Fact File: Kazakhstan

Name Қазақстан Республикасы
Pop­u­la­tion 17,987,736 (2016 estim­ate)
Cap­it­al city Astana (moved from Almaty in 1997)
Offi­cial lan­guage Kaza­kh (offi­cial), Rus­si­an
Reli­gions Islam (70%), Chris­tian­ity (26%), oth­er
Life expect­ancy 62 (men), 73 (women)
GDP 133.7 bil­lion USD ‎(2016) (42nd)
HDI 0.788 (56th)
Gini 26.4
Pres­id­ent Nur­sultan Naz­ar­bayev

 

As the largest, richest and most well-known of the Cent­ral Asi­an nations, Kaza­kh­stan is often referred to as ‘land of the wan­der­ers’.

From the icy-cli­mate of Kazakhstan’s indus­tri­al­ised north to the oil-rich low­lands of the country’s west­ern fron­ti­er, the country’s geo­graph­ic diversity has been a bless­ing and a curse. The country’s enorm­ous min­er­al wealth, des­pite the chal­lenges presen­ted by its vast­ness, have helped to off-set some of the pains of a post-Soviet integ­ra­tion into the glob­al eco­nomy. Great­er ties to the US and China have fol­lowed invest­ment in the oil-eco­nomy.

The Mauso­leum of Khoja Ahmed Yas­awi in Hazrat-e Turkest­an, one of only three UNESCO World Her­it­age sites in Cent­ral Asia.

The nation­al flag of Kaza­kh­stan, chosen in 1992 after the col­lapse of the Soviet Uni­on, was designed by Kaza­kh artist Shaken Niyazbekov. It depicts a golden sun shin­ing above a golden steppe eagle in full flight. The steppe eagle is an import­ant cul­tur­al sym­bol for the Kaza­kh people. It is a migrat­ory spe­cies, but breeds on the cent­ral Kaza­kh plains. As for many nations, it rep­res­ents free­dom, strength and dig­nity. Both sym­bols are placed on a sky-blue back­ground, a col­our cent­ral to Ancient Turkic reli­gious belief. On the hoist-side, a ‘koshkar-muiz’ (the horns of the ram), a tra­di­tion­al orna­ment­al pat­ter, is presen­ted.

A short history

  • Between the first and eight cen­tur­ies both Turkic-speak­ing peoples and Mon­gol tribes settle in mod­ern-day Kaza­kh­stan.
  • By the late fif­teenth cen­tury the Kaza­khs emerge as an iden­ti­fi­able eth­nic group.
  • Dur­ing the eight­eenth cen­tury the Khans of the Three Zhuzes become a de facto Rus­si­an pro­tect­or­ate.
  • In 1917 fol­low­ing the Octo­ber Revolu­tion in Rus­sia, civil war breaks out in Kaza­kh­stan.
  • By 1920, Kaza­kh­stan becomes a self-gov­ern­ing repub­lic of the USSR.
  • Between 1954 – 62 around two mil­lion people, mainly eth­nic­ally Rus­si­an, settle in Kaza­kh­stan as part of Soviet-lead­er Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘Vir­gin Lands’ pro­ject.
  • In 1986, thou­sands protest the appoint­ment of an eth­nic Rus­si­an as head of the Com­mun­ist Party of Kaza­kh­stan by Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • In Decem­ber 1991, Kaza­kh­stan declares inde­pend­ence from the USSR fol­low­ing the land­slide pres­id­en­tial elec­tion of Nur­sultan Naz­ar­bayev, who has remained in power since.
  • May 2004 sees a deal signed with China over the con­struc­tion of an oil pipeline from Kaza­kh­stan to China.

Culture

With just under 18 mil­lion people, com­prised of 131 eth­nic groups, spread out over a mil­lion square miles (mak­ing Kaza­kh­stan the largest land­locked coun­try) — Kaza­kh­stan under­stand­ably has a remark­ably diverse cul­tur­al com­pos­i­tion. Des­pite a brief inter­lude of state athe­ism under the Soviet Uni­on — Islam has remained the dom­in­ant reli­gion in Kaza­kh­stan since the eight cen­tury AD. Islam, how­ever, is one of many ten­ets that com­prise a Kaza­kh cul­tur­al his­tory rooted both in its pos­i­tion as a glob­al cross­roads, and the dis­tinctly nomad­ic and pas­tor­al qual­ity of his­tor­ic Kaza­kh life. As such, while glob­al­ised sports, such as foot­ball, are pop­u­lar (the Kaza­kh foot­ball team came twenty-second at the 2016 Rio Olympics, nar­rowly beaten by Uzbek­istan), tra­di­tion­al nomad­ic sports — typ­ic­ally equine based — remain alive in Kaza­kh soci­ety. One such game, Kyz kuu, (chase the girl) is an elab­or­ate game of kiss chase on horse­back.

Riders play the tra­di­tion­al Kaza­kh game of ‘Catch the Girl’ in a demon­stra­tion of their eques­tri­an her­it­age at the open­ing cere­mon­ies of Cent­ral Asi­an Peace­keep­ing Bat­talion, 2000.

Kaza­kh cuisine often reflects nomad­ic tra­di­tions centered around the rear­ing of live­stock; with meat and dairy act­ing as the lynch­pin of typ­ic­al dishes. Vari­ations on pilaf (plov) are pop­u­lar in Kaza­kh meals, and are usu­ally accom­pan­ied by soups and vari­ous appet­isers. Fer­men­ted mare’s milk is a pop­u­lar alco­hol­ic bever­age — the Cent­ral Asi­an For­um makes no judge­ment as to its taste

Politics

Kaza­kh­stan oper­ates as a bicam­er­al unit­ary repub­lic — with the pres­id­ent Nur­sultan Naz­ar­bayev as the head of state. The pres­id­ent is required to renew their man­date through nation­al elec­tions every five years. Wheth­er by charm, luck, skill or oth­er­wise, Naz­ar­bayev — the former Soviet première of Kaza­kh­stan — has won each elec­tion since inde­pend­ence with over 90% of the vote. Nazarbayev’s Otan party cur­rently hold a major­ity of seats in both houses.

For nearly two dec­ades of his twenty-six year ten­ure, Nur­sultan Nazarbayev’s (centre) Rus­si­an coun­ter­part has been Vladi­mir Putin.

Economy

As the eco­nom­ic power­house of the Cent­ral Asi­an region, Kaza­kh­stan car­ries sig­ni­fic­antly more eco­nom­ic clout in the inter­na­tion­al scene than her neigh­bour stans. Eco­nom­ic growth has been driv­en primar­ily by exports of min­er­als and fossil fuels. How­ever, efforts have been made post-inde­pend­ence to break Kazakhstan’s reli­ance on extern­al demand for raw mater­i­als by diver­si­fy­ing their eco­nom­ic activ­ity. One such effort has been the Nurly Zhol ‘path to the future’ policy, which has sought vastly increased infra­struc­ture spend­ing so as to foster eco­nom­ic rigidty in the face of chan­ging glob­al cir­cum­stances. Kaza­kh­stan 2050 is an eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment pro­ject announced in the 2012 annu­al pres­id­en­tial address — it is a mul­ti­fa­ceted pro­gramme which seeks to estab­lish Kaza­kh­stan amongst the world’s ’top-30’ eco­nom­ies by 2050, it fol­lows on from a sim­il­ar Kaza­kh­stan 2030 scheme.

Min­ing and steel pro­duc­tion remain import­ant in Kaza­kh­stan, and are dom­in­ated by ArcelorMit­tal — a com­pany with strong Brit­ish ties.