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Bringing together articles published in international English media, Kazakhstan at Twenty: Fulfilling the Promise, a new book published by the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan, captures the many facets that characterise the country’s development in the modern history. Over more than 250 pages, the book profiles the country’s progress in areas such as politics, foreign policy, market economy, education and civil society.

Kazakhstan at Twenty: Fulfilling the Promise includes articles and opinions by more than 30 authors, including ministers, heads of leading international organisations, CEOs and reporters of international news media.

“Today, we look back with pride on the progress we have made over such a short period of time. In the year of Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary as an independent state, this book is a timely publication given the country’s prominence in today’s headlines highlighting the strides the nation has made in delivering on the promises it holds,” said Roman Vassilenko, Chairman of the Committee for International Information of Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry.

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Photo Arthur Dressler
British scientists have confirmed the findings of research carried out by Kazakh archaeologists: the first horsemen emerged in Kazakhstan around five-and-a-half thousand years ago. The discovery shifts the historic origins of horse domestication back more than a thousand years.

Researchers at the University of Exeter have completed more than 90 different analyses of animal bones, elements of harnesses, straps and pottery, found during the excavations at the ‘Botay’ settlement in North Kazakhstan.

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In the dense mountain forests 800km from Kazakhstan’s second city Almaty (near the Kazakh-Chinese border) Malus sieversii is found. Malus sieversii, or wild apple trees, are the ancestors of most cultivars of the domesticated apple. These particular trees can reach over 100ft tall and live more than three hundred years. Their apples are not only edible, tasty and brightly colored - some have developed exceptional resistance to disease; in particular, the number one scourge of all apple trees - apple scab (black fungal lesions on the surface of the apple).

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The Danish architectural practice BIG was awarded first prize in an open international design competition to design Kazakhstan’s National Library. The competition attracted 19 entrants - among them Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid – but BIG was the ultimate winner due to the modern, rational and classically anchored library vocabulary employed.

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New Building in Astana

The Italian architects Manfredi and Luca Nicoletti's important new buildings in Astana has opened. The Kazakhstan State Auditorium is one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world and is situated in Astana's central nucleus - on a rectangular area that includes the Presidential Palace and the Senate. The structure rises ‘like the petals of a flower animated through music’ and encloses an internal piazza housing shops, balconies, restaurants, exhibition halls, two cinemas as well as a 3500 seats auditorium entirely clad in wood inside and outside.


Culture & Traditions

Kazakhstan has been “terra incognita” for the rest of the world for a very long time. Over the last 17 years, the young Republic of Kazakhstan has managed to spark off the attention of the international community. For centuries, riders have strolled along this steppe linking Europe and Asia and mentioned a country where “rage, attractiveness and charm are mixed up”. The country now opens its vast cultural potential.


Before the 19th century, Kazakhstan had no written language of its own. Literature took the form of long oral poems, recited by bards (aquins) in a song-like chant and accompanied by traditional instruments like drums and a dombra , a mandolin-like string instrument. Recitals and poetry contests (aitys) are still very popular. The founder of modern Kazakh literature is said to be Abay Kunanbaev (1845-1904 - see illustration left), a 19th century poet and writer who translated Russian works into the Kazakh language. His main contribution to Kazakh culture and folklore is his poetry, which expresses strong nationalism and grew out of Kazakh folk culture. His most famous philosophic work, "Words of edification", is said to be a spiritual commandment to the Kazakh nation. Other writers and poets include Akhmet Baitursynov, Bakhytzhan Kanapyanov, Nirjaqip Dulatuli, Bukhar-zhirau Kalmakanov, Makhambet Utemisov and many others.


Chokan Valikhanov (1835-1865see illustration left), from which Kazakhstan’s Academy of Sciences takes its name, was the first Kazakh scholar, ethnographer and historian. A descendant of Ghenghis Khan, Valikhanov was one of the first Kazakhs to be educated in Russian and published books and articles devoted to the history and culture of Central Asia. Notable works include "Kirghiz (Kazakhs)," "Traces of shamanism in Kirghiz", "About Kirghiz nomads' camp" and others containing ethnographic data that have been used to date. He also wrote the Kazakh epic poems "Kozy-Korpesh and "Bayan-Sulu" and the Kyrgyz epic "Manas.”


Astana, the Kazakh capital, and Almaty the former capital, are modern cosmopolitan cities in which the population live identical lives to those of other major Western capitals. Most Kazakhs live in urban apartment blocks, houses finished to international standards. The wealthy denizens of Astana have the option of occupying penthouse flats overlooking the city and the ever-receeding steppes.

Ethnic & Social Diversity

Kazakhstan’s principal ethnic groups include Kazakh (58.9%), Russian (25.9%), Ukrainian (2.9%), Uzbek (2.8%), Uighur, Tatar and German (1.5% each) and other groups (4%). There are more than 100 other ethnic groups living peacefully in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s two main religions are Islam and Christianity (57% and 40% of all believers respectively). Most Muslims in Kazakhstan belong to the Sunni denomination, while most Christians belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. There are more than 40 confessions in Kazakhstan, organized into over 3000 religious organizations. Kazakh is spoken by over 52% of the population and is the state language. Russian is spoken by almost everyone and enjoys equal status under the Constitution.


The traditional dwelling of the Kazakh nomad is the yurt, a tent made from a framework of willow wood and covered in felt, with a hole in the top to allow smoke to escape. When correctly constructed, a yurt enables its inhabitants to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Some Kazakhs maintain a semi nomadic existence, moving their herds and flocks to summer pastures each year.


Traditional Kazakh food is similar to that of the Mediterranean in its use of rice, savoury seasonings, vegetables, yoghurts and grilled meats. Nomadic diet is heavy in mutton, dairy products and bread, while in the northern cities the food is heavily influenced by Russian cuisine. A popular dish is qazy, a horsemeat sausage served up with cold noodles, or the sweet plov, made with dried apricots, raisins and prunes. Food available in large towns and cities resembles that of any Western urban area; you can choose to eat Italian, Chinese, Japanese or French at several different price and quality levels - or opt for American-influenced fast food.


Kazakhstan I is the state television channel. Other country-wide TV stations are Khabar and Yel Arna. According to government statistics there are 116 private channels, including Kanal 31 and KTK. The state-owned Kazakh Radio broadcasts in both official languages. A wide number of private radio stations are also available including Europa Plus, Russkoye Radio, Hit FM, Radio Azattyq and Radio Karavan. According to government figures, there were 990 privately owned newspapers and 418 privately owned magazines.


Most of Kazakhstan’s museums are found in Almaty. The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established in the 1930s and today hosts four large exhibition halls covering hundreds of unique Kazakh exhibits including spiritual and cultural material describing the history of the country. The A. Kasteyev State Museum of Arts boasts over 20 thousand exhibits in its collection (painting, sculpture, decorative art). The Museum's acquisitions programme began when the Russian Museum and the A.S. Pushkin Museum of the Fine Arts delivered 200 works by Russian and Western masters in the 1930s. The collection traces art history from ancient to present times. In Almaty also, find The Archaeological Museum of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Sciences and The State Book Museum.


As in other aspects of Kazakhstan’s traditional culture, the horse plays a dominant role in sport – kökpar is a wilder version of polo using a goat’s carcass instead of a ball; and qyz quu, a chase between girl and boy on horseback.

In contemporary terms, Kazakhstan is obsessed with football. The Kazakhstan First Division is controlled by the Football Union and feeds into the Kazakhstan Super League, founded in 1994. Kazakhstan competed at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The largest contingent was their ice hockey squad of 23. The cross country skiing team was also sizeable, with a total of 19 Kazakh athletes entered. The cyclist Alexander Vinokourov is perhaps the best-known Kazakh athlete. Tennis, boxing, gymnastics, swimming and golf are also hugely popular.

At the XXIX Olympic Games in Beijing, Kazakhstan’s athletes won a total of 13 medals – 2 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze. Kazakhstan has consequently been ranked 29th among the 205 competing countries.The Kazakh delegation for the Olympics in Beijing consisted of 70 female and 62 male athletes winning 132 qualifying licenses in 22 (out of 41) sports. The delegation comprised athletes from all 16 administrative territories of the Republic - and from 11 separate ethnic groups. 200 officials from Kazakhstan headed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev accompanied the athletes to Beijing.


Kazakhstan has a strong cinematic tradition: the first Kazakh cinemas date back to the beginning of the 20th century and the first filming took place in 1928. These were mainly short propaganda films, created by Russian directors and known as 'agitfilms'. The first Kazakh full length feature, 'Amangueldy' by Moisey Levin, was made in 1938 and was also the first film with sound. It has a narrative pattern typical of central Asian cinema, which places central importance on strong and heroic characters. Other notable early films include 'The Land of the Fathers' by Zemlya Ostov, 'The Balcony' by Kalykbek Salykov and 'The Island of Rebirth' by Rustem Abdrashev. More recently, Kazakhstan has proved a reliable and popular source of World Cinema. Below find an inexhaustive list of Kazakh films (and films made in Kazakhstan) distributed globally...

The Road (1992) by Omirbaev Darejan. A film director takes a trip to visit his sick mother, leaving his wife and son in Almaty. The audience is exposed to his thoughts and encounters along the way.

Highway (2001) by Sergei Dvortsevoy. Kazakhstan seen through the eyes of a small travelling circus.

My Brother Silk Road (2001) by Marut Sarulu. Filmed in Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan, four village children embark on a difficult journey through the steppes to the railroad, which lies on the path of the ancient Silk Route. A train meanders down the mountain and, following an argument, an artist is unceremoniously thrown off a carriage and meets the children...

Leila's Prayer (2002) by Satybaldy Narymbetov. A powerful drama portraying a young girl living in the Semey region in the north of Kazakhstan, where the Soviet regime carried out 467 nuclear tests at a devastating cost to the local environment.

Little Men (2003) by Nariman Turebayev. Subtle comedy on the post-Soviet generation in Kazakhstan, full of up-tempo music and slapstick humor. Bek and Max, two slackers, share an apartment and the same bleak economic prospects. When one of the two, the naive Bek, falls hopelessly in love, the incurable philanderer Max decides to teach him about women...

The Hunter (2004) by Serik Aprimov is an allegory about the tensions between the traditional and the new in Kazakh society, concerning a young boy who is brought up by his stepmother and a nomadic hunter.

Schizo (2004) Writer/director Guka Omarova's debut is a coming-of-age film about a 15-year-old boy (played by Oldzhas Nusupbayev) growing up in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s (see poster above).

Nomad (2006) is a historical epic written by Rustam Ibragimbekov, produced by Milos Forman, and directed by Ivan Passer, Sergei Bodrov and Talgat Temenov. It was released on March 16, 2007 in the USA and distributed by The Weinstein Company. The film has been shot in two versions: in Kazakh by Temenov for distribution in Kazakhstan and in English by Passer/Bodrov for distribution worldwide. The Kazakh government has invested $40,000,000 in film's production, making it the most expensive Kazakh film ever made. Nomad is Kazakhstan's official entry, Best Foreign Language Film for the 79th Academy Awards.

Ulzhan (2007) by Volker Schloendorff. Driven by an inexplicable force, Frenchman Charles decides to leave his homeland and head east. When his car breaks down in Kazakhstan, his urge to travel is still so intense that he decides to proceed by foot. Destitute but happy, he wanders the steppes of Central Asia...

Mongol (2008)The incredible destiny of Gengis Khan. Or to give him his true name, Temudgin. This legendary chief of the Mongolian armed forces was one of the greatest conquerors in the history of humanity.

Tulpan (2008) by Sergeï Dvortsevoy. After having made its service in the marine, Asa returns in the steppes kazhakes to live with his/her sister and her brother-in-law, a stockbreeder of sheep. Asa dreams of this simple life: a family, an yurt, a breeding. Initially, it is necessary that it Marie. Tulpan is the only possible wife, in this end of desert. Alas, Tulpan does not want him: she finds her ears too separated.


Kazakhstan is full of architectural masterpieces reflecting its varied history. Southern Kazakhstan is home to a number of important Islamic buildings, including the Arystanbab Mosque (built in the 12th century), located near the ancient city of Otrar and the villages of Talapty and Kogam the Khoja Akhmed Yasavi Mausoleum (14th century), in the city of Tuumlrkistan and the Aisha-Bibi Mausoleum (10th century), in the city of Taraz.
Many new mosques have been built since independence. In the new capital, Astana, buildings were constructed or renovated specifically for the government’s move there in 1997 these include a modern complex in the city’s main square that serves as the government headquarters. The cities of Kazakhstan also contain examples of Russian architecture, such as the Zenkov Cathedral (built in 1904) in Almaty. The architecture of the Soviet period mostly took the form of drab, functional buildings.


Contemporary art goes from strength to strength in Kazakhstan and there is an evident desire in many ordinary Kazkhs to own and collect fine art. Rustam Khalfin - who has recorded a remarkable performance in which a soldier recreates the old Kazakh custom of making love to a woman on a galloping horse - is a star of the avant garde scene. Similarly, conceptual artists ‘The Red Tractor Group’ - a group of men who dress as nomadic shamans, beat leather drums and eat horsemeat and noodles as an art statement - have a signiciant following. Saule Suleimenova has captured the imaginations of audiences internationally with her inventive wax engravings on paper.


Evgeny Brussilovsky (1905-1981) was a Russian composer commissioned to research folk music in Kazakhstan. He spent most of his life in the Kazakh capital of Almaty where he wrote operas in national Kazakh style. Operas include Kiz-Ji-Bek (1934) and Er-Targhin (1937). On a totally different musical level is teenage Madu - Kazakhstan’s answer to Madonna. A pretty brunette, Madu has already sold 500,000 CDs. The prodigy is produced by John Themis — who was the force behind Boy George and cult Russian band TATU.


Traditionally, ‘aitys’ is a competitive performance of dueling, ad-libbing poets called ‘akyns’, who are aided and abetted by rhythmic Kazakh music. The form has become increasingly popular in modern Kazakhstan and pre dates the invention of American slams by over a century.
Normally an aitys is a ‘poetic debate’ on a chosen topic – usually a hot social issue. The contest calls for nimble wit and improvisation skill. During any aitys, the akyns expound expeditiously and wittily, all the while beating back their rivals. Good akyns must be acutely aware of political and economic realities - as the sharper and more informative their verbal stream, the greater their chance of victory. Throughout history, the ‘akyn’ acronym was only awarded to those poets capable of creating dazzling, unexpected poems. Akyns have their poetic narratives underlined with music played on traditional Kazakh string instruments like the ‘dombra’ and ‘kobyz’.