ARTS AND LITERATURE
The best-known Kazakh writer is Ibrahim (Abay) Qunanbaev (1845-1904). A philosopher, poet and teacher, he brought together Kazakh and Russian traditions. Abay loved both Kazakh and Russian cultures. He translated Russian literature for Kazakhs. He also encouraged Kazakhs to preserve their cultural heritage while achieving progress by collaborating with the Russians.

 Before Qunanbaev started writing in Kazakh, stories were told in long musical poems. Singers called aqins still travel the country performing songs that can keep listeners fascinated for hours. Aitysy, (competitions between aqins) may last for days. The aqins sing from memory or make up verses as they go along. Sometimes the prize they compete for is a horse.

Olzhas Suleymenov is a modern Kazakh poet. Toward the end of the Soviet regime, he inspired people to join an anti-nuclear group. Millions of Kazakhstanis signed his group's petitions that stopped nuclear weapons testing in his country.

 Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist, was exiled to Semipalatinsk in northeastern Kazakhstan in the 1850s. He was befriended by a remarkable Kazakh writer, painter, scientist, soldier and spy. This many-talented man, Shokan Valikhanov, wrote about life in Central Asia as he travelled on military expeditions. He was the first person to write down an aqin's poetry.

Kazakh music is complex. Musicians play bagpipes, wooden harps and horns, the two-stringed dombira (like a lute) and the three-stringed qobiz (like a viola). Among the country's composers are Kurmangazy Zhybanov, admired for his classical works, and Mukan Tulebayev, whose folk music is beloved.

 For centuries Kazakhs have made carpets that are prized as works of art. These carpets are brightly-coloured and intricately designed. They feature flowers, birds and animals, as well as circles and other geometric shapes. Sometimes carpet makers weave little rugs just for children.

  Did you know?
The Golden Man is a 2500-year-old suit of armour that once belonged to a Scythian warrior. It is the country's most important ancient artifact and is housed in Almaty's Central Museum. Scythians were the first people in recorded history who fought on horseback using bows and arrows. They were a warlike nomadic tribe that lived in Central Asia in the first millennium B.C.