ethnic territory largely depended on the possibility of their joining a more powerful political system capable of giving new impetus to social, economic, and by no means least, ethnic-forming processes.
Geopolitical reality predetermined only three alternatives: Sino-centric, designated as “Xinjiang-ization” of the entire Middle Zhuze, which happened to its fragments in Jungaria and Western Mongolia, and the so-called “Mongolian Kazakhs” partially returned to Kazakhstan; Turkestan, that is, Bukhara-Khiva-Kokand, where Kazakhs, like Kirghiz, lived under traditional, unstable, and despotic regimes, which did not create conditions conducive either to internal or external security; and Russian, related to the formation of a new multinational and multiethnic Eurasian empire.
Only the last alternative proved sufficiently effective and efficient in all the mentioned aspects. Despite the indubitable, and frequently extremely dire losses, it was this alternative that allowed the Kazakh people to retain their national identity and arrive at a level of civilization different from that of their historically recent past.