Kazakhstan is not a totally unfamiliar name to the average Thai, since it is occasionally mentioned in news reports, especially those concerning sports. One of the republics of the former Soviet Union, it is now the ninth largest country in the world with a land area five times that of Thailand's. It is a major oil exporter and thus one of the most prosperous countries in Central Asia.
But not much else is generally known about Kazakhstan here, despite the fact that it provides tens of thousands of visitors to the Land of Smiles each year.
Kazakhstan, which declared its independence in late 1991, shares its borders with two superpowers: Russia, its former Soviet Big Brother, and China. So far it has done a good job of maintaining a balance in its relations with both neighbours, thanks partly to long historical ties with the former that go back to the days of the czars and their empire; and also to the fact that its people share Asian characteristics with the Chinese, as well as with the Mongolians from whom they are believed to have branched off after Genghis Khan's vast territory was carved up among his sons and grandsons. At the same time, similar to the other "stans" farther south _ Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan plus two others which were never part of the USSR: Afghanistan and Pakistan _ Islam is the dominant faith in Kazakhstan. The second most popular religion there is Russian Orthodox Christianity.
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