History From the fourth century AD, the territory of Kazakhstan was ruled by a series of nomadic nations. Following the Mongolian invasion in the early 13th century, administrative districts established under the Mongol Empire formed territories of the Kazakh Khanate. Native Kazakhs, a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated into the region, were then rarely united as a single nation. The area was conquered by Russia in the 18th century. Although there was a brief period of autonomy following the collapse of the Russian Empire, the Kazakhs eventually succumbed to Soviet rule. In 1920, the area of present-day Kazakhstan became an autonomous republic within Russia and, in 1936, became the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Soviet repression of the traditional elites, along with forced collectivization in late 1920s-1930s, brought mass hunger and led to unrest. Kazakhstan experienced population inflows of thousands exiled from other parts of the Soviet Union during the 1930s and later became home for hundreds of thousands evacuated from the Second World War battlefields. The Kazakh SSR contributed five national divisions to the Soviet Union"s World War II effort. The period of the Second World War marked an increase in industrialization and increased mineral extraction in support of the war effort. Kazakhstan had an overwhelmingly agricultural-based economy. In 1953, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev initiated the "Virgin Lands" program to turn the traditional pasturelands into a major grain-producing region for the Soviet Union. The policy, along with later modernizations under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, sped up the development of the agricultural sector, which to this day remains the source of livelihood for a large percentage of Kazakhstan"s population. During the 1950s and 1960s, Soviet citizens were encouraged to help cultivate Kazakhstan"s northern pastures under the "Virgin Lands" program. This caused an influx of immigrants (mostly Russians and some other deported nationalities) which skewed the ethnic mixture and enabled non-Kazakhs to outnumber natives. In the waning days of Soviet rule, discontent continued to grow. Under the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev"s policy of glasnost and riding on the groundswell of Soviet republics seeking greater autonomy, Kazakhstan declared its sovereignty as a republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in October 1990. Following the August 1991 abortive coup attempt in Moscow and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared independence on 16 December 1991. Geography Kazakhstan is located in central Asia, northwest of China; a small portion west of the Ural River lies in eastern-most Europe. It is bordered by Russia (with border length 6,846 km), Uzbekistan (2,203 km.), China (1,533 km), Kyrgyzstan (1,051 km) and Turkmenistan (379 km). Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest nation in the world, in terms of geographical area, with an area of 2.7 million sq. km. (1.56 million sq. mi.). It is equivalent to the size of Western Europe. Kazakhstan is located deep within the Asian continent, with coastline only on the landlocked Caspian Sea. The proximity of unstable countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan to the west and south further isolates Kazakhstan. The terrain extends east to west from the Caspian Sea to the Altay Mountains and north to south from the plains of Western Siberia to the oasis and desert of Central Asia. Political System Kazakhstan is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency. The president is the head of state and also the commander in chief of the armed forces. He may veto legislation that has been passed by the Parliament. The prime minister, who serves at the pleasure of the president, chairs the Cabinet of Ministers and serves as Kazakhstan"s head of government. There are three deputy prime ministers and 16 ministers in the Cabinet. Kazakhstan has a bicameral Parliament, comprised of the lower house (the Mazhilis) and upper house (the Senate). Single mandate districts popularly elect 67 seats in the Mazhilis; there also are 10 members elected by party-list vote rather than by single mandate districts. The Senate has 39 members. Two senators are selected by each of the elected assemblies (Maslikhats) of Kazakhstan"s 16 principal administrative divisions (14 regions, or oblasts, plus the cities of Astana and Almaty). The president appoints the remaining seven senators. Mazhilis deputies and the government both have the right of legislative initiative, though the government proposes most legislation considered by the Parliament.