Astana, now known as Nur-Sultan, is the capital city of Kazakhstan. Its history is rich and complex, shaped by the political environment and geography of the region.
The origins of Astana can be traced back to the 19th century when it was a small fortress settlement known as Akmolinsk. At that time, Kazakhstan was part of the Russian Empire, and Akmolinsk served as an important military outpost, protecting the empire's southern borders. Due to its strategic location on the steppe, Akmolinsk became a center for trade and commerce, attracting merchants and settlers.
The city's population steadily grew, reaching around 20,000 inhabitants by the turn of the 20th century. However, the political environment greatly influenced the development of Akmolinsk. In the early 20th century, Kazakhstan experienced political turmoil as the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war unfolded. Akmolinsk became a battleground between the Red Army and anti-Bolshevik forces, leading to destruction and loss of life.
Following the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922, Akmolinsk became the capital of the Kazakh Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic within the larger Soviet Republic of Russia. The city was renamed Tselinograd, reflecting the Soviet policy of transforming the arid steppes of Kazakhstan into agricultural lands. Tselinograd experienced rapid industrialization, with new factories and infrastructure being developed. The population grew significantly, reaching around 130,000 inhabitants by the 1960s.
The geography of the region, characterized by vast steppes and extreme continental climate, posed challenges and opportunities for the city. The harsh winters and hot summers required extensive infrastructure development to ensure the well-being of the population. Efforts were made to provide centralized heating and cooling systems, reliable transportation networks, and adequate housing. Additionally, the surrounding steppe provided opportunities for agriculture and livestock farming, contributing to the city's economic growth.
In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan gained independence, and Tselinograd went through another significant transformation. In 1992, the city was renamed Akmola, which means "white grave" in Kazakh, referencing the region's harsh winter conditions. The new capital aimed to showcase Kazakhstan's sovereignty and independence, and various architectural projects were undertaken to transform the city's skyline.
The political environment continued to shape the city's history. In 1997, the capital was once again relocated, this time from Almaty to Akmola, which was renamed Astana. The decision to move the capital was driven by strategic and economic considerations. Astana's central location within Kazakhstan made it a more neutral choice compared to Almaty, which was closer to the borders with China and Kyrgyzstan. Additionally, the government invested heavily in transforming Astana into a modern, cosmopolitan city, with striking architecture and infrastructure projects.
The population of Astana has experienced significant growth over the years. In 1999, the city had around 280,000 inhabitants. By 2017, the population had surpassed one million, and it continues to grow as Nur-Sultan attracts people from across Kazakhstan and beyond.
The political and economic stability of Kazakhstan under President Nursultan Nazarbayev played a crucial role in the development of Astana. His long tenure, from 1991 to 2019, provided continuity and a vision for the city's growth. Astana became a symbol of Kazakhstan's aspirations, hosting major international events such as the EXPO 2017, which showcased the country's technological advancements and commitment to sustainable development.