Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev yesterday signed a decree changing the name of the country’s new capital, Akmola, to Astana, effective immediately. The decree specifies that the general public, the maslikhat and the akimat (municipal council and city administration, respectively) had requested the change in order to improve the new capital’s image. According to the president, the measure was necessitated by the fact that many people “misinterpret” the city’s Kazakh name Akmola as meaning “white tomb”–a noun with “pessimistic” connotations, the decree commented. The document posits “white blossoming” as the correct translation of Akmola. The Akmola region will nevertheless keep that name. The capital city’s new name, Astana, is officially translated as “capital.” (Russian agencies, May 6; Xinhua, May 7)
Akmola, located in northern Kazakhstan, was turned in 1830 into a Russian fort, and later a settlement under the name of Akmolinsk. The town was renamed Tselinograd (meaning Virgin Lands City in Russian) in 1961, and was given back its name Akmola in 1994. Its current population of some 300,000 is mostly Russian, with only 27 percent ethnic Kazakhs. This imbalance is a sequel of Soviet-era demographic and agricultural policies, which inflicted massive losses on Kazakhs and settled Russians in northern Kazakhstan. The transfer of the capital from Almaty to Akmola/Astana is largely motivated by the need to address the distorted pattern of ethnic settlement and to enhance the government’s presence in the northern region.
The transfer of the capital from Almaty to Akmola was decreed by Nazarbaev in 1995 and took official effect on December 10, 1997. Many officials in Almaty grumble about the hardships of relocating to an underdeveloped zone of harsh climate. (For background see The Monitor, December 19, 1997)–VS
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