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Formal Name: Republic of Kazakhstan (Qazaqstan Respublikasy).
Short Form: Kazakhstan.
Term for Citizen(s): Kazakhstani(s).
Capital: Astana (formerly Aqmola) became the official capital of Kazakhstan in 1997, succeeding Almaty (formerly Alma-Ata) and moving the national government from the far southeast to the industrial north.
Other Major Cities: Almaty, Karaganda, Öskemen, Pavlodar, Shymkent, and Taraz.
Independence: The recognized date of independence is December 16, 1991, when the Republic of Kazakhstan split from the Soviet Union.
Public Holidays: The national holiday is October 25, Republic Day. Other holidays are International Women’s Day (March 8), Novruz (spring equinox, March 21–22), Unification Day (May 1), Victory Day (May 9), Constitution Day (August 30), and Independence Day (December 16). Russian Orthodox citizens celebrate Christmas on January 7.
Until the arrival of the Russians in the eighteenth century, the history of Kazakhstan was determined by the movements, conflicts, and alliances of Turkic and Mongol tribes. The Kazakhs’ nomadic tribal society suffered increasingly frequent incursions by the Russian Empire, ultimately being included in that empire and the Soviet Union that followed it. The earliest states in the region were the Turkic Kaganate, established in the sixth century, and a state established by the Qarluq confederation in the eighth century. Islam was introduced by Arabs who entered Kazakh territory in the eighth and ninth centuries. Between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, the dominant states of the region were those of the Qarakhanids and the Karakitai. In the early thirteenth century, the latter group was conquered by the Mongols under Genghis Khan.
During centuries of Mongol rule, the territory of Kazakhstan broke up into several major groups known as khanates. The first leader of the Kazakhs was Khan Kasym, who ruled in the early sixteenth century. After having expanded significantly, the Kazakhs split into three groups,
called the Great Horde, the Middle Horde, and the Lesser Horde. In the eighteenth century, Russian traders advanced from the north, catching the hordes between them and Kalmyk invaders from the east. When the Great Horde was forced to accept Russian protection in the 1820s, all of the Kazakh groups had come under Russian control, and the decay of the nomadic culture accelerated. Uprisings against Russian rule began in the 1830s (under the national hero Khan Kene) and continued sporadically through the so-called Basmachi Rebellion of the 1920s.
Beginning in the nineteenth century, Kazakhstan suffered from waves of large-scale implantation of Russians, including the agricultural settlements of Tsar Nicholas II’s Minister of Interior Pyotr Stolypin, the Virgin Lands project of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (in power 1953–64) in the 1950s, and the relocation of Soviet industry to Kazakhstan in the 1960s and 1970s. Soviet leader Joseph V. Stalin (in power 1927–53) also forcibly resettled other ethnic groups in Kazakhstan.
Soviet agricultural policy was especially harmful to indigenous people and their economy. As the Soviet Union began to deteriorate in the 1980s, Kazakh nationalism grew under Communist Party leader Dinmukhamed Kunayev. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the last leader of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and an advocate of maintaining a union of Soviet republics with increased autonomy, became president of an independent Kazakhstan when the Soviet Union split apart in 1991.
In the post-Soviet era, Kazakhstan remained closely tied to Russia by energy supply lines, national defense, and the importance of Russian technologists in Kazakhstan’s economy, but Nazarbayev also sought closer relations with the West. Beginning in the 1990s, the discovery of major new oil fields and subsequent international investment enabled Kazakhstan’s economy to pull far ahead of its Central Asian neighbors. Since his first election in 1991, Nazarbayev has maintained firm control of Kazakhstan’s political and economic policy, removing all potential political rivals, including four prime ministers. A new constitution ratified in 1995 significantly expanded presidential power. After canceling the 1996 presidential election, in 1999 Nazarbayev easily won an election that received international criticism. However, by the mid-1990s the ruling elite already had begun to show signs of factionalism. Beginning in 1999, a series of corruption scandals arose, and frequent changes of government disrupted economic policy. In 2002 the government arrested the leaders of the top opposition group, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), and pressured the media to stop critical reporting. In 2004 corruption allegations against the Nazarbayev regime intensified as a U.S. oil executive was indicted on charges of bribing representatives of the Kazakhstan government. In 2004 and early 2005, a series of restrictions on opposition parties, including the liquidation of the DVK, brought accusations of a political crackdown in advance of the 2006 presidential election. The government advanced the election date by one year to December 2005, when Nazarbayev gained 91 percent of the vote in what international observers called an unfair election. In February 2006, Altynbek Sarsenbayev became the second major opposition leader in four months to suffer a violent death, prompting street protests. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan’s international diplomatic and economic positions continued to advance in 2006, despite domestic oppression, as the oil and natural gas extraction of Western oil companies in Kazakhstan increased substantially and Kazakhstan continued to support antiterrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Location: Kazakhstan is located in the center of the continent of Asia, with a coastline only on the landlocked Caspian Sea. Russia forms its entire northern border.
Size: At 2,717,000 square kilometers, Kazakhstan’s area is about four times that of Texas, making Kazakhstan the ninth largest nation in the world. Some 47,500 kilometers of the total area is occupied by bodies of water.
Land Boundaries: Kazakhstan has common borders with the following countries: China (1,533 kilometers), Kyrgyzstan (1,051 kilometers), Russia (6,846 kilometers), Turkmenistan (379 kilometers), and Uzbekistan (2,203 kilometers).
Length of Coastline: Kazakhstan’s only coastline runs 1,894 kilometers along the landlocked Caspian Sea.
Maritime Claims: Jurisdiction over oil, natural gas, and other resources in the Caspian Sea is in dispute with other littoral states.
Land Use: In 2005 some 8.3 percent of land was rated as arable, a reduction from the 1998 estimate of 11.2 percent. Less than 0.1 percent of that land was under permanent crops. About 4.8 percent is forest and woodland. The remainder is pastureland, meadows, desert, and mountains. In 2003 irrigated land totaled an estimated 35,560 square kilometers.
Time Zones: Kazakhstan has three time zones, which are, respectively, five, six, and seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Languages: Kazakh and Russian are official languages for commercial purposes. Kazakh, spoken by 64.4 percent of the population, is the official “state” language, and Russian, spoken by 5 percent of the population, is designated as the “language of interethnic communication. In 2006 President Nazarbayev proposed that Kazakhstan switch from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet.
Religion: Some 47 percent of Kazakhs are Muslim, primarily Sunni Muslims; 44 percent are Russian Orthodox, and 2 percent are Protestant. Because the Muslims of Kazakhstan developed their religion in isolation from the rest of the Islamic world, there are significant differences from conventional Sunni and Shia practices. For example, the teachings of the Quran are much less central to the Kazakh version of Islam than in other parts of the Muslim world.
Health: In principle, health care is free.