Kazakhstan was originally inhabited by nomadic tribes. In the 13th century the land was invaded by the Mongol Empire and became territories of the Kazakh Khenate.
During the 19th century, however, the vast Russian empire started to expand in Central Asia, ruling most of the countries in the region, including most parts of Kazakhstan which the Russians finally colonized. In October 1991, Kazakhstan declared its sovereignty as member of the Union of Socialist Republics, and its independence from Russia on December 16, 1991.
Kazakhs, probably more than any other Central Asian people, show the impact of nearly two centuries of close contact with Russians. Unlike its neighbors, Kazakhs look more to Russia than to Islamic countries for inspiration in the post-Soviet period. At the same time, Kazakh scholars and other intellectuals actively work to reclaim Kazakh traditions and distinctive ways of life, including the literary and spoken language of a people whose experience emphasized Russian culture, literature, language, and ways thinking.
Women and men in Kazakhstan tend to wear modern clothing, but the women of remote villages continue to wear traditional dresses and head scarves. Kazakh-made carpets are a common sight, and less-Russified Kazakhs often decorate their homes with qoshmas, bright-colored felt rugs.
Kazakhstan has a number of modern theaters and offers Uighur, Korean, and Russian musicals, opera, ballet, and puppet performers. Cinemas and art schools, dance ensembles, and music groups are active.
The Kazakhs, a Turkic people ethnically tied to the Uighur people of western China and similar appearance to Mongolians, emerged in 1991 from over sixty years of life behind the Iron Curtain.
The population of Kazakhstan is estimated at 18,776,707 in 2019.
Fewer than one-fifth of the more than eight million ethnic Kazakhs live outside Kazakhstan, mainly in Uzbekistan and Russia. During the 19th century about 400 000 Russians flooded into Kazakhstan, and these were supplemented by about a million Slavs, Germans, Jews, and others who immigrated to the region during the first third of the 20th century.
Kazakhs speak a Turkic language of the Northwest or Kipchak group. Russian, an official language, functions widely alongside Kazakh, which is the state language. Russian is the most widely understood language in the country.
Islam is the most commonly practiced religion in Kazakhstan. It was introduced to the region during the 8th century by the Arabs. Traditionally ethnic Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims who mainly follow the hanafi school. Kazakhs including other ethnic groups of Muslim background make up over 90 % of all Muslims. About one-fourth of the population is Eastern Orthodox.