Kazakhstan Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Kazakhstan is a country located in Central Asia. With the capital city of Astana, Kazakhstan has a population of 18,776,718 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Kazakhstan became a Union republic in the Soviet Union in 1936. In the 1930s, forced collectivization of the livestock management led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs. Under Soviet leader Josef Stalin, entire ethnic groups were expelled to Kazakhstan from other parts of the country. At the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan became an independent state with Nursultan Nazarbayev as president. He ruled the country with an iron hand until 2019, when his hand-picked successor Kasym-Zjomart Tokayev took over.

Josef Stalin forcibly collectivized Kazakhstan’s agriculture and livestock management 1930-1932. The consequences were disastrous for the nomads. Over one million are estimated to have died of starvation and hardship, and many fled abroad. Between 1926 and 1937 the number of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan decreased from four million to just over two million.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Kazakhstan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

As a Union Republic of the USSR from 1936, Kazakhstan partly got new borders, which included former Russian territories in the north.

In the context of the Second World War (1939-1945), Stalin drove entire groups of people from other parts of the Soviet Union to Kazakhstan – Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Soviet Poles and Greeks, Chechens, Ingushians and other Caucasus peoples, as well as Koreans from eastern Siberia. The deportees were dumped on the steppe and managed to do their best. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Kazakhstan.

Space racing and natural disaster

There were also penal camps for political and other prisoners. There were many camps around the coal mining town of Karaganda. At the same time, large parts of the heavy industry of the Soviet Union were moved eastwards, including to Kazakhstan, to be protected from German attacks. Scientific institutions were also placed there.

After World War II, the first Soviet nuclear bomb in 1949 was tested in Kazakhstan – and more would follow. In 1955, the Bajkonur space base was built in the mostly cloudless desert east of Lake Aral. From there, vehicles were postponed as part of the space race with the United States.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided that agricultural production would increase by growing “virgin” pasture in northern Kazakhstan. To help him, he had Kazakhstan’s new party leader: Leonid Brezhnev. Overexploitation of the steppe laid the foundation for a natural disaster in May 1963, when the ground lay unprotected for hurricane winds that blew away the thin, uppermost soil layer. At one point, 6 million hectares of land disappeared, corresponding to 2 percent of Kazakhstan’s area.

When Brezhnev overthrew Khrushchev in 1964, the Kazakh Dinmuchamed Kunajev became the highest leader in Kazakhstan. He was the leader of the republic for more than two decades, characterized by corruption but also by calm and stability. When the new Soviet leader Michail Gorbachev deposed Kunajev in December 1986 in favor of a Russian, this triggered bloody anti-Russian riots in the then capital Almaty.

Nazarbayev becomes president

In June 1989, a Kazakh, Nursultan Nazarbayev, took over as party leader in Kazakhstan. The following year, he was appointed to the newly appointed post of President.

During President Gorbachev’s time, for the first time, people were able to speak openly about the environmental disasters caused by Soviet rule in Kazakhstan. Opposition groups were formed, among other things, to protest against the explosions of nuclear weapons at the city of Semipalatinsk.

Nazarbayev in the longest supported Gorbachev’s endeavor to preserve the Soviet Union, by restructuring the Union in new form. Kazakhstan became the last republic of the dying Soviet Union to declare independence, on December 16, 1991. Nazarbayev and other rulers remained in their posts in the new Republic of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan inherited much of the Soviet nuclear weapons; the newly formed state had the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal. But Nazarbayev announced his intention to dispose of it and joined the disarmament agreement Start-1. The nuclear warheads were eventually transferred to Russia or assembled, with assistance from, among others, the United States.

The economy is being reshaped

Soon there was a deep economic crisis in the new state. Kazakhstan had had the role of commodity producer of wheat, meat, coal and metals in the Soviet Union. In addition, there was some heavy industry. Demand for these goods disappeared greatly when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Kazakhstan also lacked a functioning financial sector.

A decision was taken on a rapid transition to market economy. Kazakhstan adopted a privatization program that was considered radical. Privatization primarily led to the enrichment of the old Soviet elite. Poverty spread and inflation soared.

Around 1995, the economy reached a bottom position. Production of goods and services was about half what it had been at the beginning of the decade. The state was near bankruptcy and had difficulties in paying wages and pensions. Major financial reforms helped reverse this trend. Among other things, the chaotic tax system was simplified and laws were passed to protect private property and enterprise. Opportunities were opened for foreign investors to buy into companies that extract the country’s raw material wealth.

With the democratic reforms promised, things went worse. The first parliamentary elections were held in 1994, but there was a display of electoral fraud and it was annulled the following year by the Constitutional Court. A new election was held in December 1995. It was also characterized by irregularities but the result was approved by the authorities. Nazarbayev’s supporters won big. According to the constitution, the president would also be elected in general elections, but Nazarbayev instead organized a referendum in which 95 percent of the participants agreed to extend his mandate.

The capital is relocated

In 1997, drastic cuts were made in the state administration. In the same vein, the capital was moved from Almaty to the more centrally located Aqmola, which in 1998 changed its name to Astana (“capital” in Kazakh; in 2019 the city was renamed Nursultan). With the move, Nazarbayev probably wanted to try to strengthen the ties between the country’s northern, Russian-dominated parts and the Kazakh-dominated south.

In January 1999, an early presidential election was held, which was announced with only a few months’ notice. Nazarbayev was re-elected with almost 80 percent of the vote, but the result was questioned by both the opposition and the OSCE. The parliamentary elections in October 1999 were won by the President’s support party Fäderneslandet. But the election was neither free nor fair, and parts of the opposition boycotted it.

In 2000, Parliament gave Nazarbayev so many privileges that in practice he was guaranteed lifetime power. The terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 led Nazarbayev to further strengthen his position. Referring to the security-political threat posed by armed Islamists in the region, he also tightened his control over the peaceful domestic political opposition.

At the same time, the country experienced record growth. This increased the demands for political democratization and economic liberalization.

Criticized choices

In the parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2004, the Fatherland and its allies won virtually every mandate. The only real opposition party, Ak Zjol, was given a single mandate. Both the OSCE and the Council of Europe were critical and the outgoing Parliament’s President Zjarmachan Tujaqbaj resigned in protest against the electoral fraud. Ak Zjol protested by refusing to take his only seat in Parliament. The December 2005 presidential election was a walking victory for Nazarbayev, who received 91 percent of the vote.

In the spring of 2007, several constitutional amendments were adopted, which were stated to be intended to increase parliamentary power. But the president’s position was also strengthened. Nazarbayev was personally guaranteed the right to be re-elected an unlimited number of times. At the same time, new elections were announced, two years in advance. Before the election, the parties were forbidden to form alliances, which led to several party mergers during the summer.

In the parliamentary elections in August 2007, Nazarbayev’s party, renamed in 2006 to the light of the Fatherland, received 88 percent of the vote and all 98 electable seats. The opposition dismissed the result as cheating and the election was criticized, as before, by foreign observers.

Kazakhstan was hit hard by the international financial crisis of 2009, with rising unemployment as a result. In March of that year, an unusual public protest was held in Almaty, when protesters demanded the departure of Prime Minister Kärim Mäsimov.

Increasingly powerful

Many government officials were laid off in 2009, accused of corruption. According to critics, however, it was not a genuine fight against corruption, but rather an attempt on the part of the regime to remove critics and divert people’s attention from the economic crisis.

In 2010, Parliament passed a new law that guaranteed Nazarbayev and his relatives’ prosecution immunity. It also became criminal to insult the president in speech or writing.

In early 2011, Nazarbayev announced presidential elections one year in advance. That happened since the Constitutional Court rejected a parliamentary decision to organize a referendum to extend the president’s term of office to 2020. The opposition objected to the announcement of the election with only two months in advance and decided on a boycott.

Nazarbayev won with 96 percent of the vote in the April elections. The three fairly unknown counter-candidates who, after all, stood up had all expressed their support for him. The OSCE dismissed the election as undemocratic.

Oil strike and rattles

In May 2011, oil workers in the Zhangzhou Gulf of the Caspian launched a strike that triggered the most serious political crisis that President Nazarbayev has faced so far. The regime responded by bringing in the hard gloves, the striking workers and, by extension, all political opponents. The oil workers protested against deteriorating living conditions and demanded higher wages and strengthened union rights. They were supported by pensioners, the unemployed and other groups who also demanded better conditions.

After more than six months, in connection with the celebration of Independence Day on December 16, 2011, the police intervened to disperse the protesters. At least 15 people were shot dead and dozens injured in the riot that ensued. The riots spread to surrounding communities. According to some sources, dozens of people were killed. The government announced a state of emergency, which was first lifted in January 2012, after parliamentary elections were held.

In the January elections, the Fatherland’s light prevailed with 81 percent of the vote. Two small parties also joined Parliament. Like previous elections, it was judged by international observers.

The repression is increasing

A short time after the election, the regime increased the pressure. A large number of opposition representatives and journalists were arrested. The police raided the headquarters of the opposition party Algae and the party’s leader Vladimir Kozlov was arrested.

During the following year, a large number of media organizations were forced to discontinue their operations and dozens of people were sentenced to prison for involvement in the riots in Zhanganga. Alga was declared “extremist” and dissolved by a court, while Kozlov was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison.

Kozlov and his party were accused of cooperating with the fugitive regime critics Muchtar Abljazov and Muratbek Ketebayev. The authorities shut down several opposition media that were reported to be funded by Abljazov.

The government is dismissed

In April 2015, presidential elections were held, over a year earlier than planned. One reason for the early elections was considered to be that Nazarbayev wanted renewed confidence in dealing with the economic problems that had arisen the year before through the fall in oil and natural gas prices. As expected, Nazarbayev was re-elected by a large margin.

In the 2016 parliamentary elections, the Fatherland candle won with roughly the same figures as in the 2012 election, and roughly the same international criticism was directed at lack of democracy.

In 2017, Nazarbayev initiated a constitutional extension, which meant that relations changed somewhat between parliament, the government and the president (see Political system).

The economic problems continued and in February 2019 Nazarbayev chose to dismiss the entire government. In addition to the low oil price, the Western world sanctions against Russia from 2014 contributed to the decline. Social unrest, with continued protests for better living conditions, was probably also behind Nazarbayev’s decision.

The new head of government was Askar Mamin, who had previously been the first Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Transport and Communications and Mayor of Astana (now renamed Nursultan).

Kazakhstan Modern History