Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, also Kazakstan [kazÉ™xˈstan],  officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world as well as the world’s largest landlocked country, it has a territory of 2,727,300 km² (greater than Western Europe). It is bordered Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and China. The country also borders on a significant part of the Caspian Sea.

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. During the 20th century, Kazakhstan was the site of major Soviet projects, including Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands campaign, the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and the Semipalatinsk “Polygon”, the USSR’s primary nuclear weapon testing site.

Kazakhstan declared itself an independent country on December 16, 1991, the last Soviet republic to do so. Its communist-era leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, became the country’s new president. Since independence, Kazakhstan has pursued a balanced foreign policy and worked to develop its economy, especially its hydrocarbon industry. While the country’s economic outlook is improving, President Nazarbayev maintains strict control over the country’s politics. Several opposition leaders and journalists have been killed in recent years, and Western observers generally do not consider Kazakhstan’s elections to be free and fair. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan’s international prestige is building. It is now considered to be the dominant state in Central Asia. The country belongs to many international organizations including the United Nations. In 2011, Kazakhstan will form a customs union with Russia and Belarus.

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.

In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began to expand, and spread into Central Asia. The “Great Game”  period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. The tsars effectively ruled over most of the territory belonging to what is now the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Russian Empire introduced a system of administration and built military garrisons and barracks in its effort to establish a presence in Central Asia in the so-called “Great Game” between it and the United Kingdom. The first Russian outpost, Orsk, was built in 1735. Russia enforced the Russian language in all schools and governmental organizations. Russian efforts to impose its system aroused the extreme resentment by the Kazakh people, and by the 1860s, most Kazakhs resisted Russia’s annexation largely because of the disruption it wrought upon the traditional nomadic lifestyle and livestock-based economy, and the associated hunger which was rapidly wiping out some Kazakh tribes. The Kazakh national movement, which began in the late 1800s, sought to preserve the native language and identity by resisting the attempts of the Russian Empire to assimilate and stifle them.

From the 1890s onwards ever-larger numbers of Slavic settlers began colonising the territory of present-day Kazakhstan, in particular the province of Semirechye. The number of settlers rose still further once the Trans-Aral Railway from Orenburg to Tashkent was completed in 1906, and the movement was overseen and encouraged by a specially created Migration Department in St. Petersburg.

The competition for land and water which ensued between the Kazakhs and the newcomers caused great resentment against colonial rule during the final years of Tsarist Russia, with the most serious uprising, the Central Asian Revolt, occurring in 1916. The Kazakhs attacked Russian and Cossack villages, killing indiscriminately. The Russians’ revenge was merciless. A military force drove 300,000 Kazakhs to flee into the mountains or to China. When approximately 80,000 of them returned the next year, many of them were slaughtered by Tsarist forces. During the 1921–22 famine, another million Kazakhs died from starvation.

Although there was a brief period of autonomy during the tumultuous period following the collapse of the Russian Empire, many uprisings were brutally suppressed, and the Kazakhs eventually succumbed to Soviet rule. In 1920, the area of present-day Kazakhstan became an autonomous republic within RSFSR The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

Soviet repression of the traditional elite, along with forced collectivization in late 1920s–1930s, brought mass hunger and led to unrest. Between 1926 and 1939, the Kazakh population declined by 22%, due to starvation, violence and mass emigration. Today, the estimates suggest that the population of Kazakhstan would be closer to 20 million if there was no starvation or massacre of Kazakhs. During the 1930s, many renowned Kazakh writers, thinkers, poets, politicians and historians were slaughtered on Stalin’s orders, both as part of the repression and as a methodical pattern of suppressing Kazakh identity and culture. Soviet rule took hold, and a communist apparatus steadily worked to fully integrate Kazakhstan into the Soviet system. In 1936 Kazakhstan became a Soviet republic. Kazakhstan experienced population inflows of millions exiled from other parts of the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s; many of the deportation victims were deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan merely due to their ethnic heritage or beliefs, and were in many cases interned in some of the biggest Soviet labor camps. (See also: Population transfer in the Soviet Union, Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union.) The Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) contributed five national divisions to the Soviet Union’s World War II effort. In 1947, two years after the end of the war, the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the USSR’s main nuclear weapon test site was founded near the city of Semey.

The period of World War II marked an increase in industrialization and increased mineral extraction in support of the war effort. At the time of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s death, however, Kazakhstan still had an overwhelmingly agricultural-based economy. In 1953, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev initiated the ambitious “Virgin Lands” program to turn the traditional pasture lands of Kazakhstan into a major grain-producing region for the Soviet Union. The Virgin Lands policy brought mixed results. However, along with later modernizations under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, it accelerated the development of the agricultural sector which remains the source of livelihood for a large percentage of Kazakhstan’s population. By 1959, Kazakhs made up 30% of the population. Ethnic Russians accounted for 43%.

Growing tensions within Soviet society led to a demand for political and economic reforms, which came to a head in the 1980s.

Christianity in Kazakhstan is the second most practiced religion after Islam, with 46% of the population Christian and 47% Muslim. Most Christian citizens are Russians, and to a lesser extent Ukrainians and Belarusians, who belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. About one-third of the population of Kazakhstan identifies as Christian. 1.5 percent of the population is German, most of whom follow Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism. There are also many Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and Pentecostals. Methodists, Mennonites, and Mormons have also registered churches with the government.

While 44% of the population are Russian Orthodox Christians and only 2% is Protestant, there are more Protestant congregations. 93 “nontraditional” Protestant Christian churches registered with the Kazakh government from 2006 to 2007. There are 83 Roman Catholic churches in Kazakhstan. There are two Baptist organizations in Kazakhstan; the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians and Baptists, with 1,000 members, and the Baptist Union of Kazakhstan, with 10,000 members. 198 churches affiliated with the Baptist Union registered with the government.

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. Quantitative research shows that for the first years after the establishment of the new laws, waiving any restrictions on religious beliefs and proclaiming full freedom of confessions, the country experienced a huge spike in religious activity of its citizens. Hundreds of mosques, synagogues, churches, and other religious structures were built in a matter of years. All represented religions benefited from increased number of members and facilities. Many confessions that were absent before independence made their way into the country, appealing to hundreds of people. The government supported this activity, and has done its best to provide equality among all religious organizations and their followers. In late 1990’s, however, a slight decline in religiosity occurred.

The following are two articles from ‘Christianity Today’ regarding Kazakhstan. These articles can be found on line at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/june10/14.22.html and http://ctlibrary.com/ct/2000/july10/20.29.html

Kazakhstan: Constitutional Council rejects new religious restrictions.

Kazakhstan ban on unregistered groups found to violate the nation’s constitution

The Constitutional Council of Kazakhstan in April ruled that newly proposed restrictions on religion would violate the nation’s constitution. “In time, authorities will launch a new campaign against believers,” said human rights activist Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee in an interview with Keston News Service. “But for now, we have a breathing space.” The controversial restrictions, aimed at “nontraditional” religions, would have banned unregistered groups and required missionaries to register with the government. “The battle with the [religion] law has been going since 1998,” Roman Dudnik, executive director of the Association of Religious Organizations of Kazakhstan, told Christianity Today. “But the pressure put by the government upon the believers had some positive results—it helped the believers stand together.” President Nursultan Nazarbayev will not appeal the council’s decision. Under Kazakh law, when the president appeals a council ruling, the council votes a second time and must have a two-thirds majority to sustain its initial decision. President Nazarbayev urged parliament in January to approve tough restrictions on unregistered religious groups by amending the existing law on religion. Both houses of parliament approved the amendments, which the high court agreed to review in March.

Kazakhstan: Central Asia’s Great Awakening
A decade-old ethnic church blooms despite government suspicion.

Christianity is seeing a rebirth among the 10 million ethnic Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, just a decade after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.’s 70-year-old Communist system. The number of ethnic Kazakh Christians has grown from fewer than 10 to more than 6,000 since the fall of communism in 1991, according to Christian workers at a recent gathering in Kazakhstan. The mostly Muslim Kazakhs live within the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that lies between Russia and China. Although Christianity has been in the region for centuries, it has not taken hold among ethnic Kazakhs since the days of the fifth- century Nestorian Church. But now Christianity is on the rise.

For centuries, most Kazakhs associated Christianity with Russians. When Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, Russians were the ethnic majority within the state. In 1992, 960,000 Russian Lutherans of largely German origin lived in Kazakhstan, according to Lutheran World Information. But by 1997, 600,000 of these Lutherans had emigrated to Germany, Russia, Siberia, and the Ukraine. Christian influence dropped dramatically, and only one Orthodox cathedral remained in the Kazakh  capital of Almaty.Then missionaries began using terms identified with Kazakh culture when sharing their faith with Kazakhs. A typical Kazakh evangelical will use the phrase “follower of the Messiah” instead of Christian, which Kazakhs still link with imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.Zhana Khamzina, a  Kazakh student in Almaty, rarely refers to herself as a Christian although she has been a follower of Jesus for almost two years. Khamzina is a leader of the True Way Church, a student-led fellowship in Almaty.

Politics

Independence

Caught up in the groundswell of Soviet republics seeking greater autonomy, Kazakhstan declared its sovereignty as a republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in October 1990. Following the August 1991 aborted coup attempt in Moscow and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared independence on December 16, 1991. It was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence.

The years following independence have been marked by significant reforms to the Soviet-style economy and political monopoly on power. Under Nursultan Nazarbayev, who initially came to power in 1989 as the head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and was eventually elected President in 1991, Kazakhstan has made significant progress toward developing a market economy. The country has enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000, partly due to its large oil, gas, and mineral reserves.

Democracy, however, has not gained much ground since 1991. In June 2007, Kazakhstan’s parliament passed a law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime powers and privileges, including access to future presidents, immunity from criminal prosecution, and influence over domestic and foreign policy. Critics say he has become a de facto “president for life. Over the course of his ten years in power, Nazarbayev has repeatedly censored the press through arbitrary use of “slander” laws, blocked access to opposition web sites, banned the Wahhabi religious sect, and refused demands that the governors of Kazakhstan’s 14 provinces be elected, rather than appointed by the president.

Political Systems and Elections

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 January 10, 2007.

Kazakhstan has a bicameral Parliament (a legislature which consists of two chambers or houses. Bicameralism is an essential and defining feature of the classical notion of mixed government. Bicameral legislatures tend to require a concurrent majority to pass legislation), made up 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.

Elections to the Majilis in September 2004 yielded a lower house dominated by the pro-government Otan party, headed by  President Nazarbayev. Two other parties considered sympathetic to the president, including the agrarian-industrial bloc AIST and the Asar party, founded by President Nazarbayev’s daughter, won most of the remaining seats. Opposition parties, which were officially registered and competed in the elections, won a single seat during elections that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said fell short of international standards.

In 1999, Kazakhstan applied for observer status at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. The official response of the Assembly was that Kazakhstan could apply for full membership, because it is partially located in Europe, but that they would not be granted any status whatsoever at the Council until their democracy and human rights records improved.

On December 4, 2005, Nursultan Nazarbayev was reelected in a landslide victory. The electoral commission announced that he had won over 90% of the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded the election did not meet international standards despite some improvements in the administration of the election. On August 17, 2007, elections to the lower house of parliament were held with the ruling Nur-Otan coalition winning every seat with 88% of the vote.

Other Tid Bits

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.).

Kazakhstan has been inhabited since the Stone Age: the region’s climate and terrain are best suited for nomads practising pastoralism.

Historians believe that humans first domesticated the horse in the region’s vast steppes.

While located primarily in Asia, a small portion of Kazakhstan is also located west of the Urals in Eastern Europe.

The climate is continental, with warm summers and colder winters. Precipitation varies between arid and semi-arid conditions.

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.

Christmas in Kazakhstan is celebrated on January 7th

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