Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Astana or bust

Kazakhstan has only a few cities.  The largest, Almaty, is located in the south, close to the Kyrgyz and Chinese borders.  Our new home will be in Astana, the capital, which is 600 miles north of Almaty.  (In fact, Astana means "capital" in Kazakh).

Astana is really a brand-new city, in the vein of Dubai, Shenzhen or other cities in China.  On December 10, 1997, the President announced that the capital was moving here from Almaty, and it took a while to get going. All of the buildings and most of the construction has taken place in the last 8 years.  National Geographic published an interesting (and beautifully-photographed!) article on Astana in February 2012.

Why Astana?  The official reasons are that Almaty lies in an earthquake zone and that it's grown so much that it has no room to expand...and Astana is in the center of the country, not one corner.  However, the unofficial theory is that it establishes a solid Kazakh presence in a part of the country that borders Russia and is populated by a large percentage of ethnic Russians, thus avoiding a potential land grab.  And it's farther away from China for the same reasons. and it's in the middle of nowhere so there is plenty of room to grow. And, it probably didn't hurt that many of the old-guard administrators from the Soviet days weren't keen to leave their homes and lives in the more temperate and developed Almaty... so it's the young and ambitious who made the move north. It also creates an opportunity for Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nasarbayev, to leave a legacy.  There are rumors that he wouldn't mind a national call to have the generically-named "Capital" renamed in his honor one day.

Astana has also been known as Akmola. and Aqmola. and for many of the Soviet years as Tseleninograd - which is why the airport code today is "TSE" (which you'll need to know when you book your flight here).


  1. I am excited to hear all about your life and adventures there, Robyn. Thanks for sharing via this blog. Best of luck!

  2. The link to the Nat Geo article was fantastic. A great set of photos and so much interesting information. Thanks, R.