Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, also spelled Kazakhstan (Kazakh: Қазақстан, Qazaqstan, IPA: [qɑzɑqˈstɑn]; Russian: Казахстан, Kazakhstán, IPA: [kazəxˈstan]), officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a country in Central Asia. Ranked the ninth largest country in the world, it has a territory of 2,727,300 km² (greater than Western Europe). It is bordered by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the People's Republic of China. The country also borders on a significant part of the Caspian Sea.
Although it is vast in size, much of the land consists of semi-desert (steppe) terrain. In terms of population, Kazakhstan ranks 62nd in the world, with a population density of less than 6 people per square kilometre (15 per sq. mi.). The total population has declined somewhat since independence, dropping from 16,464,464 in 1989 to about 15,300,000 in 2006. [1]. This is mostly due to the emigration of Russians and Volga Germans since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan, once the Kazakh SSR, is now a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Political system

Kazakhstan is a constitutional 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). 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 regions, or oblasts, 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

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. Xinhua News Agency reported that observers from the People's Republic of China, responsible in overseeing 25 polling stations in Astana, found that voting in those polls was conducted in a "transparent and fair" manner. Furthermore, Western governments were muted in their criticism 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. Opposition parties made accusations of serious irregularities in the election.

Geography

With an area of 2.7 million square kilometers (1.05 million sq. mi), Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world and the largest landlocked country in the world. It is equivalent to the size of Western Europe. It shares borders of 6,846 kilometers (4,254 mi) with Russia, 2,203 kilometers (1,369 mi) with Uzbekistan, 1,533 kilometers (953 mi) with China, 1,051 kilometers (653 mi) with Kyrgyzstan, and 379 kilometers (235 mi) with Turkmenistan. Major cities include Astana (capital since December 1997), Almaty (the former capital), Karaganda, Shymkent (Chimkent), Semey (Semipalatinsk) and Turkestan.
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, Charyn River and gorge, Lake Balkhash, and Lake Zaysan.
The climate is humid continental, with hot 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 Tien 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 nowadays also grown in some other areas.

Economy

The government of Kazakhstan plans to double its Gross domestic product (GDP) by 2008 and triple it by 2015 as compared to 2000. GDP growth has been stable in the last five years, at a rate higher than 9%. Buoyed by high world crude oil prices, GDP growth figures were in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005: 9.8%, 13.2%, 9.5%, 9.2%, 9.4%, and 9.2%, respectively.
Kazakhstan's monetary policy is generally considered by outside observers to be well-managed. Its principal challenge since 2002 has been to manage strong foreign currency inflows without sparking inflation. Since that time, inflation has not been under control, registering at 6.6% in 2002, 6.8% in 2003, and 6.4% in 2004, higher than forecast levels of 5.3%-6.0%. In 2000 Kazakhstan became the first former Soviet republic to repay all of its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 7 years ahead of schedule. In March 2002, the U.S. Department of Commerce granted Kazakhstan market economy status under U.S. trade law. This change in status recognized substantive market economy reforms in the areas of currency convertibility, wage rate determination, openness to foreign investment, and government control over the means of production and allocation of resources.
In September 2002 Kazakhstan became the first country in the CIS to receive an investment-grade credit rating from a major international credit rating agency. As of late December 2003, Kazakhstan's gross foreign debt was about $22.9 billion. Total governmental debt was $4.2 billion. This amounts to 14% of GDP. There has been a noticeable reduction in the ratio of debt to GDP observed in past years; the ratio of total governmental debt to GDP in 2000 was 21.7%, in 2001 it was 17.5%, and in 2002 it was 15.4%.

The upturn in economic growth, combined with the results of earlier tax and financial sector reforms, has dramatically improved government finances from the 1999 budget deficit level of 3.5% of GDP to a deficit of 1.2% of GDP in 2003. Government revenues grew from 19.8% of GDP in 1999 to 22.6% of GDP in 2001, but decreased to 16.2% of GDP in 2003. In 2000, Kazakhstan adopted a new tax code in an effort to consolidate these gains. On November 29, 2003 the Law on Changes to Tax Code was adopted, which reduced tax rates. The value added tax fell from 16% to 15%, the social tax from 21% to 20%, and the personal income tax from 30% to 20%. (On July 7, 2006 the personal income tax was reduced even further to a flat rate of 5% for personal income in the form of dividends and 10% for other personal income.) Kazakhstan furthered its reforms by adopting a new land code on June 20, 2003, and a new customs code on April 5, 2003.
Energy is the leading economic sector. Production of crude oil and natural gas condensate in Kazakhstan amounted to 51.2 million tons in 2003, which was 8.6% more than in 2002. Kazakhstan raised oil and gas condensate exports to 44.3 million tons in 2003, 13% higher than in 2002. Gas production in Kazakhstan in 2003 amounted to 13.9 billion cubic meters (491 billion cu. ft), up 22.7% compared to 2002, including natural gas production of 7.3 billion cubic meters (258 billion cu. ft); Kazakhstan holds about 4 billion tons of proven recoverable oil reserves and 2,000 cubic kilometers (480 cu mi) of gas. Industry analysts believe that planned expansion of oil production, coupled with the development of new fields, will enable the country to produce as much as 3 million barrels (477,000 m³) per day by 2015, lifting Kazakhstan into the ranks of the world's top 10 oil-producing nations. Kazakhstan's 2003 oil exports were valued at more than $7 billion, representing 65% of overall exports and 24% of the GDP. Major oil and gas fields and their recoverable oil reserves are Tengiz with 7 billion barrels (1.1 km³); Karachaganak with 8 billion barrels (1.3 km³) and 1,350 km³ of natural gas); and Kashagan with 7 to 9 billion barrels (1.1 to 1.4 km³).
Kazakhstan instituted an ambitious pension reform program in 1998. As of January 1, 2005, the pension assets were about $4.1 billion. There are 16 saving pension funds in the republic. The State Accumulating Pension Fund, the only state-owned fund, could be privatized as early as 2006. The country's unified financial regulatory agency oversees and regulates the pension funds. The pension funds' growing demand for quality investment outlets triggered rapid development of the debt securities market. Pension fund capital is being invested almost exclusively in corporate and government bonds, including Government of Kazakhstan Eurobonds. The Kazakhstani banking system is developing rapidly. The banking system's capitalization now exceeds $1 billion. The National Bank has introduced deposit insurance in its campaign to strengthen the banking sector. Several major foreign banks have branches in Kazakhstan, including ABN AMRO, Citibank, and HSBC.

Education

Education is universal and mandatory through to the secondary level and the adult literacy rate is 99.5%. Education consists of three main educational phases: primary education (forms 1–4), basic general education (forms 5–9) and senior level education (forms 10–11 or 12) divided into continued general education and professional education. (Primary education is preceded by one year of pre-school education.) These three levels of education can be followed in one institution or in different ones (e.g. primary school, then secondary school). Recently, several secondary schools, specialized schools, magnet schools, gymnasiums, lyceums, linguistic and technical gymnasiums, have been founded. Secondary professional education is offered in special professional or technical schools, lyceums or colleges and vocational schools.
At present, there are universities, academies, and institutes, conservatories, higher schools and higher colleges. There are three main levels: basic higher education that provides the fundamentals of the chosen field of study and leads to the award of the Bachelor's degree; specialized higher education after which students are awarded the Specialist's Diploma; and scientific-pedagogical higher education which leads to the Master's Degree. Postgraduate education leads to the Kandidat Nauk (Candidate of Sciences) and the Doctor of Sciences. With the adoption of the Laws on Education and on Higher Education, a private sector has been established and several private institutions have been licensed.

Culture

Before the Russian conquest, the Kazaks had a well-articulated culture based on their nomadic pastoral economy. Although Islam was introduced to most of the Kazaks in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the religion was not fully assimilated until much later. As a result, it coexisted with earlier elements of Tengriism. Traditional Kazak 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 Kazak culture.
Because animal husbandry was central to the Kazaks' traditional lifestyle, most of their nomadic practices and customs relate in some way to livestock. 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.
Kazakhstan has a large modern music following, evident in its participation in the western style- pop idol. Asiatic versions of the guitar prevail as popular musical instruments. One of the greatest performances of the Kazak pop idol involved a "freestyljo" remix using this Asiatic instrument. Kazaks are known for their love of music, dance and festival in general.

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