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About Kazakhstan

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Official Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a country that stretches over a vast expanse of northern and central Eurasia. A portion of its territory west of the Ural River is located in eastern-most Europe. Kazakhstan was a republic of the former Soviet Union and is now a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. It is the ninth-largest country in the world by area, but its semi-deserts (steppe) make it only the 57th country in population, with approximately 6 persons per sq km. The name Kazakhstan is derived from Persian, meaning "land of the Kazakhs".



With an area of 2.7 million square kilometers. Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest nation in the world. It is equivalent to the size of Western Europe. It shares borders of 6,846 kilometers with Russia, 2,203 kilometers with Uzbekistan, 1,533 kilometers with China, 1,051 kilometers with Kyrgyzstan, and 379 kilometers with Turkmenistan. Major cities include, Astana (capital since December 1997), Almaty (the former capital), Karaganda, Shymkent (Chimkent), Semey (Semipalatinsk) and Turkestan.
The terrain extends west to east from the Caspian Sea to the Altay Mountains and north to south from the plains of Western Siberia to the oasis and desert of Central Asia. The Kazakh Steppe, with an area of around 804,500 square kilometres, occupies one-third of the country and is the world's largest dry steppe region. The steppe is characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions. Important rivers and lakes include: the Aral Sea, Ili River, Irtysh River, Ishim River, Lake Balkhash, and Lake Zaysan.


The climate of Kazakhstan is continental, with hot summers and colder winters. Precipitation varies between arid and semi-arid conditions.



Main religious groupings are Sunni Islam, Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Ukrainian Orthodoxy.



Kazakhstan is a bilingual country: the Kazakh language, spoken by 64.4% of the population, has the status of the "state" language, while Russian is declared the "official" language, and is used routinely in business.

Population and Ethnic Composition


The majority of modern Kazakhstanis are currently either ethnic Kazakhs (58%-60%) or Russians (25%-27%), with smaller Ukrainian, Uzbek, German, Uyghur, Koreans and other minorities totaling 15%-17%. There is also a small but visible Jewish community. Before 1991, one million Volga Germans lived in Kazakhstan; much of this community emigrated to Germany following the breakup of the Soviet Union.



Kazakhstan is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency. The president is the head of state. The president also is the commander in chief of the armed forces and may veto legislation that has been passed by the Parliament. The prime minister, who serves at the pleasure of the president, chairs the Cabinet of Ministers and serves as Kazakhstan's head of government. There are three deputy prime ministers and 16 ministers in the Cabinet.
Kazakhstan has a bicameral Parliament, comprised of the lower house (the Majilis) and upper house (the Senate). Single mandate districts popularly elect 67 seats in the Majilis; there also are 10 members elected by party-list vote rather than by single mandate districts. The Senate has 39 members. Two senators are selected by each of the elected assemblies of Kazakhstan's 16 principal administrative divisions. The president appoints the remaining seven senators. Majilis deputies and the government both have the right of legislative initiative, though the government proposes most legislation considered by the Parliament.

Administrative Division


Kazakhstan is divided into 14 provinces (oblys) and three municipal districts (qala).

Time Zone


There are three time zones in Kazakhstan: Eastern Standard Time is 4 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+4); Central Standard Time is 5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+5); Western Standard Time is 6 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+6).
Kazakhstan does not operate Daylight-Saving Time.

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


Tenge (KZT) is the monetary unit of Kazakhstan. Divided in 100 tiyin, it was introduced in November 1993 to replace the Russian ruble. Coins exist in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 tenge. Banknotes exist in denominations of 10000, 5000, 2000, 1000, 500, 200, and 100 tenge. Major European and international credit cards, including Diners Club and Visa, are accepted in the larger hotels in Almaty and in major shops and restaurants. Facilities exist for credit card cash withdrawals in Kazakhstan.

Capital City


Astana, estimated population of 600,000 (2004), has been the capital of Kazakhstan since 1998. The name "Astana", which in Kazakh language means "Capital city", was allegedly chosen because it is easily pronounced in many languages. It is within the Aqmola Province.
The city is located in central Kazakhstan on the Ishim River in a very flat, semi-desert steppe region which covers most of the country's territory.
Among sites to visit are: Modern governmental quarter, banks of the Ishim River, Oceanarium, Astana Central National Mosque, Islamic Center, Roman Catholic Cathedral, Market hall.

Official Holidays


Airports and Public Transportation


Astana International Airport serves flights from and to Frankfurt, Sharjah, Amsterdam, Minsk, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Istanbul, Kiev, Tashkent

Traditional Cuisine


Traditionally Kazakh cuisine offers many meat dishes. One of the most popular dishes is kuirdak - hot fatty dish made from roasted sheep's liver, kidney, heart, lungs and fat.
Milk tonic beverages are the best to drink with smoked, jerked and boiled mutton as well as with horse-flesh. The taste of katik, made from soured boiled cow's milk, resembles yoghurt and is rather refreshing, whereas such exotic beverages as shubat made from camel's milk and kumis are slightly tipsy drinks. Worldwide famous kumis is made from fresh mare's milk fermented in big skin bags (water-skins). The process of fermentation lasts from 78 to 120 hours, depending on fat content and thickness of the milk. Some alcohol content (1.5 - 3 degrees) in kumis is created by root of aconite, which is added to leaven. Kumis has biologically active substances; it is famous for its curing power and develops immunity.
Main Kazakh meal is besbarmak - boiled horse-flesh or mutton with small cut pieces of pastry boiled in broth and lavishly sprinkled with dill, parsley and coriander.
Together with besbarmak there will be also served up ak-nan - special flat bread baked with onion, and sorpa - mutton broth in bowls called piala. Kazakh people celebrate Nauruz, spring holiday, with a feast which invariably includes guja - a porridge made from seven sorts of grain, and sumalyak - a meal made from wheat sprouts being boiled into homogeneous mass.

Brief History


Humans have inhabited what is now known as Kazakhstan since the earliest Stone Age, generally pursuing the nomadic movement pastoralism for which the region's climate and terrain are best suited. In fact, historians believe vast steppes of modern day Kazakhstan were where humans first domesticated the horse. From the 4th century through the beginning of the 7th century, southern parts of the territory of what is now Kazakhstan were a part of and ruled by the Persian Empire, and after the invasion of Persia by Arabs, ruled by a few nomadic kingdoms. Following the Mongolian invasion in the early 13th century, administrative districts were established under the Mongol Empire, which eventually became the territories of the Kazakh Khanate (Ak Horde). The major medieval cities of Aulie-Ata and Turkestan were founded along the northern route of the Great Silk Road during this period.
Traditional nomadic life on the vast steppe and semi-desert lands was characterized by a constant search for new pasture to support the livestock-based economy. The Kazakhs emerged from a mixture of tribes living in the region in about the 15th century and by the middle of the 16th century had developed a common language, culture, and economy. In the early 1600s, the Kazakh Khanate separated into the Great, Middle and Little Hordes - confederations based on extended family networks. Political disunion, competition among the hordes, and a lack of an internal market weakened the Kazakh Khanate. The beginning of the 18th century marked the zenith of the Kazakh Khanate. The area was a bone of contention between the Kazak emirs and the Persian Kings for many centuries.
In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began to expand, and spread into Central Asia. The "Great Game" period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a second less intensive phase followed. The tsars effectively ruled over most of the territory belonging to what is now the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The Russian Empire introduced a system of administration and built military garrisons and barracks in its effort to establish a presence in Central Asia in the so-called "Great Game" between it and Great Britain. Russia enforced the Russian language in all schools and governmental organizations. Russian efforts to impose its system aroused the resentment of the Kazakh people, and by the 1860s, most Kazakhs resisted Russia's annexation largely because of the disruption it wrought upon the traditional nomadic lifestyle and livestock-based economy. The Kazakh national movement, which began in the late 1800s, sought to preserve the Kazakh language and identity. From the 1890s onwards ever-larger numbers of Slavic settlers began colonising the territory of present-day Kazakhstan, in particular the province of Semirechie. The number of settlers rose still further once the Trans-Aral Railway from Orenburg to Tashkent was completed in 1906, and the movement was overseen and encouraged by a specially created Migration Department in St. Petersburg. The competition for land and water which ensued between the Kazakhs and the incomers caused great resentment against colonial rule during the final years of tsarist Russia, with the most serious uprising, the Central Asian Revolt, occurring in 1916.
Although there was a brief period of autonomy during the tumultuous period following the collapse of the Russian Empire, the Kazakhs eventually succumbed to Soviet rule. In 1920, the area of present-day Kazakhstan became an autonomous republic within Russia and, in 1936, a Soviet republic.
Soviet repression of the traditional elites, along with forced collectivization in late 1920s-1930s, brought about mass hunger and led to unrest. Soviet rule, however, took hold, and a communist apparatus steadily worked to fully integrate Kazakhstan into the Soviet system. Kazakhstan experienced population inflows of thousands exiled from other parts of the Soviet Union during the 1930s and later became home for hundreds of thousands evacuated from the Second World War battlefields. The Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic contributed five national divisions to the Soviet Union's World War II effort.
The period of the Second World War marked an increase in industrialization and increased mineral extraction in support of the war effort. At the time of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's death, however, Kazakhstan still had an overwhelmingly agricultural-based economy. In 1953, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev initiated the ambitious "Virgin Lands" program to turn the traditional pasturelands of Kazakhstan into a major grain-producing region for the Soviet Union. The Virgin Lands policy, along with later modernizations under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, sped up the development of the agricultural sector, which to this day remains the source of livelihood for a large percentage of Kazakhstan's population.
Growing tensions within Soviet society led to a demand for political and economic reforms, which came to a head in the 1980s. In December 1986, mass demonstrations by young ethnic Kazakhs took place in Almaty to protest the methods of the communist system. Soviet troops suppressed the unrest, and dozens of demonstrators were jailed or killed. In the waning days of Soviet rule, discontent continued to grow and find expression under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. Caught up in the groundswell of Soviet republics seeking greater autonomy, Kazakhstan declared its sovereignty as a republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in October 1990. Following the August 1991 abortive coup attempt in Moscow and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared independence on December 16, 1991.
The years following independence have been marked by significant reforms to the Soviet command-economy and political monopoly on power. Under Nursultan Nazarbayev, who initially came to power in 1989 as the head of the Kazakh Communist Party and was eventually elected President in 1991, Kazakhstan has made significant progress toward developing a market economy and a fledgling democracy. The country has enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000, partly due to its large oil, gas, and mineral reserves.
More recently, Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city and former capital, was a candidate to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. The city did not make it to the finalist level, however.