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Atlas Kazakhstan

Country (long form)
Republic of Kazakhstan
Total Area
1,049,155.40 sq mi
2,717,300.00 sq km
16,733,227 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
Kazakh (Qazaq, state language) 40%, Russian (official, used in everyday business) 66%
98.0% total, 99.0% male, 96% female (1989 est.)
Muslim 47%, Russian Orthodox 44%, Protestant 2%, other 7%
Life Expectancy
57.73 male, 68.93 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Kazakhstani tenge = 100 tiyn
GDP (per capita)
$3,200 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
industry 27%, agriculture and forestry 23%, other 50% (1996)
oil, coal, iron ore, manganese, chromite, lead, zinc, copper, titanium, bauxite, gold, silver, phosphates, sulfur, iron and steel, nonferrous metal, tractors and other agricultural machinery, electric motors, construction materials
grain (mostly spring wheat), cotton; wool, livestock
Arable Land
oil 40%, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery, chemicals, grain, wool, meat, coal
machinery and parts, industrial materials, oil and gas, vehicles
Natural Resources
major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, manganese, chrome ore, nickel, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, lead, zinc, bauxite, gold, uranium
Current Environmental Issues
radioactive or toxic chemical sites associated with its former defense industries and test ranges are found throughout the country and pose health risks for humans and animals; industrial pollution is severe in some cities; because the two main rivers which flowed into the Aral Sea have been diverted for irrigation, it is drying up and leaving behind a harmful layer of chemical pesticides and natural salts; these substances are then picked up by the wind and blown into noxious dust storms; pollution in the Caspian Sea; soil pollution from overuse of agricultural chemicals and salination from poor infrastructure and wasteful irrigation practices
Telephones (main lines in use)
1.963 million (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
4,600 (1995)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
83 (Kazakhstan and Russia) (1999)

Central Asia's recorded history begins in the 6th century BC, when the Achaemenid Empire of Persia held sway beyond the Amu-Darya River. In 330BC Alexander the Great led his army to victory over the last Achaemenid emperor and by 328 had reached Kabul and the Hindu Kush. The aftermath of Alexander's short-lived Central Asian empire saw an increase in cultural exchange between Europe and Asia. Hellenistic successor states disseminated the aesthetic values of the classical world deep into Asia, while trade bought such goods as the walnut to Europe.

No one knows for sure when the miraculously fine, sensuous fabric spun from the cocoon of the Bombyx caterpillar first reached the west from China. Even after the secret of sericulture arrived in the Mediterranean world, Chinese silk producers consistently exercised the advantage of centuries of know-how. The demand for this thread saw unprecedented trade upon what became known as the Silk Road - a shifting web of caravan tracks rather than a single road.

For a thousand years after the birth of Christ, Central Asia was the scene of pendulum-like shifts of power between nomadic hordes and the sedentary civilisations of Eurasia's periphery. Horses, rather than silk, had the greatest influence over regional events, since the vast grasslands fed millions of them. Mounted archers were the most potent military force in the region. The Huns, the Western Turks, Arabs and the Chinese all ventured into the region during this period.

From 1219, Mongol hordes under the leadership of Genghis Khan swept through most of Eurasia. The ravages inflicted on the region were so harsh that settled civilisation in Central Asia did not begin to recover until Russian colonisation some 600 years later. Genghis was brutal but he also perceived the importance of reliable trade and communications, laying down networks of guard and post stations and introducing tax breaks to boost economic activity. In modern terms, the streets were safe and the trains ran on time. The resulting flurry of trade on the Silk Road was the background to many famous medieval travellers' journeys, including Marco Polo's.

The splits and religious divisions which followed the death of Genghis led to the fracturing of the Mongol Empire, the rise of the tyrant's tyrant, Timur the Lame (aka Tamerlaine), at the end of the 14th century and the emergence of Kazaks as a distinct people for the first time. Springing from the descendants of Mongols, Turkic and other peoples, the Kazaks went on to form one of the world's last great nomadic empires, stretching across the steppe and desert north, east and west of the Syr-Darya and capable of bringing 200,000 horsemen into the field. The ruin of the Kazakhs came thanks to the Oyrats, a warlike, expansionist Mongolian people who subjugated eastern Kazakstan, the Tian Shan and parts of Xinjiang to form the Zhungarian Empire in the 1630s. The Kazakhs were savagely and repeatedly pummelled, particularly betwen 1690 and 1720. This 'Great Disaster' made them susceptible to the Russian expansion of the 19th century.

Enter the Bolsheviks (stage Left), who quickly liberated the Central Asians from any ideas of self determination. Although there were frequent demonstrations of discontent, these were quickly and soundly defeated by the communists. Meanwhile a charismatic young Turk named Enver Pasha had bent Lenin's ear and convinced the Soviet leader he could deliver him all of Central Asia and British India. In reality Pasha had decided to ditch Lenin and win himself a Pan Turkic state with Central Asia as its core. A large army and some clever concessions to the Islamic religion saw Pasha's support wane and Moscow's reign prevail.

Kazakstan's traditional tribal divisions - the Great Horde in the south, the Middle Horde in the centre and north-east, and the Little Horde in the west - were pasted over by the Russians and simply ignored by the Soviets but remained important as social and ethnic identifiers. In fact, nationalist confusion is one of the major legacies of Soviet rule. Since the republics of Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek began to be created in the 1920s each was carefully shaped to contain pockets of differing nationalities with long-standing claims to the land. The present face of Central Asia is a product of this 'divide and rule' policy.

Soviet rule in Central Asia was a parade of ridiculous ideas: assimilating the region's ethnic groups, converting the steppe into a giant cotton plantation, using Kazakstan as a 'secret' nuclear testing zone, etc. The political, social, economic and ecological disasters resulting from these experiments meant all five republics had little to lose by declaring their sovereignty when glasnost and perestroyka led to the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. Later that year they joined with 11 other former Soviet states to form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Today Kazakstan is grappling with the free market and an enthusiastic brand of deregulation that tends toward anarchy. President Nazarbayev, a former Communist, is imposing his peculiar ideas about democracy (weakened parliament, handy constitutional changes) on the country he hopes to turn into Central Asia's economic tiger. Nazarbayev's sweeping election victory in early 1999 was aided by the banning of major opponents on frivolous grounds and the fact that one of the remaining candidates based his campaign on an ability to crush glass with his bare hands. In keeping with the ad hoc nature of the new republic, the nation's capital was moved from Almaty in the south to Akmola in the north and then re-named Astana, none of which really helped Kazakstan's image as a country prone to tragic flights of fancy.