Kazakhstan Literature and Culture

By | October 11, 2021

Language and literature

Kazakh language and literature. The Kazakh language belongs to the northwest group of Turkic languages and is v. a. spoken in Kazakhstan and in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Their dialect differences are small. It developed into a written language in the second half of the 19th century. The original Arabic alphabet was replaced by the Latin script in 1929 and the Cyrillic script in 1940; Arabic script continues to be used in Xinjiang. Today Kazakh is the state language of the Republic of Kazakhstan, but in fact it is used less than Russian in public life.

Literature: The Kazakhs are familiar with important and varied folk poems which, like “Alpamys” (Alpamysh epic) and “Kys-zhibek”, were performed by wandering singers and improvisers, some of whom, v. a. Djambul Djabajew, achieved great fame as a supporter of Soviet power.  According to itypeauto, the European-influenced literature begins with Abai Kunanbayev, whose works have promoted the creation of the written language. In the context of Soviet literature, based on its own folk tradition and on Russian models, prose and stage poetry also developed. The authors of this epoch include Säken Sejfullin (* 1894, † 1939), Säbit Mukanow (* 1900, † 1973), Ghabit Müsirepow (* 1902, † 1985) and Ghabiden Mustafin (* 1902, † 1985). The narrative work of M. O. Auesow (* 1897, † 1961) became internationally known; next to it poetry by O. O. Sulejmanow (* 1936).


Traditionally, the Kazakhs belong to the nomadic peoples. Equestrian games and hunting with trained eagles are evidence of this way of life and form the focus of the folk festivals. Shamanistic ideas and the worship of ancestral spirits have survived outside of the cities.

Equestrian competitions in Kazakhstan

In the tradition of the nomads – equestrian competitions

Until well into the 20th century, the Kazakhs lived as nomads in the steppes between the Caspian Sea and the Altai Mountains. According to a fixed seasonal rhythm, belonging to different clans and tribal associations, they moved with their herds through the largely inhospitable expanses and temporarily settled where the land provided water and food for horses and camels. The children learned how to handle horses from an early age. Therefore, the Kazakhs are still considered to be born horsemen today. The central importance of the horse for Kazakh culture and identity is not only reflected in the stories and epics of the Kazakhs, but also in their language. She knows about fifty terms for the color and shades of horses alone.

During celebrations, the Kazakhs hold wrestling and archery competitions, but equestrian competitions are the most popular national sport. The horse races go over distances of 20 or 30 km. The “kopkar”, in which the riders have to chase one another’s goat skin from each other, is particularly vigorous. Mostly young people organize races in which girls are also involved, e.g. B. »kyz-kun« (»catch the girl«): A young girl gets a small head start on the racetrack before the young men (»Dschigiten«) rush behind and try to catch her. The winner is whoever catches up with the girl and kisses her first. If the fastest rider does not succeed in doing this before the finish line, the girl is allowed to beat him with the riding whip.

Up into the 19th century, traveling singers handed down heroic songs, fairy tales and legends such as the Alpamysch epic in oral form. The poet A. Kunanbayev founded the Kazakh literary language in written form (Kazakh language and literature) in the second half of the 19th century. He combined the old heroic songs with elements of Russian literature. From the 1930s onwards, many Kazakh writers disappeared in Stalinist prisons and labor camps. The author M. Auesow laid the foundation stone for Kazakh prose in the 20th century. In the novel cycle »Abaisholu« (1942–56) he commemorates the national poet A. Kunanbayev. The Volga German Herold Belger (* 1934, † 2015) addressed the relationship between German and Kazakh culture. He wrote prose texts in Russian, Kazakh and German and published translations of German literature. The poet O. Suleymenov draws his subjects from Kazakh history, but writes mainly in Russian.

The film industry mainly produces period films and entertainment films from everyday life in Kazakhstan. The socially critical film »Harmony Lessons« by Emir Baigasin (* 1984) about the life of young people in Kazakhstan was presented at the 2013 Berlinale. The actress Samal Jesljamowa (* 1984) received the Golden Palm of Cannes in 2018 as best female leading actress for her role in the film “Ayka” by Sergei Dworzewoi (* 1962).

The music developed from the old songs of the Kazakh nomads. Traditional instruments are the string instrument Kobys and the plucked instrument Dombra. Modern music is characterized by the interplay of old Kazakh folk songs and western musical currents such as jazz and rock. The Kazakh National Conservatory in Almaty is the largest music academy in Kazakhstan.


Football and ice hockey, weightlifting, boxing, wrestling and judo are very popular in sports. Professionally conducted competitive sport has a high priority in Kazakhstan. International successes were achieved primarily in boxing, weightlifting, rugby and cycling.

World Heritage Sites in Kazakhstan

World Heritage Sites (K) and World Natural Heritage (N)

  • Burial mosque of Choja Akhmed Jasawi in the city of Turkestan (K; 2003)
  • Rock carvings from the archaeological site of Tamgaly (K; 2004)
  • Archaeological sites along the Silk Road (K; 2014)
  • Western part of the Tian Shan (N; 2016)

Kazakhstan Literature and Culture