ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Stepping off the Aerosvitt jet at the Almaty International Airport at dawn, I was struck by the natural beauty of the region — it looked like a painting, with the snowcapped Tian Shan Mountains and forests stretching along the horizon. Elsewhere in the country are forests, lakes, canyons and prehistoric glaciers, the Times reports.
Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth-largest nation by size, and Saudi Aramco World says it’s five times the size of France:
“It stretches about 3000 kilometers (1875 mi) from the Altai Mountains in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west, and about 2000 kilometers (1250 mi) from the southern Ural Mountains in the north to the Tien Shan Mountains in the south.”
Kazakhstan was also an important part of the Silk Road that linked China to Europe, the New York Times says, and the country has “museum-quality ruins and architecture from the Middle Ages.”
The history of civilization in Kazakhstan goes as far back as the Iron Age, writes the magazine Saudi Aramco World. The earliest finds of archeologists indicate settlements in the steppe in the Neolithic and Late Neolithic periods (8000-2000 BC).
A significant number of the ancient caravan routes that linked China with the countries of the Near East and Europe, collectively known today as the Silk Roads, crossed Central Asia at various times from the third century BC all the way to the 19th century of our era.
All along the Silk Roads, towns and cities developed in whose noisy and colorful markets the din of dozens of languages could be heard. Archeologists in Kazakhstan continue to discover today coins, statues, vases, textiles, decorations and other artifacts that originated in India, Byzantium, Persia and China.
The first Kazakh state emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries, on the ruins of the Mongol empire.
In the colonial era, the great natural wealth of raw materials in the Kazakh lands attracted the Russian Empire. Kazakhstan, in addition, represented a tremendous market for Russian manufactured goods, offered “empty” territories for expansion, and lay on the route to the wealth of Samarkand and Bukhara and further to the India of legend.
Western visitors came in the 19th century, per the Times:
“William Moorcroft of the British East India Company, one of the first Westerners to visit the region in the 19th century, found the steppes exotic and lawless. His Russian rival, Mehkti Rafailov, had been escorted by a troop of Cossacks when he explored here.”
Now the visitors are businesspeople, who ski or explore the nature preserves on the outskirts of Almaty, the Times continues.