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ABYLAI KHAN – Institute of History and Ethnology named after Sh. Sh. Ualikhanov


Abylai Khan (1711/12 – 1780/81) – an outstanding statesman, sardar and senior Khan (1771-1780 / 81) of the Kazakh Khanate in XVIIIth  century. In very difficult domestic political and international conditions, Abylai Khan managed to maintain the relative independence and territorial integrity of the state.


Abylay Khan’s life path was not easy. He was born in 1711 (according to other sources-in 1713) in Turkestan (according to other sources-in Tashkent) [1].

At birth he received the name Abylmansur. His grandfather, whose name also was Abylay, was the ruler of the city of Turkestan and even Tashkent, famous for his military prowess, received the terrible nickname “Bloodsucker Abylay” [2].

Abylay studied a Muslim education and learnt Eastern languages. He played the musical instrument dombra well, leaving behind several “kuis” or dombra music. During the internecine wars, he was left an orphan. About fifteen years of age began to take an active part in the war with the the main enemy of Kazakh khanate – “Dzungars”.

Abylay was taller and was distinguished by great physical strength. People of Kazakh khanate respected him for his courage, bravery and agility. Until his last days he with the soldiers and participated in military campaigns. The captured enemies  items always shared with the with his warriors. In battles with enemies, he several times wounded.

Abylay was distinguished by wit and resourcefulness, among his contemporaries he was known as a man of his word, a brilliant mind, an honest and fair ruler. He was an excellent orator, a connoisseur of the law of the Kazakhs and “Shezhire”, managed to gather around him the most authoritative, respected and honest people. Over the years of his political activity He has gained a huge diplomatic experience, He entered into long correspondence with the rulers and high-ranking officials of neighboring States.

According to his great-grandson CH. Valikhanov: “Participating in all raids first as an ordinary soldier, he shows feats of extraordinary courage and cunning. Useful his advice and strategic considerations consolidate for him wise person” [3].

Abylay became widely known among the people when he was about twenty years old. Entering the militia of Khan Abulmambet, in one of the battles of 1733 with the war cry “Abylay!” during the face-to-face combat with Dzhungarian commander “Batyr Sharysh” he killed him and won the great battle, after which he received a new name-Abylay and began to enjoy great popularity and authority among the steppe. He was entrusted with the management of one of the major clans “Atygai” which was a part of tribe “Argyn” in Middle juz. By in 1749 to Abylai not only obey all seven genera argyns, but “Kerei”, “Uaks”, and “Kipchaks” [4].

In order to strengthen his power and establish good-neighborly relations with his neighbors, Abylay entered into dynastic marriages with representatives of influential families of neighboring States.  Here is how the great-grandson of the Abylay Khan, the famous Kazakh educator CH. Valikhanov wrote about it: “Abylay had 12 wives, from whom he had 40 daughters and 30 sons. From his first wife Karachach-Khanym, daughter of Abulkhair, He had no sons, except two daughters, one of whom was married to Dair Khan, son of Barak, and the other-to Sultan Khudaymend. The second wife was Sayman-Khanum, the daughter of Karakalpak ruler Sagentic Chubakbay, the mother of Khan walia. Third one was Babak-Khanym is the daughter of Kashgar Bey Kenje-sart, who left for China. Ablay’s last four wives were all Kalmucks and had no children. The ninth was as an assistant to Saiman-xanim, the tenth – to Karachach-xanim” [5].1.Abylay is a well-known political and statesman. Abylai Khan’s life path was not easy. He was born in 1711 (according to other sources-in 1713) in Turkestan (according to other sources-in Tashkent) [1].

All internal political activity of Abylay was aimed at the restoration of a centralized and independent state. His power was almost unlimited, and had the support of the people. In 1759, the tsarist administration invited Abylai to remove Abulmambet and take His place, promising him every support. However, the influential and wise Sultan categorically refused: this proposal could lead to the destruction of the unity of the people. Only after the death of Khan Abulmambet Abylay agreed to become the ruler of all three zhuzes. The tsarist government in 1778 recognized Abylai as a Khan of the Middle Horde only. However, he refused to go to the solemn ceremony of the oath and presentation of the Tsar’s letters and gifts, because he believed that the people elected him ruler, and therefore he is not obliged to swear allegiance to the Russian throne. Moreover, he considered himself legally elected Khan of all three zhuzes in 1771. 

Khan directed his efforts in the following areas. First, he almost managed to recreate the centralized Kazakh state. In 1771 in Turkestan he was proclaimed Khan of all three zhuzes. Here is how Abylay himself wrote about it in his letter to the Orenburg Governor N. A. Reinsdorf in 1779: “in my possession there are Elder and Younger, in the Middle Khan was the sole ruler of the Horde” [6].

This was largely facilitated by his outstanding role in the defeat of both the Dzungars and the militant Volga Kalmyks during the “Dusty campaign” of 1771 [7] . In 1772, the Chinese confirmed the Khan’s title [4, p. 274].

To better manage the subjects in each of the three zhuzes Abylay appointed rulers of the “ulus” influential people, including their close relatives. So, in Semirechye (Zhetysu) on his behalf sultans Adil and Suyuk ruled, in Central Kazakhstan – Sultan Kasym, in the Irtysh region – the cousin of the Khan Sultan Sultanbet with numerous descendants (17 sons born from 2 wives-a bus.), in Eastern Kazakhstan – the son of Abulmambet of Abulfeiz. Khan was also helped by a large detachment of loyal “tolenguts”, “batyrs” and “biys”. Secondly, he strengthened the judiciary, relying on the authority of large Kazakh “biys”. The most influential political figure was his adviser Bukhar Zhyrau, who competed in eloquence even with the Bashkir speakers [8].

Thirdly, Abylay managed to stop the internecine fighting and “barymta” among subordinate clans and tribes. Finally, he encouraged the Kazakhs to engage in agriculture, haying and fishing, supported the caravan trade in the Steppe, initiated the construction of forges in the Steppe.  He was a supporter of the spread of horticulture and grain crops in the steppe, for which he often appealed to the Siberian authorities with requests to send him seeds of various vegetables and grain crops, as can be seen from the letter of the commander of the Petropaul fortress, Colonel S. Sumorokov to commander of the Siberian corps, General I. Dekolong on February 24, 1775: “I Received letter from Kirghiz Chaganbak from Kirghiz (Kazakh) land Average from the owner Ablay-Saltan in the name of your Excellency a letter, who asks for sending him wheat, barley, millet, four coulters, seeds tabashnago, melon, watermelon, carrot and etc. ” [9]

Khan was the patron of poets, musicians and religious figures, dreamed of building cities in Kazakh lands.


Abylay’s foreign policy, directed towards Russia, was characterized by flexibility and foresight, aimed at ensuring the inviolability of the territory of the Northern part of the Kazakh khanate, for which he tried to maintain good-neighborly relations, maintained diplomatic and trade ties.  He received Russian envoys with dignity and respect [10].

In particular, one of such meetings was in August, 1740 when Abylay together with Abulmambet visited a rate of the head of Orenburg expedition of Urusov where accepted the Russian submission[11].

He controlled foreign trade caravans going to or from Russia and levied duties on them. Death sentences were carried out on his behalf without coordinating their actions with the Russian government. 

Openly defended his people from the claims of Russian military persons. Sometimes he entered an active mediator in their release. For example, on June 15, 1748, the Sultan appealed to the chief commandant of the Irtysh line of fortresses Ya. Pavlutsky about the need to return the family and people of Alembet Batyr, contained in Russia. [10, l.75].

Abylay acted as an intermediary and traded Bukharans with the Russians, giving them their “letters of trust”. For example, on August 4, 1748 to Verkhnecharnavsky Outpost arrived from Dzungaria 48 Bukhara merchants, accompanied by 2 Kazakhs with a cover letter from Abylay: “and while those Bukharans named Reestr, and given to them from the kirghis-kaysat owner Ablay-Saltan when writing in their language about the pass on farposts” [10, l. 406].

In 1765, sultans Abylay and Sultanmametu of the Middle Zhuz began to issue an annual salary of 300 and 150 rubles, respectively, while at this time Nuraly Khan received 600 rubles as the son of the elder Khan Abulkhair [12].

Seeing in Abylai a worthy opponent, feeding him some reverence, the leadership of Western Siberia demanded from the commandants of the fortresses more dignified and respectful attitude towards him. This is evident from the letter of the Orenburg office to the commander of the Siberian corps K. Frauendorff dated March 12, 1759: “do not deign, your Excellency, to all the local line commanders, to make them in cases to him Ablay-Saltan, as well as to other Kirghiz people, and without given from them reason no insults Because your current circumstances, the higher Her Imperial Majesty’s interest requires”[13] .

There were repeated attempts by Abylai to conclude a military Alliance or at least to enlist military assistance from the Russian Empire. But each time he received a veiled, but expected failure: the tsarist government was afraid of strengthening the position of the headstrong and independent ruler of the steppe. For example, in his letter to the Orenburg Governor-General I. Reinsdorp on September 19, 1772, he asked to send him troops to restore order among his subjects: “Is it possible, then a thousand or five hundred, and at least three hundred people to abstain from My Horde of villainous Kirghiz-kaisak to me to send”[14].

In our opinion, it was a false attack of Abylay Khan, who only in 1771 from North-Eastern Kazakhstan through his cousin managed to collect 50 thousand soldiers. Moreover, he had at his disposal several thousand loyal “tolengit”, who had solid experience of warfare, not counting those that were available to his 30 sons, relatives and cousins, as well as matchmakers from respected families, including foreign citizenship. This was a kind of test of Russia’s readiness to provide him with military assistance in the event of a complication of the internal situation and the geopolitical situation in the region. It was also a diplomatic ploy to strengthen the somewhat shaky position among his subjects, especially towards the end of his reign. Of course, Russia refused him every time.   

Here is how the famous Alash figure K. Kemengerov describes the main reasons for the independence of Abylay from the tsarist government: “the Clever Khan Abylay did not subdue the Middle Zhuz to Russia, misleading the latter. Russia could not subdue The middle Zhuz for the following reasons: 1) remoteness of the territory; 2) the Middle Zhuz was adjacent to China and Dzungaria; 3) If Russia would strongly oppress, the Middle Zhuz could go to China; 4) having Succumbed to Abylay’s policy of inciting China and Dzungaria against each other, Russia could not split the Middle Zhuz from the outside (the Russian government called Abylay a “famous barbarian”)” [15]. 

Gradual withdrawal of Abylay from the Russian Empire begins with the mid 50-ies of the XVIII century and is connected with the Kazakh-Dzhungar relations and the construction of tsarism line of military fortifications on Novoishimskaya  in the years 1752-1755: “Davaci in 1754 (breaking Amursana) strongly restricts the Kirghiz of the Middle Horde to our line breaks and Amursana that, due to the fact, seeks support in Chinese, recognizing the authority over them Bogdykhan, but so far the Chinese government had to send troops against Davala, Abylai was so near to defeat in the North, that appeals to the Siberian border authorities with a request to let inside the line of wives and children of the Kyrgyz of some of the Middle Horde. In this him chiefs lines, on the basis Decree military Collegium from 31 January 1755 year refuse, thereby terminally convince Ablay in is, that from Russian governments, so groundlessly fearing such paltry enemies, as dzhungars, and from one this fears, refusing to cover up subservient him Kirghiz, nothing to acquire expect in the future.from now on, for the rest of his life, he treats us as cunningly as we treat him. And it was a pity to lose the trust of one of the most popular sultans. Ablay had for us value more, than unloved people Abulkhair… ” [16]3.

Sometimes in the relations of Abylay with Russia and reached to open military conflicts: “… Let’s say a few words about the unauthorized transitions of the Kirghiz Horde in our borders. The Kirghiz of this Horde, led by Sultan Ablay, as we already know, during the Bashkir revolt were busy raiding “zyungar” and their successes so carried away that in the winter of 1754-1755 began to move on the river Irtysh to the Russian side, under the pretext of lack of food on their side. They resisted officers who were sent to remove the Kirghiz, and threatened not to let people out of the fortress, to burn hay and not to give water from the Irtysh river. As a result, a team of 400 people was established, which was to be “in constant readiness to act against the Kirghiz”… in other places of the line there were still several thousand Kirghiz, and it was not easy to drive them away”[17].

October 22, 1778 the tsarist government recognized Abylay Khan only Khan of middle Zhuz. This was a response to his letter of February 28, 1778, when he asked the Russian Empress Catherine II to confirm him in the Khan’s dignity and to be the ruler of all three zhuzes: “Abulkhair and Abulmambet khans died, who were relatives of my ancestors. How they from this passed away, so the succession of the Khan’s esteem got to me. On their death, all Kirghiz-kaysat hordes, that is Greater, Middle and Smaller, khans and soltans together with big and smaller cities of Tashkent and Turkestan province with the General consent last 1771 in the city of Turkestan at a coffin of our Muslim sacred Khoja Akhmet, as usual ours, having read a prayer, named me all three Kirghiz-kaysat hordes the Khan in which a rank and really erected…most humbly beg, my Khan title of the award from hands of blessing gold seal certificates confirm” [6, sh. 42-46].

But the Khan, apparently disagreeing with the position of tsarism on the approval of his Khan only One middle Zhuz and fearing for his life, refused to go to the solemn ceremony of the oath and presentation of the Royal diploma and gifts. Moreover, at the ceremony of his elevation to the khans, he had to kneel, which was not in the traditions of Genghis Khan. Abylay Khan believed that his ruler was elected by the people and therefore he is not obliged to swear allegiance to the Russian throne. Here is how the famous researcher of the new time A. I. describes these events. Dobrosmyslov: “24 may 1778 Ablai Sultan built by Empress Catherine II in Khan’s dignity, and then announced was this a special Imperial letter…Empress Catherine II approved the Ablai Khan’s dignity, offered the Orenburg Governor to make the effort to Abylay for the confirmation arrived in the city of Orenburg or the other some place in the Orenburg provinces and the rite to do so, as it was in confirmation of the Khan of the Small Horde, Nurali in 1749… When making Ablay needs to stand on his knees as he took the oath in Orenburg Khan Nurali, although this, in order to avoid “reprehensible noise” in the people, it was proposed strongly and not to insist. Together with the diploma on Khan’s dignity to the Orenburg Governor the sable fur coat, a cap with a band from black-browed foxes and a saber were forwarded for delivery of Ablay (in Total 4380 rubles, including 1494 rubles for production of signs of Khan’s advantage were spent on Embassy of Ablay Khan). Abylay was true to his rules and this time, refusing to travel to the line and from taking the oath. Repeated attempts of the border authorities to induce Ablay to take the oath had no success, and therefore the diploma for the rank of Khan and other signs on this dignity remained not handed over to him. According to intelligence it turned out that Ablay because he did not want to take the oath, that continued to be considered a subject of bogdyhan and, evading the oath of allegiance to the Russian Empress, he wanted to preserve his freedom of action. In order to Ablai felt the resentment of the Russian government, had been ordered to stop him issuing salary to support all of the easy ways of his opponents and banned Russians to travel to the Horde to avoid danger from “this game”… Thought was to take the situation for uncensored and indecent behavior in captivity” [19.c. 157-158].

It was Abylay with the support of his cousin Sultan Sultanmameta belongs to the greatest merit in the return of the right Bank of the Irtysh to the Kazakh people through a systematic appeal to the regional and Central authorities to bypass the Kazakh cattle on the right Bank of the Irtysh. Sometimes appeals to the regional authorities with urgent requests to migrate to the right side of the Irtysh acquired a collective character on the part of very high – ranking officials-sultans Abylay and Sultanmamet. This can be learned from the letter of Abylay and Sultanmamet to major-General von Weimarn dated June 6, 1760: in it they as before, insisted on the admission of cattle on the right Bank of the Irtysh. As can be seen from the date of treatment, the steppe demanded winter transition in advance, long before the onset of winter: “and while humbly ask, as winter comes, to come to this to the Russian side with our river Irtysh permission to winter, and as spring nasupit, packs on their ubrattsa should. And we’ll have a lot of neighborhood and friendliness between us. And consisting on the Irtysh line in fortresses and farposts commanders us on your party don’t allow to winter, and we on their case are angry” [20].

Such permission was obtained only in 1771, but only on a temporary basis, for winter time, without weapons, only to the herdsmen.

Fearing to lose its influence on the Khan, the tsarist government in 1779 confirmed the issuance of his annual salary of 300 rubles and 200 pounds of flour. By the way, the Royal administration itself pushed Abylai to ask her salary, in order to make it more dependent on the Empire [21, p.119].

But by this time Abylay almost completely severed relations with the Russian Empire and retired to the South, limiting himself to small and rare letters, absolutely not appearing in the border zone.

Russia tried to persuade Abylay to its side by other methods. So, in 1756 to it the wooden house –chorus was one of the first constructed, at its request to its nomads Russian mowers for hay mowing distribution went.

Abylay focused his main efforts on the policy of weakening the Dzungarian aggression. Hopes for military assistance to Russia were not justified. Dzungars, having concluded peace with the Qing Empire in 1739, threw all their forces to the West and in 1741 began a new major campaign against the Kazakhs, as a result of which Abylay was captured, being there for more than 2 years. The conclusion of peace with the Dzungarian state in 1743 contributed to the liberation of Sultan Abylai from captivity. The Embassy of Russian Empire major Miller, sent to Galdan-Tseren in 1742 was limited to verbal threats against the Dzungars and the wish to live “as good neighbors.”   

After the death of Galdan-Tseren in Dzungaria began a fierce struggle for the throne between his heirs. Kazakh sultans willingly took part in the internecine wars of Dzungarian rulers.  This gave them the opportunity to weaken their opponents and the return of the southern and South-Eastern regions of Kazakhstan [22].

Sometimes Abylay, having United with the Dzhungarian princes who acted against Davatsi actively battled with the remains of the primordial enemies about what Chinese sources told : “Tseren, Erintsin, Abylay at the head of groups of Oirats and Kazakhs more than in 10 thousand people completely plundered all nomads on Borotal”[23].

Abylay, supporting alternately one or the other pretender to the throne, managed to achieve significant territorial concessions from the Dzungars. At this time, the Chinese rulers closely monitored the situation in Dzungaria and prepared to capture the country. The Chinese-Dzungarian wars began: in 1755, the Qing Emperor introduced significant troops into Dzungaria. Once powerful Amursana was forced to hide from his friend Abylay, later-was forced to flee under the auspices of the Russian state in Siberia. By 1758 Dzungaria was completely conquered by the Chinese army. About 1 million Dzungars and their sattelites were killed and captured.   The surviving and escaped from the encirclement of a small part of the Dzungars fled to the Kalmyks related to the lower Volga. On the way dzhungars were subjected to numerous attacks of the Kazakh people. In 1761, in order to finally consolidate the position of China in Dzungaria, the Imperial Viceroyalty of Xinjiang (New line) was created. A small part of the Dzungars settled in the territory of the Middle Zhuz.

And to the very strict demand of the commanders of the Chinese columns in 1755 to give them Amursana, Abylay replied in a very correct and refusal form, not wanting to betray his former ally: “Amursana is like an unhappy bird that rushed into the forest, it is not difficult to catch it. I ask the great Emperor to open the snares and let him live.” By the way, the Chinese at this time reached the river Ishim. Of course, Abylay patronized his friend, who had previously helped to weaken the Dzungars[23, p. 105].

By the way, in the decree of April 12, 1757, the Emperor punished both commanders of the Chinese army who missed, Amursana and Abylay, having deprived them of a noble rank[23,page 109]. 

In any case, the role of Abylay in the destruction of the jungar state is great [24].

Khan pursued a policy of maneuvering between the largest empires: Russian and Chinese. Maintaining diplomatic relations with both countries, he was able to ensure the almost complete independence of the Kazakh khanate. While in Russian citizenship, in 1757 he began to maintain diplomatic relations with the Chinese government, accepting external obedience. This measure allowed him to stop the colonial actions of Russia on the territory of Kazakhstan, at the same time preventing the escalation of hostilities by China.

Along with the beginning of the destruction of the Dzungarian state, the land relations of the Kazakh rulers with the Chinese authorities became somewhat aggravated.  In the summer of 1755, a Chinese Ambassador was sent to Sultan Abylai to settle border issues. However, Abylai did not want to recognize the fact of China’s seizure of Dzungaria. Moreover, he began to provide active assistance to Amursana, who led the anti-Qing uprising of the Dzungars. The leaders of the Kazakhs considered it legitimate to return part of the lands of Dzungaria to the Kazakhs as its former and legitimate owners. But China thought differently: according to N. Konshin, “the situation was complicated by the fact that the Chinese government, considering the Dzungarian lands, by virtue of conquest, began to lay claims to power over the Kazakhs” [25].

In the spring of 1756, Kazakh troops made a deep raid into Dzungaria against Chinese troops. In response, the Chinese Emperor gave the order to start a retaliatory offensive in Kazakhstan. It was supposed to enter the nomads of the Middle Zhuz from two sides-from the South and the East. In addition, Chinese troops had to capture Amursana, who was hiding at this time with Sultan Abylai. Against the army moving from the East the Kazakh-Dzhungarian groups under command of Amursana and Kozhabergen-Batyr acted. Against the southern army were a squad Abylay Khan and Bogenbay Batyr. Kazakhs gave several battles to Qing troops and delayed their advance into the steppes. This measure enabled the Kazakh “auls” or villages to move away from the areas of military operations.

Kazakh militias prevented the unification of the two Chinese armies, making surprise attacks. Therefore, the Chinese armies were forced to return back. In the summer of 1757, on the Northern spurs of Tarbagatai, the last battles took place between Chinese troops and the troops of Sultan Abylai, who could not but see the military-technical and numerical superiority of the Qing Empire. A long process of diplomatic negotiations has begun. With the establishment of Manchurian-Chinese power in Dzungaria, the land issue in the East of Kazakhstan became aggravated. The Chinese began to build in the valley of the river Ile and on Tarbagatai military fortifications to prevent the return of the Kazakhs to the land liberated from the Dzungars. In 1761, the Chinese bogdyhan issued a decree banning the Kazakhs to roam South of the Ayaguz river. However, the Kazakhs continued to occupy the pastures of Tarbagatai without permission. Chinese troops in 1762 – 1765 years made several punitive operations to evict the Kazakhs from the land of Dzungaria.  But with the onset of winter and the departure of the Chinese, the Kazakhs returned to these pastures. The number of arriving Kazakhs gradually grew and Abylay intensified negotiations with the Chinese.

As a deterrent, there was even an order to capture Abylay himself, who was an active advocate of the return of part of the land to the Kazakhs. This can be seen from the order of the Qianlong Emperor: “If they continue to cross the border and roam in our territory … capture their cattle, capture their elders. If among them there will be Abulay, also to suffice it to frighten (Kazakhs) ” [23,page 168].

In 1767, after a series of long-term confrontation, China was forced to allow the Kazakhs to use pastures in the area of Tarbagatai and the Ile river. In exchange, the Chinese demanded payment of rent and acceptance of citizenship: by the end of the XVIII century, part of the Kazakhs of the Middle and Senior zhuzes took it and occupied the rich pastures of Tarbagatai, the Ili river valley and parts of the Mongolian Altai.

To preserve part of the Kazakh territory Khan Abulmambet and Sultan Abylay sent Sultanmamet Sultan and Kinza Batyr voluntarily become amanats (hostages. – ed.) The Chinese Empire, which can be seen from the book of Professor K. Hafizova ” Chinese diplomacy in Central Asia (XIV-XIX centuries.)”: “… in 1763, Ablay sent to China in amanaty father of his eldest wife Kazakh Naiman Kinz-Batyr with relatives, Khan of the Middle juz Abulmambet – his father-in-law Sultan Sultanmameta, which allowed him to occupy the nomads in the Ile river valley.” [27].

In case of possible military conflicts between Russia and China, Abylay planned to take a neutral position, which the Orenburg provincial Chancellery fished out from the local Kazakhs on March 8, 1759: “Sent to Ablay-Saltan and asked Ablay-Saltan: if sometimes they have a war with Russia will happen, in this case they, the Kirghiz, which side will neither the Chinese parties will not help, but in its own caution will remain only” [13, L. 189-190].

Abylay Khan played a decisive role in the defeat of the Volga Kalmyks during the “Dusty campaign”. As is known, in the second half of the XVIII century the socio-economic and political situation in the Kalmyk ulus deteriorated significantly. The Khan’s power of Dondok Dosha (1741-1761) was significantly limited and the land expansion of tsarism under the Governor of ubashi intensified. Their rights were noticeably limited, and there was an acute shortage of grazing land. Part of the Kalmyks underwent a policy of Christianization, every year they had to supply the Russian army with military detachments and many of them died in numerous conquests of Russia. After the defeat of the Jungar state by China, the Kalmyks heard rumors that their distant historical homeland was deserted. Among them arose a plan to return to the East.  Agitation for the return of the Kalmyks to their former homeland was headed by Sheren who was a friend of Amursana. In autumn 1770, the Kalmyks agreed their resettlement with the Chinese authorities. Part of the Volga Kalmyks, incited by the Buddhist clergy, succumbed to agitation. In January 1771, the Kalmyks with a total number of 180 thousand people made an attempt to migrate to the Chinese borders. On the right Bank of the Volga were about 60 thousand Kalmyks: they could not move to the left Bank of the river due to the fact that the ice was very thin.

By the way, among the migrants were Dzungars, who in the number of several thousand people migrated to their historical homeland. Their number varied from 10 thousand to 25 thousand families [28].

The route of the great Kalmyk nomad passed through the territory of Kazakhstan, which was headed by Dutch Ubashi. The actions of the settlers were not included in the plans of the tsarist government: they lost a significant taxable population.  In addition, the Kalmyks showed a negative example to other peoples of the region. Yaik Cossacks refused to pursue the Kalmyks, there was no active action on the part of the Orenburg Cossacks. Tsarism was afraid to use the Bashkirs, who since 1755 were in conflict with the Kazakhs. For example, the Orenburg Governor Reinsdorf on this occasion wrote to the Board of foreign Affairs that “he did not intend to use the Bashkirs without extreme”, because they, with the Kazakhs being in “mutual anger, instead of Kalmyk, they would grapple with each other” [29].

Then the tsarist government did not fail to take advantage of the “service” of the Kazakhs, using the traditional Kazakh-Kalmyk contradictions. On approach to Yaik the Orenburg Governor Neplyuev gave a secret order to Nuraly Khan that Kalmyks are going to attack Kazakhs: on behalf of the government granted him the right to fight with them and to leave at the order all got trophy: wives children, cattle, dwellings. The only thing: the Kazakhs were ordered to return the Kalmyks to their former nomads. The same order was given to the Middle Zhuz khan Abylay and Sultan Sultanmmet, when Nuraly did not quite cope with his task. Naturally, the Kazakhs in full force “took advantage” of this proposal, taking revenge on the Kalmyks for all the previous raids and insults. Kalmyks who tried to pass through the lands of the Junior and Middle Zhuz received significant blows from the Kazakh soldiers. In the battles with Kalmyks took an active part in almost all the Kazakh khans and sultans: Abylay, Nuraly, Sultanpet, Urus,  Abulfeiz, Erali and others. Despite the fact that the Kalmyks had a combat-ready mounted army of 40 thousand people, they suffered heavy defeats from the Kazakhs. Significant damage to the Kalmyks was caused by the troops of Sultan Aishuak on the Sagiz river. On the river Or, Uzhim, near the Mugodzhar mountains, the retreating Kalmyks were attacked by detachments of Nuraly Khan. Sultans of Abylai, Sultanbet and Abulfeiz also inflicted a series of crushing defeats to the Kalmyks. Military units of Kazakhs of the Senior Zhuz also took part in battles with Kalmyks. Everywhere Kazakhs managed to capture cattle, prisoners and property of the enemy.

A major battle took place on the shore of lake Balkhash. The Kalmyks made an attempt to stop on the Bank of the Mointy river. Kazakh militia numbering 100 thousand people, led by Abylay, surrounded the exhausted Kalmyks. As known, the army of the Kazakhs of the Middle Zhuz in the amount of 50 thousand people was collected by Sultan Sultanmmet on the instructions of Khan Abylay. This can be seen from a letter dated may 31, 1771 from the commander of the Zhelezin fortress Colonel Andrei Rameykov to the commander of the Siberian corps, major General S. Stanislavsky: “In the steppe below the fortress Zhelezenskaya two hundred miles found at the lakes Kalalah, in which the Saltamamet-Saltana was not discovered. And on question from wife and youngest son Seit announced was; that he 17 number of this month departed with their children Naurus, Iman and Karash in approach on fleeing Volga Kalmyks. There are only fifty thousand in their assembled army.” Under careful verification Russian representatives it turned out, that in ulus Sultanmameta remained few people, mostly old men and children [2, L. 330 about.]. Therefore, we can safely assume that the figure of 50 thousand people is real and can not be an exaggeration [30].

The final strike to the Kalmyks caused by Alatau Kyrgyz. This event in the history of Kazakhs and related Kyrgyzs was called “Shandy zhoryk” (Dusty campaign).  Only a tenth of the settlers reached the distant Dzungaria, many of them died in battles.  Upon arrival in Xinjiang, the remnants of the Kalmyks were settled in small groups and began to carry out border and postal services.  This war brought numerous sufferings and Kazakhs: thousands of them died on the battlefield. By the way, in October 1771 Empress Catherine II abolished the Kalmyk khanate, appointing several bailiffs from among Russian officers in their place [28, p.30].

In the 60s of the XVIII century, relations between Kazakhs and Alatau Kyrgyz became somewhat complicated. First, the liberated lands of the Dzungars were claimed by Kyrgyz related to the Kazakhs. Secondly, the cases of mutual theft of cattle Semirechensk Kazakhs Kyrgyz. Thirdly, they began to attack the Kazakh trade caravans.  In these circumstances, Abylay was forced to make a number of pre-emptive military raids into the Kyrgyz lands . So, in 1765, Abylay makes a major campaign against them. [31].

And after this a hike relations with neighbors not have improved. The Kyrgyz subjected Uysun and Konyrat nomads in Semirechye and Turkestan to robbery and violence. Therefore, in December 1770, Abylay makes a new campaign and defeats the Kyrgyz. This can be seen from the letter of General-Major Stanislavsky to the commander of the Siberian corps, Lieutenant-General-Lieutenant I. Shpringer, who acted in the campaign of Abylay Sultan at the head of 20 thousand cavalry. The reason for this campaign was the fact that the Kyrgyz prevented trade Kazakhs with Tashkent: “about carefully precaution against go forward to unknown place by Ablay-sultan Middle Kazakh Horde with twenty thousands of subjects of their Kirghiz…they have a war with distant Kirghiz, who live behind Tashkent and prevent Tashkent people go to them, Kirghiz, sometimes they make robbery and kill that traders.” [32].

Borders were established between the two Nations, neighbors released all captured Kazakhs and all previously stolen cattle. Both sides pledged not to attack each other, giving the Kazakh side “amanats”, but as shown by subsequent events raids still did not stop. Therefore, in 1773, another campaign against the warlike Kyrgyz took place, in which an 8,000-strong detachment from the Middle Irtysh region, sent by Sultan Sultanmmet were participate, which can be seen from his letter dated December 8, 1772 to Lieutenant General I. Decolong: “After staying at my place, Ablay Sultan successfully returned to his homeland. During our conversation he told me that he with 8000 warriors are going to fight against wild Kyrghiz.” [33].

In 1774, another campaign of Abylay’s troops against the Kyrgyz began.  He made an Alliance with Sultan abulfeis with an army of 60 thousand people, as reported by the commander of the Semipalatinsk fortress Colonel I. T. Titov to the commander of the Siberian corps, major General A.D. Skalon on January 9, 1774: “the Kirghiz Horde Ablay-Saltan and elders Abulfeist and Karabarak, having collected kirghiskov’s troops to sixty thousand went to war on the kirghis living in stone, deset days, and from our borders riding W Horse trittsat days” [33, l. 69 ]

By the way, Khan Abylai asked for military assistance from China, which was refused with reference to the fact that the robberies and raids of the two nations are mutual, as can be seen from the decree of the Emperor Qianlong of March 29, 1774: “Kazakhs and buruts are constantly robbing each other… If you help them, the buruts will also say that robbed by the Kazakhs, and in turn will ask for help”[23, p.213].

In the summer of 1779, Abylay was forced to make a new campaign against the restless Kyrgyz, which ended in a truce: as “amanats”, Abylay took the children of the most noble manaps, of whom he formed two regions which called “volost” – “Zhanakirgiz” and “Baykirgiz”. All of them were resettled in the area of Kokshetau mountains and settled among “Atygai” clan.  These and other measures of Sultan Abylay led to the establishment of peace on the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border.

Sometimes between Uzbeks and Kazakhs also had military operations. In such cases, Abylay collected new soldiers, including from the area of the Middle Irtysh region, with the support of his cousin Sultanmamet, as can be seen from the letter of the latter to the commander of the Siberian corps, Lieutenant General I. Springer of September 2, 1766, and, the Sultan at that time still had no Khan’s advantage: “I received the letter where Abylay Sultan went to Tashkent and Bukhara region where he successfully subdued people from that land and he is continuing to raid other land in Bukhara” [33, ll.12-12 vol.]. Sultanmamet’s sons were also ready to participate in Abylay’s campaign against Karakalpaks and those groups of steppe Kazakhs who refused to obey Abylay Khan.

By the age of 70, the Khan’s health was noticeably shaken: many years of struggle to defend the interests of the country in conditions of constant movement and confrontation with internal and external forces affected[21,p.130]. 

Before his death, he decided questions of succession. His son Vali had to rule the Middle juz, Adil-Senior, other children-small destinies in the Middle and Senior juz [4, p. 274].

  Abylay Khan died near Tashkent in late autumn 1780 and was buried in the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Turkestan. Children of the late Khan in the first months of his death carefully concealed the death of his father: apparently, trying to wait for the election of the Khan, and at the same time feared interference in the electoral Affairs of the Russian Empire. This can be seen from the letter of major General N. G. Ogarev to the State Board of foreign Affairs dated March 21, 1781: “Shygys-Soltan prohibits the Kyrgyz from announcing to Russian people (Abylay’s death-ed.) until next their Assembly in year time” [34].

The Chinese government, having received the news of the death of the Khan, sent an Embassy, which made a solemn memorial for the deceased. On the grave of the Khan, his relatives and associates installed a marble tombstone. 

Concerning death of the father his son Uali wrote only only on July 16, 1781: “to Your Excellency I inform that my father Abylay-Khan on achievement to himself from a sort of sixty nine years finished his life where all his life, exercising in services…anywhere no harm, disobedience did” [13, L. 417].


Abylay Khan occupies an important place in the history of the Kazakh people, his efforts were aimed at creating a strong and independent Kazakh state. He led the unification processes of the Kazakhs and contributed to some centralization of state power in the great steppe. He played an important role in the defeat of the Dzungars and the Volga Kalmyks: in 1758 the Dzungarian state ceased to exist, and in October 1771 – the Kalmyk khanate. Thanks to his military efforts and diplomatic steps, he not only stopped the movement of Chinese armies on the territory of Kazakhstan, but also returned the traditional pastures on Tarbagatai and in the Ili river valley, also thanks to his military campaigns, the raids of Alatau Kyrgyz stopped somewhat.

Abylay Khan enjoyed great respect not only among the Kazakhs, but also neighbors. Kazakhs, attacking opponents, used the battle cry ” Abylay!”. A. Bokeikhan in his work “Kyrgyz” writes that this battle cry was used even by Siberian Cossacks: “the Cry” Abylay ” is common even among Siberian Cossacks-Russians. One of them, seeing off the son on Japanese war (1904-1905– a bus.), even gave him parting words ” Abylay! Abylay! Attack!”. [35]

Kazakhs of that period, including primarily Semipalatinsk and Akmola regions considered “Abylay”  as the main battle cry [36].

After his death, the Khan’s throne was transferred to his son Uali, who failed to continue the Affairs of his famous father. Internecine conflicts began among the Genghis Khan’s descendants.  In the early 80-ies of the XVIII century clans Karakesek and Tortra chose one of the son of Sultan Barak – Dair Khan. In January 1795, two sultans, 19 elders and more than 120 thousand Kazakhs of the Middle Zhuz filed a petition addressed to Catherine II with a request to reassign them directly to the Russian Empress. The tsarist government, taking advantage of this circumstance, began to take measures aimed at weakening the remnants of the Kazakh statehood. In 1788 and 1798 the Irtysh Kazakhs were allowed to migrate to the right Bank of the Irtysh on the “eternal migration”.  Once a single Middle juz was divided into two parts. To weaken the power of Uali Khan in the Middle juz in 1815 was proclaimed the second Khan Bokey. Although the children of Abylay Khan entrenched in a number of lands Senior Zhuz, being vassals of his brother Khan Uali [7, p. 141-142].

After the death of Abylay, no more senior khans were appointed in Kazakhstan.

Avenues and streets of cities of Kazakhstan are named after Abylay. The Kazakh state University of international relations and world languages, a higher educational institution of the country in Almaty, is also named in honor of the outstanding Khan. In honor of the great ruler in the foothills of the Kokshetau mountains installed a huge stele. Kazakhs willingly give the name of the outstanding Kazakh Khan to their children.

References and sources:

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2. Kasymbayev ZH. History of Kazakhstan.— Almaty: 2004.- p.35 

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4. The epistolary heritage of the Kazakh ruling elite. 1675-1821 years.- Almaty, 2014.- V.1.-  p.274 

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Author: Kabuldinov Z.E., Doctor of Historical Sciences