32 interesting facts about Kazakhstan

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From a sport with a headless goat to a rich history of space exploration, these are the most interesting facts about Kazakhstan.

A rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome
Space travel is one of the most interesting facts about Kazakhstan (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Kazakhstan
Capital city: Nur-Sultan (Astana)
Population: 19,091,949
Area: 2,724,900 sq km
Major languages: Kazakh, Russian
Time zone: UTC+5 / +6
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Kazakhstan

1. Kazakhstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia. Landlocked countries are completely surrounded by land and do not have access to the open sea. Currently, there are 45 landlocked countries in the world as well as five partially recognised nations.
– Source: CIA World FactbookThe Telegraph

2. Kazakhstan has been inhabited for thousands of years by nomadic peoples. Over 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) have been discovered dating from around 2000BC at the UNESCO-listed site of Tamgaly.
– Source: UNESCO

3. Kazakhstan was invaded by Genghis Khan and his Mongol tribes between 1219-24.
– Source: BBC News

4. From the 18th century, Kazakhstan was ruled by Russia. In 1920 it became part of the USSR.
– Source: Britannica

5. In 1991, Kazakhstan declared independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union and joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
– Source: BBC News

Map of Kazakhstan
Several interesting facts about Kazakhstan are related to its geography (Shutterstock)

6. Kazakhstan is the world’s 9th largest country when measured by total surface area.
– Source: World Bank

7. As such, Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country.
– Source: Guinness World Records

8. It is also the largest of the former Soviet republics, excluding Russia.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

9. Despite being landlocked, Kazakhstan has a navy which is based on the landlocked Caspian Sea. The Caspian sea is also bordered by Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
– Source: The Economist

10. The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest inland body of water. At 386,400 sq km, it is larger than the area of Japan.
– Source: Britannica

The Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea (Shutterstock)

11. Kazakhstan can be literally translated as “land of the wanderers”. The name “Kazakh” comes from the ancient Turkic word qaz which mean “to wander”. The term “Cossack” is of the same origin. The Persian suffix -stan means “land”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

12. Kazakhstan is rich in mineral resources. More than 99 elements of Mendeleyeev’s periodic table can be found in the country.
– Source: Taylor & Francis Online (journal), CIA World Fact Book

13. Kazakhstan also has vast oil reserves and is the world’s ninth-largest crude oil exporter.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

14. The USSR conducted 456 nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk Polygon in Kazakhstan from 1949 to 1989.
– Source: Reuters

15. Following independence, Kazakhstan was ruled by the same president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, for nearly 30 years.
– Source: BBC News

16. Kazakhstan renamed its capital city Astana to Nur-Sultan in honour of Nur-Sultan Nazarbayev, after he finally stepped down, aged 78, in 2019.
– Source: BBC News

Kazakhstan's capital Nur-Sultan
Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan used to be called Astana (Shutterstock)

17. Kymyz (fermented mare’s milk) is a popular mildly alcoholic drink in Kazakhstan. Shubat (fermented camel’s milk) is also available to buy.
– Source: Lonely Planet

18. It is believed that apples originated in Kazakhstan. The city of Almaty, which means ‘father of apples’ in Kazakh, has long-claimed the honour of being the birthplace of the apple which was recently confirmed by DNA tests.
– Source: The Telegraph

19. Kazakhstan is home to part of the Eurasian Steppe (sometimes called The Steppe), the largest grassland in the world. It extends from Hungary to China and reaches almost one-fifth of the way around the Earth.
– Source: National Geographic

20. The historic Silk Road, the ancient trading route that connected China with Europe and the Middle East, runs through Kazakhstan. A network of Silk Road sites comprises one of the country’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
– Source: UNESCO

21. The flag of Kazakhstan has a light blue background which represents the “Blue Horde” Turkic-Mongol people who used to fly the “Blue Banner” as well as the great skies under which the nomadic people have lived. In the centre is a golden sun and eagle which stand for the freedom and high ideals of the Kazakh people. Finally, along the edge of the flag is a band of traditional Kazakh ornamentation. 
– Source: Britannica

The flag of Kazakhstan
The flag of Kazakhstan (Shutterstock)

22. Kazakhstan is the birthplace of Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional character in the 2006 satirical movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The film is widely considered the highest-grossing mockumentary of all time although it also caused some controversy.
– Source: BBC Culture

23. In 2012, the film’s ‘fake’ comedy national anthem was played at an official medal ceremony instead of the real one. The false anthem praises Kazakhstan’s prostitutes and contains the line “Kazakhstan, greatest country in the world, all other countries are run by little girls”.
– Source: The Atlantic

24. Famed Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment and The Idiot) lived in Kazakhstan from 1857 to 1859 while he was in exile. His house in the city of Semey is now a museum.
– Source: Lonely Planet

25. The world’s tallest chimney is in Kazakhstan. The GRES-2 Power Station chimney at Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan, is reputed to be the tallest in the world at 419m (1,377ft).
– Source: BBC News

26. In Kazakhstan, the ancient nomadic game known as kokpar (roughly translated as “goat-grabbing”) is played by two teams of horseback riders (similar to polo) compete over a headless, freshly slaughtered goat. The sport is believed to have originated with Genghis Khan in the 13th-century.
– Source: The Guardian

Horsemen playing kokpar with a headless goat
Horsemen playing kokpar with a headless goat (Shutterstock)

27. Horseriding is significant in Kazakh culture which also includes the traditional sport of kyz kuu, which translates as “girl chasing”. The sport is basically a form of “kiss chase” on horseback. A woman sets off on a horse chased by a group of men, also on horseback. The aim of the game is to catch the girl and kiss her while both are still at full gallop.
– Source: The Independent

28. Horsemeat is a big part of Kazakh cuisine. Kazakhstan’s Olympic Games team even specially shipped their own horsemeat to the London 2012 Olympic Games. They also imported Caspian Sea caviar.
– Source: The Atlantic

29. In 2015, a mysterious disease killed 200,000 critically endangered saiga antelope n Kazakhstan. The mass die-off has left only around 100,000 saiga alive in the world.
– Source: National Geographic

30. Kazakhstan is the world’s leading producer of uranium, the heavy metal used widely in nuclear energy production.
– Source: World Nuclear Association

31. The first man in space and the first satellite were both launched from Kazakhstan. The Baikonur Cosmodrome was where Sputnik 1, Earth’s first artificial satellite, was launched in 1957. The rocket that took Yuri Gagarin, the first human in orbit, was also launched from Baikonur in 1961. The launch complex is still in use today.
– Source: NASA

A rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome
A rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome (Shutterstock)

32. Snow leopards can be found in Kazakhstan. The notoriously hard to spot endangered species – known as the “ghost of the mountains” – is an official symbol of Kazakhstan. Only around 7,500 remain in the wild with only about 150 believed to be in Kazakhstan.
– Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

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