Kazakhstan country profile

  • 8 September 2015
  • From the section Asia
Map of Kazakhstan

A huge country the size of Western Europe, Kazakhstan has vast mineral resources and enormous economic potential.

The varied landscape stretches from the mountainous, heavily populated regions of the east to the sparsely populated, energy-rich lowlands in the west, and from the industrialised north, with its Siberian climate and terrain, through the arid, empty steppes of the centre, to the fertile south.

Ethnically the former Soviet republic is as diverse, with the Kazakhs making up nearly two thirds of the population, ethnic Russians just under a quarter, and smaller minorities the rest. Suppressed under Soviet rule, the main religion, Islam, is undergoing a revival.

Since independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, major investment in the oil sector has brought rapid economic growth, and eased some of the start disparities in wealth of the 1990s.


Republic of Kazakhstan

Capital: Astana

  • Population 16.4 million (UN, 2012)

  • Area 2.7 million sq km (1 million sq miles)

  • Major languages Kazakh, Russian

  • Major religions Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 62 years (men), 73 years (women) (UN)

  • Currency Tenge



Image copyright Getty Images

Politically, Kazakhstan has been dominated since independence in 1991 by former Communist Party chief Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose long authoritarian rule has faced few challenges from weak opposition parties.

Born in 1940, Mr Nazarbayev came to power in 1989 as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and was elected president the following year. He was re-elected after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, and since then another four times - practically unopposed - most recently in 2015.

He remains popular among many ordinary Kazakhs. His supporters say he preserved inter-ethnic accord and stability during the reform in the 1990s, and is widely credited for the country's impressive economic growth in first decade of the new millennium.

Mr Nazarbayev has concentrated extensive powers in his own hands and is accused by the opposition of suppressing dissent. He says democracy is a long-term goal, but that stability could be at risk if change is too swift.


Image copyright AFP

Most media outlets are controlled or influenced by members of the president's family, including his daughter and her husband, and other powerful groups.

Many of the 1,000-plus newspaper titles are government-run and the state controls printing presses.

There are 250 TV and radio stations, according to official figures. The government operates national networks. Russian stations are carried via cable and satellite.

Opposition media outlets faced unprecedented legal pressure in late 2012, seen as linked to their coverage of the deadly 2011 clashes between police and striking oil workers in the city of Zhanaozen.


Image copyright AFP
Image caption Oil money is driving the development of Astana, which became Kazakhstan's new capital in 1997

Late 15th century - With the formation of the Kazakh khanate, the Kazakhs emerge as a distinct ethnic group, but split into three zhuzes (hordes) twi .

1731-42 - Russia establishes control.

1920 - Kazakhstan becomes an autonomous republic - under the misnomer Kirgizstan - following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and subsequent civil war in Russia.

1936 - Kazakhstan becomes a full union republic of the USSR.

Late 1920s-1930s - Intensive industrialisation and forced collectivisation, which leads to the deaths of more than one million people from starvation.

1954-62 - About two million people, mainly Russians, move to Kazakhstan during Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's campaign to develop virgin lands, lowing the proportion of ethnic Kazakhs to 30%.

1991 December - Nursultan Nazarbayev wins uncontested presidential elections; Kazakhstan declares independence from the Soviet Union.

2011 December - Clashes between striking workers and police in western oil town of Zhanaozen leave 16 people dead.

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