The lineage of Chokan Valikhanov can be traced back to his great-grandfather Ablai Khan (1711-1781), who served as Sultan of the middle horde and was appointed Khan by Empress Catherine II of Russia in1771. While Sultan, Ablai had developed a reputation as an unparalleled warrior because of his tactical exploitation of his enemies. He became extremely popular among the native population. Kazakh storytellers spread the legend of his prowess as a leader and combatant throughout the steppes. Like his great-grandson Chokan, Ablai Khan continues to be celebrated in Kazakh history.
Ablai Khan’s son and successor, Vali Khan, came to power during a changing political environment shortly after the death of his father. The Russian Empire abandoned the Khanship appointments and began a more concentrated campaign to take political command of the Kazakh territories. The new Kazakh political divisions debated whether to accept or oppose Russian influence. The descendants of Ablai Khan directly related to Chokan Valikhanov continued the tradition of honoring their Russian appointments, but other parts of Ablai’s vast family tree chose not to remain loyal to the Russian Empire. For example, Ablai’s grandson, Kenesary Kasimov, joined a resistance faction during Valikhanov’s childhood and found himself on an opposing side to Vali’s son Chingis, Kasimov’s cousin and Valikhanov’s father, who was serving with the Siberian Line Cossack. Vali later married an erudite woman named Aiganym, who was strongly pro-Russian and who aligned herself politically with Russian officials and merchants. She was so highly regarded that Emperor Alexander I of Russia used government funds to provide her with a European-style estate that featured living quarters, a sauna, and a mosque built with a crescent moon atop a traditional western European steeple.
Chingis Valikhan, one of seven males born to Vali Khan, succeeded his predecessor in accepting appointment with the Russian Empire. In addition, he was the first in the family line to secure a rank within the Russian military. His mother Aiganym saw to it that he received a Russian military education in Omsk, where he became an officer in the Siberian Line Cossack Army. Around the time of Valikhanov’s birth in 1835 Chingis also achieved the level of senior Sultan (a position he would hold six times) and was acclaimed by Russian officials as a positive example for the native people of Kazakhstan.
Chingis fathered six sons. The most famous was Mukhammad-Khanafiia, known commonly as Chokan Valikhanov.