kääzäkstän´ or Kazakstan
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 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.
The population of Kazakhstan consists mainly of Muslim Kazakhs (more than 45% of the population) and Russians (some 35%, many of whom belong to the Russian Orthodox Church); there are smaller minorities of Ukrainians, Germans, Uzbeks, and Tatars. Kazakh, a Turkic language, is the official tongue, but Russian is still widely used. There is considerable friction between the now dominant Kazakhs and the formerly favored ethnic Russians, who continue to emigrate in large numbers. Almaty is the site of Kazakhstan Univ. (founded 1934) and the Kazakh Academy of Sciences (founded 1946).
Despite Kazakhstan's largely arid conditions, its vast steppes accommodate both livestock and grain production. In the 1950s, the Virgin Lands Program under 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, there are rich fishing grounds, famous for their caviar-producing sturgeon, in the N Caspian, although these have been hurt by overfishing.
The Kazakh Hills in the core of the region have important mineral resources. Coal is mined at Qaraghandy and Ekibastuz, and there are major oil fields in the Emba basin (which includes the important Tengiz fields), in the Mangyshlak Peninsula, and at Karachaganak (near the Russian border NE of Aksai). Kashagan, a field S of Atyrau in the NE Caspian Sea, appears to have great potential. A pipeline was built in the 1990s to connect the nation's oil fields to the Black Sea. Kazakhstan also has large deposits of natural gas, iron ore, manganese, chrome, uranium, lead, zinc, silver, copper, nickel, titanium, bauxite, and gold. The Irtysh River hydroelectric stations are a major source of power.
The country's industries are located along the margins of the country. Steel, agricultural and mining machinery, superphosphate fertilizers, phosphorus acids, artificial fibers, synthetic rubber, textiles, and medicines 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 trading partners are Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Under the constitution of 1995, as amended, Kazakhstan is headed by a strong executive president, who 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. There is a bicameral parliament, most of whose members are elected, but its powers are limited. The country is divided into 14 administrative provinces, or oblasts, and 3 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 party 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 Astana (formerly Aqmola). 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. 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.
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 his extradition from Austria, and Nazarbayev's daughter divorced him.