The barren steppes of Kazakhstan were inhabited by nomads in ancient times. Turkic tribes moved into the area in the 6th century A.D. In the 13th century, the Mongols under their leader, Genghis Khan, conquered central Asia. The Mongols introduced the religion of Islam to the area. The Kazakh people, were descended from both the Turkic and the Mongol peoples. They were nomadic herders and excellent horsemen.

 In the 16th century, Russians from the north began to move into the area. During the 17th century, Russian settlements and fortifications stretched along the northern part of the Kazakh steppe. In the 1830s, the Russians moved south and invaded the steppe. In 1863, Russia annexed the entire area.

The Kazakhs resented Russian domination, but had little power to resist it. Almost a quarter of the Kazakh people died in rebellions and famines in the 19th and early 20th centuries. When Russia made Kazakhs join the Russian army as support workers during the First World War, they rioted and killed many Russian settlers. Russia exiled thousands of Kazakhs to China and killed those who tried to return.

 The Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the creation of the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan became a republic within the new state. Beginning in the 1920s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin established mines, mills and factories in Kazakhstan and moved hundreds of thousands of Russians and Ukrainians into the area. The Kazakhs resisted this move. They slaughtered their livestock rather than let it fall into the hands of the Russians. Many Kazakhs fled; others were killed or imprisoned, or died of disease and famine in the1920s and 1930s.

  Did you know?
Almaty was once a stop on the Silk Road - an overland trade route between China and Europe from the 1st century to the 16th century. Caravans regularly travelled the route across Asia until the Dutch, Portuguese and English established sea routes to the East.
The Soviet industrial program transformed Kazakhstan into a multicultural society. Russians, Ukrainians, Koreans, Germans and Tatars settled in the area. For a time, the Kazakh people were a minority in Kazakhstan. In the 1950s, in a disastrous experiment, the Soviets created collective farms to grow wheat on the steppe. After two crops were harvested, the arid soil was exhausted. Later the Soviets used the steppe as an atomic bomb test site.

 When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s, Kazakhstan declared its independence. The new country now has a limited form of parliamentary democracy. Its leaders are working to make the economy stronger. They want the country's many ethnic groups to continue to live together peacefully. Although Kazakhstanis of many backgrounds consider the country their home, many non-Kazakhs have left the country.

  Did you know?
One of the Mongol leaders who succeeded Genghis Khan was Tamerlane. Although he is remembered as a cruel ruler, he built a huge religious complex in Turkestan in south Kazakhstan in the 14th century. The complex includes a mausoleum dedicated to the Sufi poet and teacher Khodja Ahmed Yasavi.