Kazakhstan: a transcontinental nation.
By: Lorena Meeser.
Kazakhstan is a very attractive country; its main pride is the development it has achieved since its separation from Russia. It has wonderful nature, diversity of landscapes. The splendor of its cities that combine oriental tranquility and western modernism, with a multitude of ancient traditions and an authentic taste for Asian culture make it a special place. Kazakhstan is a country open to the whole world.
It is a country on two continents, full of history, art, architecture, gastronomy, science and much more. It is the largest country in Central Asia and the ninth largest in the world, although relatively small in number of inhabitants, only 19.245.793 million, and it has physical and cultural geographic characteristics similar to those of the other Central Asian countries.
Kazakhstan population is equivalent to 0.24% of the total world population. It ranks number 64 in the list of countries by population. The population density in Kazakhstan is 7 per Km2 (18 people per mi2).
The population of Kazakhstan is young. About half the population is under 30, and one-fourth is under the age of 15. The birth rate is marginally below the global average, while the death rate is slightly higher than average. Life expectancy for men is 66 years, though life expectancy for women is much higher at 76.
It is officially called Republic of Kazakhstan, it is bounded on the northwest and north by Russia (7.644 km), on the east by China (1.765 km), and on the south by Kyrgyzstan (1.212 km), Uzbekistan (2.330 km), the Aral Sea, and Turkmenistan (413 km); the Caspian Sea bounds Kazakhstan to the southwest.
Kazakhstan measures about 1,820 miles (2,930 kilometers) east to west and 960 miles north to south. It has a surface of 2.724.900 square kilometers.
The border with Russia is the longest continuous land border in the world, only surpassed by that of the United States with Canada, which is discontinuous.
Etymology. The name "Kazakh" comes from the ancient Turkic word qaz, "to wander", reflecting the Kazakhs' nomadic culture. The term "Cossack" is of the same origin. The Persian suffix -stan means "land" or "place of", so Kazakhstan can be literally translated as "land of the wanderers".
Kazakhstan was the last republic to leave the Soviet Union (1992) and its official language is Kazakh, a language of Turkic origin. Russian is the most widely understood language in the country, and English, is used in schools, and is increasingly spoken, especially among the younger generation. The government has proposed that all students be trilingual by 2030, which will facilitate tourism and international relations with foreigners.
Since its independence, Kazakhstan has made countless efforts to economically improve the lives of its citizens thanks to the income from oil, gas and mineral exports.
Kazakhstan is a tolerant place where the different religions and more than 130 different ethnic groups currently coexist in peace and harmony. Some of these groups such as the Turks, the Chinese or the Persians arrived for economic reasons following the Silk Road, others such as the Germans or the Koreans arrived for political reasons during the mass deportations of the time of the Stalinist dictatorship.
It is mainly characterized by a very pronounced multiculturalism (Kazakhs, Russians, Uzbeks, Uyghurs, Turks, Dungans, etc.), but with little interculturality. The fact that almost half of its inhabitants live in rural areas, its low population density and the small size of most of its cities makes these ethnic groups very inbred and homogeneous.
The population is made up mostly of Muslims, around 70%, among whom Sunnis of the Hanafi school predominate, although within a unique multi-confessional context. The next religious group is that of the Russian Orthodox Christians, around 24% of the population, concentrated mainly in the north and derived from Russian colonization in the Soviet era. The remaining 6% is distributed among those who profess to be atheists or profess other minority confessions (Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, etc.), introduced from the ideological openness that followed independence from Moscow in 1991.
It is significant that, as a consequence of the religious repression suffered in the Soviet era, the degree of tolerance between religions is high, coupled with the fact that the particular syncretistic vision of Islam of the majority of Kazakhs is fundamentally dogmatic, with little influence on the political or social life beyond confessional aspects.
Young Kazakhs entered Muslim maktabs and madrasahs, where religion supplied the main subjects and ideology. Thus, the younger generation of intellectuals turned into urban-style Muslims before the Soviet communists took over in the early 1920s. Thereafter, the authorities actively suppressed or discouraged religious life in Kazakhstan until the U.S.S.R. disintegrated. Since independence, Kazakhs generally have enjoyed freedom of religion. About one-fourth of the population is Eastern Orthodox.
The concept of Kazakhstan as a nation is relatively new, with a legal entity that was first defined in the 1920s, during the Soviet domination, thus the current Kazakh nation developed as such following independence in 1991.
It has the youngest capital in the world. Kazakhstan celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the founding of its current capital, Nur-Sultan, formerly called Astana. July 6 is known as Capital Day.
Astana is the second coldest capital in the world. Ullán Bator in Mongolia is the first and Ottawa the third. In winter temperatures can drop to -40ºC.
Fewer than one-fifth of the more than eight million ethnic Kazakhs live outside Kazakhstan, mainly in Uzbekistan and Russia. During the 19th century about 400,000 Russians flooded into Kazakhstan, and these were supplemented by about 1,000,000 Slavs, Germans, Jews, and others who immigrated to the region during the first third of the 20th century.
In the early years of independence, significant numbers of ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan emigrated to Russia. This emigration, along with a return to the country of ethnic Kazakhs, changed the demographic makeup of Kazakhstan: by the mid-1990s the Kazakh proportion was approaching half the total population, while that for the Russians was closer to one-third.
The Republic of Kazakhstan is a unitary state with the presidential system of government. Under the Constitution, Kazakhstan is a democratic, secular, legal and social state which recognizes the man, his life, rights and freedoms as the supreme values of the country.
The President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, is the head of state.
The State Flag of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
It is a rectangular breadth of blue color with the image of the sun in its center with a soaring steppe eagle underneath with 32 rays in the center.
According to the heraldic principles the sun symbolizes wealth and abundance, life and energy. That is why the sun rays on the flag have the form of grain, a symbol of wealth and welfare. By representing the sun at its state attributes Kazakhstan reaffirms its commitment to universal values, which also indicates that the new young country is full of life-affirming energy and is open to all countries for cooperation.
The image of the steppe eagle is commonly considered as a symbol of power, insight and generosity. A soaring steppe eagle represents by itself a power of the state, its sovereignty and independence, aspiration to high goals and sustainable future.
Kazakhstan possesses a small army, air force, and navy. During the Soviet period a vast nuclear arsenal was stationed in Kazakh territory. Kazakhstan ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993, however, and by 1995 it had dismantled or returned to Russia all of its inherited warheads. Since 1994 the country has been a full member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance closely associated with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Kazakhstan’s main export commodities include oil and natural gas, various metals, and chemicals. Its primary export destinations are Italy, China, the Netherlands, and Russia. Imports include machinery, metal and chemical products, and foodstuffs. Russia and China are its main sources of imports.
Kazakhstan is among the world's top ten exporters of wheat and is one of the leading exporters of flour. 70% of the arable land in the north is occupied by cereals and industrial crops: wheat, barley, millet. Rice, cotton and tobacco are grown in the south of the country. Kazakhstan is also famous for its gardens, vineyards, and cucurbit crops. One of the main sectors of the agricultural economy is livestock.
Kazakhs, probably more than any other Central Asian people, show the impact of nearly two centuries of close contact with Russians. Unlike Central Asians to the south of them, Kazakhs look more to Russia than to Islamic countries for inspiration in the post-Soviet period. At the same time, Kazakh scholars and other intellectuals actively work to reclaim Kazakh traditions and distinctive ways of life, including the literary and spoken language of a people whose experience emphasized Russian culture, literature, language, and ways of thinking.
Urban Kazakhs of both sexes tend to wear modern clothing, but the women of remote villages continue to wear traditional dresses and head scarves. Kazakh-made carpets are a common sight, and less-Russified Kazakhs often decorate their homes with qoshmas, bright-coloured felt rugs.
Kazakhstan has a number of modern theatres and offers Uighur, Korean, and Russian musicals, opera, ballet, and puppet performances. Cinemas and art schools, dance ensembles, and music groups are active, as are radio and television broadcasting, the last being especially important in communications with distant farms and villages. Reception from outside Kazakhstan, especially from broadcasting stations in nearby Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and by way of relays from Moscow, enables listeners and viewers to follow programs from many sources.
Kazakhstan has excellent international connections through many airlines, such as Air Astana. Astana Airport and Almaty Airport have many direct flights to Europe, Asia and Central Asia, as well as to the Gulf states. From Aktau and Atyrau you reach the Caucasus, and several cities have direct flights to Moscow, such as Atyrau, Shymkent, Semey and Öskemen.
Nuclear test site.
The Kaskha steppe was used as a nuclear test site by the Soviet Union, it is believed that at least 500 nuclear devices were detonated between the years 1949 and 1989 in Semipalatins currently called Senem, which is equivalent to 20 thousand bombs of Hiroshima so these lands are currently still radioactive.
The vegetation on plains and deserts includes wormwood and tamarisk, with feather grass on drier plains. Kazakhstan has very little wooded area, amounting to only about 3 percent of the territory. Many animals, including antelope and elk, inhabit the plains.
The mountains of Kazakhstan are a favorite place for rest of the tourists of all over the world. Besides the natural landscapes and rare flora and fauna, the Kazakh Mountains are famous for their alpine spas and sanatoriums as well as for alpinist's camps with all conditions necessary for extreme rest.
The largest rivers in the country are Irtysh, Yesil, Tobol, Ural, Syr Darya, Ili, Chu. The length of each of them is more than 1 000 km. Ural carries its waters to the basin of the Caspian Sea, Syrdarya flows into the Aral Sea, and Irtysh, Tobol and Yesil are waterways that feed the Arctic Ocean.
There are about 7000 rivers with the length of more than 10 km. There are more than 39,000 permanent and temporary streams in total.
World Heritage Sites.
There are five World Heritage Sites listed in Kazakhstan, with a further 14 on the tentative list. The first site inscribed to the list was the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, at the 27th Session of the World Heritage Committee, held in Paris in 2003.
Khoja Ahmad Yasawi Mausoleum (2003)
Petroglyphs of the archaeological landscape of Tanbaly (2004)
Saryarka – Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan (2008)
Silk Road: Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor Road Network (2014)
Western Tien-Shan (2016)
Places to visit:
Almaty biggest cultural hub: Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan with a population of 1.7 million people. It has myriad sightseeing opportunities, with plenty of parks and a variety of places of entertainment like the Zenkov Cathedral, from the tsarist era; a replica of the famous Golden Armor from the Scythian period; bathe in the Arasan baths and enjoy the best cafes, nightspots, and shops in the region, fueled by the petrodollar boom.
Nur-Sultan is a glorious modern city, planned and built by globally-renowned architects. It is unique in Central Asia and you can be forgiven for thinking that you are in a modern western city with huge malls, modern skyscrapers, and broad avenues.
Turkistan. The turquoise dome and elaborate tiled decoration of the Timurid-era Khoja Ahmad Yasavi mausoleum make it the most beautiful building in Kazakhstan and a rare architectural gem in a region of untamed nomads. It is one of the best places to discover Sufism in the region and see pilgrims praying and tying ribbons to the trees of the sanctuary. The visit is more authentic if you arrive by overnight train from Almaty or Tashkent.
Altyn Emel was established as a National Park in 1996. It covers an area of 4600 square kilometers – the size of Luxembourg and Mauritius combined. One of the highlights of the park is the singing dune.
Charyn Canyon looks like a sister of the Grand Canyon in the USA, plunging to 300 meters in places. It has an impressive size of 80 kilometers in length as well.
Kolsai is one of the most beautiful places for recreation, hiking, and horse riding in Kazakhstan. There are three lakes situated at an altitude of 1800 to 2700 meters above sea level. Kolsai’s lakes are situated around 300 km from Almaty. On the way, make a stop at Kaindy. This magical lake with birch trees resulted from an earthquake in 1911 that flooded the forest.
Three dark blue lakes nestled between the steep spruce slopes of the Küngey Alatau. These glacial water masses, one of the most suggestive landscapes in Kazakhstan, are 110 km southeast of Altamy in a straight line, but almost 300 km by road, via Chilik (Shelek) and Zhalanash. They are strung along the Kolsai River, at a height of between 1,800 and 2,800 meters, 10 km southwest of the village of Saty.
Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve
This beautiful area of 1319 km2 of green valleys, rushing rivers, snow-capped peaks, and glaciers are in the oldest nature reserve (1926) in Kazakhstan and one of the most pleasant. Located at the western end of the Talassky Alatau (the northwesternmost foothill of the Tian Shan Mountains), it stretches from the steppe at around 1,200m to Sayram Peak at 4,239m. It is accessed through the town of Zhabagly, 70 km east of Shymkent in a straight line. The traveler can see ibex, argali, red marmots, eagles, vultures, and bears, especially in spring.
Aralsk: At this point in the desert there are abandoned ships, kilometers from the coast of the Aral Sea, for which Aralsk was an important fishing port. Today much of the sea has disappeared, a victim of Soviet irrigation schemes that diverted its water sources, bringing the coastline 60 km from here. Aralsk is easier to visit and more interesting than other disused ports in Uzbekistan. It's not all so gloomy either: efforts to save part of the sea are bearing fruit.
Mangistau: the stony deserts of the Mangistau region stretch 400 km east of Aktau to the Uzbek border. This labyrinth of canyons, oddly shaped and colored rocky outcroppings, mysterious underground mosques and ancient necropolises are until recently uncharted territory. This inhospitable landscape was traversed by a minor branch of the Silk Road, and where people buried loved ones or where holy men dwelt lie centuries-old sacred sites, some with strong Sufi ties. The underground mosques may have originated as seclusion caves for desert ascetics.
Tian Shan Mountains. Kazakhstan's highest and most spectacular mountain range rises in the far southeast, on the border with Kyrgyzstan and China. Its most beautiful and difficult peak is Mount Khan Tengri (7,010m), surrounded by many other mountains over 5,000m, including the Mramornaya Stena (Marble Wall, 6,400m) on the Sino-Kazakh border.
Astana: Kazakhstan's custom-built capital rises out of the steppe-like a mirage, boasting some of Asia's most audacious and modern architecture and buildings such as the Bayterek monument. From Norman Foster's designs for the world's largest tent and the glass pyramid of the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Astana is the symbolic creation of President Nazarbayev and the face of modern Kazakhstan. The ever-evolving city got a big boost with the 2017 International Expo, and the burgeoning food scene makes visiting a delight.
Alzhir: The area around Astana has a dark history. During Stalin's regime, Malinovka, 35 km west of the city, was the headquarters of ALZhIR, a concentration camp for the wives and children of the 'enemies of the people. The Museum-Memorial Complex remembers the victims of Soviet political repression with various exhibitions on the gulags of Kazakhstan.
In the far east, these mountains stretch across the borders of Russia, China, and Mongolia. To visit them you have to obtain a permit for the border area well in advance, but everything that it means to arrive in this region is worth it. Rolling grasslands, snow-capped peaks, forested slopes, glaciers, pristine lakes and rivers, and villages with Kazakh horsemen make up a landscape of epic proportions. This massif was declared a natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. Mount Belukha, 4,506 m high and with two peaks on the border with Russia, has many mystical connotations.
The Baikonur Cosmodrome
Baikonur cosmodrome is a huge complex of rocket launches, the first and the largest space center in the world. It is located in the southern part of Kazakhstan and has a territory of 6717 square km.
This article shows a general view of Kazakhstan through the eyes of a Mexican journalist, based upon information found in the web.