FootsTeps of Valikhanov

Chokan upon entering Omsk Military Academy at age 12, Photograph, 1847.

Birthplace and Childhood

Chokan was born November 1835 in the newly developed Aman-Karagaiskii district within the Kushmurun fort in modern-day Kustanai oblast’, Republic of Kazakhstan. Chokan was a fourth generation descendant of the great Ablai Khan.

Chokan spent his youth in Kushmurun in his father’s traditional yurt, where he learned of Kazakh folklore, food, hunting practices, and musical customs. Similar to Kazakhs of his time, he drank kumis (fermented mare’s milk) and grew to appreciate the significance of Kazakh storytelling traditions. Chingis arranged his son’s early education, enrolling him in 1842 at age six in a small private school providing a secular education. It was here that he began his studies of Arabic script and foreign languages, including Chagatai, which served as the Kazakh lingua franca of the time. The young Chokan was notably gifted in art and linguistics, with an interest in oral literature and the depiction of landscapes. His childhood fascination with oral histories and map making would follow him throughout his career.

At an early age Chokan moved from his father’s home to the estate of his paternal grandmother, the powerful Aiganym, in Syrymbet, located within the present day Kokchetav oblast’. She was greatly influential in Chokan’s childhood while he lived with her and likely passed on her strong support of Russia. Chokan spent much of his childhood prior to his enrollment in the Siberian Cadet Corps with his pro-Russian grandmother.