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Kazakhstan, which officially became a full Soviet socialist republic in 1936, was an important but often neglected place during Soviet times.

It was to Kazakhstan that Joseph Stalin exiled thousands of prisoners to some of his most brutal gulags.

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Given the emigration, Kazakhstan's ethnic make up is ever-changing.

For 1999 the best estimates were Kazakhs 46 percent, Russians 34.7 percent, Ukrainians 4.9 percent, Germans 3.1 percent, Uzbeks 2.3 percent, Tartar 1.9 percent, and others 7.1 percent.

It was also to Kazakhstan that he repatriated millions of people of all different ethnicities, in an effort to "collectivize" the Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan was also the site of the Soviet nuclear test programs and Nikita Khrushchev's ill-conceived "Virgin Lands" program.

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 lands leading up to the Caspian Sea in the west are below sea level and rich in oil.The historic Aral Sea is on Kazakhstan's southern border with Uzbekistan.There are three main theories as to why the move was made.The first theory contends that the move was for geopolitical, strategic reasons.It is located at the base of the Tien Shan Mountains in the far southeast near both China and Kyrgyzstan.

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