The official languages of Kazakhstan are Kazakh with 11.7 million speakers around the country and Russian which is spoken by 6,230,000 people. Both Kazakh and Russian are used on equal grounds. In 1997 Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved the capital from Almaty in the southeast of the country to the newly-named Astana (previously it was called Akmola), which was then an empty patch of land by the Ishim River best known as a former gulag prison camp for the wives of Soviet traitors.
Kazakh or Kazak is a Turkic language of the Kipchak branch spoken in Central Asia. It is closely related to Nogai, Kyrgyz and Karakalpak. Kazakh is the official language of Kazakhstan and a significant minority language in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, China and in the Bayan-Ölgii Province of Mongolia. Kazakh is also spoken by many ethnic Kazakhs through the former Soviet Union (approximately 472,000 in Russia according to the 2010 Russian Census), Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Germany.
Like other Turkic languages, Kazakh is an agglutinative language and it employs vowel harmony.
In October 2017, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev decreed that the government would transition from using Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. President Nazarbayev signed on February 19, 2018 an amendment to the decree of October 26, 2017 No. 569 "On translating the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin script." The amended alphabet uses ⟨sh⟩ and ⟨ch⟩ for the Kazakh sounds /ɕ/ and /tɕ/, respectively, and eliminates the use of apostrophes.
Ethnic Kazakhs, a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated to the region by 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. Non-Muslim ethnic minorities departed Kazakhstan in large numbers from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s and a national program has repatriated about a million ethnic Kazakhs back to Kazakhstan. These trends have allowed Kazakhs to become the titular majority again. This dramatic demographic shift has also undermined the previous religious diversity and made the country more than 70 percent Muslim. 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; managing Islamic revivalism; 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.
Kyrgyzstan has yet to ratify the 2001 boundary delimitation with Kazakhstan; field demarcation of the boundaries commenced with Uzbekistan in 2004 and with Turkmenistan in 2005; ongoing demarcation with Russia began in 2007; demarcation with China was completed in 2002; creation of a seabed boundary with Turkmenistan in the Caspian Sea remains under discussion; Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia ratified Caspian seabed delimitation treaties based on equidistance, while Iran continues to insist on a one-fifth slice of the sea Refugees and internally displaced persons:
stateless persons: 6,935 (2012)
Illicit drugs: significant illicit cultivation of cannabis for CIS markets, as well as limited cultivation of opium poppy and ephedra (for the drug ephedrine); limited government eradication of illicit crops; transit point for Southwest Asian narcotics bound for Russia and the rest of Europe; significant consumer of opiates.
(End of excerpt from the CIA World FactBook text.)
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