Kazakhstan Continues to Mark the 300th Anniversary of Abylai Khan

ASTANA – Next year, the Akmola region plans to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Abylai Khan, one of the greatest and most famous khans in the history of the Kazakh people. He was a direct descendant of Chingiz Khan. Abylai Khan was born in 1711 and died in 1781. During his reign, the Kazakh nation experienced a fierce struggle against the invasion of the Dzungars.

In the first half of the 18th century, Abylai Khan proved to be a talented organizer and commander as he headed detachments of the Kazakh army fighting the Dzungars. He participated in the most significant battles against the Dzungars in the period from the 1720s to the 1750s, for which he was declared a “batyr” (Kazakh for “hero warrior”) by the people.

Abylai’s activity was aimed at creating a strong and independent Kazakh state. He headed the unified forces of the Kazakhs and furthered the centralization of state power in Kazakhstan. Until his election as the khan of the three jüzes (Kazakh for “tribal union”), Abylai had to compete with Khan Abilmambet and his Middle jüz descendants for leadership. Initially, Russia recognized Abul Mambet as the Khan of Middle jüz, while Abylai was supported by China.

According to online sources, in 1771, at the meeting of the representatives of the three jüzes, Abylai was elected the Kazakh khan. The Russian Empress requested that the title of khan should be recognized and officially approved by Russia. To that end, she sent an official letter to Petropavl, where Abylai was expected to receive the title in 1779. He never showed up at the fort, declining Russia’s request to appoint him as the khan of Middle jüz. In contrast to Abylai, other khans and sultans had been competing for the lavish gifts and stipends of the emperors of Russia in return for their submission.

During the Qing campaigns against the Dzungars, Abylai Khan chose not to take sides in the Dzungar-Chinese conflict. Finally, both the Chinese and the Russians recognised Abylai as Kazakh khan.

Being a visionary politician, Abylai decided to use diplomatic ways to support the people, tired of heavy fights with Kalmyks. In August 1740, together with the Khan of the Middle jüz Abilmambet and 120 elders, Abylai arrived in Orenburg and agreed to apply for Russian citizenship. At the same time, it didn’t interrupt the relations with the Qing empire, skillfully using disagreements between Russia and the Chinese empire in interests of the Kazakh khanate. Abylai gave all his strength for restoration of the independence of the country.

He managed to essentially connect together all the Kazakh lands, which has allowed for cultural and economic progress, while an alliance with Russia was the basis of Kazakhs’ transition to sedentary agriculture and fishing activities.

He died in Tashkent in May 1781. Abylai was buried in a shrine of the Kazakh people, Hodzha Ahmed Yassavi’s mausoleum in Turkestan.

After Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, one of the main streets of Almaty was renamed Avenue Abylai Khan and his equestrian statue crowns Khan Square station Almaty-2. His portrait graced the first national currency of Kazakhstan on a 100 tenge banknote. A stamp of an independent Kazakhstan was also dedicated to Abylai Khan in 2001. And the country’s first blockbuster film, Nomads, was based on Abylai’s biography.

This year will continue the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great Kazakh khan. Commemorative events are planned with a budget of 365 million tenge, of which 20 million will be allocated from the regional budget. The events will include regional festivals and exhibitions.

The 300th anniversary celebration of the birth of Abylai is expected to be a large-scale event, according to the governor of the Akmola region Kayrat Kozhamzharov. “The scale of such event should not be limited by the initiation of activities at the regional level. The 300th anniversary of Abylai Khan should be an important event in the cultural life not only of the Akmola region, but of all Kazakhstan,” Kozhamzharov said.

He also emphasized the importance of corporations’ social responsibility for the development and preservation of culture, because that objective is difficult to accomplish using only government funds.

“It means that today we have to think about the active attraction of businesses in our plan,” said Kozhamzharov.

Earlier, on October 26 the Deputy of the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kurmangali Uali asked Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov to direct the organization of a large-scale celebration dedicated to the 300th anniversary of Abylai Khan.

“Why can’t we carry out scientific conferences in the regional centers, Almaty, or in our main city Astana, why not to celebrate the 300th anniversary properly?” asked the deputy.

He believes a big celebration in honour of the anniversary of Abylai Khan would be a good initiative and will strengthen the patriotism of the nation. He sees symbolism in the fact that the 300th anniversary of the khan coincided generally with the 20th anniversary of the independence of Kazakhstan.

“The authority of Abylai khan is obvious. The wise policy of Abylai khan, which he has conducted with such empires as Russia and China, could strengthen the unity and freedom of the Kazakh people. Abylai Khan dreamed about many things, especially he dreamed about the future of his people,” Uali added.