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Space is the measure of all things, time is the measure of all events. When the horizons of space and time merge, national history begins. And this is not just a beautiful aphorism.
In fact, if you think about the history of the German, Italian or Indian people, the question of the relationship between the territory and the great achievements of these peoples during a thousand-year history quite rightly arises. Of course, Ancient Rome and modern Italy are not the same, but the Italians are justly proud of their roots. The ancient Goths and modern Germans are also not one and the same people, but they are all part of Germany's vast historical heritage. Ancient India with its rich polyethnic culture and the modern Indian people are naturally considered as one unique civilization, continuing its development in an uninterrupted stream of history.
And this is the right approach, allowing you to understand your origins, and indeed the entire national history in all its depth and complexity.
The history of Kazakhstan should also be understood from the height of modern science, and not by its separate fragments. There are convincing arguments for this.
Firstly, the majority of proto-state associations, the contribution of which will be discussed below, were formed on the territory of Kazakhstan, becoming one of the elements of the ethnogenesis of the Kazakh nation.
Secondly, those outstanding cultural achievements that will be discussed were not brought into the steppe, but in most cases were born on our land and only then spread to the West and East, North and South.
Thirdly, the historical finds of the last decades clearly confirm the indissoluble connection of our ancestors with the most advanced technological innovations of their time and allow us to take a fresh look at the Great Steppe's place in global history.
Finally, the names of some Kazakh tribes and clans are many hundreds of years older than the ethnonym “Kazak”, which undoubtedly indicates a completely different horizon of national history than previously thought.
The Eurocentric point of view did not allow to see the real fact that the Sakas, the Huns, the Proto-Turkic ethnic groups were part of the ethnogenesis of our nation.
In addition, it is fundamentally important to note that we are talking about the history of Kazakhstan, which is common to many ethnic groups living on our territory for a long time. This is our common history, the contribution to which was made by many prominent figures of different ethnicity.
Today we need a positive view of our own history. However, it should not be reduced to only the selective and opportunistic coverage of a particular historical event. Black is an inseparable companion of white. Together they form the unique color gamut of life of both an individual and whole nations. In our history there were many dramatic moments and tragedies, deadly wars and conflicts, socially dangerous experiments and political cataclysms. We have no right to forget about them. It is necessary to realize and accept your history in all its versatility and multidimensionality.
The purpose is not to show one's greatness by belittling the role of other nations. The aim is to calmly and objectively understand our role in global history, based on strict scientific facts.
So, here are the seven facets of the Great Steppe.
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I. Space and time of national history
Our land, without exaggeration, has become the place from where many objects of material culture originate. Much of that, without which the life of modern society is simply unthinkable, was once invented in our area. In their development, the inhabitants of the steppes opened to the world many technical innovations, became the forefathers of inventions, which are still used in all parts of the world. The chronicles preserve a lot of well-known facts, which show how the ancestors of the Kazakhs repeatedly changed the course of political and economic history over vast areas of Eurasia.
1. Culture of horsemanship
Everyone knows that the Great Steppe gave the world horse breeding and the culture of horsemanship.
For the first time, the domestication of horses by a human took place on the territory of modern Kazakhstan, as evidenced by excavations of the Botai settlement in the north of the country.
The domestication of the horse gave our ancestors an unthinkable superiority at that time, and on the global scale made the biggest revolution in the economy and military affairs.
However, the domestication of the horse marked the beginning of a culture of horsemanship. A rider on a horse, armed with a bow, lance or saber, became a symbol of the era when powerful empires created by nomadic peoples came to the forefront of history.
The image of the equestrian standard-bearer is the most recognizable emblem of the heroic era and a special “cultural code” of the nomadic world, the formation of which is associated with the birth of horsemanship.
The power of car engines is still measured in horsepower. And this long-standing tradition is a symbolic tribute to that great era when the horseman dominated the planet.
We should not forget that humankind enjoyed the fruits of this great technological revolution right up to the XIX century, which came into the world from the ancient Kazakh land.
The basic components of modern clothing go back to the ancient era of the steppe civilisation. The culture of horsemanship gave rise to optimal clothing for the rider-warrior. Striving for convenience and practicality during riding, our ancestors for the first time divided clothing into upper and lower parts. Therefore they invented the first types of trousers.
This gave riders the freedom to ride and battle. Those that lived in the steppe sewed trousers from leather, felt, hemp, wool and flax. Over the past thousand years, this type of clothing has not changed fundamentally. Ancient trousers found during excavations have the same shape as modern ones.
It is also known that today all the varieties of boots are the “successors” of soft shoes with a shaft and heel, which nomads used for riding.
In an effort to improve the control of the horse while riding, the people of the steppe invented the high saddle and stirrups. Innovations allowed the rider to sit confidently on a horse and, even when moving quickly, to more efficiently use his weapon - a bow, a spear, a sword.
Our ancestors brought to perfection archery at a gallop - it changed the design of the weapon: it became composite, more comfortable to use and more deadly, and the arrows got plumage and a metal tip, piercing armor.
Another technological innovation introduced by the Turkic tribes that inhabited the territory of Kazakhstan was the invention of a saber, the distinctive feature of which was a straight or curved blade with a handle turned in the direction of the blade. These weapons became the most important and common in the arsenal of offensive weapons.
Our ancestors were the first to create protective armor for the horse and the rider from armour plates. This led to the appearance of a heavily armed cavalry - the most important military innovation of the Eurasian nomads. Its evolution in the period from I millennium BC until the first century influenced the creation of a special kind of troops – heavy cavalry, which for a long time ensured an unprecedented military superiority of the steppe men, up to the invention and mass use of firearms.
2. Ancient metallurgy of the Great Steppe
The invention of methods for producing metals opened a new historical era and forever changed the course of human development. The Kazakh land, rich in diverse metal ores, also became one of the first centres of establishment of metallurgy. The centres of mining production and smelting of bronze, copper, lead, iron, silver and gold, and the manufacture of sheet iron arose in the ancient antiquity on the lands of Central, Northern and Eastern Kazakhstan.
Our ancestors constantly developed the production of new, more durable metals, which opened up opportunities for them to accelerate technological progress. This is evidenced by the furnaces found during the excavations, which were used to smelt metal, decorations, household items and weapons of earlier eras. This indicates a high technological development of the steppe civilizations that existed on our land in ancient times.
3. Animal style
Our ancestors lived in complete harmony with the outside world and considered themselves an inseparable part of nature. This key principle of being formed the worldview and values of the peoples of the Great Steppe. The ancient inhabitants of Kazakhstan had a highly developed culture – they had their own writing and mythology.
The most striking element of their heritage, a reflection of the artistic originality and richness of spiritual content is the “art of animal style.” The use of images of animals in everyday life was a symbol of the interrelation of man and nature, pointing to the spiritual guides of the steppe people.
They preferred images of predators, mostly felines. It is most likely not by chance that the snow leopard, a rare and noble representative of the local fauna, has become one of the symbols of sovereign Kazakhstan.
At the same time, the animal style reflects the highest production skills of our ancestors – artistic carvings and the technique of working with metals are well known: the smelting and casting of copper and bronze, the methods for the complex manufacture of gold sheets.
In general, the phenomenon of “animal style” is one of the highest peaks in world art.
4. Golden Man
A sensational discovery for world science, which made it possible to take a fresh look at our origins, was the Golden Man, found in Kazakhstan in 1969 in Issyk, referred to in the circles of art scholars as “Kazakhstan's Tutankhamun”.
The warrior told us a lot. Our ancestors created the highest-level artistic creations that still amaze the imagination. Skillful golden guise of a warrior indicates confident mastery of the ancient masters of gold processing techniques. It also revealed a rich mythology, reflecting power and aesthetics of the Steppe civilization.
So the steppe men exalted the personality of the leader, elevated him to the rank of a sun-like deity. The luxurious decoration of the burial introduced us to the intellectual traditions of the ancestors. On one of the silver cups found near the warrior, scribbled marks were found – traces of the oldest writing ever found in Central Asia.
5. Cradle of the Turkic world
Altai is of great importance for the history of the Kazakhs and other peoples of Eurasia. From time immemorial, these majestic mountains not only decorated the lands of Kazakhstan, but were also the cradle of the Turkic peoples. It was here, in the middle of the first millennium, where the Turkic world was born, and a new milestone was reached in the Great Steppe.
History and geography formed a special model of continuity of the Turkic states, the great steppe empires. For centuries, they have successively replaced each other, leaving their significant mark in the economic, political and cultural landscape of medieval Kazakhstan.
Having mastered the space within wide geographical boundaries, the Turkic peoples managed to create a symbiosis of nomadic and settled civilizations, which led to the flourishing of medieval cities, which became centres of art, science and world trade. For example, medieval Otyrar gave humanity one of the greatest minds of world civilization, Abu Nasr al-Farabi, while in Turkestan, Khoja Ahmet Yassawi, one of the great spiritual leaders of the Turkic peoples, lived and worked.
6. The Great Silk Road
The unique geographical location of Kazakhstan – in the very centre of the Eurasian continent - has contributed to the emergence of transit “corridors” between different countries and civilizations since ancient times. Starting from the turn of our era, these land routes were transformed into the Great Silk Road system – a transcontinental network of trade and cultural ties between East and West, North and South of Greater Eurasia.
It has become a stable platform for the formation and development of the global interchange of goods and intellectual cooperation between nations.
The key intermediaries of the most important trade route of antiquity and the Middle Ages, ensuring the flawless organisation and safety of transport arteries, were the inhabitants of the Great Steppe. The steppe belt connected the Chinese, Indian, Persian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Slavic civilizations.
Since its inception, the Great Silk Road map has largely been located within the Turkic empires. It was during the rule of the Turkic peoples in Central Eurasia that the Great Silk Road reached its peak and promoted economic prosperity and cultural growth on an international scale.
7. Kazakhstan – the birthplace of apples and tulips
It is scientifically proven that the foothills of the Alatau are the “historic homeland” of apples and tulips. It is from here that these modest, but significant for the whole world plants gradually spread to all countries. And now Kazakhstan is the keeper of the progenitor of all the Earth's apple trees – the Sievers apple tree. It was this tree that gave the world one of the most common fruits of our time. The apples that we know are the genetic varieties of the fruits of our apple tree species. On the ancient routes of the Silk Road from the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau on the territory of Kazakhstan, it ended up in the Mediterranean and then spread throughout the world. And as a symbol of this long history of the popular fruit, one of the most beautiful cities in the south of our country is called “Almaty”.
Actually, here, in the Chu-Ili Mountains, we still see in its primal form pearls of Kazakhstan's flora – the Regel tulips. These beautiful plants appeared on our land in the strip of deserts and foothills of the Tien Shan. From the Kazakh land, these modest but unusual flowers gradually spread around the world, conquering the hearts of many peoples with their beauty.
Today there are more than 3 thousand varieties of cultivated tulips in the world, and most of them are “descendants” of our local flowers. In Kazakhstan, there are 35 types of tulips.
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II. Modernisation of historical identity
All these issues require serious thought. They relate to the fundamentals of our worldview, the past, present and future of the nation.
I believe that we can begin this work with several large projects.
During the years of independence, a lot of work has been done to study the past of our people – the “Cultural Heritage” programme was successfully implemented, which allowed restoring the forgotten fragments of the historical chronicle. However, many documented evidence about the life of ancestors and their unique civilization has not yet been introduced into scientific circulation and are waiting for their hour in numerous archives around the world.
Therefore, I believe that we need to create the seven-year programme “Archive-2025”, which would include serious fundamental research of all domestic and foreign archives, starting with antiquity and ending with modernity.
As part of its implementation, it is necessary to focus the research work of special groups of historians, archivists, and cultural scientists on systemic and long-term engagement with domestic and major foreign archives.
This important activity in all respects should not turn into “academic tourism” at the public expense. It is necessary not only to painstakingly collect archived data, but also to actively convert it into a digital format, making it available to all interested experts and the general public.
Raising a sense of pride in one's history, fostering patriotism must begin at school. Therefore, it is important to create a historical and archaeological movement at schools and local history museums in all regions of the country. Being familiar with the national history creates the feeling of unity of their origins among all the people of Kazakhstan.
2. The great names of the Great Steppe
It is known that the historical process in the mass consciousness is primarily personified. Many nations are deservedly proud of the names of great ancestors who have become the unique ambassadors of their countries.
For example, such world-famous personalities of bygone eras as Tutankhamun, Confucius, Alexander the Great, Shakespeare, Goethe, Pushkin and George Washington are today invaluable “symbolic capital” for “their states”, contributing to their effective promotion in the international arena.
The Great Steppe also spawned a whole galaxy of prominent figures. Among them are such large-scale figures as Al-Farabi and Yassawi, Kul-Tegin and Beibars, Tauke and Abylay, Kenesary and Abay and many others.
Therefore, we should, first of all, create an educational Park-Encyclopedia “The Great Names of the Great Steppe”, where, under the open sky, sculptural monuments in honour of our famous historical figures and their achievements will be presented.
Secondly, by organising a targeted state order, it is necessary to initiate the formation of a topical gallery of images of great thinkers, poets and rulers of the past in contemporary literature, music, theater, and visual arts.
In addition to the classic formats, it is also important to tap the creative potential of alternative youth art. This work can involve not only domestic, but also foreign masters of art and creative teams.
Thirdly, it is necessary to systematise and step up activities for the creation and dissemination of the popular science series “Outstanding personalities of the Great Steppe” – “Uly Dala Tulgalary”, covering a broad historical horizon.
In this direction, international multidisciplinary teams can be created, in which, along with Kazakh scientists, foreign specialists will be involved. As a result, the life and activities of our heroes will be known both in our country and abroad.
3. The genesis of the Turkic world
Kazakhstan, the ancestral homeland of the Turkic peoples, is the sacred “Kara Shanyrak”. From here, from our steppes, the Turkic tribes and peoples who made a significant contribution to the historical processes in other countries and regions went to different parts of the world.
We need to launch the project “Turkic civilization: from the beginnings to the present”, within which it is possible to organise the World Congress of Turkologists in Astana in 2019 and the Days of Culture of the Turkic ethnic groups, where the ancient Turkic artifacts will be displayed in the museums of various countries. It is also important to create a single online library of common Turkic works following the example of Wikipedia, of which Kazakhstan can act as a moderator.
In addition, as part of the promotion of Turkestan as a new regional centre, it is necessary to strengthen its positioning in the international arena.
The ancient capital of Kazakhstan is not only the spiritual centre of our people, but also a sacred place for the entire Turkic world.
4. The Museum of Ancient Art and Technology of the Great Steppe
We have every opportunity to create the Museum of Ancient Art and Technology of the Great Steppe “Uly Dala”. It is possible to collect samples of high art and technology, including artefacts made in animal style, the decoration of the “Golden Man”, objects reflecting the process of taming the horse, the development of metallurgy, the manufacture of weapons, equipment and other artifacts. Expand in it the exposition of valuable archaeological finds and archaeological complexes found on the territory of Kazakhstan, which reflect the development process of various sectors of the economy on the territory of our country in certain historical eras.
And also create the National Club of Historical Reconstructions “Great Civilizations of the Great Steppe” and hold festivals in Astana and the regions of Kazakhstan on its basis: the ancient Saks, Huns, the era of the great Turkic Kagans, etc. Work on these topics can be done simultaneously, bringing together those interested in these subjects.
The tourist project for the partial restoration of the ancient city of Otyrar with the reconstruction of objects of the urban environment – houses, streets, public places, water supply, city walls, and so on – will be interesting.
At the same time, it is necessary to focus on the popularisation of knowledge and the development of tourism on this basis.
5. A thousand years of steppe folklore and music
Within the framework of this project, we need to create an “anthology of steppe folklore”. It will contain the best examples of verbal folk art by the heirs of the Great Steppe over the past millennium – tales, legends, stories, epics.
In addition, it is necessary to release a collection of “Ancient motifs of the Great Steppe” – a collection of significant works created for traditional Kazakh musical instruments: kobyz, dombra, sybyzgy, sazsyrnay and others.
The folklore and melodies of the Great Steppe should acquire a “new breath” in a modern digital format. To work on these projects, it is important to attract domestic and foreign professionals who are able not only to systematise, but also to actualise the rich heritage of the Steppe.
The main plots, characters and motives of our culture have no boundaries and should be systematically researched and promoted throughout the whole of Central Eurasia and in the whole world.
Modernisation of verbal and musical traditions should acquire formats that are close and comprehensible to the modern audience.
In particular, ancient words and texts may be accompanied by illustrations or be embodied in the form of vivid video materials. In turn, sounds and melodies can be born not only by means of authentic instruments, but also through modern electronic versions.
In addition, it is necessary to organise a series of scientific and research expeditions to various regions of Kazakhstan and other countries to search for common historical foundations of the folklore tradition.
6. History in film and television
In the modern world, cinema occupies a huge place in the self-education of peoples in historical subjects. Bright film images sometimes play a more significant role in mass public perceptions than documentary portraits in scientific monographs.
Therefore, in the near future it is necessary to launch into production a special cycle of documentary films, television series and feature-length movies that demonstrate the continuity of the civilizational history of Kazakhstan.
Work on these projects should be carried out within the framework of broad international cooperation involving the best domestic and foreign scriptwriters, directors, actors, producers and other specialists in the modern film industry.
In addition, it is necessary to maximise the use of genre of the new historical television and film productions, by including elements of fantasy and action-packed blockbusters that are popular today with the audience, as well as adventure and melodramatic motifs.
For this purpose, it is possible to use the rich mythological and folklore material of the Great Steppe.
Particular attention should also be paid to the younger generation, which is in dire need of high-quality children's films and animated series that can create a cult of national superheroes.
Our illustrious warriors, thinkers and rulers deserve to be role models not only in Kazakhstan, but throughout the world.
A year and a half ago, I published the article “Course towards the future: modernisation of Kazakhstan's identity,” which found a broad response in society.
I consider the above projects as a continuation of the programme “Ruhani Zhangyru”.
The new components of the nationwide programme “Ruhani Zhangyru” will make it possible to bring to reality the centuries-old heritage of our ancestors, making it understandable and in demand in the current conditions of the digital civilization.
I am convinced that the people who remember, appreciate, and are proud of their history have a great future. Pride in the past, a pragmatic assessment of the present and a positive outlook into the future - this is the key to the success of our country.