Steppenland (Kazakh/Russian: Штеппенланд, Shtyeppyenland), officially known a the Autonomous Republic of the Steppes, is an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union that is under the administration of Kazakhstan. Located within the Eurasian Steppe of Central Asia, the autonomous republic was established in the late 1990s as a homeland for the ethnic Volga Germans living in Northern Kazakhstan.
Since its establishment, Steppenland has helped to develop both the autonomous republic and Northern Kazakhstan as a whole. Steppenland currently has a population just short of a million people, with ethnic Germans making up roughly a quarter of this. Though the region has seen the migration of Germans both from within and outside the Soviet Union, ethnic Russians and Kazakhs still form the majority of the region's population.
Though Germans were already living within the territory of the Russian Empire (most notably in the Baltic region), the history of Germans living in the Eurasian Steppe began in the 18th century under the reign of Catherine the Great. During this time, German peoples living in Central Europe began emigrating from the many German states of the [then] Holy Roman Empire, with the Americas, Australia, and Southern Africa becoming the primary locations. An ethnic German herself, Catherine the Great allowed German immigrants to colonize the Steppes as a means to help improve the region. Though not in large scale compared to the New World, Germans within the Russian Empire were able to establish a footing in Russia, with the core being along the Lower Volga (hence the name "Volga Germans").
Following the October Revolution in 1917 and the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922, the Volga German population were granted autonomy under Vladimir Lenin's national delimitation of the Soviet population. The Volga German ASSR was established in 1918 and existed along the modern day borders of Kazakhstan and Russia (with its capital in Engels). The Volga Germans were treated roughly the same as the other non-Russian peoples until 1941 when Nazi Germany launched the invasion of the Soviet Union. Under the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the Volga German population (along others) were forcibly relocated to Northern Kazakhstan. The order was done over fears that the Volga Germans would have loyalties to the Nazis (and in general under the paranoia of Stalin's rule). The VGASSR ceased to exist the same year, with virtually the entire German population being removed by the end of World War II.
Following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, successor Nikita Khrushchev began implementing a period of de-Stalinization across the Soviet Union. As part of which came the first of several attempts to re-establish Volga German autonomy throughout the late 20th century. While sympathetic to the Volga Germans, Khrushchev eventually shelved Volga German autonomy in favor of glorifying the [then] newly established German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The second push for autonomy came in the late 1970s under Leonid Brezhnev. This new proposal gained more support, most notably by KGB chairman (and future Soviet leader) Yuri Andropov and the leadership of the area which once belonged to the Volga German ASSR (due to the potential economic growth to the region). During the debates, Kazakhstan opposed the leaving of the Volga Germans from the underdeveloped northern regions of the republic. Kazakhstan also conveyed the notion that most Volga Germans at the time were born and raised in Northern Kazakhstan (holding no identity with the territory of the Volga). The Soviet government then changed their moves to simply establish a new autonomous republic in Northern Kazakhstan. The move towards autonomy eventually ceased by 1979 over opposition by the Kazakh population in the area and ultimately by the Kazakh government themselves (fearing a push for more autonomous regions within the republic).
The third and final push for German autonomy came in the late 1980s as Glasnost was well underway. During the process that lead to the New Union Treaty, German autonomy was brought up again (mostly to convey the direction the USSR was going towards). Unlike the previous attempts, the Volga German population became more supportive of the cause by the mid 1990s as part of the union-wide Parade of Sovereignties. The move towards autonomy by this time is also attributed to the immigration reforms in Germany, which made it more difficult for Volga Germans to immigrate there. The move towards autonomy finally reached its climax during the negotiations of the Saint Petersburg Compromise, which was done to end tensions brought about by the Parade of Sovereignties. Under the agreement, nine raions in Northern Kazakhstan were selected to become this new autonomous republic. As a means to appease the non-German majority, the name "German" would not be used in the official naming, instead favoring the name "Autonomous Republic of the Steppe" to be a neutral name (though the Germanized name "Steppenland" eventually became colloquial). The autonomous republic officially came into existence in April 1997, but would not become an official part of the Soviet Union until October (when the Saint Petersburg Compromise was ratified).
Following the formation of Steppenland, a migration of ethnic Germans across the Northern Kazakhstan and Siberia began. Many non-Germans (mostly Kazakhs) began to leave the area during the same time. One of the biggest international supporters of Steppenland became Germany, which began to help invest in the development of the autonomous republic (mostly under the guise of encouraging Volga Germans to remain in the USSR).