|Map of Kazakhstan|
Kazakhstan (i// or //; Kazakh: Қазақстан Qazaqstan, pronounced [qɑzɑqstɑ́n]; Russian: Казахстан [kəzɐxˈstan]), officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a contiguous transcontinental country in Central Asia, with its smaller part west of the Ural River in Eastern Europe. Kazakhstan is the world's largestlandlocked country by land area and the ninth largest country in the world; its territory of 2,727,300 square kilometres (1,053,000 sq mi) is larger than Western Europe. It has borders with (clockwise from the north) Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, andTurkmenistan, and also adjoins a large part of the Caspian Sea. The terrain of Kazakhstan includes flatlands, steppe, taiga, rock canyons, hills, deltas, snow-capped mountains, and deserts. With 17 million people (2013 estimate) Kazakhstan has the62nd largest population in the world, though its population density is less than 6 people per square kilometre (15 per sq. mi.). The capital is Astana (previously Almaty).
The territory of Kazakhstan has historically been inhabited by nomadic tribes. By the 16th century, the Kazakhs emerged as a distinct group, divided into three jüz (ancestor branches occupying specific territories). The Russians began advancing into the Kazakh steppe in the 18th century, and by the mid-19th century all of Kazakhstan was part of theRussian 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 Soviet Union.
Kazakhstan was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence following thedissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991; the current President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been leader of the country since 1990. Nazarbayev maintains strict control over the country's politics. Since independence, Kazakhstan has pursued a balancedforeign policy and worked to develop its economy, especially its hydrocarbon industry.
Kazakhstan is ethnically and culturally diverse, in part due[clarification needed] to mass deportations of many ethnic groups to the country during Joseph Stalin's rule. Kazakhstan has a population of 16.6 million, with 131 ethnicities, including Kazakh,Russian, Ukrainian, German, Uzbek, Tatar, and Uyghur. Around 63% of the population are Kazakhs. Kazakhstan allows freedom of religion. It is a very tolerant country to religions like Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. Islam is the religion of about 70% and Christianity is practiced by 26% of the population. The Kazakh language is the state language and Russian has the official status, equal to that of the Kazakh language when used in documentation of all levels.