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Kenesary was the last Kazakh Khan, and the leader of national liberation movement that resisted the capture of Kazakh lands and segregation policies by the Russian Empire. He was the grandson of Ablai Khan and is largely regarded as the last ruler of the Kazakh Khanate.

By the mid 19th century, the Kazakhs fell under the full control of the Russian Empire and were banned from electing their own leader or even given representation in the empire’s legislative structures. All fiscal/tax collections were also taken away from local Kazakh representatives and given to Russian administrators. Kenesary Khan fought against the Russian imperial forces until his death in 1847.

In 1841, at an all-Kazakh Kurultai, Kenesary was elected as Khan (supreme leader) by all Kazakh representatives. The ceremony of coronation followed all Kazakh traditions.

As a freedom fighter and popular as a leading voice against the increasingly aggressive and forceful policies of the Russian Empire, Kenesary was ruthless in his actions and unpredictable as a military strategist. By 1846, however, his resistance movement had lost momentum as some of his rich associates had defected to the Russian Empire, having been bribed and been promised great riches. Betrayed, Kenesary Khan grew increasingly suspicious of the remaining members of the Resistance, possibly further alienating them. In 1847, the Khan of the Kazakhs met his death in Kyrgyz lands during his assault on northern Kyrgyz tribes. He was executed by Ormon Khan, the Kyrgyz khan who was subsequently rewarded by the Russians with a larger estate and an official administrative role. Kenesary Khan’s head was cut off and sent to the Russians.

Over the last decade, Kenesary Khan has been increasingly regarded as a hero in Kazakh literature and media. Kenesary Khan can be seen on the shore of the river Esil in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

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