Vast in size, the land in Kazakhstan is very diverse in types of terrain: flatlands, steppes, taigas, rock-canyons, hills, deltas, mountains, snow-capped mountains, and deserts. Kazakhstan has the 62nd largest population in the world, with a population density of less than 6 people per square kilometre (15 per sq. mi.).
For most of its history the territory of modern-day Kazakhstan has been inhabited by nomadic tribes. By the 16th century the Kazakhs emerged as a distinct group, divided into three hordes. The Russians began advancing into the Kazakh steppe in the 18th century, and by the mid-19th century all of Kazakhstan was part of the Russian Empire. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, and subsequent civil war, the territory of Kazakhstan was reorganized several times before becoming the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936, a part of the USSR.
Kazakhstan is ethnically and culturally diverse, in part due to mass deportations of many ethnic groups to the country during Stalin's rule. Kazakhs are the largest group, followed by Russians. Kazakhstan allows freedom of religion, and many different beliefs are represented in the country. Islam is the primary religion, followed by Orthodox Christianity. The official language is Kazakh, though Russian is still commonly used for everyday communication.
Kazakhstan is a presidential republic. The president is the head of state. 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 Masimov has served as the Prime Minister since 10 January 2007.
Kazakhstan has a bicameral Parliament, made up of the lower house (the Majilis) and upper house (the Senate).
The terrain extends west to east from the Caspian Sea to the Altay Mountains and north to south from the plains of Western Siberia to the oases and deserts of Central Asia. The Kazakh Steppe(plain), with an area of around 804,500 square kilometres (310,600 sq. mi), occupies one-third of the country and is the world's largest dry steppe region. The steppe is characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions. Important rivers and lakes include: the Aral Sea, Ili River, Irtysh River, Ishim River, Ural River, Syrdariya, Charyn River and gorge, Lake Balkhash, and Lake Zaysan.
The climate is continental, with warm summers and colder winters. Precipitation varies between arid and semi-arid conditions.
The Charyn Canyon is 150–300 metres deep and 80 kilometres long, cutting through the red sandstone plateau and stretching along the Charyn River gorge in northern Tian Shan ("Heavenly Mountains", 200 km east of Almaty) at 43°21′1.16″N, 79°4′49.28″E. The steep canyon slopes, columns and arches rise to heights of 150–300 m. The inaccessibility of the canyon provided a safe haven for a rare ash tree that survived the Ice Age and is now also grown in some other areas. Bigach crater is a Pliocene or Miocene impact asteroid crater, 8 kilometres (5 mi) in diameter and estimated at 5 ± 3 million years old at 48°30′N, 82°00′E.
Kazakhstan is divided into 14 provinces . The provinces are subdivided into districts .
Each province is headed by an Akim (provincial governor) appointed by the president. Municipal Akims are appointed by province Akims. The Government of Kazakhstan transferred its capital from Almaty to Astana on December 10, 1997.
Agriculture accounted for 10.3% of Kazakhstan's GDP in 2005. Grain (Kazakhstan is the seventh-largest producer in the world) and livestock are the most important agricultural commodities. Agricultural land occupies more than 846,000 square kilometres (327,000 sq. mi). The available agricultural land consists of 205,000 square kilometres (79,000 sq. mi) of arable land and 611,000 square kilometres (236,000 sq. mi) of pasture and hay land. Chief livestock products are dairy products, leather, meat, and wool. The country's major crops include wheat, barley, cotton, and rice. Wheat exports, a major source of hard currency, rank among the leading commodities in Kazakhstan's export trade. In 2003 Kazakhstan harvested 17.6 million tons of grain in gross, 2.8% higher compared to 2002.
Kazakhstan is thought to be one of the original homes of the apple, particularly the wild ancestor of Malus domestica, Malus sieversii. It has no common name in English, but is known in Kazakhstan, where it is native, as 'alma'. In fact, the region where it is thought to originate is called Almaty, or 'rich with apple'. This tree is still found wild in the mountains of Central Asia in southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang, China.
Kazakhstan has an abundant supply of accessible mineral and fossil fuel resources. Development of petroleum, natural gas, and mineral extraction has attracted most of the over $40 billion in foreign investment in Kazakhstan since 1993 and accounts for some 57% of the nation's industrial output (or approximately 13% of gross domestic product). According to some estimates, Kazakhstan has the second largest uranium, chromium, lead, and zinc reserves, the third largest manganese reserves, the fifth largest copper reserves, and ranks in the top ten for coal, iron, and gold. It is also an exporter of diamonds. Perhaps most significant for economic development, Kazakhstan also currently has the 11th largest proven reserves of both oil and natural gas.
The US Census Bureau International Database list the current population of Kazakhstan as 16,763,795, while United Nations sources such as the World Bank give a 2002 estimate of 14,794,830.
The ethnic Kazakhs represent 59.2% of the population and ethnic Russians 25.6%,with a rich array of other groups represented, including Tatars, Uzbeks, Bashkirs, Uyghurs and Ukrainians. Some minorities such as Russian Germans (esp.Volga Germans), Ukrainians and Russian political opponents of the regime had been deported to Kazakhstan in the 1930s and 1940s by Stalin; some of the bigger Soviet labor camps existed in the country. Significant Russian immigration also connected with Virgin Lands Campaign and Soviet space program during Khrushchev era. There is also a small but active Jewish community. Before 1991 there were one million Volga Germans in Kazakhstan; most of them emigrated to Germany following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Most members of the smaller Pontian Greek minority have emigrated to Greece.
Kazakhstan is a bilingual country: the Kazakh language, spoken by 64.4% of the population, has the status of the "state" language, while Russian, which is spoken by almost all Kazakhstanis, is declared the "official" language, and is used routinely in business.
The 1990s were marked by the emigration of many of the country's Russians and Volga Germans, a process that began in the 1970s; this was a major factor in giving the autochthonous Kazakhs a majority along with higher Kazakh birthrates and ethnic Kazakh immigration from the People's Republic of China, Mongolia, and Russia. In the early twenty first century, Kazakhstan has become one of the leading nations in international adoptions.
Islam is the largest religion in Kazakhstan, followed by Russian Orthodox Christianity.
By tradition the Kazaks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school, and the Russians are Russian Orthodox. In 1994, some 47 percent of the population was Muslim, 44 percent was Russian Orthodox, and 2 percent was Protestant, mainly Baptist.
Based on a 2007 data of, The Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the UK, Islam was practiced by 57% of the population, Christianity 40% and other religions 3%.
The country has historically hosted a wide variety of ethnic groups with varying religions. Tolerance to other societies has become a part of the Kazakh culture. The foundation of an independent republic, following the disintegration of the USSR, has launched a great deal of changes in every aspect of people’s lives. Religiosity of the population, as an essential part of any cultural identity, has undergone dynamic transformations as well.
After decades of suppressed culture, the people were feeling a great need for exhibiting their ethnic identity – in part through religion.
Kazakhstan is home to a large number of prominent contributors to literature, science and philosophy: Abai Kunanbaiuli, Mukhtar Auezov, Gabit Musrepov, Kanysh Satpayev, Mukhtar Shahanov, Saken Seifullin, Zhambyl Zhabaev, among many others.
Kazakhstan has developed itself as a formidable sports-force on the world arena in the following fields: boxing, chess, kickboxing, skiing, gymnastics, water-polo, cycling, martial arts, heavy-athletics, horse-riding, tri-athlon, track-hurdles, sambo, greco-roman wrestling, billiards. The following are all well-known Kazakhstani athletes and world-championship medalists: Bekzat Sattarkhanov, Vassili Zhirov, Alexander Vinokourov, Bulat Zhumadilov, Mukhtarkhan Dildabekov, Olga Shishigina, Andrey Kashechkin, Aliya Yusupova, Dmitriy Karpov, Darmen Sadvakasov, Yeldos Ikhsangaliyev, Aidar Kabimollayev, Yermakhan Ibraimov, Vladimir Smirnov, among others.
Kazakhstan features a lively music culture, evident in massive popularity of SuperStar KZ, a local offspring of Simon Fuller's Pop Idol. Almaty is considered to be the musical capital of the Central Asia, recently enjoying concerts by well-known artists such as Deep Purple, Tokyo Hotel, Atomic Kitten, Dima Bilan, Loon, Craig David, Black Eyed Peas, Eros Ramazzotti, Jose Carreras, Ace of Base among others.