Winston Churchill is among those credited with the observation that it is the victors who write the history books. He was reminding us that the version of history with which we are most familiar has often been biased in favour of those nations or regions that have enjoyed not just military but also political and economic superiority.
This explains why, for example, the extraordinary contribution of ancient Chinese or Islamic science and arts to global knowledge has, at least until recently, often been overlooked. The major roles played by the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome and, in more modern times, the undoubtedly large part played by European and North American scientists, thinkers and engineers in furthering knowledge and prosperity have been given a greater emphasis.
But as our world becomes increasingly multi-polar, these partial narratives are being challenged. Chapter by chapter, a more comprehensive picture of the past is emerging – one that reflects the diverse contributions of different peoples and regions to humanity’s wider development.
It is against this trend that President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s recent proposals in the article, Seven Facets of the Great Steppe, as well as the entire Ruhani Zhangyru programme can be viewed. It is a drive to identify and celebrate – both within Kazakhstan and across the world – the rich history of the country and its people as well as the part played by the region in global civilisation.
There are, of course, particular reasons why Kazakhstan’s history and contribution has, in the past, been overlooked. The country has only relatively recently regained its independence and for many decades, its culture was either downplayed or, at times, actively suppressed.
As we have said before, given this reluctance to promote past achievements, the surprise has been how strong the attachment of the country’s citizens to their land was. This was especially the case when, because of geography and history, these citizens come from so many different backgrounds. National pride and unity has been one of our young country’s strongest qualities.
Since Kazakhstan has become a modern, independent and increasingly self-confident nation, this reluctance to examine and celebrate the past has been overcome. Indeed, we have seen a concerted drive – led by President Nazarbayev himself – to study and promote the country’s history and culture.
These efforts stem from recognition that a greater knowledge and understanding of shared roots and values is critical for the health of a nation. As we have seen across the world, such knowledge helps bind a country and its people together. It can also provide, if nations escape the trap of becoming prisoners of this past, a powerful springboard for success in the future.
There is, as Seven Facets of the Great Steppe demonstrates, a huge amount to celebrate in Kazakhstan’s history. The domestication of the horse and the advanced production of metals, both of which can be traced back to these lands, are unquestionably hugely important in human development.
We can also learn a great deal about the way those who inhabited these lands lived in harmony with the environment. There is nothing new in sustainable living. It is just that, across the world, we have forgotten these lessons.
So it is right that our country steps up its already considerable efforts to protect and commemorate this history and the wider culture it has inspired. This will include new museums, academic study as well as the more popular depiction of characters and historical events through TV and film.
These new initiatives are important for our citizens so they can better understand the history of these lands and the part those who lived here played in human development. They can only strengthen further the bonds that unite our country as well, of course, as attracting more visitors to Kazakhstan.
By placing these initiatives firmly within the broader Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity programme, President Nazarbayev, however, shows that his focus remains firmly on the years ahead. He believes, no matter how rich the past of these lands, the decades to come hold even more promise. It is this increasingly peaceful and prosperous future that he is determined for our country to achieve.