By a decree issued September 15, Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered the start of preparations for moving the country’s capital from Almaty to Akmola. The decree also creates a special state commission to supervise the transfer of government institutions to the new capital. The president would retain an official residence in Almaty during the moving operations. (17)
The move from Almaty in the country’s southeastern corner to Akmola in northern Kazakhstan was, after lengthy public discussion, approved by the legislature in 1994 upon Nazarbaev’s proposal. The stated reasons for the move focus on Almaty’s peripheral location, heavy pollution, and lack of space for further growth, in contrast to Akmola’s more central location and presumed healthier environment. Counterarguments included the high cost of relocation and Akmola’s situation in an undeveloped steppe region with an extreme continental climate. But a main, if unstated, reason for the transfer is Kazakhstan’s need to assert its authority in the north of the country, where Soviet rule largely uprooted the indigenous Kazakh population and brought large numbers of Russian settlers who now form the majority of northern Kazakhstan’s population. The region is claimed for the Russian Federation as "southern Siberia" by some nationalist circles in Russia and among sections of Kazakhstan’s Russian population. Akmola, known as Tselinograd until 1991, lies in the black-earth belt massively settled by Russians during the "virgin-land" campaign of the 1950s.
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