Kazakhstan Facts
Kazakhstan Facts

55 Interesting Facts about Kazakhstan

By Jill Bartholomew, Junior Writer
Published January 29, 2017
  • Stan is an ancient Persian word meaning “land” or “nation,” and Kazakh means “wanderer,” “adventurer,” or “outlaw.” Therefore, the name Kazakhstan translates as “Land of the Wanderers.”[15]
  • Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country by area in the world, but it has one of the lowest population densities at 6 people per square mile.[4]
  • The people who live in Kazakhstan represent more than 120 nationalities.[4]
  • Ancient Kazakhs were the first people in the world to domesticate and ride horses.[15]
  • Horsemeat is so essential to Kazakh cuisine that the Kazakh athletes begged the International Olympic Committee to be able to bring it to the 2012 Games in London.[5]
  • Prostitution is semi-legal in Kazakhstan.[11]
  • Interesting Yurta Fact
    The traditional Kazakh dwelling is called a yurta, which comes from the Kazakh word meaning “community,” “people,” or “family”
  • The traditional nomad home of the Kazakhs is known as a yurta. It is comprised of a collapsible tent, with a wooden frame, covered in felt. Its name comes from the Kazakh word meaning “community,” “people,” or “family.”[15]
  • When a Kazakh shooter won the gold medal at a 2012 international sporting competition in Kuwait, the organizers mistakenly played the theme music for the film Borat instead of the Kazakh national anthem. In the film, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen plays fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev.[7]
  • Kazakh men do not normally shake a woman’s hand in mixed company. Upon entering a room, they usually use both hands to shake hands with every other man in the room.[5]
  • Kazakhs believe that whistling a song inside a building will make you poor for the rest of your life.[5]
  • In 1989, agriculture production fell so low in Kazakhstan that the agricultural secretary of Kazakhstan proposed they fill meat quotas by killing millions of migrating wild ducks.[5]
  • Kazakhs officially celebrate three New Year holidays. January 1st is celebrated by the Gregorian calendar, Nauryz is celebrated on March 22 as the spring equinox, and January 14th is celebrated from Soviet times and is called the “Old New Year.”[2]
  • Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country but it still has a navy, which is based on the similarly landlocked Caspian Sea.[9]
  • There are 27,000 ancient monuments throughout Kazakhstan, including the Golden Man, a Scythian warrior clad in gold armor, which is also Kazakhstan’s most important archaeological find. The Golden Man may very well have been a woman.[13]
  • Kazakhstan’s traditional drink kumis has also been referred to as “milk champagne.” It is made from fermented mare’s milk and is believed to be a cure-all for everything from the common cold to tuberculosis. The Kazakhs living on the steppes also drink shubat, or fermented camel’s milk, which is supposed to have virucidal properties.[5]
  • Archaeological excavations conducted in Kazakhstan suggest it is the homeland of the Amazons, the brave tribe of female warriors. Historians have found evidence that Scythian women of the 7th to 3rd centuries B.C. did fight as warriors.[15]
  • Interesting Kazakhstan History Fact
    Archaeological excavations in Kazakhstan have found evidence to suggest it may be the homeland of the Amazons, or Scythian women who fought as warriors in the 7th to 3rd centuries B.C.

  • Kazakhs often serve different cuts of meat to guests as symbolism: the tongue is served to someone who should be more eloquent, and children get the ears to help them listen better.[6]
  • Out of the 110 elements from Mendeleev’s table of chemical elements, 99 have been detected in Kazakhstan.[12]
  • Kazakhstan has an unofficial taxi system. People wave on the street, cars stop, destination and price are discussed, and they go.[9]
  • Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan is one of the largest lakes in the world. One part of the lake contains fresh water, and the other is made up of salt water.[6]
  • The Kazakh word for “dog” is pronounced “eat.”[5]
  • Kazakhstan was one of the first Central Asian nations, outside Turkmenistan, to breed the Akhal-Teke horse in 1930. One of the oldest surviving domesticated equine breeds, these horses were first bred at least 3,000 years ago and used by conquerors from Persian King Darius I, to Alexander the Great, to Genghis Khan. They are known for their outstanding endurance.[1]
  • Kazakhstan has the main launch site for Soviet and Russian space exploration, the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It is the world’s oldest and largest operating space launch facility. Sputnik, the world’s first orbiting satellite, was launched from there in 1957, and the first manned spaceflight with Yuri Gagarin took off into space from there in 1961. There is actually a separate town called Baikonur a few hundred kilometers away from the Russian space center. The Soviets gave the center the same name to cause confusion and help protect its location.[9]
  • Interesting Baikonur Cosmodrome Fact
    Kazakhstan is home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s oldest and largest operating space launch facility
  • Following the end of the U.S.A.’s space shuttle program in 2010, Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is the world’s only launch site for human space flight, except for China’s Jiuquan Space Launch Center.[5]
  • The Soviet Union tested more than 500 nuclear devices between 1949 and 1989 at Semipalatinsk—now called Semey—in northeastern Kazakhstan, which equaled approximately 20,000 Hiroshima bombs.[13]
  • Kazakhstan became the first former Soviet republic to repay all of its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2000, 7 years before it was due.[13]
  • Kazakhstan is so large that the distance from one end to the other is about the same as from London to Istanbul.[9]
  • Kazakhstan is located in both Europe and Asia. The Ural River, which forms the traditional boundary between these continents, cuts through Kazakhstan in the west.[15]
  • The highest point in Kazakhstan is Khan Tengri of the Tian Shan mountain range. At 23,000 feet (7010 m), it is also the world’s most northern 7000-m peak. The lowest point in Kazakhstan is the bottom of the Karagiye Depression at 433 feet (132 m) below sea level. Located east of the Caspian Sea, it is one of the lowest elevations on Earth.[4]
  • One popular Kazakh game is called kokpar, literally “grabbing the dead goat.” It is a precursor to polo, where riders on horseback try to control a “ball,” which is the headless carcass of a goat or sheep.[2]
  • Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oil field is one of the largest in the world at 12 miles (19 km) wide and 13 miles (21 km) long, covering 970 square miles (2,500 sq km). It is also one of the largest discoveries in recent history and helps make oil the country’s number one export.[9]
  • Independent from the Soviet Union since 1991, Kazakhstan has had just one president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.[8]
  • Many native Kazakhs may descend from Mongol leader Genghis Khan, who in 1206 set about creating the largest, continuous land empire in the history of the world. Through his second son Chagatai, Genghis Khan conquered Kazakhstan in the early 1200s.[15]
  • Kazakhstan’s national dish is beshbarmak, which literally means “five fingers” because it is traditionally eaten using all five fingers. It is usually served in a large dish placed in the center of a table and involves large chunks of boiled horse meat or mutton, layered over noodles boiled in a broth called sorpa, and then topped with onions, garlic, parsley, and fennel.[2]
  • Apple trees originated in the mountains of Central Asia. Scientists believe that the first apple trees grew around Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, as far back as 20 million years ago. The name Almaty means “a place of apples.” Many wild apple trees still grow in parts of Kazakhstan.[9]
  • Interesting Apple Tree Fact
    Scientists believe that the first apple trees grew in Kazakhstan as far back as 20 million years ago

  • The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water in the world at 143,250 square miles (371,000 sq km) and it borders Kazakhstan on the west. It is rich in sturgeon, a fish prized for its world’s famous caviar.[15]
  • Kazakh and American women both got the right to vote on August 26, 1920.[10]
  • Russian dictator Josef Stalin located many of his gulags (prison camps) in Kazakhstan, and millions of prisoners were interred or died there, including Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who dared to criticize Stalin to a friend in a letter and who was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.[15]
  • Berkutchi, or hunting with eagles, is an ancient sport still practiced in Kazakhstan. Hunters train golden eagles or falcons to sight and capture such prey as rabbits, foxes, and smaller birds. The hunters are also called berkutchi and they believe they have to keep their first kill for one year to get good luck.[9]
  • A controversial Kazakh wedding tradition that still happens occasionally is alyp qashu, or bride-napping. The groom-to-be hires friends or relatives to bring the bride, with or without her consent, to his female relatives, where she is given a special neckerchief, which she must accept to show she consents to the marriage.[3]
  • The Medeo Sports Center, located near Almaty, Kazakhstan, boasts the highest skating rink in the world at 5,545 feet (1,690 m) above sea level. It also has a surface area as large as two football fields.[3]
  • Kazakh mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev was one of the world’s most famous mountaineers when he died in 1997 in an avalanche while attempting to summit Annapurna in the Himalayas. He holds the record for reaching the summit of all 7 peaks of the highest mountains on each continent in the world without supplemental oxygen. Boukreev was also one of the leaders of an expedition to Mt. Everest that turned tragic on May 10, 1996. Eight members of his expedition lost their lives, but he single-handedly saved three of the lost climbers.[3]
  • Snow leopards live in the mountains in eastern Kazakhstan. They are notoriously shy and may grow to 150 lbs (68 kgs). Kazakhs have long revered the animal for its bravery, independence, and intelligence. The snow leopard is considered a national symbol in Kazakhstan.[15]
  • Interesting Snow Leopard Facts
    Kazakhs have long revered the snow leopard as a symbol of bravery, independence, and intelligence, and today, the animals are very rare in the wild, with estimates ranging from 3,500 to 7,000

  • Many different species of lizards are found in Kazakhstan’s deserts, including the gray monitor lizard, the world’s largest lizard, which is found only in the Kyzlkum Desert.[3]
  • The Kazakh competition known as kyz kuu (Catch That Girl!) is a lively one, where a young man on horseback pursues a young woman riding ahead of him. She has to prevent him from getting ahead of her. If he draws near, she lashes him with a whip. He has to persist—and if he can’t catch up by a fixed point in the race, she gives him another lashing. However, if does he manage to overtake her, she has to kiss him as a reward.[3]
  • The United States was the first nation to recognize Kazakhstan as a sovereign state, shortly after it declared independence in December 1991.[3]
  • The golden eagle is one of Kazakhstan’s national symbols. Kazakhs revere it as a symbol of power and strength as it is a master of the skies. The female bird is actually larger than the male, measuring 3 feet (1 m) from beak to tail. The average bird has a wingspan of 7 feet (2 m). Golden eagles can also be found in the mountainous regions of the Western United States, Canada, and Mexico.[9]
  • Some Kazakhs still hold onto their traditional nomadic beliefs. For example, they believe that various animals, Earth, and celestial bodies such as the sun and moon are inhabited by the spirits of the dead.[9]
  • A time-honored Kazakh test of horsemanship is called kumis alu (Pick up the Coin). The goal is for a rider to gallop at top speed and, at the same time, pick up a silver coin from the ground. Kazakh legend says that Alexander the Great, after seeing an exhibition of kumis alu, was so impressed that he exclaimed the game could be used in the training of a warrior on horseback. Today, a white handkerchief is used instead of a coin.[9]
  • The King Arthur legend may have its roots in Kazakh history. In A.D. 175, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius sent a contingent of 5,500 Sarmatian cavalry to Britain from modern-day Hungary. Their commander was a Roman officer named Lucius Artorius Castus. The Sarmatians were direct descents of the Kazakh Scythians, and it was known they wore Kazakh-style trousers instead of Roman or Celtic tunics. The Welsh name Artyr could also come from Artorius.[11]
  • Each year in the traditional Kazakh calendar is named after an animal, such as Year of the Sheep, Year of the Horse, the Dog, Snake, Pig, etc. The calendar begins with the Year of the Mouse because a Kazakh folk tale says that the mouse was able to climb on the other animals’ backs and was the first to see the sun.[9]
  • The legendary Russian hero Timur-i-Leng, or Tamerlane, at one time in the 14th century ruled most of Kazakhstan. He walked with a pronounced limp after a fall from a horse in 1363, which left him disabled in his right leg. He also lost two fingers during one battle.[7]
  • Interesting Kazakhstan Flag Fact
    The sun in Kazakhstan’s national flag has 32 beams, which symbolize progress and prosperity
  • The sun in the flag of Kazakhstan has 32 beams, which symbolize progress and prosperity.[3]
  • When the Kazakh khanate split into three groups in the mid-1400s, each group was called zhus, which literally translates as “hundred.” The Russian translation for zhus is orda, meaning “horde.” Kazakhs still count themselves as members of hordes today, with further divisions into ethnic groups, family clans, and family units.[3]
  • Kazakh is a Turkic language that contains many words from Russian and Arabic, as well as Mongol, Persian, and other Turkic languages. It was not written down until the 1860s, using the Arabic script. In 1940, the Cyrillic alphabet, used in Russian, was adopted along with some extra symbols to write Kazakh.[3]
  • Important Dates[3][7][9][14]
    DateEvents
    13000 B.C.Prehistoric peoples settle in Kazakhstan.
    8000Ancient Kazakhs learn to tame, train, and ride wild horses.
    600Scythian culture emerges in Kazakhstan.
    A.D. 1st centuryCentral Asia is settled by Turkic-speaking and Mongol tribes.
    400Huns invade Kazakhstan.
    8th–9th centuriesArabic Kara-khanid Turks conquer parts of Kazakhstan and introduce Islam to the area.
    11th-12th centuriesTribal powers fight among themselves for control of the region.
    1130sKhitans invade Kazakhstan from northern China.
    1219–1224Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes invade Kazakhstan and Central Asia.
    1258Berke Khan establishes Islam as the official religion of the Golden Horde, in northern and western Afghanistan.
    1370sTimur-i-Leng (Tamerlane) begins to build his empire in Central Asia, which includes Kazakhstan.
    1500sKazakhs emerge as a recognizable group. They break away from the Uzbek Khanate and create three new groupings: Great, Middle, and Lesser Hordes.
    1600s–1700sDzungar people from China invade Kazakhstan.
    Early 1700sKazakhs ask Russians for protection from Dzungars.
    1645Russians set up an outpost on the north coast of the Caspian Sea.
    1720sRussian soldiers begin arriving in Kazakhstan.
    18th–19th centuriesRussians take firm control of Kazakh tribes.
    19th centuryThe three hordes are abolished; Russians establish military rule.
    1837First revolt against the Russians is led by Khan Kene.
    1847Khan Kene is killed.
    1906-1912Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian farmers settled Kazakh lands.
    1916Kazakhs resist Russian attempt to recruit them to fight against Germany in World War I.
    1918–1920Kazakhstan’s Alash Orda Party sides with the Russian White Army to defeat the Communist Red Army.
    1920Kazakhstan becomes an autonomous republic of the USSR. Soviets name Alma-Ata the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan.
    1929Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov discovers that the apple tree originated in the forests near Alma-Ata, now Almaty.
    Late 1920s–1930sSoviets collectivize agriculture. Kazakh nomadic lifestyle is discouraged, and more than 1 million Kazakhs and most of the country’s livestock die.
    19361936
    1940sJosef Stalin forcibly resettles political dissidents, Koreans, Crimean Tatars, Germans, and others to prison camps in Kazakhstan.
    1949First nuclear test explosion is conducted at Semipalatinsk.
    1954–1965Nikita Khrushchev initiates his Virgin Lands Initiative and plants Kazakhstan’s steppes with wheat.
    1955Soviets build Baikonur Cosmodrome.
    1962Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn publishes his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, based on his experiences in a Kazakh prison camp.
    1969Archaeologists find the grave of the Golden Man, a Scythian warrior, in Kazakhstan.
    1989Nursultan Nazarbayev is made head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK).
    1991Kazakhstan declares its independence and joins the Commonwealth of Independent States.
    1992Kazakhstan joins the United Nations.
    1993Kazakhs adopt a new constitution. Kazakh is made the state language, although Russian remains the language used in everyday communication.
    1997Nazarbayev moves the capital from Almaty to Akmola, and it is later renamed Astana.
    2001Major oil pipeline begins transporting oil from Tengiz oil field to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. Nazarbayev and President George W. Bush declare a commitment to a long-term, strategic partnership. Kazakhstan offers its support to the U.S. in its war against terrorism.
    2006Kazakhstan adopts a new national anthem, “Mening Qazaqstanym” (“My Kazakhstan”). Kazakhstan launches its first communications satellite.
    2007Nazarbayev wins re-election and squashes the Democratic Choice Party, which had come about to challenge him.
    2009Kazakh section of a natural gas pipeline linking the country to China is unveiled.
References

1Akhal-Teke.” International Museum of the Horse. Accessed June 24, 2015. Last updated June 2001.

2Brummell, Paul. Kazakhstan (Bradt Travel Guides). 2nd ed. Chalfont St. Peters, UK: Bradt Travel Guides, 2011.

3Kazakhstan (Countries of the World). Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2005.

4Kazakhstan” (The World Factbook)." Central Intelligence Agency. 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015.

5Kramer, Melody Joy. “Separate Kazakhstan Fact from Fiction.” NPR. October 16, 2006. Accessed June 24, 2015.

6Mayhew, Bradley et al. Central Asia (Lonely Planet). Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2010.

7----. Central Asia (Lonely Planet). Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2014.

8Olcott, Martha Brill. Kazakhstan: Unfulfilled Promise. Washington D.C.: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002.

9Pang, Guek-Chang. Kazakhstan (Cultures of the World). Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2011.

10Radosh, Daniel. “The Borat Doctrine.” September 20, 2004. Accessed June 24, 2015, The New Yorker.

11Robbins, Christopher. Apples Are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared. New York, NY: Atlas & Co., 2008.

12Russia and Newly Independent States (NIS) Mineral and Mining Section Investment and Business Guide, Vol. 2. 2011. Washington D.C.: U.S. International Business Publications.

13Taylor, Jerome. “Kazakhstan: Steppe by Step.” The Independent (UK). August 16, 2008. Accessed June 24, 2015.

14Timeline Kazakhstan.” BBC News. Updated January 31, 2012. Accessed June 24, 2015.

15Waters, Bella. Kazakhstan in Pictures (Visual Geography Series). Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2007.

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