Kazakhstan was conquered by Russia in the 18th century, and it became a part of the Soviet Union in 1936. The country became independent in 1991, and since then, it has been ruled by its elected president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who initially came to power in 1989 as the first secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party. The country is a presidential republic, but despite the separation of powers, in actuality the president wields near control over all the branches of government.
The same size of Western Europe, Kazakhstan is the wealthiest and stablest of the Central Asian nation states, despite its ethnic mix. Kazakhs make up about half the population, Russians just over a quarter, and there are several smaller minorities, including Ukrainians, Germans, Chechens, Kurds, Koreans and other Central Asian ethnic groups.
According to western sources, the president’s authoritarianism and the high level of corruption could undermine Kazakhstan's stability and progress. The government often harasses media and opposition groups. There are restrictions on freedom of speech and press.
Kazakhstan possesses abundant natural resources, especially oil and gas. Since independence, some people have become very wealthy due to privatization and other business deals. On the other hand, poverty is widespread, and there is high unemployment and inflation. Other issues of concern are the aftermath of Soviet-era nuclear testing and toxic waste dumping, as well as growing incidents of drug addiction and HIV infection.
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.
Republic of Kazakhstan
Form of Government:
Republic; authoritarian presidential rule, with little power outside the executive branch
Year of Independence:
1991 (from Soviet Union)
Muslim 47%, Russian Orthodox 44%, Protestant 2%, other 7%
2.7 million sq km (1 million sq miles)
Kazakh (Qazaq, state language) 64.4%, Russian (official, used in everyday business, designated the “language of interethnic communication”) 95% (2001 est.)
63 years (men), 73 years (women) (2009 est.)
1 Kazakh tenge = 100 tiyn
Oil and oil products, ferrous and nonferrous metals, chemicals, machinery, grain, wool, meat, coal, uranium
GDP - Per Capita (PPP):
$11,500 (2008 est.)
International Dialing Code: