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Kazakhstan or Kazakstan (käˌzäkstänˈ), officially Republic of Kazakhstan, republic (2015 est. pop. 17,750,000), c.1,050,000 sq mi (2,719,500 sq km), central Asia. It borders on Siberian Russia in the north, China in the east, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan in the south, and the Caspian Sea and European Russia in the west. Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) is the capital and Almaty (Alma-Ata) is the largest city. Other major cities include Shymkent, Semey, Aqtöbe, and Öskemen.

Land and People

Kazakhstan consists of a vast flatland, bordered by a high mountain belt in the southeast. It extends nearly 2,000 mi (3,200 km) from the lower Volga and the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mts. in the east. It is largely lowland in the north and west (W Siberian, Caspian, and Turan lowlands), hilly in the center (Kazakh Uplands, or Kazakh Hills), and mountainous in the south and east (Tian Shan and Altai ranges). Kazakhstan is a region of inland drainage; the Syr Darya, the Ili, the Chu, and other rivers drain into the Aral Sea and Lake Balkash. Most of the region is desert or has limited and irregular rainfall.

More than 60% of the population of Kazakhstan are Kazakhs, who are historically Muslim, while about 23% are Russians, many of whom belong to the Russian Orthodox Church; there are smaller minorities of Tatars, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Uigurs, Germans, and others. Kazakh, a Turkic language and the official language under the constitution, and Russian, the country's most common language and widely used in business, are both used officially. There is considerable friction between the now dominant Kazakhs and the formerly favored ethnic Russians, who are concentrated in N Kazakhstan and have emigrated in large numbers. Nearly a million ethnic Kazakhs, meanwhile, have immigrated since 1991, with the largest number coming from Uzbekistan.


Despite Kazakhstan's largely arid conditions, its vast steppes accommodate both livestock and grain production. In the 1950s, the Virgin Lands Program under Soviet Communist party chief Khrushchev brought hundreds of thousands of Russian, Ukrainian, and German settlers to the area. Wheat, cotton, sugar beets, and tobacco are the main crops. The raising of cattle and sheep is also important, and Kazakhstan produces much wool and meat. In addition, in the N Caspian there are rich fishing grounds, famous for their caviar-producing sturgeon, although these have been hurt by overfishing.

The Kazakh Uplands, in E central Kazakhstan, have important mineral resources. Coal is mined at Qaraghandy and Ekibastuz. There are major oil fields in the Emba basin (which includes the important Tengiz fields), in the Mangyshlak Peninsula, at Karachaganak (near the Russian border NE of Aksai), and at Kashagan, S of Atyrau in the NE Caspian Sea. A pipeline was built in the 1990s to connect the nation's oil fields to the Black Sea. There are also large deposits of natural gas, iron ore, manganese, chrome, lead, zinc, copper, titanium, bauxite, gold, silver, phosphates, sulfur, uranium, and nickel. The Irtysh River hydroelectric stations are a major source of power.

Kazakhstan's industries are located along the margins of the country. Steel, agricultural and mining machinery, electric motors, construction materials, and fertilizers are among the manufactured goods. Temirtau is the iron and steel center. Semey was the Soviet center of space-related industries, and the surrounding region was the site of Soviet nuclear testing; radiation pollution is widespread in the area, which experienced a severe economic downturn following the end of nuclear testing in 1991. The Baikonur (Bayqongyr) Cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan was the Soviet space-operations center and continues to serve Russian space exploration through an agreement between the two nations. The main exports are oil and petroleum products, natural gas, ferrous metals, chemicals, machinery, grain, wool, meat, and coal. Imports include machinery and equipment, metal products, and foodstuffs. The main trading partners are Russia, China, and Germany.


Kazakhstan is governed under the constitution of 1995 as amended. The president, who is head of state, is elected by popular vote to a five-year term (prior to 2007, a seven-year term). There is a two-term limit on the president, except for Nursultan Nazarbayev, as the first president of the republic. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. There is a bicameral Parliament. Of the 47 members of the Senate, 15 are appointed by the president and the rest are elected by local governments; all serve six-year terms. The 107 members of the Mazhilis serve five-year terms; 98 are popular elected, and 9 are chosen by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, which represents Kazakhstan's ethnic minorities. A party must receive 7% of the vote to be represented in the Mazhilis. Administratively, the country is divided into 14 provinces and 4 cities.


The original nomadic Turkic tribes inhabiting the region had a culture that featured the Central Asian epics, ritual songs, and legends. These Kazakh groups were conquered by the Mongols in the 13th cent. and ruled by various khanates until the Russian conquest (1730–1840). The 19th cent. saw the growth of the Kazakh intelligentsia. A written literature strongly influenced by Russian culture was then developed.

In 1916 the Kazakhs rebelled against Russian domination and were in the process of establishing a Western-style state at the time of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, but by 1920 the region was under the control of the Red Army. Organized as the Kirghiz Autonomous SSR in 1920, it was renamed the Kazakh Autonomous SSR in 1925 and became a constituent republic in 1936. During the Stalin era, collectivization was instituted and millions of Kazakhs were forced to resettle in the region's south in order to strengthen Russian rule. In the early 1960s parts of republic saw extensive agricultural development as the Virgin Lands Territory.

Kazakhstan declared its independence from the Soviet Union on Dec. 16, 1991, and the new nation became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Nursultan Nazarbayev became the country's first president and soon began a gradual movement toward privatization of the economy. In 1994, Kazakhstan signed a series of security agreements with the United States, in which the latter would take control of enriched uranium usable for nuclear weapons and aid Kazakhstan in removing extant nuclear weapons, closing missile silos, converting biological-weapons-production centers, and destroying its nuclear test ranges. These projects were financed by the United States, and most of the work was completed by 2005.

Elections in 1994 gave a parliamentary majority to allies of Nazarbayev, but they resisted his reform plans. In Apr., 1995, after the 1994 election results were dismissed as invalid by the constitutional court, he suspended parliament and ruled by decree. New elections in Dec., 1995, gave his allies a majority in parliament but were criticized by the opposition and others as flawed. On the basis of referendums held in 1995 and 1996 that were denounced by the opposition, Nazarbayev's term in office was extended to the year 2000 and his powers were increased. In an election rescheduled to Jan., 1999, Nazarbayev was reelected after disqualifying the major opposition candidate. Later the same year, the governing Otan [fatherland] and its allies won a majority in parliament.

Kazakhstan, along with Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, signed an economic cooperation pact with Russia in 1996. In 1997 the capital was moved from Almaty to the more centrally located Aqmola (subsequently renamed Astana; now Nur-Sultan). In 1999, as Kazakhstan's economy worsened, the government agreed to sell some of its stake in the vast Tengiz oil field. In Sept., 2003, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine signed an agreement to create a common economic space. It was later agreed (2009) to establish the customs union in 2010, but Ukraine was not a party to that accord. An agreement to establish the Eurasian Economic Union, to increase economic coordination and integration, was signed by Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia in May, 2014.

Parliamentary elections in 2004 were criticized by foreign observers as biased toward the government, and the main moderate opposition party accused the government of tampering with the vote. Following the collapse of the government in neighboring Kyrgyzstan in 2005, the parliament passed a series of repressive measures intended to prevent a similar popular revolt in Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev was reelected in Dec., 2005, but the campaign and balloting was called undemocratic by European observers.

The killing of a leading opposition figure in February (the second such killing since Nov., 2005) provoked an outcry from opposition politicians and media. The government announced that a senior senate adminstrative official had confessed to ordering the February murder, and that members of a special forces unit had been arrested for carrying it out. Both murdered men were former government officials who had accused the president's family of corruption, and many opponents of the government believed that the accused senate official was a scapegoat. The official and the alleged assassin, who recanted their confessions during the trial, and eight others were convicted in Aug., 2006. In September Otan merged with three other parties, including one headed by the president's eldest daughter, to form the Nur Otan [light of the fatherland] party.

Constitutional amendments adopted in 2007 removed the term limits on President Nazarbayev, decreased the length of the president's term, and increased the number of representatives in the parliament. In May, 2007, the government moved to arrest the president's son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, on kidnapping and assault charges involving bank officials. Aliyev, who had long been viewed as an example of nepotism, had been rumored in 2002 of plotting to oust Nazarbayev, and in Feb., 2007, had been demoted from deputy foreign minister to ambassador to Austria. Aliyev had also been critical of the 2007 constitutional changes. Kazakhstan sought, unsuccessfully, his extradition from Austria, and Nazarbayev's daughter divorced him; he was convicted in absentia in 2008 of corruption and plotting to overthrow the government.

Parliamentary elections in Aug., 2007, resulted in all 98 elected seats being won by the ruling Nur Otan party. The largest opposition parties denounced the result as fraudulent, and international observers noted problems with the way votes were counted and questioned the outcome. In June, 2010, the president was named “leader of the nation” by legislation that gave him additional powers (including control over national policies after he retires as president) and protection from prosecution. In 2011, after rejecting a referendum on extending his term until 2020, he called an early presidential election, and the generally popular president was reelected in a landslide. The campaign and voting, however, suffered from significant irregularities.

In Dec., 2011, a half-year strike by oil workers in Zhanaozen, in the southwestern province of Mangystau, led to violence and an uncertain number of deaths when police fired on protesters; demonstrations subsequently spread to other provincial towns including Aqtau (Aktau), the provincial capital. Early parliamentary elections in Jan., 2012, were again won by Nur Otan in a landslide, and again criticized by international observers; the two oppositions parties that won some seats were generally supportive of Nazarbayev.

In a snap presidential election, Nazarbayev was reelected in Apr., 2015, by a landslide; he faced no significant opposition, but there also were indications of ballot stuffing. In Mar., 2016, early parliamentary elections were held, with results similar to the 2012 elections; European observers again criticized the vote for falling short of democratic standards. In Apr.–May, 2016, a plan to lease fallow government-owned agricultural land sparked the first significant demonstrations since 2011, and the government delayed the plan and later postponed it for five years. Constitutional amendments adopted in 2017 distributed some of the president's powers concerning economic and social development to government ministers and legislators.

Nazarbayev resigned as president in Mar., 2019, and was succeeded by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the chairman of the Senate. Nazarbayev remained head of Nur Otan as well as of the country's security council, and the capital was renamed Nur-Sultan to honor him. In June, Tokayev was elected president with 70% of the vote; European observers criticized the election as undemocratic. Tokayev's independence was undermined in October when a presidential decree required that Nazarbayev approve many government leadership appointments made by the president. In Jan., 2021, the Nur Otan party overwhelmingly won the parliamentary elections; the only legal opposition party refused to participate. Protests broke out in early 2022 due to fuel shortages that expanded into calls for more political freedom; an alliance of Russian-backed troops were called in to help quell the rioting.


See S. Akiner, The Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union (1986); M. B. Olcott, The Kazakhs (1987); J. Lillis, Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan (2018).

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Official name: Republic of Kazakhstan

Capital city: Astana

Internet country code: .kz

Flag description: Sky blue background representing the endless sky and a gold sun with 32 rays soaring above a golden steppe eagle in the center; on the hoist side is a national ornamentation in gold

National anthem: “We are a valiant people, sons of hon­our” (first line in English translation), lyrics by Muzafar Alimbayev, Kadyr Myrzaliyev, Tumanbai Moldagaliyev and Zhadyra Daribayeva, music by Mukan Tulebayev, Eugeny Brusilovsky and Latif Khamidi

Geographical description: Central Asia, northwest of China; a small portion west of the Ural River in eastern­most Europe

Total area: 1.05 million sq. mi. (2.7 million sq. km.)

Climate: Continental, cold winters and hot summers, arid and semiarid

Nationality: noun: Kazakhstani(s); adjective: Kazakhstani

Population: 15,284,929 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Kazakh 55.8%, Russian 28.3%, Ukrainian 3.3%, Uzbek 2.6%, German 1.8%, Uyghur 1.5%, other 5.0%

Languages spoken: Kazakh (Qazaq, state language) 64.4%, Russian (official, used in everyday business, designated the “language of interethnic communication”) 95%

Religions: Sunni Muslim 47%, Russian Orthodox 44%, Protestant 2%, other 7%

Legal Holidays:

Constitution DayAug 30
Independence DayDec 16
International Women's DayMar 8
Kazakhstan Peoples Unity DayMay 1
New Year's holidayJan 1
Republic DayOct 25
Victory DayMay 9
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


, Kazakstan
a republic in central Asia: conquered by Mongols in the 13th century; came under Russian control in the 18th and 19th centuries; was a Soviet republic from 1936 until it gained independence in 1991. It has rich mineral deposits and agriculture is important. Official language: Kazakh. Religion: nonreligious, Muslim, and Christian. Official currency: tenge. Capital: Astana (formerly Akmola); capital functions moved from Almaty (formerly Alma-Ata) in 1997. Pop.: 15 403 000 (2004 est.). Area: 2 715 100 sq. km (1 048 030 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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