Area: 2 725 000 sq km
Date of independence: December 16, 1991
Ethnic groups: Kazakh (63 %), Russian (24 %), Uzbek (3 %)
Religion: Islam (70% of population)
The area of present day Kazakhstan was conquered by Russia in the 18th century. Later in 1936, Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic. Due to the vast territory of Kazakhstan, Soviet citizens were encouraged to cultivate northern parts of the country. Immigrants from Russia eventually outnumbered ethnic Kazakhs. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, large non-Muslim ethnic minorities left Kazakhstan, while the national program has repatriated about a million ethnic Kazakhs back to Kazakhstan. This dramatic demographic shift has also undermined the previous religious diversity and made the country more than 70 percent Muslim. Kazakhstan's economy is considerably larger than the other four Central Asian countries due to the country's large share of natural resources.
According to the organization Human Rights Watch, there has been no meaningful improvement to Kazakhstan's poor human rights record in 2018. Restrictions remain on peaceful protests, trade unions as well as on the work of civil society. Independent journalists, rights activists and opposition members or supporters are harassed, tortured or imprisoned under vague and politically motivated charges. These issues have gained increased attention following the shift of power in March 2019, when the country's long-serving first president Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned. Following his resignation, the parliament voted in favour of changing the name of the country’s capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan, in order to commemorate the first president. The senate chairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev assumed the position of interim president and was later re-elected to become president following the national elections in June 2019. What the change of power entails for the developments in Kazakhstan still remains to be seen.
Having ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as well as having adopted a constitution that guarantees equality before the law and courts together with a nationally coordinated gender equality Action Plan does not offer enough protection for women in Kazakhstan as they continue to face a widespread gender-based discrimination. Kazakhstan's anti-discrimination laws have failed to produce any prosecutions, and Kazakhstani NGOs have long called them insufficient to address gender inequality. The rise of non-consensual bride kidnapping is an increasing problem in Kazakhstan. The majority of young women who are kidnapped against their will, remain in these marriages to avoid the shame and stigma of returning home.
Kazakhstan highly restricts media freedoms. Independent journalists and media outlets face harassment and interference in their work, and outlets have been shut down in recent years such as Ratel.kz in 2018. The same year, Aset Mataev, an imprisoned journalist, was denied parole despite his eligibility after serving one third of his term. Problematic amendments to media and information law were adopted in April of 2018 empowering authorities to arbitrary and falsely detain journalists.
LGBT+ people in Kazakhstan live in a climate of fear fueled by harassment, discrimination, and violence. On the rare occasions when LGBT+ people report abuse, they often face indifference and hostility. Parliament passed bills that sought to introduce a broad ban on propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation, but final drafts were not made public and the end-stage of the legislative process was non-transparent.
Kazakhstan was the first to put forward the idea of creating the Eurasian Union back in 1994. From the very beginning, Kazakhstan wanted the Eurasian Union to be purely economic, without any political dimension despite its current view as a rather political tool of Russia. Together with Belarus and Russia, Kazakhstan signed a treaty establishing the Eurasian Economic Union in May, 2014. Today, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are also part of this regional club.