About the Department of Ethnology and Anthropology

On the history of the Department

The Department of Ethnography as a sector was formed along with the creation of the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the Kazakh SSR in 1945. The first head was an orientalist, ethnographer N.S. Sabitov. In the late 1940s – early 1950s, a number of expeditions were organized in the south-eastern region of the republic, the work was started on the topic «Culture and life of the Kazakh collective farm village». During this period, the first professional ethnographers of Kazakhstan, Candidates of Sciences were trained: I.V. Zakharova, G.N. Valikhanov, V.V. Vostrov, R.D. Khodzhaeva. Extensive ethnographic research began in the mid-1950s, when young researchers came to the Department of Ethnography – E. Massanov, Kh. Argynbayev, M. Mukanov, O. Ismagulov, who subsequently successfully defended their dissertations. The head of the department was I.V. Zakharova. Until the early 1980s, the staff of the department carried out systematic field surveys throughout Kazakhstan, mainly in line with the concept of a regional historical and ethnographic atlas.

During this period, many important collective works were published: ethnographic volumes of «The Works of the IHAE» (vol. 3, 6), «Culture and life of the Kazakh collective farm village», «The economy of the Kazakhs at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries»; monographs: «Kazakh national dress», «An essay on the history of ethnographic study of the Kazakh people in the USSR», «Kazakh khalkyndagy sem’ya men neke », «Tribal composition and settlement of Kazakhs», «Population of Kazakhstan from the Bronze Age to the present» and many others. For many years (1957-1976), the head of the department was Academician A.Kh. Marghulan, under whose leadership the group for publishing the works of Ch.Ch. Valikhanov worked. Then, until the end of the 1980s, the department was headed by the leading ethnographer of the republic, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Kh.A. Argynbayev. It was a favorable stage of the final formation of the «Kazakh ethnographic school»: field research, purposeful work on the enrichment of materials on the historical ethnography of the Kazakhs was actively continued, anthropological and new ethno-sociological directions were successfully developed; important activities were carried out to train ethnologists (Candidates of Sciences): U. Kydyralin, A. Toleubaye, N. Massanov, Sh. Tokhtabayeva, S. Azhigali, A. Toktbay, A. Kaleyev, K. Sikhymbayeva, etc.

In 1989-1999 the Department of Ethnography/Ethnology was headed by Candidate of Historical Sciences Kh.A. Kauanova, Doctor of Historical Sciences M.S. Mukanov and Doctor of Historical Sciences O. Ismagulov. During this period, the planned topics were studied: «Modern rural family of the peoples of Kazakhstan», «Culture of life support of the Kazakh ethnic group», «Kazakh shezhire»; the department staff defended a number of candidate and doctoral dissertations, published separate monographs, early research «Kazakhs» (in a truncated version). But in general, in the 1990s, academic ethnography experienced a pronounced personnel and organizational crisis, which was overcome for several years. Despite this, in 1998, under the leadership of the Department of Ethnology, a Frontal Ethnocultural survey of the republic was carried out for the first time in all 14 of its regions. As a result of this large-scale event for the comprehensive study of the culture of the village, the history of remote places, the department staff published a large collection of academic articles «Customs and rituals of the Kazakhs in the past and present» (Almaty, 2001). Systematic work on personnel training was gradually resumed: in the late 1990s – 2000s, more than 40 candidate and doctoral dissertations were defended at the IНE, tested in the Department of Ethnology; extensive field research was again launched.

During this period, the department developed a number of important topics: «Kazakh folk art: genesis, syncretism, diversity (ethnological research)», «Nomadic art as a historical and cultural phenomenon», «Ethnic anthropology of the Kazakhs of Altai». The results of these studies subsequently became major publications: the fundamental monograph of S.E. Azhigali «Architecture of nomads – a phenomenon of the history and culture of Eurasia (monuments of the Aral-Caspian region)» (Almaty, 2002), collection of academic articles «History and Culture of the Aral-Caspian Sea» (2001, jointly with the Institute of Culture and Art Studies), collective  monograph of O. Smagululy, K. Beketaikyzy and A. Orazakkyzy «Altai kazaktary» (2003).

The practice of field ethnographic (and ethnoarchaeological) research has been revived, which should be considered an important achievement of the last period. Since 2001, comprehensive expeditions have been regularly carried out in two main areas: the Aral-Caspian region and Central Asia (Mongolia, China) (headed by Dr. S.E. Azhigali). Separate studies were conducted in other regions: Saryarka ethnographic expedition in 2007 and 2019.

Research projects

Research of the Kazakh diaspora

A comprehensive ethnocultural study of the Kazakh diaspora is currently being set as the most relevant and promising task of national ethnology, in connection with which the department has been developing important topics in this area since the early 2000s: «Kazakhs of China (historical and ethnographic research)», «Culture of the Kazakh Diaspora in modern times: traditional foundations and ongoing innovations (on the example of ethnic groups in China and Mongolia)». Of particular note are the field surveys of the Mongolian integrated Ethnographic and Ethnoarchaeological Expedition – MongKE, which for many years (2001-2008, 2010-2013, 2018) has been engaged in a comprehensive study of history and culture, the current state of the Kazakh diaspora and monuments. Unique, comprehensive materials have been collected on traditional ethnic culture, which has been comprehensively preserved among the Kazakhs of Mongolia, on original ethnosocial processes, ethnoarchitecture; a serious foundation has been laid for the creation of generalizing works; a draft of the final monograph «Kazakhs of Mongolia (historical and ethnographic research)» has been prepared, numerous research articles have been published, various presentations have been prepared.

In 2012-2014 the Department ofEthnology took an active part in the organization and holding a series of international scientific and practical conferences on the Kazakh diaspora (together with the World Association of Kazakhs; with the publishing of materials), including the large forum «Kazakh diaspora of Central Asia: history – culture monuments» in 2014. Within the framework of the last conference, as well as the 2012 conference («Kazakhstan and foreign Kazakhs») two symposiums «Kazakhs of Mongolia» were held. At the same time, in 2012, the department’s employees took part in the International Conference «The Steppe Silk Road and Prospects for International Economic Cooperation in the Trans-Altai region» in China. Thus, a comprehensive study of the Kazakh diaspora remains one of the important strategic tasks of the Department of Ethnology and Anthropology.

Kazakh monument studies

In addition, large-scale comprehensive research is carried out by the Department of Ethnology in the vast Aral-Caspian region, with its rich historical and cultural heritage, where the West Kazakhstan Integrated Ethnoarchaeological Expedition (WKEAE) has been working since the late 1990s. The expedition, which includes ethnoarchaeologists, ethnographers, architects, Arabists, representatives of natural science specialties, conducted comprehensive research on architectural monuments, history and culture, related ethnocultural areas in the territory of Aktobe, Atyrau, Mangystau and West Kazakhstan regions. The hard-to-reach areas of monuments (Donyztau, Narynkum, the Northern Aral Sea region, and many others) have been studied, the largest complexes (Karashungyl, Kainar, Sultan-akyn, Sisem-ata, etc.) have been studied, the methodology of ethnoarchaeological (ethnoarchitectural) studies of memorial and cult monuments of the steppe region has been developed. An outstanding result was achieved during complex surveys on the huge necropolis of Khan Molasi, where the burial place of Abulkhair Khan was discovered, on the basis of which his appearance was restored. Specialists of various profiles were involved in the research, including soil scientists, geophysicists, anthropologists, and geneticists.

Thus, on the basis of the Academic Department of Ethnology, a special scientific direction has been developed – ethnoarchaeology, which in its tasks is closely linked with the former paleoethnography. Ethnologists have made a fundamental contribution to the formation of this important scientific discipline in Kazakhstan at the junction of ethnography, archeology and ethnoarchitecture. The study of memorial-cult, settlement (wintering, etc.), epigraphic and other monuments, as an integral part of culture, is legitimately defined by the specialists of the department as an important task of comprehensive ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological research.  

On the initiative of Kazakh ethnoarchaeologists and colleagues from the CIS, the XII International Seminar «Integration of archaeological and Ethnographic research» was held (Almaty, 2004). Currently, a topical  scientific and practical direction of «Kazakh (ethnographic) monument studies» is being purposefully developed, on which three Symposiums have been held (Aktobe, 2011; Atyrau, 2012; Almaty, 2020). In the context of the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate in 2015, an international scientific and practical conference was organized in Aktobe, where a photo exhibition «Outstanding architectural monuments of the Aktobe region» was held. About 140 photographs of the most outstanding architectural monuments made by the author S. Azhigali were presented at this exhibition. At the end of the conference, the ceremony of the grand opening of the necropolis of Khan Molasi Abulkhair Khan was held, which can be considered a fruitful result of the scientific research of the Department of Ethnology in the field of ethnoarchaeology (monument studies).

Purposeful research on the issues of «Kazakh monument studies» is carried out by the staff of the Department in other regions as well. In particular, on the territory of Uzbekistan, in the areas of long-standing settlement of the Kazakh diaspora, since 2005, research has been conducted on the attribution of the medieval mausoleum in Tashkent, where Tole bi is buried, as well as the Seitkul-aulie memorial monument in Nurata, Bukhara region. These studies were positively assessed by the public. 

In 2018-2020 employees of the department took part in the development of the project «Kazakh (ethnographic) monument studies»: theoretical, scientific, methodological and applied issues» (headed by Doctor of Historical Sciences S.E. Azhigali). Two expeditions were organized within the framework of the project: the Altai-Mongolian Comprehensive Ethnographic and Ethnoarchaeological Expedition (2018) and the Saryarka Comprehensive Ethnoarchaeological Expedition (2019). Primary versions of «Maps of monuments of Mankystau and Ustyurt» (200 objects in total), «Map of Kazakh monuments and historical and cultural sites of the Bayan-Olgiy aimag of Mongolia» (126 objects in total), «Maps of monuments of the districts of Karaganda region (Aktogay and Karkaraly)» (68 objects in total); «Questions of methodology of field ethnoarchaeological research» (auth. Azhigali S.E., Beknazarov R.A.); the text of the brochure «Questions of the methodology of field ethnoarchaeological research» has been prepared (authors Azhigali S.E., Beknazarov R.A.). 

In 2019-2020 The West Kazakhstan Integrated Ethnoarchaeological Expedition with the support of the Akimat of the Aktobe region conducted research in the Donyztau-Ustyurt region, along the rivers Oyl, Kiil, Zhem, Sagyz as part of the Aktobe regional program for the promotion of cultural heritage and the study of historical and local history monuments. The head of the expedition is Professor S.E. Azhigali. In addition, a researcher of the department, B.A. Ashim (head of the detachment) participated in this expedition.

In 2021, with the support of the Akimat of the Aktobe region, a West Kazakhstan integrated archaeological expedition conducted research to determine the burial sites of Emir Edyge and Issatai Taimanuly. The head of the expedition is Professor S.E. Azhigali; an employee of the department B.A. Ashim also took part in this expedition. Currently, research is ongoing.

Study of historical and sacred places of the Kazakhs of Central Asia

In 2018-2020, the Department implemented the project «Holy places of the Kazakhs of Uzbekistan (tombs of Zhalantos batyr,  Tole bi Aiteke bi, etc.): genesis, history of study, current state» (project head – Doctor of Historical Sciences A.U. Toktabay). The study was conditioned by the need to study the historical and cultural heritage of Kazakhs living in Uzbekistan as soon as possible due to the fact that these monuments were left unattended, destroyed or marked as the heritage of the Uzbek people. Within the framework of the project, the Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Navoi regions and the city of Tashkent were studied. Such objects of special importance in the history of the Kazakh people as the small homeland of Aiteke bi, toponymic names associated with the name Tole bi, etc. were identified. For the first time it was established that Abylai Khan began his military campaign in 1744 against the Dzungars near Tashkent, in the area of Azatbasy. During field work in the Turkestan region of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Sary-Agash, Keles, Kazygurt districts) were surveyed, the holy places of local Kazakhs identical to the holy places of the Kazakhs of Uzbekistan were studied; similarities and differences in the history of their origin, etc. were revealed; work was carried out in the fund of the libraries of Shymkent and Sary-Agash district to study the holy places of the Kazakhs of Karakalpakstan (6 legends about the sacred place «Kyryk kyz» have been revealed). According to the results of the expeditions to Uzbekistan, a list of holy places was compiled, consisting of 75 names, these monuments were studied in detail. 

In 2020-2022, the Department is developing a grant financing project «Holy Places of the Kazakhs of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Karakalpakstan): identification, classification and research» (supervisor – Doctor of Historical Sciences A.U. Toktabay). This study is a continuation of the previous one, the rest of the countries of Central Asia, where the Kazakh population lives, are being studied. During research trips to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 2021, the project supervisor A.U Toktabay examined sacred places related to the history of the Kazakh people. The place was determined where Sultan Takhir, who became khan, came to the Kyrgyz in 1536. The Syntas burial ground, erected by the decree of Yessim Khan in honor of his victory over the Dzungars, when he was the khan of the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, was examined. Evidence of the campaigns of the Kazakh batyrs Kabanbay, Kokzhal Barak, Sauryk, etc. in the Kyrgyz lands were found. The graves and wintering grounds of Boranbay and Sartay biys who met with Ch. Valikhanov, were studied. The museum of M. Auezov in Cholpon-ata has been studied in detail. In Tajikistan, the small homeland of M.Kh. Dulati and the places of death of his grandfather Mahmud Sultan and his sons were identified. The life and activity of the first member of the Tajik government of Kazakh origin, A. Yarmukhamedov, was studied. The Kazakh mazars and madrassas have been registered. As a result of the research, a list of holy places (consisting of 45 names) was compiled based on the results of expeditions to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. 

The study of the Kazakh community and the transformation of the traditional economy of the Kazakhs

In 2018-2020, the Department implemented the project «Nomadic community of Kazakhs: context, structure, functions (XVIII – early XX century)» (project supervisor – Candidate of Historical Sciences N. Alimbay). As a result of the research, the traditional nomadic community that existed in the form of a «zhetiata» (a seven-generational exogamous structure) was reconstructed. It is established that the «zhetiata» was a community-society with its relatively autonomous mode of functioning of the life support system. The internal mechanisms of the vital activity of society were the patrilineal structures of «biratа» or «bir atanyn balalary» (lit. «a single ancestor»/«descendants of a single ancestor»), who were a consanguineous group in the redistribution of two or three generations on the paternal side («big family») and existed as the main corporate entity of almost all types of economic and cultural activities in the community. Also, in the course of the research, an ethnosociological reconstruction of the nomadic community as a society was carried out in the context of the increasingly increasing colonial order of the Russian Empire in the Kazakh Steppe. Based on the results of the research, the text of a collective monograph was prepared, and 3 articles were published in editions indexed in Scopus international database. 

In 2020-2022, the Department is developing a grant financing project «Traditional economy and culture of Kazakhs in the first decades of Soviet power: inertial development, destruction and consequences (historical and ethnological research)» (headed by Candidate of Historical Sciences G.U. Orynbayeva). This topic, like the previous one, is also interdisciplinary in nature, and is of interest to ethnologists, historians, cultural scientists, sociologists, as well as representatives of other academic areas. The aim of the project is to study the process of development of the traditional culture of the Kazakhs in the first decades of the existence of Soviet power (1920s – 1930s), obsessed with voluntarist modernist aspirations, which set as its task the destruction of national cultures as backward. As a result, there was the destruction of the traditional economy of the Kazakhs, as well as, subsequently, the culture forced to adapt to the new conditions imposed by the totalitarian regime. Following this historical and ethnological goal of the project, it is planned to study the development of the traditional economy and culture of the Kazakhs in the 1920s, under the conditions of the initial, cautious, reforms of the Soviet government, then, the study of the period of destruction of economy and culture and the planting of a new type of economy and culture (late 1920s – early 1930s), as well as an analysis of the forced cultural adaptation of the Kazakh ethnic group after the planting of the collective farm and state farm system.  

Publishing activities

In recent years, the publishing activity of academic ethnographers has significantly intensified. This is evidenced by many major publications: the solid collections of articles mentioned above “Customs and rituals of the Kazakhs”, “History and culture of the Aral-Caspian. Issue. 1” (ed.-compiled by S.E. Azhigali), summarizing the works “Altai Kazakhtary”, “Architecture of nomads – a phenomenon of the history and culture of Eurasia”, as well as monographs by Sh.Zh. Tokhtabayeva “The Silver Way of Kazakh Masters” (Almaty, 2005), R.A. Beknazarova “Kazakhtyn dasturli tas kashau oneri” (Almaty, 2005), O. Ismagulova, K. Sikhymbayeva, A. Ismagulova “Ethnic dermatoglyphics of the Kazakhs” (Almaty, 2007), summary works of A.U. Toktabay “Turkі khalyktarynyn ethnomedenieti” (Almaty, 2006) and “Kazakh zhylkysynyn tarihy” (Almaty, 2010) and “Kazakh tazysy” (Almaty, 2013), S.E. Azhigali “Monuments of Mankystau and Ustyurt: book-album” (Almaty, 2014), “Outstanding architectural monuments of Aktobe region: photo exhibition. Scientific and information publication” (Almaty, 2015), research by G.M. Toleubayeva “Kazakhtar men Ortalyk Asia halyktarynyn otbasylyk salt-dasturler” (Almaty, 2012), monographs by Toktabay A.U. “Zhadi Shaken. Kozhabergen batyr Zhanibek uly” (Almaty, 2020, co-author Borbassov S.N.), “Kazakhtyn kieli zherleri (tarihi-architecture, ethnographic zertteuler, magalalar, folklorlyk derekter)” (Almaty, 2021), etc.

With the participation of Kazakh ethnologists, a large book-album «Kazakh Yurt» was published (Atyrau-London, 2005. Academic ed. by S. Azhigali), highly appreciated by scholars and the public. Within the framework of the State program «Cultural Heritage», the Department of Ethnology prepared and published a very informative two-volume book on the traditional culture of the Kazakhs «Kazak khalkynn dasturleri men adet-guryptary» (Almaty, 2005, 2006). In 2020-2021, chief researcher of the department, Doctor of Historical Sciences S.E. Azhigali carried out consulting and editorial work on the preparing for the publication the volume «Kazakhs» in the series «Peoples and Cultures», together with the researchc staff of the Institute of Ethnology and Archaeology RAS: annotating illustrations, clarifying bibliographic descriptions, editing texts, etc.  

At the same time, the Department of Ethnology published proceedings of the conferences held: «Materials of the I and II International Conferences «The Aral-Caspian region in the history and culture of Eurasia» (Almaty – Aktobe, 2006, 2011), «Materials of the 1st and 2nd Symposiums on Kazakh Monuments» (Almaty-Atyrau, 2012), a collection of materials of the International Scientific Conference «Kazakh Diaspora of Central Asia: History – culture – monuments» (Almaty, 2014); «Materials of the International Scientific and Practical Conference «Orazak Ismagulov – the founder of anthropological research in Kazakhstan», dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the scientist-anthropologist, Honored Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Corresponding Member of the Bologna Academy of Sciences, laureate of the Ch. Valikhanov Award, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor O.I. Ismagulov» (Almaty, 2020). The staff of the department carried out work on the preparation for the publication of the collection «Kazakh Ethnographic school: materials of the 1st International Scientific Conference dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the prominent ethnographer M.S. Mukanov (from the cycle «Pioneers») (Almaty, December 12, 2019) / Ed.-comp. S.E. Azhigali; comp. A.T. Abdullina). Articles on ethnological subjects of the department’s staff are published in the Historical Encyclopedia published by the Valikhanov Institute of History and Ethnology in three volumes (Almaty, 2019-2020), as well as in the collective monograph «Incorporated and non–university groups of Kazakhs (XVIII – early XX centuries» (Almaty, 2020) as part of the scientific and technical program «History and Culture of the Great Steppe». In general, over the years of the existence of the Academic Department of Ethnography/Ethnology, its employees and applicants have published more than 100 major publications: monographs and collective works. 

Scientific, organizational and methodological work

The Department of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Institute of History of the Committee of Science of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan conducts extensive research, organizational, and methodological work. On the basis of the department, within the framework of the Public Council of the State Program «Cultural Heritage», the Section «Ethnography and Anthropology» has been functioning for a number of years. At the initiative of the Department of Ethnology and under the auspices of the Akimat of Aktobe region, two major International conferences «The Aral-Caspian region in the history and culture of Eurasia» were held (Aktobe, 2006, 2011), which were attended by up to 150 scholars from Kazakhstan and abroad. In 2009, within the framework of the VIII Congress of Ethnographers and Anthropologists of Russia in Orenburg, a section/symposium «Ethnographic monument studies» was organized. International conferences «Argynbayev Readings» (2009, 2014, 2018) were held jointly with the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In 2011 and 2012, 2020, on the initiative of the Department, three Symposiums were held on the issues of «Kazakh monument studies» (Aktobe, Atyrau, Almaty) and in 2012-2014, three major international academic conferences on the history and culture of the Kazakh diaspora were held, within which two Symposiums «Kazakhs of Mongolia» were organized (see above).

The work of integrating the activities of scholars in the field of ethnology and related disciplines is an important part of the functions of the Academic Department of Ethnology and Anthropology. Since 2019, a series of International scientific conferences devoted to the history of ethnographic science of Kazakhstan and topical issues of national ethnology under the general name «Kazakh Ethnographic School» has been held.During the initiated forums, along with the main topics related to the history and development of science, it is planned to pay special attention to the role of leading scholars in the formation of an academic ethnographic school in Kazakhstan. The first academic conference (December 12, 2019) was dedicated to the life and work of a prominent Kazakh ethnographer, Doctor of Historical Sciences M.S. Mukanov, who worked for many years in the Academic Department of Ethnography/Ethnology of the IНE. In 2021 The Republican scientific and practical conference «Issues of the ethnic history of Southern Kazakhstan in the context of the study of the ethnosocial structure and traditional culture of the Kazakhs» was held. 

The Department also holds anniversary conferences in honor of some prominent ethnologists and anthropologists: in 2020 – international scientific and practical conferences: «Orazak Ismagulov – the founder of anthropological research in Kazakhstan» (for his 90th birthday); «Scientific heritage and public education activities of N. Sabitov» (for the 125th anniversary of Nigmet Sabitov, a prominent orientalist, bibliographer, ethnologist, Candidate of Philological Sciences); in 2021 the Department together with the Memorial Museum of the Department of Culture of the Mankystau region held a Republican round table «Scientific and cultural heritage of S.A. Kondybay: new approaches in the study of the philosophy of myths of the Turks and Kazakhs», dedicated to the memory of the mythologist, culturologist, ethnolinguist and translator Serikbol Adilbekuly Kondybay; held a solemn event to present awards to the founder of anthropological research in Kazakhstan Orazak Ismagulov and prominent anthropologist Ainagul Ismagulova, dedicated to the 30th anniversary of Independence of Kazakhstan (together with the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan). Thus, the Department of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Ch.Ch. Valikhanov Institute of History and Ethnology, despite its very small composition, still performs important supervising functions in the field of ethnological and ethnographic science of the republic. The work on the training of ethnologists and ethnoarchaeologists and advisory activities is being carried out quite actively. According to the target direction of the Ch.Ch. Valikhanov Institute of History and Ethnology, Zikirbayeva V.S., graduated  from the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in the specialty 6M041900 «Museum business and Monument Protection» (Master’s degree);  in 2022 B.A. Ashim completes his studies at the doctoral studies of KazNU. al-Farabi, specialty 6D0208 “Archaeology and Ethnology”.