In 1759, senior officer of the Russian army Alexei Ivanovich Tevkelev and Petr Rychkov, who was assigned as governor of Orenburg, Russia’s window to the East, prepared a detailed memorandum on the general situation of the Kazakh steppes and the balances in the region, presenting it to officials of the country’s Foreign Office. Tevkelev was a former Muslim whose real name was “Kutlu-Mohammed.” He was baptized in 1734 and converted to Christianity, before he started working for the Russian cause, to which he made considerable contributions. Tevkelev, who was rumored to be of Kazakh, Tatar and even Bashkir origins, had a firm grasp on virtually all the languages spoken in the Turkic region. Rychkov, on the other hand, was an earnest and prolific scientist and an esteemed member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Hence, in a report co-prepared by these men, one would be sure to find salient points.
First and foremost, the duo defined the location of the Kazakh pastures, which spanned a 7,500-kilometer area along the steppes. They pointed out that Kazakhs are neighbors with the Turkmens, Khiva people, Turkmens of the Aral Sea, Karakalpaks, Bukharans, Turkistan, Tashkent and Oirats in the south. The Lesser and Middle Hordes of the Kazakhs constituted the most formidable force in the region. Had both hordes been united under the command of a single tenacious leader, a 60,000-strong army could have been formed. However, because of their traditional concept of independence and distaste for the authority of a khan, their armies constituted around ten to twenty thousand horsemen.
Contrary to many commanders in the Russian army, Tevkelev and Rychkov believed that their military prowess would not suffice to completely bring down the Kazakhs. According to the duo, the field knowledge of commanders of this opinion was very poor indeed. The structure of the region rendered it impossible to reach their targets via a military incursion. For the Kazakhs could flee across the steppes and launch retaliatory raids. Instead, the duo suggested a completely different method. In summary, they said:
“Even though altering the national customs and archaic traditions of an entire people seems likes the hardest part, when governing new subordinate peoples, it is most important to be aware of their customs and traditions from the very beginning and to guide them through justice and moderation, as the interests of the state require. Compared to other nations, Kazakhs are quite susceptible to Russian influence. The Kazakhs have long been accustomed to trading, eating diet bread, and making and storing hay for the winter. Trade will tame and settle them over time. Khans should be appointed by the Russian administration, however, their authority should not be strengthened. Some local administrators should be endorsed and groomed to be future khans. It is unreasonable to confront the Kazakhs on a military plane, because they are so great in number. Instead, hostilities should be incited among the Kazakhs, and the people should be brought under control by driving a wedge between them.”
These days, as chaos reigns across Kazakhstan, I accessed this information from Michael Khodarkovsky’s book, “Russia's Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500-1800.” Khodarkovsky argues that the Tevkelev-Rychkov report was not given its due attention, and shortly after, they returned to primitive military methods, which led the Russians to lose a slew of viable opportunities.
No doubt, a more meticulous and careful interpretation is necessary to comprehend all aspects of Russia's centuries-long persistent and stable incursions into Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East, where mostly Muslims have inhabited. Behind every development we witness today lies plans and processes spanning decades. This is true not only for the regions that were governed, but also for the mind of the governing state. For example, it’s hard to imagine Vladimir Putin, the leader at the helm of today’s Russia, being unaware of the Tevkelev-Rychkov report on the Kazakhs that was prepared 263 years ago. Nor is it impossible to say that he hasn’t consulted this very report in his approach toward the region. Everyone closely monitoring Putin’s actions will see that he not only emulates the old imperial eras, but also completely keeps the theoretical framework produced at that time close at hand.