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.


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


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.


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.

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