The Center for the Study of the Eurasian Nomads

The Golden Horde and the Formation of the Ethnic Kazakhs

by Jiger Janabel

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The Silk Road and the Cities of the Golden Horde

(Editor'A Note. Jiger Janabel, a Kazakh from Xingiang, China, is currently finishing his doctoral dissertation, "From the Golden Horde to the Qazaq" at Harvard University. He has kindly written this short historical commentary on the formation of the Kazakh Khanate after the Qipchaq (Kipchak) steppe in southeastern Kazakhstan was reorganized by the Mongol Batu Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan. Please address questions to Mr. Janabel (janabel@fax.

The formation of the Kazakh Khanate in 1459,in the southeastern corner of modern Kazakhstan, was the culmination of a long standing political, economic, and ethnic evolution that began after the Mongols took over the Qipchaq steppe between 1223-1227. At this time the steppe was divided it into three large political dominions. Although the Qipchaq steppe was occasionally united by various nomadic confederations prior to the Mongols' arrival, it was the Mongols who welded the vast steppe into an unprecedented degree of unity. This was accomplished through a rigid military political system and the absolute personal power of a supreme ruler.

Following a steppe tradition of land allotment, the Qipchaq steppe was reorganized by Batu Khan (d. 1255), Juchi's second son, into three territorially and economically independent entities, called ulus(es), each with a demarcated territory. These three uluses, each led by a Juchid, sometimes bowed in obedience to the stronger central authority, and at other times fought amongst themselves. As a unit, they brought profound changes into the steppe society. Nothing was more consequential than their direct contribution to the formation of various modern Turkic speaking nationalities, including the Tatars, Nogais, Qazaqs and Uzbeks.

At the end of the l4th century the formerly centralized Golden Horde gradually slipped into a dissolution process. Simultaneously several subordinate uluses merged as distinct political unions, functioning in the capacity of economic guarantors for their subject tribes. Thus, tribes of each union increasingly defined their mutual relationships using political and territorial affiliations. The tendency toward an unprecedented degree of adherence within each of these large uluses became steady as the pressure for survival grew.

Finally, various ethnonyms were incubated to respond to the emergence from the steppes of the modern nationalities. Juchids and their subjects unconsciously embraced their neighbors' nomenclature even though occasionally in a derogatory fashion. Tribes reshuffled to the ulus of Orda-Ejen, Juchi's eldest son. The Kok-orda evolved into the modern Qazaqs. Their co-tribes originally assigned to Sheiban, Juchi's fifth son, along with other newly admitted tribes, were united into "the Nomadic Uzbek State" by Abulkhair Khan (1429-1468). These tribes subsequently became known as the Uzbeks, named after the magnificent Ozbeg Khan (1313-1343) of the Golden Horde.