Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997, is a thriving and modern city developing at an amazing pace and a major political and cultural center which has already hosted important international forums.
Present day Astana boasts new modern government and business offices, a five star hotel and a number of good quality hotels to accommodate visitors, apartment blocks matching the European standards, beautiful squares and boulevards, modern roads as well as river promenade on both banks of the River Ishim. (Click here for picture gallery.)
Since 1997, the population of Astana increased from just under 300,000 to more than 500,000 (as of late 2004). This growth is attributed mainly to the massive influx of government and, more importantly, private employees, and their families, seeking job and business opportunities in the city's prospering economy.
Scientists predict that due to the natural growth and additional immigration the population may grow to under a million people in a decade. The area of the city of 248 square kilometers easily allows for such an increase.
The main spheres of Astana economy include construction and services, both of which still hold enormous potential for growth. The development of Astana is so important to the country that it is considered according to the law to be one of the priority spheres for attracting foreign investment.
That means that business people investing their capital in Astana enjoy considerable benefits and tax incentives.
While the old part of the town was located on the right bank of the River Ishim, construction in recent years has led to the appearance of a totally new city center on the left bank, complete with Government offices, private housing and entertainment facilities.
On December 10, 1997, the capital of Kazakhstan was moved from Almaty, where it stayed for nearly 70 years, to Astana (at that time Akmola). President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed the relevant decree on October 20, 1997. The parliament of the country approved this decision on the same day.
Having arrived to Astana from Almaty on December 9, 1997, President Nazarbayev emphasized that it is located in the very center of the Eurasia continent at the crossroads of routes from East to West, West to East, From South to North and from North to South. The President stated his belief that this city will develop rapidly and contribute to the unity, fraternity and rapprochement of the Kazakhstan's peoples and to their prosperity.
Kazakhstan's ethnographers state that Akmola was founded in 1830 as a Cossack fortification. Two years later the settlement was given the name of Akmolinsk, and in 1862 acquired the status of a town.
Historians say that in the 19th century Akmolinsk was a large commercial and economic center of the steppe while its role as a major agricultural center in the second half of this century is also clear. The President therefore underlined that the "culture of this land is a major part of the national cultural heritage."
This land was always famous for its plenty, including a wide assortment of dairy products, such as kumys, shubat and ayran. This gives added meaning to the ancient name of this land: linguists point out that the exact translation of "ak mol" from the Kazakh language is "white plenty." The new name of Astana given to the city on May 6, 1998, by the special Decree of the President, means 'capital' in Kazakh language.
During the Soviet period Tselinograd (the name Akmolinsk acquired in 1961), as capital of the virgin land, was also wealthy. Even during the most austere period of communist rule, there was always a variety of meat, sausages and dairy products available. Word spread about its light, white bread with a delicious crust and visiting journalists would always bring home a "karavay", (round loaf).
On December 10, 1997 President Nazarbayev in his speech to the ceremonial joint meeting of Parliament and government proclaimed Akmola to be the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Addressing the people of the Republic with an Appeal, signed by the President himself, as well as the Prime Minister, the Senate Chairman and the Majilis Speaker, Nursultan Nazarbayev stated that from that time on, the nation's most important decisions would be made there, in the very center of this huge country. "The heart of our country beats here... From here, Kazakhstan will determine its historical fate on the eve of the third millennium," proclaimed the President.
Moving the capital almost to the geographical center of the Euro-Asian continent not only solves this internal problem of the even ethno-geographic and economic development of the country, but also promises a number of other advantages. The cross point of the Euro-Asian continent's diagonals is situated, approximately, in the Semipalatinsk oblast, in the Degelen mountains, only 300 km from Akmola.
According to analysts' evaluations, significant investment will be attracted to this promising region. Kazakhstan is determined not to lose this opportunity. The Government believes the geographical location of the new capital, coinciding with the Pacific Ocean Europe communications crossroads, will enable it to become a major transit point.
At present, Astana serves as a transport hub in the very center of the Republic. All roads leading from Siberia to Central Asia, from China to Europe meet here. Astana airport is now under reconstruction, following the September 1997 completion of a new 3 km runway, capable of accepting all modern aircraft.
Presidential and governmental offices were re-located on the official date of the capital's transfer. To accommodate them, a seven-storey building, previously belonging to the former regional administration, was renovated. All the main ministries and departments have already set to work.
Successfully completing an operation on such a scale is a huge achievement for a country whose construction industry barely functioned during initial post-Soviet years.
The President has led the transfer of the capital from Almaty to Astana. He emphasized that "it is for the first time in the dramatic history of the 20th century that Kazakhstan has independently come to a decision regarding the capital of its own country" and this decision resulted from "our national interests and bears a great political and moral significance." The President believes future generations will be able to truly appreciate the scale of what is being done today.
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