«We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future»


The year of 2018 has been proclaimed as the year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan. At the beginning of March, the Presidents of the neighbouring republics, S. Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan and N. Nazarbayev of

Kazakhstan, met in Astana, where the official ceremony opening the year of Uzbekistan was held. 

There is a lot that connects the people of these two countries: history, culture, language. However, historians have decided to also look at the historical figure that connects our people - Abul Khair Khan. This is the historical persona to which professor Burkitbai Ayagan devoted his research and has offered the portal NDH his article on this topic.

Perhaps, during the Soviet period, there was greater pressure from the Party committee on research of the history of the Turkish Khanate, the Golden Horde (Altyn Orda) and other configurations of state formation that arose during the period of the once great and mighty Horde. For a long, the territories of Europe and Asia were also under the domain of the Golden Horde, and many ethnic groups of Eurasia afterwards proceeded to use the strategies learned from its experience of governance, taxation, military organization and even postal service.

Map of the Golden Horde

The history of the formation of the Golden Horde was tightly intertwined with the history of Desht-i-Qipchaq - the land of the Kipchaks.


The domain of Desht-i-Qipchaq included the vast lands west of Altai towards the frontiers of the Black sea, the North Caucasus, the mountain hills of the Ural and those regions which are now part of Romania, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Back in the 10th-14th centuries, in Russian recorded sources, these lands were called the Cuman (Kipchak) steppes or “Wild Fields”.


In the 1720-1730s the undefeatable army of Chengiz Khan crushed and conquered the Kipchak tribes.

But something surprising also happened. The armies of Chengiz Khan and his sons, which were comprised of Mongol and Turkic language speaking warriors (jalair, kerei, naiman, wusun, khongirad and others), over a very short period of time, became dispersed among the tribes of the Desht-i-Qipchaq. The Arabic scholar, Shihab al-Umari, noted this phenomenon. He wrote: “In the ancient times this was the land of the Kipchaks but when the tatars (mongols) took over, the Kipchaks came under their rule. Then they (the Mongols) mixed with them (the Kipchaks) and nature prevailed over their (the Mongols’) racial qualities and they became just like Kipchaks, just by settling on their land, as if they were one ethnic group”. The Mongols dissolved “like salt in water” among the Kipchaks - humorously notes Shihab al-Umari.


However, in this case, the meaning of the term “Mongols”, as assigned to an ethnic group, must be looked at in greater detail. Even contemporary Mongolian scholars have difficulties pinpointing the origins of the ethnonym “Mongols”. Some trace the etymology back to the term “mangi el” - eternal (country) state, while others believe that the term comes from the word which means “a thousand hands, a thousand tribes”. That is why Genghis Khan’s army was comprised of many different tribes - khalkha, dörbet, buryats, etc. And the identification papers of citizens of modern day Mongolia include information about the person’s ethnic tribe affiliations, whereas Mongolians remains as a common national term.


The fact that these tribes were part of the more ancient Turkic Khanate facilitated the intermixing of customs, cultural traditions and languages but this is not mentioned in the Arabic historical sources, although the bravery and military valor of the Turks has been mentioned with praise. It is also worth keeping in mind that the Turkic tribes of wusuns, khongirads, argyns, dzhalairs and others were the first to join Genghis Khan’s empire. They were mentioned during the famous meeting of 1206, when Temujin was proclaimed as Genghis Khan.

And different travelers, merchants, tradespeople and diplomats, who visited the frontiers of the Golden Horde, noted that the lieges of this state spoke in a turkic language that was understandable for everyone, which presupposes the language of the Kipchaks.

Mahmud Safargaliyev, in his foundational work “The Fall of the Golden Horde” (p.307-308), presents numerous examples of records of Eastern and European travellers,who noted the Kipchak language of the people of the Golden Horde. Mongolian was soon supplanted by the Turkic-Kipchak language. The scholar Alkei Margulan also writes about the fact that the people of the Golden Horde spoke a Turkic language.

The borders of Dasht-i-Qipchaq and the states that were established within them were not so clearly defined. After the consolidation of the rule of Chingissids and the subsequent internecine battles for the throne, by the beginning of 14th century the final split happened resulting in the establishment of 3 hordes - Golden Horde, Kok-orda (Blue horde) and Ak-orda (White horde). Ak-orda was mostly ruled by the ancestors of Orda Khan and Shaiban, the Golden Horde - by the ancestors of Batu Khan and Tuka-Timur. However, the ancestors of Dzhuchi, Batyi, Shaiban and Tuka-Timur also took part in the battle for the throne.

The ancestors of Orda Khan and Shayban mainly ruled in the eastern part of Dasht-i-Qipchaq. What’s more, for a long time Shayban’s ancestors were spread across the shores of Ural, Volga and the Caspian sea. Then, their territory starter expanding to the north to Siberia, the Barabin steppes and then to the south.

The Uzbek scholar Boribai Akhmedov points out that in 1373-1374 two Khans from the house of the Shaybanids minted coins in Saraichik: Ilban and Alp-Khodja.

 And in the middle of the 14th century the name of the Uzbek Ulus begins to stand out. The scholar V. Bartold in his “12 lectures on the history of the Turkic people of Central Asia” points out that “it is probable that the region between Ili and Syrdarya belonged to the younger son of Dzhuchi - Shiban. In accordance with the muslim traditions this name was subsequently changed to Sheiban. As a result, at the beginning of the 14th century the successor of Sheiban, the founder of the Uzbek state in Turkestan took on the poetic name Shaybani, the same as the name of the Arabic tribe more known under the name (Nisba) of the famous Faqih of the Hanafi school, the student of Abu-Hanif and Abu-Yusuf”. V. Bartold concludes that it is very likely this name, which was popular in the muslim world, was the reason behind the change of the name Shiban to Shayban and the appearance of the name Shaybani. But for some reason he does not mention the fact that the Shaybanids’ domain in the 14th century were spread across the territory of Siberia and the interstream area of Volga and Don.

Historians have still not reached an agreement about the etymology of the ethnonym “uzbek”. Boribai Akhmedov, in his famous work “Statehood of Nomad Uzbeks” notes that a number of scholars connect the origins of the ethnonym “Uzbek” to the Oghuz Khagan of the Golden Horde. Among the scholars are A.Y. Yakubovskiy, P. P. Ivanov, H. Hukkem and others. But another group of researchers believes that the Turkic-Mongolian tribes of the Golden Horde got their name due to their sense of freedom (uz-self, bek-lord). The fact that this ethnonym was used to define a social group long before Oghuz Khagan’s rule is one of the arguments in favour of this hypothesis. A. A. Semyonov, G. Vambern, G. Hovors, M. P. Pellio, M. Kazvini and others are among the scholars who lean towards this opinion. The 92 branches of Kipchaks included many tribes which after the fall of Abul-Khair Khan formed as separate social groups - ming, khongirads, naymans, kereits and others.

The origins of the politonym “Uzbeks” were analysed in detail by B. A. Akhmedov and we think it is possible to rely on this information. But it is notable that at the end of 14th century Toktamys and Urus Khan, ancestors of the Kazakh Khans Kerei and Dzhanibek, were called the rulers of Uzbeks. According to A. I. Levshin, the real name of Urus Khan is Akniyaz and the muslim name - Mohammed.

 Within the framework of this research, the ethnonym “Kazakh”, according to the majority of researchers means “wanderer”, a free person travelling on their own. If we take a closer look, then it is noticeable that the root meaning of “uzbek” and “kazakh” is similar, meaning “free person, the master of oneself”. It is also known that for a long time, in the 15th-16th century, Kazakhs and Uzbeks fought against each other but also united as a single army front.

“Back in the times of Timur and Toktamys, the area of the steppes on the territory of Desht-i-Qipchaq was called the “uzbek steppes, and secondly, by that time the nomad uzbeks ruled over a substantial territory located to the north of Syrdarya” - B. Akhmedov writes. But during that period, the designations as “uzbek”, “kazakh” and “nogai” had a political or social connotation.”

A question arises about the concrete definition of “uzbek”, “Al-uzbek” and “nomad uzbek”. The use of the terms “wilaya uzbek”, “uzbek tribes” are quiet appropriate and that is how they are used in the works of scholars of that time - Muhammad Khwandamir, “Anonymous Iskander” and others. But it must be noted that the term “nomad uzbeks” was introduced much later in the 20th century, perhaps by Boribai Akhmedov or professor Semyonov, who was the Institute Director at that time.

During the reign of Timur (mid 14th - 1405) his allies constantly battled with the Uzbek tribes that came from the north, from outside the Desht-i-Qipchaq domain. Fazlullah ibn Ruzbihan mentioned three tribes that fall under the designation of “uzbeks”. He wrote: “Three social groups are classified as uzbek, the best under the rule of Chengiz Khan. One of them is Shaybanids and their Khan, who, after the ancestors, was and continues to be their ruler. The second tribe - Kazakhs, who are renowned for their might and fearlessness. The third tribe - Manghuds, and their Astrakhan kings of Hajji Tarkhan”.

After the deaths of Timur in 1405, of Toktamys in 1410 and Edigey in 1419, new rulers appeared on the historico-political arena. And one of the most infamous figures of the mid-15th century is Abul-Khair Khan.

Burkitbai Ayagan, Director of Institute of State History under the Committee of Science, Ministry of Education of Republic of Kazakhstan.