This exploration of settlement politics and the process of settlement in the Kazakh steppe from 1730 to 1917 is state- and Russo-centric but nevertheless very important for the empirical information that it contributes to the historiography of Kazakhstan under Russian imperial rule. The author, a protégé of the late V. A. Moiseev and former researcher at the Altai Centre of Oriental Research in Barnaul, Russia, embraces both modernisation theory (or “as it is more commonly called today, transitology” [p. 3]) and systems analysis: he sees the centralised Russian state and the decentralised “traditional Kazakh society” as two “subsystems” that interact and become integrated during the long-term process of the Russian Empire’s establishment of dominance in Kazakhstan. Much of the focus of the book is on institutions and policies of the state regarding land use and economic development of the land. The author provides valuable critical insights into views and actions of Russian policymakers and administrators (e.g., Igel’strom, Speranskii) and the decades of changes in policy and diversity of approaches that regional politicians pursued (in conflict with one another) before the central government finally decided on a unified course of action in the late 1850s. The results of that was the Provisional Statute of 1868, which unified the steppe oblasts following the underlying philosophies of Speranskii’s 1822 Rules for the Middle Horde steppe.
Very importantly, we learn through this study that settlement politics was highly contentious: Many administrators, especially in Orenburg, were against settlement of nomads and allotting to them of land, from the mid-eighteenth century well into the nineteenth century, just as their counterparts in Western Siberia (who administered Kazakh territory from Omsk) pushed for sedentarisation and concomitant cultural policies that aimed to “civilise” former nomads. A section on the Bukei (Inner) Horde, a separate entity under rule of a khan from 1801 to 1845, and its land use policies demonstrates how distinct was that region’s history: private land rights were broadly introduced and the bureaucracy more highly developed than anywhere else in Kazakhstan. However, after 1845 and until 1879 no new reforms were implemented there, making the task thereafter of integrating its inhabitants into the imperial structures erected for the rest of the steppe slow and challenging.
For all his emphasis on the diversity of state policies across the region, Bykov’s analysis of “the reaction of the Kazakh population” and the changes to both nomadic and settled ways of life among the Kazakhs (two of the five stated tasks of the study, p. 3) is disappointingly flat. His intellectual embrace of modernisation theory restricts his vision of how steppe nomadic political culture and economy (and all of its elements) might have operated and changed. The result is essentially an assessment of Kazakh “traditions” and “traditional mentality” ultimately losing out to “modern” ways. This “transformation of traditionalism,” particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is examined in terms of, e.g. the diet (increased reliance on grain products and decrease in animal products) and landed property rights. For these, Bykov relies heavily on a-historical folklore sources rather than on records of actual practice and decision-making. Real-life situations can be gleaned from archival documents from regional and local administrative offices, but while he does make reference to these, the vast majority are from one oblast’, Turgai (found in Fond 25 of the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Almaty), a region that cannot be said to represent the whole of the Kazakh steppe any better than any other of the oblasts can. This book is important for its intelligent critique of Russian policies as they evolved over 150 years, and should be read carefully by any serious scholar of Kazakh steppe history. Those scholars who seek a deeper understanding of the process by which sedentarisation and imperial integration actually impacted the nomadic inhabitants of the steppe will need to look elsewhere.