22.04.2024 Author: Boris Kushhov

National Kurultai – 2024: in search of a canon of political history

National Kurultai - 2024

One way or another, there comes a moment in the history of every nation that experiences the rise of self-consciousness and political “self-fulfilment” when it is necessary to unite all its historical heritage into a single concept, to minimise all historical contradictions and to establish the most direct line of succession. Many states, due to the complexity and intertwined historical destinies of the peoples that inhabit them, are not able to do this easily. The same can be said of Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, a unified national-historical concept in the Republic is gradually developing into a coherent and integrated picture, a sign of which are the results of the historical discourse, which has a special place in the agenda of the National Kurultai 2024.

Despite its rich national history, distinctive culture and traditions, Kazakhstan changed significantly during the years of the Kazakh SSR. By the end of the 1980s, it had become a Union Republic with the smallest proportion of the population belonging to the ‘titular’ nation, due to the many projects of all-Union significance and the legacy of the resettlement policy. The collapse of the USSR was greeted in Kazakhstan with obvious regret and pain – the Republic was the last to leave the country and remained the only Union republic for a fortnight in December 1991. The results of the 1991 referendum on the survival of the USSR, in which 97% of the population of the Kazakh SSR voted in favour of “preserving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics”, are also worthy of note.

The collapse of the USSR left sovereign Kazakhstan with a nation-state of enormous diversity and a significant proportion of national minorities – ranging from many millions of Russians and Ukrainians to Germans, Koreans, Karachais, Balkars, Crimean Tatars and a host of other peoples. This situation has not been conducive to the rapid and painless formation of a new identity among its population. Since the early 2020s, however, Kazakhstan has been increasingly universalising its historical heritage and seeking to find itself and its place in a dynamically changing world.
The National Kurultai itself is meeting for the third time in Kazakhstan’s modern history – annually since 2022.  The 2024 Kurultai took place at a remarkable and highly symbolic time – simultaneously with Nowruz and the beginning of the month of Ramadan, which coincided no less remarkably this year. This significant circumstance was also reflected in the agenda of the event, in which the ethnic – Turkic and religious – Islamic layers of Kazakhstan’s history and culture were interwoven.

The principles on which the current views of the country’s leadership regarding its historical identity are based are simple – the country’s history is diverse, inclusive, depoliticised, devoid of emotional assessments and should not hinder the political and worldview consolidation of the people of the Republic.

First of all, the idea was expressed during the event that there is no place in the country’s history for setting some of its figures against others. The President of Kazakhstan noted that “all our figures of the past served their people on the basis of their own views and understanding of the world”. First of all, it was the ideological confrontation of Kazakh nationalists – leaders of the “Alash” movement – with revolutionaries and Kazakh figures of the socialist era. It is possible to trace in it the desire of the republican authorities to create a comprehensive and multifaceted concept of state history, in which the main criterion of evaluation of a historical figure should be service to the interests of the people.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also urged to refrain from seeking political benefits from Kazakh scientists who have made statements about the Kazakh origin of the great figure of Eurasia of the 13th century – Genghis Khan. It was noted that recognition of his significant role in the history of the nation – in particular, in the formation of the Ulus of Jochi, the 800th anniversary of which is being celebrated in Kazakhstan this year – does not require him to have Kazakh roots. This understanding of the personality of Genghis Khan and the state created by his son as an integral part of Kazakhstan’s history can be conditioned by the desire of its people to preserve their own political lineage, autonomous and different from similar representations of other Turkic states – just as in Uzbekistan the Timurid state is at the centre of attention. Kazakhstan actively participates in the current processes of cultural, political and economic consolidation of Turkic states – but wants to protect its unique identity within the “Turkic world”.

Modern Kazakhstan does not abandon the memory of the Soviet period of its existence – in particular, the President of the Republic criticised the wave of falsification of the history of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, which has intensified in recent years, as well as the attempts of some national and foreign figures to exclude it from the history of Kazakhstan. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reminded of the upcoming next year 80th anniversary of the Great Victory in the war with Nazi Germany – and called on the people of the Republic to remember their heroes, the contribution of the peoples of Kazakhstan in the common cause of the peoples of the USSR and the world as a whole. At the same time, in the emerging political-historical canon of Kazakhstan, this war, first of all, is labelled as the Second World War, in which one can notice the aspiration to inscribe the Soviet period of history of the peoples of Kazakhstan in the world historical chronicle.

It is noteworthy that the process of forming the “historical lineage” of the state in Kazakhstan is gaining momentum in parallel with the large-scale political reforms discussed in the author’s recent article. Comprehension of the national identity of Kazakhstan and Kazakhstanis, however, is not limited to historical, cultural and political aspects: in recent months, the country has been actively raising the issue of creating a new coat of arms of the Republic, which will express the national idea more clearly and symbolically. By the way, the proposal to consider updating the coat of arms was approved by the President of Kazakhstan at the national Kurultai.


Boris KUSHKHOV, Department of Korea and Mongolia, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. Especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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