(Qazaqstan Respūblīkasy). Central-western Asian state (2,724,900 km²). Capital: Astana. Administrative division: provinces (14), cities (3). Population: 15,571,506 residents (2008 estimate). Language: Kazakh (official), Russian, German, Ukrainian. Religion: Muslims 47%, non-religious / atheists 40.2%, Orthodox 8.2%, Protestants 2.1%, others 2.5%. Currency unit: tenge (100 tiyn). Human Development Index: 0.807 (71st place). Borders: Russia (NW and N), People’s Republic of China (E), Kyrgyzstan (SE), Uzbekistan (S), Turkmenistan (SW), Caspian Sea (W). Member of: CSI, EBRD, OCI, OCS, UN and OSCE.
Formerly a Federated Republic, Kazakhstan was the last Soviet Republic to become independent in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR, becoming part of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) at the end of December of the same year. According to the 1995 Constitution (which amended the Charter that was approved in 1993 following a referendum) the head of state is elected by direct suffrage. with a 7-year mandate and has wide-ranging powers, including the right to dissolve Parliament. Executive power is exercised by the presidentially appointed Council of Ministers; the Council is led, always with the authorization of the President, by the Prime Minister. Parliament is composed of two chambers: the Senate (47 members, of which 7 are presidential nominated) and the Lower House (or Mazhilis, composed of 77 members elected by direct suffrage for a five-year term). The country’s judicial system is inspired by the rules in use in European law, and by those of Islamic origin, although the national system is still under development. Justice is administered by a Supreme Court, an Arbitration Court and by district and regional courts. The death penalty is also in force. The armed forces are organized according to the classic tripartition (army, navy, air force) and also include paramilitary formations such as the Republican Guard. The military corps have been integrated with the Russian forces under a 1995 agreement. Military service is compulsory and lasts two years. Primary and secondary education imparted in the country is free and compulsory: the illiteracy rate present in Kazakhstan is in fact very low, equal to 0.4%. The school system is divided into two cycles: the first, which begins at the age of 7, lasts for four years; the second, which lasts 7 years, is in turn divided into two half cycles of 5 and 2 years respectively. Among the numerous universities present in the country: the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, the National Technical University, Kainar University, based in the old capital Almaty, or the universities of Karagandy, Kustanaj and Pavlodar. Other higher education centers include: the Eurasian Institute of Market, the International Academy of Business and the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research, also located in Almaty. A considerable share of students, however, travel abroad to attend university studies.
The vegetation is mainly steppe with large areas of land intended for grazing; areas destined for agriculture (especially wheat cultivation) are smaller. The ecosystem counts numerous species of animals, which live mainly in the mountains: bears, lynxes, argali, ibex, snow leopard, eagle, flamingo; among the species protected by the WWF, Bukhara antelope and deer. The protected areas, including four national parks and many nature reserves, cover 2.8% of the territory. The greatest environmental emergencies concern toxic and radioactive waste (caused by years of nuclear tests) and the increase in desertification caused by the intensive use of the main lakes and in particular by the drying up of the Aral Sea. Visit baglib.com for central Asia geography.
A country in which the imprint of the Soviet Union has proved to be more marked and influential than elsewhere, Kazakhstan has for several years been trying to distance itself from this still tangible presence, also and above all on a cultural and linguistic level. Although traditional customs and practices remain deeply felt and widespread among the Kazakh population (from the founding social role of the family to the typical yurt houses, aspects inherited from the nomadic tribes, to clothing, cooking, music), “modern” habits and ways of life have spread in parallel with the process of economic development initiated by independence. In the country there is a thriving cultural activity, made up of theatrical performances, in which traditional themes are accompanied by local or international current events, operas and ballets (of Kazakh, Russian or Korean tradition), art schools, festivals and musical reviews, where it is possible to attend performances with traditional instruments (dombra and kobyz, above all) and pop or rock concerts. For cultured music, the most prestigious venue is the Central Philharmonic of Almaty. The twentieth-century art scene had in Abylkhan Kasteyev (1904-1973) one of the major protagonists, who can be counted among the true founders of modern Kazakh painting. Among the most appreciable architectural legacies, there are undoubtedly the government buildings of the ancient khanates, while the most fascinating places in the country are Taraz, a city full of castles, temples, necropolis, and Almaty, the liveliest of the Kazakh cities with some museums important such as the Central State Museum, the Museum of Kazakh musical instruments, the Museum of Repression. The capital Astana, despite the title, it does not offer particularities of cultural importance. The sites that UNESCO has included in the World Heritage Site deserve a separate note: the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (2003) and the Petroglyphs and archaeological landscape of Tamgaly (2004). Although the Kazakhs do not live the religious dimension in a profound and heartfelt way, one of the most popular celebrations is the Nauryz, Islamic celebration; to this are added the Victory Day (May 9), the Republic Day (October 25) and the Independence Day (December 16-17); These occasions are often accompanied by the presence of musicians and singers who perform in musical or singing challenges of ancient popular origin. Cinema has experienced a progressive crescendo. In the 1960s Shaken Ajmanov (1914-1970), author of La Terra dei Fathers (1966) was a reference figure, combining themes of national history with intimate reflections. In his wake a new generation of authors arose at the end of the century, including K. Salykov (b.1952) director of Balcony (1988) and R. Abdrashitov (b.1970) who directed L’isola della Rinascimento. (2004). A name on which international interest has rested is the director Gulshad Omarova, author of Schizo (2006), a film that won awards at European, Asian and North African festivals. In 2005, Nomad – La linea dei kazaki in a film, directed by non-Kazakh authors but produced here and turned out to be the most expensive in national film history, as well as being nominated for a Golden Globe.