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Kazakhstan (/ˌkɑːzəkˈstɑːn/ or /ˌkæzəkˈstæn/) (Kazakh: Қазақстан, Qazaqstan, pronounced [qɑzɑqstɑ́n]; Russian: Казахстан [kəzɐxˈstan]), officially 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 and also borders on a significant part of the Caspian Sea. Although Kazakhstan does not share a border with Mongolia, its eastern-most point is only 38 km from Monglia’s western tip. The capital was moved in 1997 from Almaty (formely Alma-Ata), Kazakhstan’s largest city, to Astana.
Vast in size, the terrain of Kazakhstan ranges from flatlands, steppes, taigas, rock-canyons, hills, deltas, and snow-capped mountains to deserts. With 16.4 mln people (2010 estimate) Kazakhstan has the 62nd largest population in the world, though its population density is less than 6 people/km². 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 (63%). Kazakhstan has 131 ethnicities, including Kazakh, Russian, Uyghur, Ukrainian, Uzbek, and Tatar.
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 Jüz. 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.
Kazakhstan allows freedom of religion, and many different beliefs are represented in the country. Islam is the religion of about two thirds of the population, and Christianity the faith of most of the remainder. The Kazakh language is the state language, while Russian is also officially used as an “equal” language (to Kazakh) in Kazakhstan’s institutions.