|Republic of Kazakhstan|
The Republic of Kazakhstan is a transcontinental country located in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of 2,727,300 km² is greater than Western Europe. Kazakhstan is one of the six independent Turkic States. It is neighbored clockwise from the north by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and also borders on a significant part of the Caspian Sea. The capital was moved in 1997 from Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, to Astana.
Ethnic Kazakhs, a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated into the region in the 13th century, were rarely united as a single nation. The area was conquered by Russia in the 18th century, and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936. During the 1950s and 1960s agricultural "Virgin Lands" program, Soviet citizens were encouraged to help cultivate Kazakhstan's northern pastures. This influx of immigrants (mostly Russians, but also some other deported nationalities) skewed the ethnic mixture and enabled non-ethnic Kazakhs to outnumber natives. Independence in 1991 drove many of these newcomers to emigrate. Kazakhstan's economy is larger than those of all the other Central Asian states largely due to the country's vast natural resources. Current issues include: developing a cohesive national identity; expanding the development of the country's vast energy resources and exporting them to world markets; diversifying the economy outside the oil, gas, and mining sectors; enhancing Kazakhstan's economic competitiveness; developing a multiparty parliament and advancing political and social reform; and strengthening relations with neighboring states and other foreign powers.
The country is a member of many international organizations, including the United Nations, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Kazakhstan is one of six post-Soviet states who have implemented an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO. In 2010, Kazakhstan is chairing the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Kazakhstan is officially a presidential republic but displays strong authoritarian characteristics. The first and only president is Nursultan Nazarbayev. The president also is the commander in chief of the armed forces and may veto legislation that has been passed by the Parliament. The prime minister chairs the Cabinet of Ministers and serves as Kazakhstan's head of government. There are three deputy prime ministers and 16 ministers in the Cabinet. Karim Massimov has served as the Prime Minister since January 10, 2007.
Kazakhstan has a bicameral Parliament composed of the lower house (the Majilis) and upper house (the Senate). Single mandate districts popularly elect 67 seats in the Majilis; there also are ten members elected by party-list vote rather than by single mandate districts. The Senate has 39 members. Two senators are selected by each of the elected assemblies (Maslikhats) of Kazakhstan's 16 principal administrative divisions (14 provinces, plus the cities of Astana and Almaty). The president appoints the remaining seven senators. Majilis deputies and the government both have the right of legislative initiative, though the government proposes most legislation considered by the Parliament.
Kazakhstan, geographically the largest of the former Soviet republics, excluding Russia, possesses enormous fossil fuel reserves and plentiful supplies of other minerals and metals, such as uranium, copper, and zinc. It also has a large agricultural sector featuring livestock and grain. Kazakhstan's industrial sector is primarily focused on the extraction and processing of these natural resources. Kazakhstan enjoyed double-digit growth in 2000-01 and 8% or more per year in 2002-07 - thanks largely to its booming energy sector but also to economic reform, good harvests, and increased foreign investment; GDP growth slowed dramatically following the near-collapse of the banking sector in late 2007 and the declines in oil and metals prices associated with the global economic downturn in 2008-09. Kazakhstan has embarked upon an industrial policy designed to diversify the economy away from overdependence on the oil sector as well expanding export markets away from its historical reliance on Russia. Nevertheless, growth is still driven by oil. The government has engaged in several disputes with Western oil companies over the terms of production agreements, most recently, with regard to the Kashagan project in 2007-08 and the Karachaganak project in 2009.
Traditional Kazakh belief held that separate spirits inhabited and animated the earth, sky, water and fire, as well as domestic animals. To this day, particularly honored guests in rural settings are treated to a feast of freshly killed lamb. Such guests are sometimes asked to bless the lamb and to ask its spirit for permission to partake of its flesh. Besides lamb, many other traditional foods retain symbolic value in Kazakh culture.
In the national cuisine, livestock meat can be cooked in a variety of ways and is usually served with a wide assortment of traditional bread products. Refreshments often include black tea and traditional milk-derived drinks such as ayran, shubat and kymyz. A traditional Kazakh dinner involves a multitude of appetizers on the table, followed by a soup and one or two main courses such as pilaf and beshbarmak. They also drink their national beverage, which consists of fermented mare's milk.
Because livestock was central to the Kazakhs' traditional lifestyle, most of their nomadic practices and customs relate in some way to livestock. Kazakhs have historically been very passionate about horse-riding. Traditional curses and blessings invoked disease or fecundity among animals, and good manners required that a person ask first about the health of a man's livestock when greeting him and only afterward inquire about the human aspects of his life. Even today, many Kazakhs express interest in equestrianism and horse-racing.
During the recent years, Kazakhstan has experienced somewhat of a revival of the Kazakh language, which is returning into mainstream usage both in media, law and business, as well as the general society. This is widely approved by Kazakh people and the international organizations as a way of preserving the national identity and culture[but has in some cases caused anxiety among Russian-Kazakhstanis, Russia-sponsored special-interest groups in Kazakhstan and some high-ranking politicians in Russia
The Parliament is considering the introduction of Latin-based Kazakh alphabet to replace Cyrillic-based. The reasons that are popularly cited are cultural considerations and the Turkic nature of the Kazakh language. Turkic languages such as Turkish and Uzbek use the Latin alphabet. However, the imposition of the Latin alphabet in Kazakhstan would involve massive costs of transcription and replacement of the vast Kazakh literature.