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Five nations border current-day Kazakhstan: China to the east; Russia to the north; the Caspian Sea to the west; and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan to the south.
A pair of beautiful mountain ranges, the Altay and the Tien Shan, with peaks nearly as high as 22,966 feet (7,000 meters), runs along Kazakhstan's southeastern border.
A census taken just after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 indicated a population of more than 17 million.
The decreasing nature of Kazakhstan's population (-.09 percent in 1999) is due, in part, to low birth-rates and mass emigration by non-Kazakhs, mainly Russians and Germans (Kazakhstan's net migration rate was -7.73 migrants per 1,000 people in 1999).
Many observers predict that continued emigration by non-Kazakhs and encouraged higher birthrates of Kazakhs by the government will lead to Kazakhs increasing their numbers relative to other ethnicities in Kazakhstan. Language is one of the most contentious issues in Kazakhstan.
While many countries have used a common language to unite disparate ethnic communities, Kazakhstan has not been able to do so.
The capital of Kazakhstan was moved in 1996 to Astana, in the north-central part of the country far from any of Kazakhstan's borders.
The former capital, Almaty, is still the largest city and most important financial and cultural center.
The process of shedding the Soviet Union and starting anew as the democratic Republic of Kazakhstan is made difficult by the fact that a large percentage of Kazakhstan is not Kazakh.
There are beautiful parts of Kazakhstan, with lakes and mountains that would rival many tourist destinations in the world.
There are also parts of Kazakhstan that are flat and barren, making it seem at times like a forsaken place.
The picture is further complicated by the fact that many Kazakhs and non-Kazakhs are struggling (out of work and living below the poverty level).
Democracy and independence have been hard sells to a people who grew accustomed to the comforts and security of Soviet life. Kazakhstan, approximately 1 million square miles (2,717,300 square kilometers) in size, is in Central Asia, along the historic Silk Road that connected Europe with China more than two thousand years ago.