From Soviet Socialist Republics to Independent States: A story of Central Asia (Kazakhstan)

OpinionFrom Soviet Socialist Republics to Independent States: A story of Central Asia...

A story of Central Asia (Kazakhstan)

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

Agha Iqrar Haroon, Development Observer working in Central Asia and eastern Europe regions
Agha Iqrar Haroon, Development Observer working in Central Asia and eastern Europe regions


Almost all Central Asian states are going to celebrate their 25th Independence from August 31, 2016 to December 25, 2016.
Uzbekistan was the first Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) that announced its Independence and came out from the clutches of former Soviet Union on August 31, 1991. Other Central Asian SSRs followed Uzbekistan instantly.
Tajikistan announced independence on 9 September 1991, Turkmenistan announced its independence on 27 October 1991, Kazakhstan announced its independence on 16 December 1991 and Kyrgyzstan announced its independence on 31 August 1991 but it was recognized an Independent state on 25 December 1991.

This phenomenon of disintegration and coming out from the clutches of former Soviet Union is called as “Uzbek way” by Russian anthropologists and historians.
Kazakh SSR had biggest land volume in former Soviet Union while Tajik SSR was the smallest.  These Republics were called Constituent Republics of the Soviet Union (USSR).
Almost every SSR had certain production entity except Tajikistan which was known only for water and hydel energy production. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan were known for their oil and gas productions, Kyrgyzstan was popular for copper, iron and gold mines, and Uzbekistan ruled the former SSRs for its cotton production.
Kazakhstan had an edge of being a wheat producer and hosting Baikonur Cosmodrome which is the first and largest operational space launch facility in the world. But all SSRs had other smaller products also including uranium and iron ore. The future of SSRs was determined by their products when they decided to disintegrate from former Soviet Union and they all performed well in their respective fields except Tajikistan that fell in civil war due to its proximity and social linkages with Afghanistan. A civil war and rule of radical Islamists continued for over five years and ruined this country from top to bottom. Tajikistan has yet to come out of adverse impact of civil war and remains poorest country in Central Asia.
Almost all heads of states of newly independent states had been a part or heads of Soviet system in their respective SSR therefore they decided not to disintegrate from new Russia culturally and socially because they had fears that radicalism would be injected in their countries by United States that had been financing Jihad in Afghanistan. Almost all newly born states did not go far away from Russian orbit though some of them wishes to stay little away from the gravity of New Russia.
New Russia had no interest in Tajikistan because of it proximity and cultural linkages with Afghanistan but new Russia did not wish to disintegrate from biggest country—-Kazakhstan and biggest cotton producer—Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan fell in Western bloc soon and weak Russia let it went away farther.
Almost every new state decided to preserve certain elements and values of the “old system” therefore Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan  and Uzbekistan decided to provide socioeconomic basics including free education and health care, special support to elderly people, cheaper oil and subsidies on wheat because these three countries were rich SSRs while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan could not do this without the support of new Russia because their productivity was less like of Kyrgyzstan.

One should look into political, social and financial conditions of these former Soviet Republics after they have completed their first quarter of century as independent states.



KazakhstanThe story of disintegration of former Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) from former USSR and becoming an Independent Republic of Kazakhstan indicates that interfaith, inter-ethnic and inter-cultural harmony can do a wonder for the development of a country.

The land of Kazakhs is known to accept and respect outsiders —– non-Kazakhs and give them admiration and confidence. The biggest Central Asian SSR —-Kazakh SSR had been known as a destination for those who had been penalized by the repressive Soviet system.

Soviet repression in the form of forced collectivization and Great purge sent millions of political prisoners and farmers to Kazakhstan from other parts of the Soviet Union during ruthless rule of Joseph Stalin and Kazakhs kept accepting outsiders with open hearts. Germans, Ukrainians, Jews and Belarusians were forced to settle in the Virgin Lands of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic under Virgin Land Campaign (Освоение целины). These social backgrounds of former Kazakh SSR provided a solid foundation for a new Independent Kazakhstan. This is one of the reasons that Kazakhstan is receiving highest level of foreign investments in Central Asia because country is open hearted and open minded and ready to share fortune with outsiders —-non-Kazakhs.

Kazakhstan made spectacular economic progress during the last 25 years of its independence and is known as an icon of interfaith, inter-ethnic and inter-cultural harmony.

The process of establishing Kazakh SSR started on August 26, 1920. It was initially called Kirghiz ASSR (Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic) and was a part of the Russian SFSR. On April 15–19, 1925, it was renamed Kazak ASSR (subsequently Kazakh ASSR) and on December 5, 1936 it was elevated to the status of a Union-level republic, Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR).

Kazakhstan was worst victim of great famine along with Ukraine because both parts of former USSR were major producers of grain and they were left without grain when all grain was taken away by USSR authorities. According to estimation, over 1.7 million Kazakhs died of hunger during 1932 and 1933.

Kazakh SSR land played an important role in the development of nuclear and space programs of former USSR.  Baikonur Cosmodrome (Космодро́м «Байкону́р») is first and largest operational space launch facility in the world. Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test, code-named ‘RDS-1’, at the Semipalatinsk test site in modern-day Kazakhstan on 29 August 1949. Kazakhs were also accepted in Soviet bureaucracy because of their multi-ethnic backgrounds.

Former Soviet Union started losing grip over Kazakh SSR in mid 80s due to illogical decisions of Gorbachev.

In late 80s, crumbling of former USSR started under the leadership of Gorbachev. Political observers of former Soviet Union believe that Gorbachev disintegrated USSR by design—slowly but surely.

Gorbachev replaced Kazakh communist Secretary-General Dinmukhamed Kunayev in December 1986 because Kunayev was reluctant to adopt glasnost and perestroika. Gorbachev sent Gennady Kolbin as Secretary-General who had never lived in the Kazakh SSR before and he was not acceptable by population.

Removal of Dinmukhamed Kunayev was followed by large scale demonstrations all over the SSR and authorities used force against demonstrations, resulting killing of over 200 protestors.

It may be mentioned that Dinmukhamed Kunayev was first Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan since 1964. He was known to place Kazakhs in prominent positions in the bureaucracy and economy in Kremlin.

The new leader, Gennadi Kolbin could not survive and Nazarbayev was named party leader on 22 June 1989. He became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (head of state) on 22 February till 24 April 1990 —the day when he was named the first President of Kazakhstan by the Supreme Soviet. Here, the journey of New Kazakhstan started.

In the beginning of 1991, Nursultan Nazarbayev started work to get out of the clutches of USSR and he played well during March 1991 referendum which was held to determine the fate of the Soviet Union in nine of its fifteen republics. Kazakhs voted in favour of the maintenance of the USSR as a “union of sovereign states”. Since USSR was decaying day by day, Nazarbayev announced independence on December 16, 1991 as President of Kazakhstan.

First four years were difficult. I visited former Capital Almaty in 1993. I saw poverty everywhere due to the large scale of closure of state run industries and high inflation.

In 1994, over 900 state enterprises were simply closed down, sending over 400,000 employees without support while over 170 enterprises cut working hours and laid off 130,000 workers. However, this situation was transitional and remained only for two years. I saw a different Kazakhstan when I again visited it during 1997.  That was the time when the new independent Kazakhstan was emerging as the strongest economy in Central Asia. Foreign investment started coming in oil and gas industries and government instantly shifted fortune to its population by announcing subsidies  on bread, gasoline and household services to avoid socioeconomic dilapidation.

Kazakhstan played well during 1998 meltdown of oil prices and by year 2001, it reached to a level to gain 13.5 percent economic growth.

Oil price meltdown of year 2014-15 did not harm Kazakhstan much because China showed interest to buy huge pieces of lands from Kazakhstan and Chinese investments surpassed Russian investments.

Now Kazakh government is also concentrating upon other sectors including mining and tourism to maintain its pace of economic growth.

Today, average living standards in Kazakhstan are still more than twice those of the other Central-Asian republics.

Kazakh economy received direct foreign investments over 130 billion dollars during year 2014-15. This was possible due to basic incentives created for investors, which included a 10 year corporate income tax break and an 8-year break on property tax. State guarantees now provide for 30 per cent of returns on investments.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev is a visionary leader who made Kazakhstan a success story during the last 25 years.


A Series of articles covers 25 years of independence of all Central Asian republics. Preamble of all articles is same to give a background of Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs) so readers can understand circumstances new states went through after disintegration of former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Independence of Central Asian states caused a snow ball effect and entire USSR was disintegrated on December 26, 1991– just one day after Independence of Kyrgyzstan was recognised.  
The Soviet Union was officially dissolved on December 26, 1991, as a result of the declaration no. 142-Н of the Soviet of the Republics of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. The declaration acknowledged the independence of the former Soviet republics and created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although five of the signatories ratified it much later or not at all.

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