Astana, the city of many names

By Kulpash Konyrova

Astana, Sep 18 (EFE).- From Bozok to Astana, Kazakhstan’s modern-day capital has changed its name several times since it sprung into being, most recently this weekend with the announcement that the city would no longer be called Nur-Sultan.

The city has reverted back to Astana three years after it was renamed in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s first president of the post-Soviet era.

“I think it’s good that they’ve changed the name, despite the cost of the official paperwork,” a young Kazakh woman told Efe in Astana, home to some one million people. “We’re more used to ‘Astana’.”

Some of the older generations seem less interested in the change and would prefer the money involved to be put toward healthcare and education.

“It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to just leave one part of the name, like Sultan. That’s nice,” a 76-year-old woman opined.

Astana has gone by at least five names in its history, with each change arriving at a momentous occasion.

Archaeologists believe that from the 8th to the 18th century, a settlement in the zone now occupied by Astana was known as Bozok, named after a nearby lake.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Akmola was founded but fast-forward to the Soviet era, specifically 1961, and the city went by Tselinograd.

After the collapse of the USSR, authorities readopted the name Akmola.

In 1994, Nazarbayev decided to move the capital from Almaty to Akmola, citing geopolitical reasons and by 1998 a decree was signed to officially change the name from Akmola to Astana, which in the Kazakh language means “capital.”

In the following 20 years, Astana’s global relevance grew.

The country’s new president Kassym-Jomart Kemeluly Tokayev was behind the 2019 change from Astana to Nur-Sultan, a decision he has now gone back on.

The name Nur-Sultan never quite stuck with the population, and even cause a certain level of irritation.

In day-to-day life, most Kazakh people continued to call the capital city Astana, and videos of politicians mixing up the name by calling it Astana or Nur-Astana went viral.

The need to change the name became blatantly evident during violent protests in January last year, which was later billed as an attempted coup.

Nazarbayev kept a low profile during the revolt, in which 200 people were killed. This decision elicited criticism given his influence on the country’s politics.

Political observers in Kazakhstan believe the most recent name change could be part of Tokayev’s pre-election campaign. EFE


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