Documentary Photographer Francesca Cao is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the project ‘THE LION OF CENTRAL ASIA’To see Francesca’s body of work, click on any image.





Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world.  Its history begins with the nomads in the steppe until the Russian invasion in 1890, which persists until the fall of the Soviet Union and the election of president Nazarbayev in 1991, who declares the Republic of Kazakhstan, and was reconfirmed on April 2011.

In the past twenty-eight years, everything changed for Kazakh people. The fall of the Soviet Union in fact had many hard consequences on the population, as it was totally depending on the central economy.

In 1997 Nazarbaev moved the capital from Almaty to Astana,  which at the time was just a village.  Today Astana is luxurious city.

In a famous speech he declared that Kazakhstan was going to become “The Lion of Central Asia”, meaning that it would lead the countries around it.





A huge amount of money was used for the new city. High profiled architects such as Norman Foster, were called to construct, among skyscrapers and buildings of any kind, the palace of peace and reconciliation, a huge pyramid that hosted the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, and the Bayterek building, a giant lollipop shaped building that symbolizes the capital.

The people who live in the city, are mostly under 40 years old, so is the majority of the parliament members and the large part of the leading establishment of the country’s economy.

On the other side of the country, on the coast that overlooks the black gold buried under the Caspian sea, where there is the on shore base of the island D, the platform that drills the Kashagan oil deposit, there are few villages that where used during the Russian invasion first, and by the Soviets later, to exile the politic opponents.

Not far from here Asiya Kesikbaev and Sampe Gulbarshyn live.

Her husband repudiated Asiya who, after the death of her newborn child, sleeps in the basement of her mother’s building and begs for food in the factories nearby. Sampe lives alone in a village once named Karagan, where all the inhabitants have left to work in the oil business, surviving with her animals in the cold without electricity, heating her home with dried manure.

80 kilometers from the city of Atyrau, in the middle of the Caspian sea, there is an artificial atoll called Island D: one of the rare examples of artificial Island built to drill oil and gas from the Kashagan’s field, considered to be one of the biggest oil discoveries of the past thirty years.

On board there are workers from more than a hundred different nations that live in a restricted space from two weeks to six months.

The purpose of the project is to show the development of Kazakhstan through the contrasts raised by the quick growth of the country, ensuing from the oil discoveries, that don’t consider those who are cut out from the wealth.




All images and text © Francesca Cao



See also:


Book By Francesca Cao





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