According to COUNTRYAAH, Kazakhstan can be geographically divided into four main areas: the Kyrgyz steppes in the northwest, the highlands in the northeast, the lowlands north of the Aral Sea and northeast of the Caspian Sea in the south, and the mountain areas on the border with Kyrgyzstan and China in the southeast.
The Kirgiz steppe is on the whole a low lying area with black soils to the north and chestnut soils further south. The area, like most of Kazakhstan, has a marked continental climate. The Astrachan, just outside the area, in the Russian Federation, has an average temperature in January of −7 ° C and in July of 25 ° C; the annual rainfall is only 150 mm. The area, which was originally overgrown by a sparse steppe vegetation, was subjected to cultivation attempts in the 1950s. The erosion of the vegetation-covered steppe led to increased evaporation and dehydration. Within 15 years, 3 million ha were transferred to naked sand.
The highlands of Kazakhstan occupy most of the Republic’s surface. The area is on the whole a pen plane, where the Paleozoic bedrock had already broken down at the beginning of the Triassic into a slightly undulating plain. Vegetation is predominantly grassland in the north and peninsula in the south.
Even drier are the lowlands in the south, where the annual rainfall can be less than 100 mm. The irrigation around Syr-Darja is one of the causes of the Aral Sea’s catastrophically sinking water level.
The mountain areas in the south-east have metamorphic and pleated bedrock. in Altaj with peaks exceeding 3,000 m. wolf, brown bear and snow leopard. In this area is also the country’s largest city Alma-Ata, whose name, ‘the father of apples’, testifies to an important garden culture.
There are three national parks in Kazakhstan. The largest are Altun Emel and Ele Alatau, both of which became national parks in 1996. Several other nature-protected areas are considerably larger, among other things. Andasaysky, Alma-Atinskij in the mountains near the capital, and Pribalchashsky on Lake Balchasj.
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The constitutional changes of 2007 reduced the duration of the presidential mandate to 5 years and removed the maximum limit of mandates, allowing President Nursultan Nazarbaev – in office since the country’s independence in 1991 – could reapply for life. With the reform, single-member constituencies were also eliminated in the election of the lower house and a proportional system was introduced on a national scale. In the elections of 18 August 2007, the dominant Nur otan (NO) party obtained 88.40% of the votes, winning all 98 elective seats of the Mazhilis – Lower House of Parliament – while the opposition lists did not reach the 7% threshold and did not participate in the indirect Senate elections in October 2008.
In 2009 Nazarbaev rejected the proposal for a lifetime presidency, but a 2010 constitutional amendment granted him the title of Elbasy (leader of the nation), immunity from prosecution and the inviolability of his family’s property. In January 2011, at the request of the president, the Constitutional Council blocked the Parliament’s proposal to hold a referendum to extend Nazarbaev’s current mandate to 2020, which was however reconfirmed on April 3, 2011 with 95.55% of the votes in a ‘ election boycotted by the opposition. Furthermore, NO won all 16 seats for the partial renewal of the Senate in August 2011.
During 2011, Kazakhstan was shaken by a series of jihadist attacks and the government adopted strict measures to combat extremism: from October 2011 a law on the control of religious organizations became operational, anti-terrorism measures were strengthened and repressed the oppositions.
In December 2011, some protests by oil workers from Zhanaozen degenerated into violent clashes between demonstrators and police forces with a death toll of 16 and a hundred injured; resulting in a further tightening of the regime and the proclamation of a state of emergency. In January 2012, early elections were called which were won by NO (80.99% of the preferences and 83 seats), but saw the entry into Parliament of two minor formations: the Ak zhol democrats with 8 seats and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan with 7. On April 2, 2014 Karim Masimov returned to the post of prime minister – already exercised between January 2007 and September 2012 – replacing Serik Akhmetov.
The strict control over the media, the Internet and the work of civil society organizations continued, as did the restrictions on the opposition, both in Kazakhstan and abroad. The case of the exiled dissident Muxtar Äblyazov, whose family was extradited from Rome in May 2013 in a controversial Italian police operation, had a particular international echo in this regard. On the political front, after ousting the powerful son-in-law Rakhat Aliev and ruling out possible dynastic succession involving the three daughters, Nazarbaev remained in power without defining a successor.
In foreign policy, Kazakhstan maintained good relations with the countries of the European Union and the United States, logistically supporting operations in Afghānistān and expanding exchanges and supplies of hydrocarbons. Although criticized for the impasse in the democratic development process, the country also obtained the rotating presidency of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) in 2010 and improved relations with Turkey, with which in 2009 it created the Turkish Council (which also includes Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan). Kazakhstan also intensified trade and energy exchanges with China, with which he inaugurated the Central Asia-China gas pipeline in 2009, while maintaining its commitment to SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), CSI (Commonwealth of Independent States), EurAsEC (EurAsian Economic Community), CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and improving relations with Russia by joining the Eurasian Customs Union (2010) and the Eurasian Union (2014).
Astana, 1961-92 Tselinograd, 1992-98 Akmola, the capital of Kazakhstan; 835,200 residents (2014). The name means ‘capital’ in Kazakh. The city replaced Almaty (formerly Alma Ata) as its capital in 1997; since then it has been characterized by economic and population growth and great construction activity. The original city is on the right bank of the river Ishim (tributary to Irtysh), but new neighborhoods have been shot up on the left bank.
Founded by Cossacks in 1830, the town was under the name of the Akmolinsk trade and service town for a huge and quite fertile steppe area. The fact that the city, located 900 km NW of Almaty, was designated as the capital, must include: is seen as a desire to bring Kazakhstan closer to Russia and Europe. Astana is a major railway hub with a 1990 railway station and connections to the rest of Central Asia, China and Russia.