From Bozok to Astana, Kazakhstan’s modern capital has changed its name several times since its inception, most recently this weekend with the announcement that the city would no longer be called Nur-Sultan.
The city reverted to Astana three years after being renamed in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s first post-Soviet president.
“I think it’s good that they changed their name, despite the cost of paperwork,” a young Kazakh woman told Efe in Astana, home to around a million people. “We are more used to ‘Astana’.”
Some of the older generations seem less interested in change and would rather see the money involved spent on health and education.
“It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to leave only part of the name, like Sultan. It’s good,” said a 76-year-old woman.
Astana has had at least five names in its history, with each change occurring at any time.
Archaeologists believe that from the 8th to 18th centuries, a settlement in the area currently occupied by Astana was known as Bozok, after a nearby lake.
In the second half of the 19th century, Akmola was founded, but rapidly advanced to the Soviet era, specifically in 1961, and the city passed through Tselinograd.
After the collapse of the USSR, the authorities readopted the name Akmola.
In 1994, Nazarbayev decided to move the capital from Almaty to Akmola, citing geopolitical reasons, and in 1998 a decree was signed to officially change the name of Akmola to Astana, which in Kazakh means “capital”.
Over the next 20 years, Astana’s global relevance grew.
The country’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Kemeluly Tokayev, was behind the move from Astana to Nur-Sultan in 2019, a decision he has now reversed.
The name Nur-Sultan never stuck with the people and even caused some level of irritation.
In everyday life, most Kazakhs continued to call the capital 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 evident during violent protests in January last year, which were later presented as a coup attempt.
Nazarbayev kept a low profile during the revolt, in which 200 people were killed. The move drew criticism given its influence on the country’s politics.
Political observers in Kazakhstan believe the most recent name change may be part of Tokayev’s pre-election campaign. EFE