Kazakhstan in 10

  • Modern Kazakhstan is built on 3000 years of extraordinary history. The country has experienced epic moments and has been influenced by such legends as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. For centuries, the Silk Road provided a route through Kazakhstan for international traders and merchants carrying exotic merchandise. All this has contributed to the richness of Kazakh culture and its capacity to adapt and develop.

  • Kazakhstan’s economy is the largest and the fastest evolving of the Central Asian region. Since 2001, economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world and GDP will grow by 9.5% per year until 2011, aided by the increasing value of Kazakhstan’s leading exports (oil, metal and grain). Since 1993, Kazakhstan has attracted over US$40bn of foreign direct investment – the highest foreign direct investment per capita in the CIS.

  • Kazakhstan holds 30bn barrels (4bn tonnes) of proven recoverable oil reserves and potential reserves of 100-110bn barrels. Development of new oil fields such as Kashagan (recoverable reserves: 13bn barrels, peak projected output: 1.5m barrels/day in 2019, says operator ENI) will make Kazakhstan one of the world's top ten oil-producing nations.

  • Other natural resources: Kazakhstan ranks 1st in the world in reserves of barite and tungsten, 2nd in reserves of chromite, phosphate rock, and uranium, 3rd in reserves of copper, lead, and zinc, fourth in reserves of molybdenum; 6th in reserves of gold, and 8th in reserves of iron ore. The country contains almost a quarter of the world’s uranium – with production reaching 15,000 t/y in 2010.

  • Kazakhstan has reinforced its global reputation as a democratic country via a series of major constitutional reforms, including the abolition of the death penalty and increased parliamentary representation.

  • Kazakhstan is diversifying its economy away from natural resources. Agriculture makes up 10% of GDP; wheat is a leading commodity in export trade – as is metal processing, chemicals, textiles and food processing. New IT projects - like the Alatau IT Park – are in constant evolution. Ambitious education initiatives make the latest generation of Kazakhs among the most highly skilled in the world (every year, 3000 young Kazakhs are sponsored to study at the world’s most prestigious education institutions, before returning home to make their contribution to the country’s economy). Kazakhstan is also attracting the best brains of other nations to contribute to its future.

  • Political stability, religious tolerance and a unique location at the crossroads of China, Russia and Europe gives Kazakhstan a stabilising role for the whole region - as well as making it the perfect host for the Congress of World Religions (held in Astana every three years).

  • Kazakhstan is a forward-thinking country – and President Nazarbayev is behind many ambitious projects – such as the Aral Sea dam, which will save the disappearance of the world’s fourth largest inland sea. The country has launched its own ambitious space programme at Baikonour, and plans for a pan-Asian canal to further open up trade routes between central Asia and Europe have been drawn up

  • Astana - Kazakhstan’s capital (moved from Almaty in 1997), is situated at the very heart of the country. An incredible KZT 1.5 trillion ($12 billion) has been invested in the city’s construction and development. Internationally renowned architechts like Norman Foster and Kisho Kurokawa have already left their mark on a city that looks set to outshine many of the world’s more established capitals.

  • Eco-tourism is particularly strong in Kazakhstan - a land of vast unspoilt open spaces, majestic mountains (with world class ski stations), horseback adventure and increasingly vibrant modern cities.


Kazakhstan has fewer than 6 people per square kilometre. The population in 2006 was estimated at 15,300,000 – made up of 63% ethnic Kazakhs and 23% ethnic Russian, with a rich array of other groups represented, including Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Germans, Chechens, and Uyghurs (many minorities such as Russian Germans, Poles, Romanians, Ukrainians and political opponents of the Soviet regime had been deported to Kazakhstan in the 1930s and 1940s by Stalin). There is also a small but active Jewish community. The main religious groups are Muslim (mainly Sunni) 47%, Russian Orthodox 44%, Protestant 2%, and 'other' 7%.

Kazakhstan is a bilingual country: Kazakh, spoken by 64.4% of the population, is the state language, although Russian, spoken by almost all Kazakhstanis, is used routinely in business. The country declared its sovereignty as a republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in October 1990. Following the August 1991 abortive coup attempt in Moscow and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared independence on December 16, 1991.

The years following independence have been marked by significant reforms to the economy and politics. Under President Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has made significant progress toward developing market economy. The country has enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000, partly due to its large oil, gas, and mineral reserves.


Kazakhstan possesses a cosmodrome, from which the first man, the Soviet space shuttle Buran and the well-known space station Mir were launched. Russia currently leases approximately 6,000 km² (2,300 mi²) of territory enclosing the Baikonur Cosmodrome space launch site in south central Kazakhstan.


Kazakhstan - officially the Republic of Kazakhstan - stretches over a vast expanse of northern and central Eurasia. Kazakhstan’s terrain extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altay Mountains in the east, and from the plains of Western Siberia in the north to the oases and deserts of Central Asia in the south.

The Kazakh steppe, with an area of around 804,500 square kilometres (310,600 sq. miles), occupies one-third of the country and is the world's largest dry steppe region, characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions.

Comparative area: With an area of 2.7 million square kilometers (1.05 million sq. mi), Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world and the largest landlocked country in the world. It is equivalent to the size of Western Europe – five times the size of France and four times the size of Texas.

Borders: Kazakhstan shares borders of 6,846 kilometers (4,254 miles) with Russia, 2,203 kilometers (1,369 miles) with Uzbekistan, 1,533 kilometers (953 miles) with the People's Republic of China, 1,051 kilometers (653 miles) with Kyrgyzstan, and 379 kilometers (235 miles) with Turkmenistan.

Major cities: Astana (the capital since December 1997), Almaty (the former capital), Karaganda, Shymkent (Chimkent), Semey (Semipalatinsk) and Turkestan.

Rivers and Lakes: The Aral Sea, Ili River, Irtysh River, Ishim River, Ural River, Charyn River and gorge, Lake Balkhash, and Lake Zaysan.

Climate: Humid continental, with hot summers and colder winters. Precipitation varies between arid and semi-arid conditions.

Notable Landmarks: Charyn River Canyon is 150-300 metres deep and 154km long, cutting through red sandstone plateaus and stretching along the Charyn River gorge in the northern Tien Shan 'Heavenly Mountains' (200km east of Almaty). The canyon's inaccessibility provides a safe haven for a rare ash tree that survived the Ice Age.


Major Environmental Issues: Radioactive or toxic chemical sites associated with Soviet defence industries and test ranges can be found in Kazakhstan, the most polluted being the Semipalatinsk Nuclear testing range (over 500 nuclear tests were carried out between 1950 and 1990). The Aral Sea has been depleted following the diversion of its two main tributaries for irrigation purposes, leaving unnaturally high residues of chemical pesticides and natural salts. However, the Kazakh government has reversed the disappearance of the Kazakh part of the Aral Sea via the building of a dam which separates its northern and southern halves. Other issues are the pollution of the Caspian Sea and the soil, caused by overuse of agricultural chemicals.

International Environmental Agreements: Kazakhstan has assisted at conventions on air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, desertification, endangered species, ozone layer protection, ship pollution.

Status in Climate Change Negotiations: Non-Annex 1 country under the United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change (ratified May 17th, 1995). Signatory to the Kyoto Protocol (March 12th, 1999).

The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan - a rebirth of local environment?

Kazakhstan has refused to accept the so-called irreversible fate of the Aral Sea.
The country’s decision to reconquer the northern part of the sea nearly five years ago has released its first tangible results: rising water levels and the return of fish.

Forty years of heavy irrigation by rice and cotton farmers took their toll on the Aral Sea, shrinking its surface by two thirds and its depth from 53m above sea level to a mere 30m.

Fish disappeared, salinity increased and large quantities of pesticides were released into the atmosphere. Labelled an “ecological disaster” by the international community, the results have had a profoundly damaging effect on local fishing communities.

But Kazakh president and staunch defender of the environment Nursultan Nazarbayev has defied fate, launching in 2001 a vast rescue programme for the Kazakh side of the Aral Sea. The two main goals of the programme were: first, the construction of the 13km Kok-Aral dam, dividing the sea into two halves, north (Kazakh) and south (Uzbek); and second, the development of the Syr Darya river banks to increase the volume of water being discharged into the northern part of the sea.

These two measures have rapidly born fruit:

● Soon after the programme was completed in August 2005, tests revealed that the surface of the northern half of the lake had risen 13% from 2850 square km in 2003 to 3250 square km in 2006.

● In the same period, salinity dropped from 34 grammes/litre to 15 grammes/litre, encouraging the gradual return of marine life and several varieties of freshwater fish. The volume of fish catches, less than 1500 tonnes/year two years ago, is now 15000 tonnes/year – a spectacular ten-fold increase.

A significant climatic evolution has taken place. The inhabitants of the region, who are finally able to resume their former livelihoods, have noted a considerable improvement in environmental conditions of the region in recent years. Above all, the increase of the sea’s surface has encouraged evaporation, and thus the progressive return of rainfall, indispensable for agriculture and human and animal life.

To read the latest Kazakhstan Overview Click here