Kazakhstan consists of a vast flatland, bordered by a high mountain belt in the southeast. It extends nearly 2,000 mi (3,200 km) from the lower Volga and the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mts. in the east. It is largely lowland in the north and west (W Siberian, Caspian, and Turan lowlands), hilly in the center (Kazakh Hills), and mountainous in the south and east (Tian Shan and Altai ranges). Kazakhstan is a region of inland drainage; the Syr Darya, the Ili, the Chu, and other rivers drain into the Aral Sea and Lake Balkash. Most of the region is desert or has limited and irregular rainfall.
More than 60% of the population of Kazakhstan are Kazakhs, who are historically Muslim, while about 23% are Russians, many of whom belong to the Russian Orthodox Church; there are smaller minorities of Tatars, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Uigurs, Germans, and others. Kazakh, a Turkic language and the official language under the constitution, and Russian, the country's most common language and widely used in business, are both used officially. There is considerable friction between the now dominant Kazakhs and the formerly favored ethnic Russians, who continue to emigrate in large numbers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.