Overview

Astana is the current capital of the nation of Kazakhstan, an ex-Soviet nation which lies almost in the absolute center of the landmass that is Asia. Formerly a colonial conquest of Russia, the city seceded during the last days of the USSR with the rest of what was to become Kazakhstan. Like many cities associated with Russia, Astana has had many names in its past. From its founding in 1824 until 1961 the city was called Akmolinsk. After 1961 the city had its name changed several times, to Tselinograd (meaning “City of the Virgin Lands”) from 1961 to 1992, to Aqmola (meaning “White Grave”) from 1992 to 1998 and finally to Astana (meaning “Capital”) up until the present.

Much of the population is employed by the railways that dominate the city and connect China and Russia with the rest of the region, but light industry and agriculture are also mainstays of the Astana economy. The city has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years, with the population exploding up to 520,000 by the year 2000 (from an estimated 250,000 in 1995.). The current public works have invigorated the city and helped it in the bid to become a political center of the region.

History

Astana was first established as a Russian military outpost in 1824, as just one of the many in the chain made to support the Russian push towards the Indian Ocean. The outpost was not founded on any known old city or settlement, as the majority of the population prior to the Russia colonial push was of the nomadic Kazakh tribes who were descendents of the Mongol conquerors of the region. The site would quickly become an official town, by 1862, and then the administrative center of the region known as Akmolinsk, formally achieving that rank in 1868.

By 1939 the population had swelled to over 33,000 people and the city was made an oblast, or provincial center. But Astana was still a sleepy mining town with little or no use made of the massive amount of arable lands that surrounded it. During the height of the Soviet period, starting with Khrushchev’s, “Virgin and Idle Lands Campaign”, the city was the scene of a massive influx of colonists from the rest of Russia. It was during this time that Astana was made the capital of the entirety of the Kazakh S.S.R. and that the city saw a massive growth in industry and in public works, while the area became one of the Soviet bread baskets.

Following the declaration of independence, from Russia, by Kazakhstan, the city was renamed Aqmola. Astana would be made the capitol of the new country in 1994 and have its name changed to its fourth and, thus far, final incarnation in 1997. The reasons for the change in capitol are probably only known by the president Nursultan Nazarbavev, but reasons as far reaching as, moving the capitol away from possible dangerous borders, to controlling the majority, ethnic Russian northern populations have been stated.

Whatever the reason, the city has grown massively in population in the last few years, reaching 520,000 people by the year 2000. The city itself, not only is the meeting place for almost all the main railroads that link China to Europe, but is also in the midst of a bid to become the premier cultural center of all of Central Asian, ex-Soviet states. Since the change in the location of the capital to the city now bearing the name capital, massive amounts of oil money have been poured into making the city just that cultural center (Sort of like Brazil’s attempt years ago, one just hopes this attempt ends with the result of achieving noted success). Though the quality of the architecture is not seen as, in any form, awe inspiring, it does include a massive presidential home, many new public works buildings and innumerable parks and monuments.



Sources
"Astana." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service 10 June 2005 .
“Astana - History” AsiaTravelingNet 2005 June 10, 2005 http://www.asiatravelling.net/kazakhstan/astana/astana_history.htm.
“Encyclopedia: Astana” Nationmaster.com. 2005. NationMaster June 10, 2005 http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Astana#Geography.

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